The True Christian Forgives as Jesus Forgives – True, and False

This past week my wife and I were driving up the interstate when we saw a large billboard that said:

Real Christians Forgive Like Jesus

The sign also included a Scripture reference,

Luke 23:34 And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments.

This is an example of not only misusing Scripture, but of dealing simplistically with a Bible doctrine that requires far more than a mere five words on a sign. And it is not harmless! Great damage is done by these kinds of foolish statements thrown out at people like cannon shots.

The pessimistic realist that I am, I suggest to you that I know what the message is that these sign preachers are throwing at us. “You don’t forgive like Jesus forgives. If you are a real Christian, then you must love your enemies (true). And this means that you must not seek justice for wrongs they have done you, you must strive to maintain relationship with them, and if you don’t do these things then you are not forgiving as Jesus forgives and it is doubtful you are a Christian at all.

Yes, Jesus prayed that His Father would forgive those who crucified Him. But a short time before He was put on the cross (see John 17) Jesus specifically said that He was praying for those the Father had given to Him, not for the whole world. Jesus knows His elect. And Jesus’ death on the cross at the hands of these people was an act of redemption and atonement for His own. Jesus, in other words, was unique. To make an across the board simplistic application of Jesus’ prayer for His enemies there on the cross to every single Christian in every single case subsequent to the cross is foolish.

But there is more.

How does Jesus forgive? Does He forgive everyone? Of course not. Check this out:

2Th 1:5-10 This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering– (6) since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, (7) and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels (8) in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. (9) They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, (10) when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed.

We could go on and on. The Lord does not forgive everyone. And yet these signboard preachers throw distortions of Bible truth at car after car motoring up the freeway, insisting that a real Christian forgives everyone no matter what. Offers the worst of them warm hugs and kisses. I ask you, is this what we see Jesus doing in the Gospels? Is this what the Apostles preached and practiced as recorded in The Acts and the Epistles? Of course not.

One final point (though I could go on and on).

Unsaved people see signs like this and do you know what they conclude? I know unsaved people. I know lots of them. Many are my friends. I know what they would have said if they were in my car when I went past that sign. “Christians are idiots and fools.” And you know what? People who claim to be Christians but who distort and pervert the Word of God like this are fools indeed!

Christians, true Christians, really do forgive as Jesus did. And more. We pray for God’s holy wrath and justice to break out upon the wicked and destroy them for their oppression of the widow and orphan. Yep –

Psa 139:21-22 Do I not hate those who hate you, O LORD? And do I not loathe those who rise up against you? (22) I hate them with complete hatred; I count them my enemies.

A Common Accusation Made by Evildoers Against the Righteous

1Co 2:14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.

Isa 28:13 And the word of the LORD will be to them precept upon precept, precept upon precept, line upon line, line upon line, here a little, there a little, that they may go, and fall backward, and be broken, and snared, and taken.

In my three decades plus years as a pastor, I have experienced a particular phenomenon numbers of times. It took me quite a long time to sort it out and see it for what it really is. It is evil.

Let me explain. Listen to “Jack” as we will call him as he comes into my office. “Pastor, you are very difficult to talk to. You won’t listen to me. And I am not the only one in this church who feels this way.”

There it is. Jack would lay that same accusation on me in a hallway, at a social event at church, sometimes at an elder board meeting. But generally he would level this charge when I was the only person there besides himself.

Now, when you are young and you really want to serve the Lord, when you want to be humble and be a true shepherd of Christ’s people, you are open to examining yourself. To hearing criticism. But this can be taken way, way, way too far. In fact, this is what I was taught in seminary, in “Christian” books I read by supposedly experienced and godly people and so on. Always listen, they said. There is always, always, always something of truth in any criticism that comes against us. No matter who is saying it, you need to listen.

And so, I did. For years. And years. And years. Just like so many of you who have been targets of wicked, evil, domestic or other kinds of sociopathic abusers. We listened. And that was our problem. The result? Discouragement. Feeling like you just want to quit. Feeling like a failure.

It makes me angry at myself now when I think how foolish I was to listen to that garbage for so many years. But then, evil is quite deceptive, isn’t it?

Ultimately as the Lord “turned on the lights” in my mind (in the course of my study of domestic abusers hiding in the church), I realized what was really going on. YES! I WAS hard to talk to! At least it was hard for Jack. Why? Because I would not just obey him. I would not do what he said. There was still within me this dissonance between the words he spoke and how I felt about what he was saying in my spirit. That is to say, Jack was not able to control me like he wanted. And that is why he would regularly accuse me of being “hard to talk to.” What Jack really meant, let me translate, was – “Jeff, why won’t you just do what I tell you to do?”

Ultimately, as so often eventually happens, Jack’s real motive spilled out of his mouth. We had to deal with a wicked sin in our church that was very devastating. As I look back on it, I know we did what was right. But what we did was not what Jack had insisted we do (namely, feel empathy for the perpetrator and tell the victim to suck it up and get over it). And as is so typical in such situations in a church, some people (already alienated by Jack) left the church. At a subsequent meeting, Jack announced to me and the rest of our leadership team, “You never listen to me. You never do what I say. If you had only listened to me and done what I said, everything would be much better now.” Yeah, right, Jack. The victim would be further blamed and victimized and the perpetrator would be embraced and “forgiven.”

See it? Jack’s habitual accusation that I am difficult to talk to stemmed from several planks of Jack’s worldview rolling around in his head:

  • Jack knows.
  • Jack is more godly than anyone else
  • Therefore, everyone must listen to and obey Jack

A “Jack-o-Centric” worldview, you see.

The righteous are indeed hard for the unrighteous to talk to. Our words are stinging to the wicked. The truths of Christ’s word that we proclaim expose the darkness of evil.

And the Jacks of this world hate us for it. Do not listen to their accusations.

 

You Cannot Discern Good from Evil if You are still a Baby in Diapers

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. (Hebrews 5:12-14)

[I have written on this Scripture before, but I am being purposefully repetitive in this post. It is vital that these truths shine brightly in our hearts and minds if we are going to stand against the darkness so prevalent in the visible church today].

No Christian I ever heard of prides himself in being a baby. Not overtly anyway. “See my diapers and my bottle? Pretty cool, eh?” And yet, nothing has changed since the days the Apostle to the Hebrews wrote these words. So many people in our present day who claim to be Christians have never been weaned off their baby food. This is a very dangerous state of affairs that wicked ones delight in.

Consider more closely the verses quoted above. Particularly notice these two points:

  • Spiritual children are “unskilled in the word of righteousness”
  • A key mark of maturity in Christ is to have one’s “powers of discernment” trained to “distinguish good from evil.”

So how do you ensure that you remain an infant? Neglect God’s Word. Be lazy and careless. Eat spiritual junk food rather than using the Word constantly to train and hone your ability to identify evil and sort it out from what is righteous and good.

Let’s talk then about spiritual junk food. What does it look like today? It isn’t even milk, you see. The milk the Apostle is speaking of is a good thing – for starters. These people he is writing to have become so careless that he says they need to be taken back again to basics boot camp and have a solid gospel foundation laid once more. Then they need to grow up by consuming more and more of the truths of Scripture.

But this junk food thing. Notice the verses above once again, and look carefully. The problem isn’t even that these infants are downing a diet of milk (the basic principles of the Word of God). That would be better than what they are “eating.” No, their diet consists of something else and I would suggest that all you need do to find examples is to take a look at what so many professing Christians are making the core of their “growth plan.” It isn’t difficult to think of examples:

  • A once each week sermon at church which, in so many cases (thankfully not all), is mere fluff if not right out heresy,
  • An occasional conference or retreat with a “noted” speaker whose books you can buy at the book table,
  • The latest Christian book store volume that “everybody” is reading and “you just have to get a copy,”

I am sure you can think of many other very typical examples of the common junk food being consumed today. The large mass of professing Christians never seriously open their Bibles to study and digest for themselves the Light of Christ’s truth. All they do is listen to what someone else tells them, and then they pass that on as “Scripture.” The result? Darkness reigns in their lives and in the churches.

Now, here is what else happens in this scenario. People like this have little or no power to discern good from evil. Their discernment muscles have never developed. If you point out some deceptive evil to them that has crept into the church, they stare at you as if you are some alien from another world. And just as the Apostle to the Hebrews warns his readers, we too must warn such people that they may well not know Christ at all. After all:

But that is not the way you learned Christ!—assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:20-24)

See it? EVERY real Christian has been taught the truth that is in Jesus. That truth instructs us to know what evil and sin is, to turn away from it, and to walk in the light of Christ as our new selves. So then, when you have pastors and entire churches and “christian” celebrity authors evidencing that they cannot discern evil from righteousness, when they cannot and will not see the difference between a wolf and a sheep, then at most they are babies who gag on the meat of Jesus’ truth, or most probably they are not His sheep at all.

And if this be true, brothers and sisters in Christ, then what does this say about the real nature of most of what claims to be the Christian church today? I think the answer is obvious.