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The Principles of Biblical Forgiveness

- A Workbook -

(Continued from Page 1)

 

Jobofwitnesses2

 

Processing Offenses • Focus on Restitution

 

We now need to narrow our focus to one specific aspect of writing up an offense: determining an appropriate restitution. Let me list several important principles in helping to make that determination.

  • An Offense Is a Theft

item3If the offense at issue is not described in terms of a theft, it won't be possible to formulate an appropriate restitution. Get yourselves into the habit of asking, "What did this offense steal from me? What was taken from me?" The restitution, then, must restore precisely that - adding one fifth to the principle.

You must be as specific as possible. Was it your reputation? Was it your dignity? Was it your personal identity? Was it money? Was it friendship and time together? Etc. Let's review several examples:

Example One

Offense:

Tension has been building between two roommates, Frank and Joe; finally Joe goes cosmic on Frank - screaming at him about his habitual tardiness and lack of consideration. After it's all over, Joe sulks for another two hours - saying nothing to Frank. Joe goes on to hold Frank at arms length all of the next day.

No specific offense provoked the outburst and subsequent estrangement. Joe's just been a little "under the weather" and depressed lately - and he "took it out" on Frank1.

What was stolen?

Respect and friendship.

An appropriate restitution:

Frank requires that Joe arrange for a "guys night out" - so that their friendship can be restored.

Example Two

Offense:

Sally humiliates her friend Joan in front of others at a barbecue. She picks away at her and points out several of her faults.

What was stolen?

Her reputation.

An appropriate restitution:

Joan requires that Sally call each person - almost twenty separate individuals - who overheard her humiliating comments - and acknowledge her sin - admitting how wrong she was. But that's not sufficient. There's no restoration in merely confessing a sin. The key lies in restoring her reputation! Because that's what was stolen. Sally is required to highlight many of Joan's finest qualities. And Sally must "put herself into it." It can't be "rote."

Example Three

Offense:

A husband promises to take his wife on a weekend "get-a-way" to celebrate their anniversary. He keeps his word, but the whole time he's in an ugly mood. He picks away at the arrangements. He criticizes her attire; he brings up office matters. He sits and sulks. The "get-a-way" is a disaster.

What was stolen?

A romantic, relaxing, enjoyable time away together.

An appropriate restitution:

Another weekend "get-a-way" - only this time, it must be one fifth more lavish - perhaps a day longer - not just Friday through Sunday, but Thursday through Sunday. Moreover, he must make his wife the sole focus of his attention. He must put a smile on his face - and force away any ugly mood that "comes item4knocking at his door." And don't think that's not possible! Remember, love is not a feeling; it's a concrete expression. It assumes the specific, existential form of kindness, patience, gentleness, meekness, faithfulness, etc.

  • It Must Be Restricted to a Single Offense

Make sure that the restitution pertains to a single offense. It can't be made to restore what multiple offenses have stolen. If the restitution is not commensurate with a single, specific offense, it exacts more than scripture permits.

  • The Issue of Trust

Restitution is not designed to restore trust as such. Trust is a by-product of restitution. If Sally promises to meet Joan for lunch, but breaks her promise because she forgets, it's not trust that Sally has specifically stolen from her, it's a lunch and all that it entails - a quiet time together, a chance to talk, etc. That's what must be restored. That's the restitution. item5Not trust. Trust is rebuilt in providing the restitution, but trust itself is not the specific object of the restitution.

  • Restitution, Not Therapy

Restitution should never assume the form of "therapy." Therapy is designed to change attitudes and behavior - and, frankly, isn't that terribly effective; restitution, on the other hand, is designed to restore what one specific offense has stolen - that and nothing more.

Restitution changes behavior in the long run; but that's not its specific objective. If a wife constantly berates her husband and is forever losing her temper with him, an appropriate restitution does not consist of insisting that she enroll in an anger management class. That may be a fine idea; but it's not restitution as such. Each specific offense must be singled out - and an appropriate restitution formulated for that one offense. What did the offense steal? That alone is what's at issue. Nothing more.

Don't confuse therapy and restitution. Restitution is not geared directly toward changing thought patterns and long-term behavior. Change will occur if each specific offense is singled out and consistently addressed - day in and day out - week after week - month after month; but, like trust, it's a by-product, not a specific objective.

Use the Forms

Please use the forms provided in this workbook. Their use provides you an opportunity to carefully define each offense - and, then, "pinpoint" each step on the way toward closure. That's very important - because some offenses tend to lose their shape very soon after having been committed; their exact nature becomes obscure and nebulous; they flit in and out of our consciousness like so many phantoms; and it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to "get our hands around them" in any kind of meaningful way. The forms provide just such a way.

Moreover, once the offense has been closed, the offending party has a written record testifying to its closure - that the offense in question can no longer be used to justify alienation.

Bear in mind that alienation can never be justified except for cause - namely, a specific, concrete offense. And once its cause has been biblically resolved, it must be terminated. And unless it is, the offended party becomes the offending party - "the monkey jumps!" Guilt and sin pass from the offending party to the offended party! The "monkey jumps"!

The Monkey Jumps!

Make sure that you catch the significance of "the monkey jumps!" Remind yourself of its implications again and again. Remember, alienation can acquire a momentum of its own over time. It can become almost self-perpetuating. And once its biblical cause is eliminated, letting it go - dropping it - renouncing it - can become very difficult. You need to acknowledge the illegitimacy of alienation once its cause has been biblically resolved - and, then, by faith, restore fellowship.

Restoring fellowship entails putting yourself at risk

Genuine fellowship is a state of risk. And to the extent that anyone wants to avoid risk, to that extent - and precisely to that extent - the very possibility of enjoying genuine fellowship - the very possibility of building authentic friendships - is compromised.

 

SafetyIntimacy

 

The Forgiveness Process Is Not Meant to Treat Character Traits

Have you ever noticed that the more you try dealing with the underlying character trait that's spawned the actual offense you've suffered the more intractable the offending party becomes? It might produce a momentary sense of gratification to "get your hands around his jugular," but it resolves very little - and often the possibility of genuine reconciliation is seriously compromised. The offending party - unless he's hopelessly mulish - will respond to a rebuke that's limited to a single, well defined offense. When he realizes that his entire personality is not being called into question, he's more likely to submit himself to your rebuke and the accompanying conviction of the Holy Spirit.

Again and again remind yourself not to "go for the root - the underlying character trait that's occasioned the specific offense committed against you Remind yourself that the only effective means of killing that root is to kill the foliage (the specific offenses) it produces above ground. You must stay above ground! Don't go digging for the roots!

 

Stayaboveground2

 

Restoring Fellowship without Insisting on Eradicating Character Flaws

Remind yourself again and again that you must not make the termination of alienation - and the restoration of fellowship it requires - contingent upon eradicating a specific character trait - whatever that trait might be - a bad temper, coarse humor, insensitivity, stonewalling, etc. Once a specific offense has been closed, the alienation it prompted must be ended. There's no biblical justification for withholding fellowship. Hammer this truth home to yourself again and again. Remember, the character trait will be eliminated over time if we're all careful to keep "processing the offenses" the trait produces.

Simplied Schematic of the Forgiveness Process

Below is a simplified diagram of the forgiveness process. What's omitted here are the various appeals that are delineated in the more detailed diagram at the beginning of this study. Press here to see that diagram.

 

SchematicofForgivenessProcess2

 

OffenseForm2

 

Teaching on the Forgiveness Process

 

Dr. Earl radmacher and Wendell Miller: Credit Goes Where Credit Belongs

 

Several years ago, Dr. Earl Radmacher, almost in passing, gave me a copy of Wendell Miller's book Forgiveness: the Power and the Puzzles. He'd been teaching a class on hermeneutics at the church I help pastor - and while there discussed the book with me and explained some of the principles it delineates. I was intrigued - and resolved, therefore, to read it myself. Very few books have proven to be so profitable to me in ministry. And I encourage you to get a copy for yourself and, just as I did, read it through thoroughly. You'll be richly rewarded.

Not long after reading the book, I taught several classes using it as the centerpiece. And each time the students were blessed. But it didn't occur to me until at least two years later that many of its principles could be made an integral part of a marriage restoration project I was considering; after all, so much of the alienation that pervades troubled marriages is due to unresolved offenses.

I'm deeply indebted to both Dr. Radmacher for having introduced me to Wendell Miller's book and, of course, to Mr. Miller himself. I trust that I've done justice to Mr. Miller's study - and whatever additions I've made are in keeping with his insights and serve only to make it more relevant to our specific purposes.

The Danger of giving into wrath

Let's start our lesson with a very brief examination of wrath - and let's begin by noting that God alone can act in wrath; men and women who give into wrath - who seek to act vindictively - inevitably poison themselves.

Recompense to no man evil for evil...

Romans 12:17

Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.

Romans 12:19

For we know him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge his people.

Hebrews 10:30

For the Lord shall rise up as in mount Perazim, he shall be wroth as in the valley of Gibeon, that he may do his work, his strange (i.e., alien, foreign) work; and bring to pass his act, his strange (i.e., alien, foreign) act.

Isaiah 28:21

What happens when you refuse to give up your wrath - meaning surrender it to God? Or when you only suppress it rather than give it up? It assumes a disguised form.

  • A child, upset with his parents, slacks off on his schoolwork - bringing home C’s and D’s rather than A’s and B’s. It’s all subconscious; but it’s certainly an effective means of “getting even.”
  • A “pk” (a preacher's kid) becomes a juvenile delinquent - only dimly aware that what’s driving him is vengeance - striking back at his father for neglecting him. After all, what could more “get back” at his father than a son who’s “reprobate.”
  • A husband “comes down sick” just before taking his wife out to dinner - convinced, of course, that he’s indeed ill - but knowing that his wife is disappointed - and delighted that she is.
  • A wife “burns the dinner” she’s making for her husband’s boss - knowing that her husband wants to make a good impression - convinced, of course, that the ruined dinner is an accident, but secretly harboring the thought that “justice has been meted out” because of her husband’s abuse.

Consider carefully and prayerfully the following verse:

Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled...

Hebrews 12:15

The first truth concerning forgiveness and offenses that we've got to grasp, therefore, is that under no circumstances should any offense committed against us ever lead us into wrath - or an all-consuming indignation. First, make the decision to forsake “getting even.” Then ask God to, over time, eradicate even the “feeling” of vindictiveness. The fact that you feel vindictive is not a sin. It becomes a sin only if you dwell on it or act on it.

Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man . . .

But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.

Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.

James 1:13-15

The word “enticed” translates the Greek word “deleazo” (deleazo) - and it means to “to seduce” - or, more colloquially, "to bait a hook." A "baited hook" isn't a sin; it becomes a sin only when - by an act of your own will - you “take the bait.” At that point, the "hook is set" - and it becomes a sin.

“Resist the devil (meaning don’t take the bait) - and he will flee from you” - implying that even the “feeling,” the temptation itself, if not acted upon or dwelt upon, will eventually pass.

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

James 4:7

Lessons on Forgiveness

Let’s turn to Matthew 6:9. Here we have the Lord’s prayer.

After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.

Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread.

And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.

Matthew 6:9-12

Please note carefully verse 12.

And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.

Matthew 6:12

For it’s explanation, drop down to verses 14 and 15.

For if you forgive men their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.

But if you do not forgive men, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.

Matthew 6:14-15

What’s this? It appears to be a condition attached to the doctrine of forgiveness. God will forgive us only if we forgive others; otherwise, God won't forgive us.

But is that the only condition attached to the doctrine of forgiveness? Turn with me to 1 John 1:9.

 

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

1 John 1:9

Here’s a second condition: confession. Forgiveness is apparently conditioned upon confession also - and, by implication, repentance as well - because true confession always implies repentance.

What we have, then, are two conditions which are evidently attached to God’s forgiveness:

  1. our forgiveness of others; and
  2. confession of our own personal sins.

Does that mean that my salvation is conditional? Can I lose it? After all, salvation is founded upon the doctrine of forgiveness; and if forgiveness itself is conditional, my salvation must be conditional as well. Right?

Which is it? Is my salvation sealed? Is it guaranteed? Or can I lose it?

Ephesians 2:8-9 seems to suggest that my salvation is unconditional and forever sealed:

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:

Not of works, lest any man should boast.

Ephesians 2:8-9

Salvation is a free gift - clearly implying, by definition, that it’s not subject to revocation. When I tender a gift, I surrender its ownership - and give up all right to retrieve it. I cannot reclaim it.

Now, let’s examine Ephesians 1:12-14.

That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ.

In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise,

Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory.

Ephesians 1:12-14

The word “sealed” in verse 13 conveys the sense of a “fixed destiny” - a destiny not subject to change. And it’s the Holy Spirit himself who both affixes the seal and who himself is the seal. The word “earnest” in verse 14 means “pledge;” technically, it’s a “down-payment” which obligates the person tendering it to complete the transaction. Verse 14 teaches us that God has obligated himself to finish our salvation - that having undertaken that task, he will faithfully complete it - utterly.

Wherein God, willing more abundantly to shew unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath:

That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us...

Hebrews 6:17-18

Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.

Hebrews 7:25

But, then, once again, what about Matthew 6:9-15 and 1 John 1:9? Both passages, as we’ve already noted, clearly attach two conditions to the doctrine of forgiveness - thereby suggesting that it’s possible to forfeit my salvation if, following my conversion...

  1. I don’t forgive others, or
  2. I refuse to confess and repent of my own personal sins.

Let’s think a moment. What does forgiveness mean?

Actually, we find that forgiveness possesses a very technical meaning in the Scriptures - especially in the New Testament. What does it mean to forgive?

God forgives me. What exactly does that mean?

I forgive someone who has sinned against me? What exactly does that mean? What does it look like? How does it feel? What’s its texture?

The word most often translated “forgive” in English is the Greek word “aphiemi” (afihmi). And it means to release; to send away; to let go. When God forgives, he releases. Likewise, when we forgive, we release. And when others forgive us, they release us. That’s the meaning of forgiveness. Release.

But what exactly is it that the act of forgiveness releases me from? God has forgiven me - meaning he’s released me. But from what? Turn with me to 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9. Here in this passage of scripture the topic is the judgment of God.

In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ:

Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power.

2 Thess. 1:8-9

“Vengeance” here in verse 8 is linked to “punished” (implying “penalty”) in verse 9. The penalty the unsaved will bear is “everlasting destruction.” Death.

But Christ has released me from bearing that penalty - from being subjected to the wrath of God.

Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.

Romans 5:9

Christ bore God’s wrath for me - in my place. That’s what it means to be forgiven. I’ve been released from bearing the penalty for my sin, death, God’s wrath. I’ve passed from death to life.

Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment (unto wrath), but has passed out of death into life.

John 5:24

But is that all? Is that the only release God’s forgiveness secures for me? No. There is a second kind of release as well - and it too is mentioned in 2 Thessalonians 1:9 - alienation from God - implied in the phrase “away from the presence of the Lord...”

Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power.

2 Thess. 1:9

I’m released from alienation - meaning that I’m restored to fellowship with God.

Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ, and gave us the ministry of reconciliation...

2 Cor. 5:18

The word “reconciliation” always implies restoration to fellowship. Hence, when I’m told in 2 Corinthians 5:18 that I’ve been reconciled to God, the meaning is that I’ve been restored to his presence - my relationship with God has been restored; my alienation from God has been terminated.

So God’s forgiveness has released me in a twofold sense:

  1. in the first sense: from bearing the penalty of my sin, death, God’s wrath; and, in the second sense,
  2. it has released me from alienation. I’m restored to fellowship with God.

Let’s not confuse the two.

Let me put it this way to you: many years ago, I owned a beautiful, brand new, Datsun pickup. I lent it to a friend of mine. He took it up into the foothills to cut down some trees, split them into logs - and then, of course, brought them back home in my pickup. In the process, he dented up my truck pretty badly. I was very angry when he got home. But he didn’t have the money to get it repaired. So, after I calmed down, I forgave him his debt. But I never let him borrow my pickup again.

  1. I released him from paying for the repairs - that’s forgiveness from the penalty of sin. He owed me close to a thousand dollars due to dents he made in my truck. And I released him from that debt.
  2. But I didn’t release him from alienation - I kept him away from my pickup from that point on. I never again trusted him with my possessions - implying that I never again restored him to the same level of fellowship with me that he once enjoyed.

Can you imagine the possibility of God releasing us from the penalty of our sins - death; but never again permitting us to enjoy fellowship with Him - at least not on the same level He was willing to extend to Adam in the Garden before Adam sinned? In other words, can you imagine God doing to us what I did to my friend after he damaged my pickup? That would be awful, wouldn't it!

However, God has not only forgiven us the penalty of our sins, death, but, in addition, he has restored us to fellowship - and at a level which actually surpasses the fellowship Adam enjoyed with God. Can you imagine that? In fact, in one sense, God has forgiven us for the purpose of restoring his fellowship with us. Ultimately, fellowship is why God has forgiven us.

Once again, it’s not just that God has released you from the penalty your sins have so justly incurred; it’s that you have been granted the privilege of being brought back again into God’s presence. And that’s really the purpose of salvation.

Nevertheless, it’s critically important to keep these two kinds of forgiveness completely distinct in your mind. Because it’s that distinction which provides the solution to the problem we posed just minutes ago. Can I lose my salvation? If I don’t forgive others, is my salvation put in jeopardy? If I don’t confess and repent of all my sins, is my salvation threatened?

Wherever in the scriptures God makes forgiveness contingent upon either

  1. forgiving others or
  2. confession,

that forgiveness pertains to fellowship. But wherever in the scriptures God makes forgiveness unconditional, that forgiveness pertains to penalty.

Let me give you an example. Let’s examine again 1 John 1:9

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

1 John 1:9

In this case, forgiveness is clearly conditional - it’s conditioned upon confession - and, by implication, repentance. God extends His forgiveness only after we’ve confessed our sins.

But look closely at the context. What’s at issue here? Let’s read from verse 3.

...what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, that you also may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.

And these things we write, so that our joy may be made complete.

And this is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.

If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth;

but if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.

1 John 1:3-7

What’s at issue here is fellowship. To be forgiven here implies restoration to fellowship. The issue here is fellowship, not penalty.

Is it possible, then, for God, following my conversion, to release me unconditionally from the penalty of any sins I may commit, but to only conditionally release me from his alienation? The answer is “yes.”

When I’m first saved - when I ask Jesus into my heart - I’m instantaneously forgiven in two senses:

  1. I’m released from the penalty of sin, death; and
  2. I’m released from alienation - and restored to fellowship with God.

But, following my conversion, though my release from the penalty of sin continues to be unconditional, my fellowship with God is conditioned upon forgiving others their sins and confessing and repenting of my own.

In other words, it’s possible for a Christian to be in either one of two states:

  1. State #1
    1. released from the penalty of sins, death; and, in addition,
    2. in fellowship with God; or
  2. State #2
    1. released from the penalty of sins, death, but
    2. alienated from fellowship with God.

The one is a spiritual Christian; and the other is a carnal Christian; both are saved, but one is in fellowship with God and the other is estranged from God - he has forfeited his fellowship with God. It's the very same distinction Paul makes in his First Epistle to the Corinthians.

And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ.

I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able.

For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?

1 Cor. 3:1-3

Notice carefully that Paul addresses those to whom he's speaking as "brethren;" but he tells them that they're carnal, not spiritual. Clearly, then, it's possible to be saved, but not truly spiritual.

Further Explanation

Let’s turn to Hebrews 9:12

...and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption for us

Hebrews 9:12

The phrase “once for all” is a single Greek word, “ephapax." It’s used only five times in the New Testament - four of which pertain to the atonement - and each time it’s used in reference to the atonement it conveys the sense of being:

  1. unrepeatable;
  2. irreversible, and
  3. immutable or unchanging.

For the death that He died, He died to sin, once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God.

Rom. 6:10

For such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens . . .

who does not need daily, like those high priests (the levitical priests), to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins, and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself.

Heb. 7:26-27

and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.

Heb. 9:12

By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

Heb. 10:10

Salvation, therefore, is unrepeatable, irreversible, and not subject to change.

Now, let’s examine a second word that’s used in Hebrews 9:12 - the word “eternal” - in the phrase “eternal redemption.”

...and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption for us

Hebrews 9:12

It translates the Greek word “aionios” - which conveys the sense of . . .

  1. everlasting,
  2. never ceasing, and
  3. always in full force and effect.

Its use is uniformly consistent throughout the entire Book of Hebrews. The following three verses are examples:

how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?

And for this reason He is the mediator of a new covenant, in order that since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.

Heb. 9:14-15

Now the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant, even Jesus our Lord . . .

Heb. 13:20

In each case, the item described possesses the quality of being (1) everlasting, (2) never ceasing, and (3) always in full force and effect.

  1. In verse 9:14, it’s the Spirit of God;
  2. in verse 9:15, it’s the inheritance of the saints; and
  3. in verse 13:20, it’s the covenant of salvation

The following are additional examples; but in each instance the adjective “aionios” modifies a noun which clearly pertains to salvation:

And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal (aionios) salvation unto all them that obey him...

Hebrews 5:9

He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting (aionios) life...

John 3:36

Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting (aionios) life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.

John 5:24

Salvation, therefore, is everlasting, never ceasing, and always in full force and effect.

Now, turn with me to 1 Peter 1:23 - and let’s examine another adjective that’s often used to describe the nature of our redemption:

Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.

1 Peter 1:23

The word translated “incorruptible” is “aphthartos." It means “undecaying” - but it actually means more; it means “not subject to decay.” The following are a few verses that convey that meaning unambiguously:

...and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.

Rom. 1:23

Here, “aphthartos” is translated “incorruptible” - and it’s used to indicate that God is not subject to change; He is not subject to decay or degradation. God is “aphthartos.”

...in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.

1 Cor. 15:52

Here, “aphthartos” is translated “imperishable;” and it’s used to point out that when the dead in Christ are raised in resurrection, their state will not be subject to decay or degradation - sharing the very same quality of holiness possessed by God Himself. 1 Corinthians 15:52 teaches us that “aphthartos” is meant to encompass not only our spirit and soul, but our physical bodies as well.

Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

1 Tim. 1:17

Here we have “aphthartos” translated “immortal.” Like Romans 1:23, it’s used here to point out the immutability of God; that God is not subject to change; not subject to decay or degradation. God is “aphthartos.”

Now, let’s return to 1 Peter 1:23. And note carefully that the “seed” - which clearly symbolizes our redemption - is “aphthartos” - not subject to degradation.1  It may not always germinate to the point of “bearing fruit;” but it can’t be destroyed; its potential remains untainted and always intact. It’s “aphthartos.”

But there’s more. Salvation is a free gift. Nothing could be clearer in scripture. It’s neither earned nor maintained on the basis of “works.” And its only condition is “belief.”

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:

Not of works, lest any man should boast.

Ephesians 2:8-9

Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus...

Romans 3:24

He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life...

John 3:36

Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.

John 5:24

Our release from wrath, then, is . . .

  1. ephapax - once and for all - irreversible;
  2. aionios - everlasting - never ceasing - always in full force and effect - and
  3. aphthartos - not subject to degradation - not subject to decay.
  4. And, finally, it’s a gift - conditioned only upon belief.

It’s irreversible; there is no need to restore it - or to maintain it. It’s continually applied. It’s forever in full force and effect; and, finally, it’s a free gift - and, as such, belongs to us unconditionally.

Look closely once again: Hebrews 9:12 is not in conflict with either 1 John 1:7-9 (confession as a condition) or Matthew 6:12 (forgiveness of others as a condition) or any other such verse. It’s simply that the release at issue in Hebrews 9:12 pertains to the penalty for sins - and, as such, is unconditional and eternal; and the release at issue in 1 John 1:7-9 and Matthew 6:12 pertains to fellowship - and, as such, is, following conversion, conditioned upon forgiving others their sins and confessing and repenting of one's own sins.

Both senses of forgiveness in one passage

Both senses of the word forgiveness are laid out for us in 1 John; specifically 1 John 1:9 and, then just two verses later, 1 John 2:1. In 1 John 1:9, forgiveness is clearly conditioned upon confession:

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

1 John 1:9

Here, as we’ve already made clear, the issue is fellowship.

But look now at 1 John 2:1 - just two verses down:

My little children, I am writing these things to you that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous...

1 John 2:1

Here, clearly, the only condition attached to Christ’s advocacy is an instance of sin - “...if anyone sins, we have an Advocate...” The term “Advocate” here is the equivalent of the term “High Priest” used in the Book of Hebrews; and, therefore, it’s not surprising that the meaning of 1 John 2:1 is the same conveyed in Hebrews 7:24-27 - that our salvation is unconditional.

But this man, because he continueth ever, hath an unchangeable priesthood.

Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.

For such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens;

Who needeth not daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifice, first for his own sins, and then for the people’s: for this he did once, when he offered up himself.

Hebrews 7:24-27

1 John 1:9 speaks to the issue of “fellowship-forgiveness” - and, as such, it’s conditional. 1 John 2:1 speaks to the issue of “penalty-forgiveness” - and, as such, is unconditional. Whenever we sin, our advocate steps forward in our behalf - and intercedes for us with his own blood. There’s no need for us to call upon him to step forward: he steps forward on his own and pleads our case. What prompts his ministry is simply our sin - that itself and nothing more.

Fellowship and its relationship to transformation

Some Christians might tend to take lightly the forfeiture of God’s fellowship; after all, our salvation is guaranteed - meaning we don’t stand in jeopardy of being consigned to hell. However, alienation from God’s presence - loss of his fellowship - is very serious - and its consequences tragic. Anyone forfeiting his fellowship with God forfeits as well all hope of undergoing transformation before the resurrection of the dead. Why? Because transformation is secured through the presence of God.

But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.

2 Cor. 3:18

The seed (a metaphor for salvation) remains intact - with none of its potential having been compromised; but it doesn’t germinate: no fruit is produced. The fruit of the Spirit is never brought forth.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,

Meekness, temperance...

Galatians 5:22-23

In addition, anyone forfeiting fellowship with God will suffer loss at the Judgment Seat of Christ; specifically, he will lose the opportunity to rule and reign with Christ - because without the fruit of the Spirit coursing through his life, he will be unable to effectively and profitably serve God. He will, at best, produce only wood, hay, and stubble. He will be unable to produce gold, silver, and precious stones. Note carefully the following verses - most especially verses 14 and 15 of 1 Corinthians 3: salvation is assured, in the sense that the “fire” does not destroy the person being judged; nevertheless, a very real loss of some kind is clearly sustained. What loss? That’s made clear in other passages of scripture; specifically, the loss of sharing in Christ’s millennial reign - Luke 19:17; Matthew 25:21; Revelation 2:26, etc.

Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble;

Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.

If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward.

If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.

1 Cor. 3:12-15

And he said unto him, Well, thou good servant: because thou hast been faithful in a very little, have thou authority over ten cities.

Luke 19:17

His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.

Matt 25:21

And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nation...

Rev. 2:26

Same Principles apply to forgiving others

The twofold meaning of forgiveness not only applies to your own personal relationship with God, but, additionally, it applies to your relationship with fellow believers. In other words, God extends forgiveness to me on both an unconditional and a conditional basis - with the first pertaining to penalty and the second pertaining to fellowship. And the same holds true between believers: believers extend forgiveness to each other on both an unconditional and a conditional basis - with the first pertaining to penalty and the second pertaining to fellowship.

Turn with me to Mark 11:25

And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.

Mark 11:25

It’s unconditional. Forgive the person who’s sinned against you - that’s all there is to it - just do it. Note also that it’s a transaction between you and God: it doesn’t involve the person who’s sinned against you - and against whom, as a result of that sin, you “have ought against.”

Now turn with me to Luke 17:3

Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him.

Luke 17:3

Here your forgiveness is conditional, not unconditional. Are these two verses in conflict? No. No more than Hebrews 9:12 and 1 John 1:7-9. It’s merely that Mark 11:25 pertains to penalty: you’re being asked to forsake getting even with the person who’s offended you - to release him from your personal wrath - and that’s unconditional; while Luke 17:3 pertains to fellowship - and that’s conditional; specifically, it’s conditioned upon his repentance.

Pray carefully over all you’ve been taught. It’s important for you to grasp it thoroughly. Forgiveness is not easy to understand or to process. That’s why Jesus himself warns us in Luke 17:3, “Take heed...” - meaning, understanding and processing forgiveness requires your full attention. May God lead you into all the wisdom his counsel provides. May he grant you a full measure of wisdom and revelation.

 

 

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