Faith and forgiveness

Read: Deuteronomy 3-4, Mark 11:20-33

“Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. “I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive your sins. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your sins.

Mark 11:22-26 (NIV)

In Mark 11, we can’t wait to get to the good part about telling a mountain to throw itself into the sea, and then we quickly skip over that uncomfortable part about forgiveness and move on to the next parable.

Who doesn’t want to see a miracle? We should long to see the miraculous. Signs and wonders should be following every believer. But what if the miracle God wants to perform has to do with you forgiving your brother? What if the sign He wants to show someone has you asking for forgiveness from your neighbour?

Not every miracle, sign or wonder has to do with healing or provision. Sometimes they seem so insignificant to us that we wouldn’t even deem to call the event worthwhile. But to the person who’s been forgiven, it can be life-changing.

If grace does not produce joyful obedience it has been abused. Forgiving is the very essence of grace.

The Weston Study Bible

Forgiveness isn’t something we should look at that we need to get out of the way so we can see the mountain move. Forgiveness may be the mountain itself.

When Jesus took the time to explain to his disciples how they should pray, he didn’t include the miraculous, but he did include forgiveness.

This, then, is how you should pray,

“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name;
your kingdom come,
your will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.'”

Matthew 6:9-13 (NIV)

Jesus then went on to say that when we forgive those who sin against us, God will forgive us, but if we withhold our forgiveness, God will not forgive us.

It would seem to me, then, that as much as it is impossible to please God without faith, it is also impossible to please him without forgiveness.

Grip

Read: Numbers 28-29, Mark 9:1-29

Once upon a time, I wasn’t a believer. You weren’t a believer. And, sometimes, I’m still not a believer. Neither are you. Very few people in this world can claim to go through life with complete and unwavering faith. I am not one of those people. Odds are that you aren’t either. But that’s not the end of the world. Actually, the sooner we all come to that realisation, the sooner we can do something about it.

Mark 9-24.jpg

The man who spoke these words was going through a bit of a tough time.—that’s putting it lightly. For most of his life, his son had been suffering from convulsions caused by an evil spirit. Hearing that Jesus and his disciples were able to cast out demons, the man brought his son to them. Jesus was unavailable at the moment (being deep in conversation with Moses and Elijah) so the disciples gave it a go. They’d been at this for a while now and had experienced great success. But success was not to be found with this case.

Eventually, Jesus returned, rebuked his disciples for their unbelief and told the father that anything was possible if he’d only believe. First he states he believes and then asks Jesus to help his unbelief. Which was it? Did he believe or didn’t he?

I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I win him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me he can do nothing.

John 5:5 (NIV)

In John, Jesus had a lengthy discussion about vines and branches. Any branch that doesn’t bear fruit gets cut off and burned up. How does a vine stay connected to the branch? How does a branch bear fruit? How can we keep from getting cut off and tossed into the fire?

Since vines don’t have to devote effort and energy to producing strong stems to hold them upright, they use their energy to grow outward. Vines are among the fastest growing landscape plants.

When it comes to training vines, gardeners often do not realize how important it is to direct growth from the time the vine is planted and throughout its life in the garden.

Dan Gill, Training Garden Vines Right the First Time

I had a Bible school teacher say that faith is our grip on God; grace is His grip on us.

Let’s put all of this information together.

  • I do believe. We have all been given a measure of faith. We’ve been grafted into the vine as branches. Since Jesus is the vine, we gain our strength from him. Our energy doesn’t have to (and shouldn’t be) be spent trying to support ourselves.
  • Help me overcome my unbelief. Just because we’ve been given faith and grafted in doesn’t mean that we immediately become amazing, fruit-bearing vines. It takes work. It takes coaxing. It takes training. God, as the vinedresser, prods us and guides us in the direction He wants us to go. He places us where we can be most fruitful and grow the strongest. Taking our strength from the main vine—Jesus—and holding on to the supports that take us higher, we can grow strong and fruitful.

Faith isn’t a mystical power. Some may say it’s a muscle we have to train. I disagree. I believe that a stronger faith is merely the result of a stronger relationship with the Father. Vines don’t worry about where to grow, they simply flourish where they are placed by the vinedresser. When we know and trust in the one who is training us, faith will come easy.

Let me leave you with a story from Charles Spurgeon.

There was once a good woman who was well known among her circle for her simple faith, and her great calmness in the midst of many trials. Another woman, living at a distance, hearing of her, said, “I must go and see that woman, and learn the secret of her holy, happy life.” She went, and accosting the woman, said, “Are you the woman with the great faith?” “No,” replied she, “I am not the woman with the great faith; but I am the woman with a little faith in the great God.”

An admission of guilt

Read: Leviticus 4-6, Matthew 25:1-30

I have a very early memory of my younger sister and I being in a convenience store with my father. As we were walking down a row lined with candy, my sister grabbed a gumball (shaped like a football—she remembers the incident) and, before my dad could do anything about it, popped it in her mouth and chomped down. I’m quite certain my father was a solid mix between livid and embarrassed. He knelt down in front of us and explained to us both that what had just happened was theft and there were consequences for it. We were marched up to the front counter and my sister made to apologize to the store clerk and pay for the consumed goods. We both learned a hard lesson that day. Sin is sin whether we realise it or not, and there are always consequences, even when the offense wasn’t intentional.

Today’s reading in Leviticus is all about the lengthy process required when unintentional sin is brought to light.

If a member of the community sins unintentionally and does what is forbidden in any of the Lord’s commands, he is guilty.

Leviticus 4:27 (NIV)

Sounds a little harsh. How can a person be guilty of they didn’t even know that what they were doing was wrong? Like us kids in the candy store, whether we were aware or not, to consume goods before purchase is wrong. Claiming ignorance did not alter the fact that a theft had occurred—no matter how insignificant it seemed.

It is my understanding that in the Philippines, it is legal to kill/murder someone if they are suspected of being involved in the drug trade. Say someone from the Philippines then comes to Canada or the US and they see a drug sale going down and decide to take matters into their own hands. Bodies are left on the street and the offender feels as though they have done their new country a great service. But drug dealer or not, to kill another human being is very illegal and there are some very serious consequences for the crime. Claiming ignorance of the law will not get that person off the hook.

In Leviticus, God explained this concept to His people. You may have unintentionally sinned, but once you are made aware of your guilt, you are accountable and must take certain steps to ensure your atonement.

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

Romans 3:23 (NIV)

It all seems a rather hopeless. Until you keep reading.

and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

Romans 3:24 (NIV)

We have all sinned. But we also have all been justified. Like the Israelites, all we must do is admit our guilt before the Lord.

1 John 1:9

Our situation isn’t hopeless. It’s quite the opposite, really. Unlike the Israelites, our sacrifice has already been made once and for all. We need only to make our admission and accept the grace.

Life isn’t fair

Read: Exodus 19-21, Matthew 20:1-16

Life isn’t fair. How many times did you hear that growing up? You’d complain to your parents or teacher about someone receiving something you felt they didn’t deserve, but you did. “But, it’s not fair,” you’d plead to no avail, because life just isn’t fair.

Like many things in life, this attitude often carries over into our faith.

Jesus tells a story about a man who owned a vineyard. At the beginning of the day, he went to the marketplace to find men to work his fields. They settled on a wage for the day and the men went to work. At various times throughout the day, the vineyard owner went back to the market to find more workers. Each time, he settled on a wage and they went to work.

At the end of the day, the men who’d started last were first in line to be paid. They got their promised wage. The men who started at the beginning of the day also got their promised wage, yet they were upset because all of the workers, no matter what time of day they started, received the very same pay. Was this unfair in any way? It certainly seemed so to the men who had been working out in the heat all day long. Yet they hadn’t been cheated out of anything. The landowner gave them exactly what he’d promised.

I’ve heard some Christians say that they haven’t received as much grace as others. God didn’t give them as much as He gave someone else. After hearing a testimony of someone who was brought from the brink of self-destruction, one could very well decide that God had given that person more grace than another who had been raise in a Christian home. But it isn’t a matter of more or less. It is a matter of equality. God takes us all—no matter where He finds us—and places us on equal footing.

Matthew 20-16

Let us forego every proud claim, and seek for salvation as a free gift. Let us never envy or grudge, but rejoice and praise God for his mercy to others as well as to ourselves.

Matthew Henry

The Kingdom of God is not a grand hierarchy. Sometimes we look too closely at how certain churches or denominations are organised and decide that is how heaven must be. But in the eyes of God, a brand new believer still struggling with sin is on the same level as the pope himself. There is no more or less. There is simply grace.

Just because we may perceive someone as having received more doesn’t mean that we ourselves have been cheated out of anything. God’s grace is not something to be divvied out according to seniority. It is something to be multiplied, bringing everyone under it to the same place.

From your heart

Read: Exodus 11-12, Matthew 18:21-35

Have you ever had to ask forgiveness? Wait. That’s a silly question. We all have. And if you haven’t, I guarantee that you probably should. We’ve all done things to offend someone. We will all do things that will offend someone. When that happens, we all want to be forgiven. No one wants the weight of wrongdoing hanging over their heads—at least I hope not.

Not only do we all need forgiveness, but we’ve already received forgiveness. In the moment that we receive Jesus into our lives as Lord and Saviour, God forgives us. But what does that really mean?

FORGIVE: To pardon; to remit, as an offense or debt; to overlook an offense, and treat the offender as not guilty. The original and proper phrase is to forgive the offense, to send it away, to reject it, that is not to impute it, [put it to] the offender.

It is our sin that separates us from God, but when we ask Him to forgive us, He separates our sin from us. It is no longer ours. It has been sent away. Rejected. And because of that, we are expected to do the same for others. In Matthew 18, Jesus tells a story to help us understand how this works.

A king wanted to settle accounts with his servants. There was a man who owed him a great deal of money and was not able to pay. When the man begged to be permitted to leave, the king forgave the man his debt and sent him on his way.

When that same man who had begged forgiveness was approached by another man who owed him, rather than extend a small amount of the mercy he had been granted, he had the man thrown into prison until the debt could be paid.

When the king heard this, the man was brought before him, called wicked, and was turned over to the jailers to be tortured until his original debt was paid in full.

Matthew 18:35

Words are cheap and easy. Anyone can say that they forgive someone. The hard part is acting like it, but that’s where the forgiveness really is. The best place to start to learn to forgive is to learn to act like you’ve been forgiven.

The wicked servant in Jesus’ story never took to heart the gravity of what he’d been given. If he had, it would have been easy to offer just a small portion of that to another person. When we learn to truly accept just how much we been forgiven of, we can learn to take that grace and extend it to others.

It is not until both your words and your actions line up that you can truly learn to forgive from your heart.

Irrevocable

Read: Genesis 29-30, Matthew 10:1-23

A story came out in the news this week about a pastor of a large church. He, like many of us, has a past. And, like many of us, he dealt with it and left it where it belonged. Until recently, he had been enjoying the success of marriage and family and ministering to his congregation.

Before I go further, let me clarify that the situation in question happened when he was a young man working in a church. The actions were of a sexual nature and involved a 17-year-old girl. By all accounts, he was immediately remorseful and admitted his transgression to those to whom he was accountable in the church. He apologized to all involved and was removed from his position. Nothing has been brought forward to say that such actions took place on any other occasion.

Now, with the #MeToo movement bringing all sorts of people out of the woodwork, this pastor is having to relive his shame. I in no way condone his actions, nor do I belittle what happened to the woman involved. There is no place in society for any sort of sexual misconduct. But, with all of the very public accusations and shaming, what seems to be missing is the greatest component of all: grace.

When Jesus began his public ministry, the people he brought alongside him were far from what society would call blameless. He called the blue collar workers. He called the tax collectors. He called the sinners. And then he walked with them. He ate with them. He taught them. Then he empowered them and sent them off into ministry.

Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give.

Matthew 10:8 (NIV)

Some scholars believe that Jesus’ instructions here did not only reference the physical needs of the people, but were also representative of their need to be healed and revived spiritually. The men Jesus called had all been healed and brought to life in one way or another. The greater their sin, the greater the grace they received. And who better to extend grace than the one who has already received it?

If we demand that this pastor, because of his past sin, is no longer fit for ministry, then we must throw away the entire Bible. We can no longer sing our worship songs. We must seclude ourselves for fear of being infected by the sin that runs rampant in our churches.

Paul’s sole purpose in life was to kill Christians. Matthew was a tax collector (the very worst kind of evil). David, the man after God’s own heart, was a sexual predator and a murderer. Yet all of these men, and more, made invaluable contributions to the Book that we hold so closely to our hearts.

Romans 11:29

Who are we to stand in judgement of someone who has asked for, and received, forgiveness? Who are we to say who is and is not fit for ministry? David was guilty of far worse than most of us and yet we still sing his songs in church every Sunday, thousands of years after they were written. Paul himself should have been put to death for his crimes against Christianity, yet he made some of the the greatest contributions to our faith.

If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.

John 8:7b (NIV)

Without grace, we are all guilty. None of us should be fit for ministry. But if we do as Jesus told the woman described in John 8 and leave our life of sin, there is no condemnation. But for the grace of God we should all be buried under a landslide of stones.

For I am the least of all the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.

1 Corinthians 15:9-10 (NIV)

God has called us all. No one, not even He, can revoke that calling. And it is only through His grace that any of us are able to walk in the purpose He has set out before us. What I give should be only from that which God has given through me. Judgement is not a gift from God. Grace is.

 

In His own image

Read: Genesis 1-2, Matthew 1

Genesis-1-27

Reading through the account of creation, we see that man is the only thing God created in His own image. Man is the only being that God breathed His own life into. Though they were made on the same day, man was different from the beasts of the field.

Man was made upright. His understanding saw Divine things clearly and truly; there were no errors or mistakes in his knowledge; his will consented at once, and in all things, to the will of God.

Matthew Henry

Before Adam made the worst decision in the history of humanity, he was at one with God. He knew no separation from his Creator and lived in perfect communion with Him. We know, that at the moment Adam chose to eat from the forbidden tree, that unique relationship was severed. While that relationship can never be fully restored on this side of heaven, God made a way for us to still have communion with Him. But it takes work. It’s not an instant fix; it is a lifelong effort on our part.

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Romans 12:2 (NIV)

The only way to gain back even a portion of what Adam experienced with God in the garden is to continually renew ourselves to His will. You truly to become like the people you most spend time with, so spend time with God. Become more like Him—the way we were all created to be. This process of renewal must be constant and consistent. always moving forward and never looking back.

Paul said we need to be forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead (Philippians 3:13). We have a decision to make. We can continue to live in separation from God and do as we please. Or we can approach Him through the grace provided through Jesus’ sacrifice and get to know Him and His will for us. We can live as we were created to live in perfect harmony with our Father.