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by Teri Lee Earl

We may never completely comprehend all of the ramifications (ongoing results) of sin, but Scripture tells us that those ramifications end in one word: Death (Romans 6:23). But just as sin and death have its power here on earth, so does forgiveness, and we have the option to experience that power instead. The work of forgiveness is its capacity to breathe life into death, and reconciliation and healing into that which was broken and lost. Instead of death, the results or 'end' of forgiveness is rebirth and resurrection, to whomever receives it. Instead of brokeness, forgiveness has the power to heal, to whomever applies it. Because of this power to undo the effects of sin and brokeness, the dynamic power of forgiveness cannot be underestimated.

"For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Rom. 6:23)

Like any gift, forgiveness must both be given and received. Only through the completion of this transaction is the full power of forgiveness manifested. With that in mind, we will examine all aspects of forgiveness in Scriptures. In the Word of God, we will see how forgiveness works its resurrection power not only to keep our souls from damnation in the 'after-death' apart from Jesus instead of the 'after-life' with Him, but also for what is in the here and now. We will explore the limits of forgiveness, or what halts and can even reverse its power. We will find out why it is to our own spiritual peril and well being if we remain ignorant of it, not appreciate it, abuse it, or even misapply it. In all things, the ministry of Jesus is both our example and patient Teacher.


(God Forgives Us, and We are Christ's Ambassadors)

God Forgives Us

A Holy Father and Our Advocate, Jesus

The primary aspect of forgiveness is the vertical one, between a holy God and fallen man. Christ's sacrifice on the cross for our sins is foundational to the Christian faith. Through this free gift of Jesus, we receive the forgiveness of our sins and the power of sin and death is broken. Cleansed from the stain of these sins, we are made acceptable to a holy God, who is our Heavenly Father. It was this same Heavenly Father who cared enough to make a way for restoration. To understand the restoration offered us by God, we will begin in the epistle of 1 John. Here, the Apostle John uses the Greek word hilasmos, or "propitiation" to describe this exchange provided by God for the purpose of taking away our sins :

"By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins." (1 John 4:9-10)

"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; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world." (1 John 2:1-2)

Some explain this term as a reference to the removal of sin's effect. However, the weight of evidence affirms clearly that hilasmos portrays the placating of God's wrath toward sin; hence, Christ's death (1:7) satisfies the just demands of God's holy judgment against sin. The Apostle John emphasizes in his epistle that the goal of believers is to not sin. However, when they do sin, they have an "Advocate" (parakletos, Gk.). Jesus is the Advocate of believers in heaven. The term "Advocate" portrays Jesus as both an "attorney" and an "intercessor," one who represents the cause of believers in the presence of the Father. Thus, Christ does not simply represent believers before God (v. 1), He also provides the grounds for their forgiveness -- He is both Advocate and atoning sacrifice. Jesus' provision of propitiation does not mean that the Father is uninvolved in salvation; in actuality, God's love is the ultimate source of Christ's work (4:9).*

Jesus' Advocate On Earth-The Holy Spirit

The epistle John is not the first time the word parakletos (advocate) occurs. There are only four other times the word is used in the New Testament, and all are in the gospel of John. Each time, it is translated as "Helper", and each time it is used to describe the ministry of the Holy Spirit (John 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7). In John 14:15-17, Jesus reminds his disciples that if they love Him they will keep His commandments, and then promises the Holy Spirit as the "Spirit of Truth" (4:17) who will stay with them forever and soon be in them. Later, He again speaks of the "Spirit of Truth" Who will bear witness of Him (15:26). In John 16:7-14, Jesus tells even more of what this 'Helper' or 'Advocate' (paraketos) will do when He comes after Jesus' death : The Holy Spirit will convict the world of sin so the world will believe in Jesus, of righteousness because we will no longer be able to behold Jesus and His righteousness (see also 1 John 3:5), and of the judgment because Satan has already been judged(15:8-11). He will also guide us "into all truth", speak from the Father, and tell "what is to come" (16:13). This Advocate, the Holy Spirit, will also glorify Jesus by disclosing and giving from Him to us. (16:14) So, as His Advocate and our Helper, the Holy Spirit convicts of sin and draws us to Jesus, tells us His truth and glorifies Him through His believers.

So, we now have the Holy Spirit as 'advocate' (intercessor/lawyer) to lead us to Jesus, and Jesus as our Advocate to make a way to a Holy Father-even if we should sin again. (John urges the believers to not practice sin)

Repent, and you will be forgiven

The Holy Spirit did come with power to glorify Jesus through his disciples as Jesus promised (Acts 1: 8 ) on the day of Pentecost (2:1-4). The Apostle Peter rose up to preach in His power, and the listeners were "pierced to the heart"(2:37). Obviously convicted of their sin by the ministry of the Holy Spirit, they cried out to the apostles "Brethren, what shall we do?" "And Peter said to them, "Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." (Acts 2:38) . Herein is the command to repent.

Acts 2:38: "Repent" is second person imperative, indicating a mandate for all to repent. Repentance is a Christian absolute both doctrinally and experientially (Luke 13:3). "Be baptized" is third person passive imperative, thereby stressing individual responsibility to obey. To submit to such apostolic kerygma (Gk.), or "proclamation," is one of the first outward evidences of the genuineness of repentance and faith. Baptism, therefore, follows justification and is not a prerequisite for salvation. Baptism is important; it is not, however, essential for salvation. These words might be understood to mean "because of the remission of sins." See Matt. 12:41 where this same preposition (eis, Gk.) means "because" (see note on Acts 10:47).*

Later, while the Apostle Paul was counseling the church at Corinth regarding some difficulties with sin in their midst, he described what real repentance was for them in these verses:

"For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation; but the sorrow of the world produces death. For behold what earnestness this very thing, this godly sorrow, has produced in you: what vindication of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what avenging of wrong! In everything you demonstrated yourselves to be innocent in the matter." (2 Cor. 7: 9-10)

"Repentance" is the translation of two different Greek words. Judas repented (metamelomai, Gk.), which means that he had regret concerning the way things developed (cf. Matt. 27:3; Acts 1:16, note). The repentance mentioned in this verse is metanoian (Gk.), meaning a complete reversal. Literally, the term means "to think after," "to have an afterthought," "to have a second mind," i.e., "to change one's mind." When a man recognizes sorrowfully his sinfulness and helplessness in his failure, he has a mind to seek God by faith in Christ. The inevitable result of this genuine repentance is a renewed interest in spiritual matters (v. 11).*

No one comes to Christ and salvation unless he has sorrow for his sins. But sorrow alone (mere regret) without the redemptive power of Christ only brings on more sorrow. It produces bitterness and a sense of hopeless self-loathing. Genuine godly sorrow brings about repentance and salvation as one turns to the ministry of Jesus, our Advocate. Before godly sorrow, we might be either completely apathetic about sin or simply remorseful at times. After the ministry of the Holy Spirit successfully convicts us with a godly sorrow, we repent---truly repent. True repentance is not passive, but is active. True repentance causes us to actively turn away from sin and spurn it, just as the Corinthian Christians did.

However, the verse in 2 Corinthians is part of an ongoing discussion Paul had with the believers in Corinth about THEIR sin, and the sin in THEIR midst. It was not about the sin of unbelievers! (1 Corinth. 5:9-11) in the verse quoted above, Paul is commending the Corinthians for responding appropriately to the situation he had addressed earlier (2 Cor. 7:8) The Apostle John also addressed the issues of Christians falling into sin or practicing sin in his epistle (1 John 2:1; 3:7-10)) Therefore, it certainly could be concluded that repentance or the turning away from sin is an ongoing part of a believer's life, and is also an appropriate concern for the entire body or fellowship of believers.

Confess, and you will be forgiven

In his epistle, John explains what true Christianity is. This theme is returned to and reiterated throughout the letter. He does this by using contrasts to demonstrate what is truthful and what is a lie, and urges believers to pay attention to manifestations of true Christianity. Most notably, these are love (1:20), doctrinal acceptance of Jesus' coming in the flesh (4:1-3), and practicing righteousness (3:7-10)

Concerning righteousness and the atonement of Christ, John gives the promise: "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) Notice that this all-encompassing promise of forgiveness and cleansing is given with a conditional 'if' in front of it. In it's context, this verse is used to contrast two different approaches to sin. Believers have the ability to fully acknowledge sin and deal with it effectively (through Christ's atonement) "in the light" where "the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin" (1:7). However, those who "lie, and do not practice the truth," who say "they have not sinned"(1:10) are walking in "darkness" (1:6), thus negating the work of Christ (1:10).

John has drawn one of the clear lines between the true Christians in Christ's light, and the false Christians who are in darkness. That line is called confession, or verbal acknowledgment of sin. If someone does not acknowledge sin, then what is there to be forgiven? They have hidden what needs to be redeemed in the darkness, and have not brought it out to the Light of Jesus. Thus, the redemptive and cleansing work of Christ cannot be applied to what they have no need of. But for those who do acknowledge and reveal their sin, they are promised not only forgiveness, but a cleansing from all unrighteousness.

Characteristic of authentic Christianity is the confession of sin. Confession is a combination of two Greek words, homo, meaning "same," and lego, meaning "to say." It includes both an acknowledgment of specific sins and a recognition that sin needs to be forgiven.*

Forgive, as you were forgiven

In the Lord's Prayer, Jesus said, "'And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors." (Matt. 6:12)

In the Aramaic language which Jesus spoke the word for 'sin' is the same as the word for 'debt'; hence 'every one who is indebted to us' means 'everyone who has sinned against us'. ( pg. 78 The Hard Sayings of Jesus by F.F. Bruce 1983 InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Illinois)

The Lord's prayer is one Jesus gave as an example to believers of how to pray to the Heavenly Father.

After finishing the prayer, He took the trouble to explain the part of the Lord's prayer about forgiveness further, when He added to the prayer: ""For if you forgive men for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions." (Mat 6:14-15)

Here again is a contract, beginning with the word, 'if'. This preposition tells us what our part is. We are promised that as we forgive others, our Heavenly Father will forgive us. There is no mistaking this contract!

At repentance and confession, we are convicted by the Holy Spirit of our sin, and we have used our wills to respond to that conviction. We are made painfully aware enough of our fallen nature, so that we can petition for forgiveness of our sins through the sacrifice of Jesus! Someone who has never experienced forgiveness, and does not know what it is in the first place, would find forgiving their fellow man a foreign concept indeed. Clearly, we are expected to extend this same grace to others.

A more thorough explanation of this 'contract' between God and His servant is made by Jesus in the parable of the unmerciful servant. This parable is told in Matt 18:22-35.

The parable contains a story of the following outline:

  1. A king is about to pass judgment on a servant who cannot pay an exorbitant amount of debt.
  2. The servant entreats the king, pleading for mercy. He promises to pay the amount, if given time.
  3. The king, knowing the servant could never repay his debt (it ran into millions of dollars) is moved to compassion. He pardons the debt completely, and releases the servant.
  4. The servant hunts down a fellow servant who owes him a minuscule amount of money (what amounted to a few dollars). The forgiven servant violently attacks his fellow servant, demanding he pay back the money he owed.
  5. The fellow servant entreats him for mercy in the same manner as the forgiven servant had entreated the king.
  6. The forgiven servant does not forgive. Instead, he is unmerciful. He throws his fellow servant into prison for his debt, according to the full measure of the law.
  7. The king finds out about this activity of the forgiven servant. He is outraged, and calls him wicked for not extending mercy in the same manner as he had been shown mercy by the king. The king reverses his forgiveness, and hands out a much harsher judgment than the unmerciful servant was going to get in the first place.
At the end of this parable, Jesus gives a solemn warning, ""So shall My heavenly Father also do to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart."" (Mat 18:35)

Clearly, Jesus is saying that if we refuse to extend mercy and forgiveness as our Father has done for us, we are wicked servants and will be judged by the Father. Notice that in this parable, God's original extension of forgiveness was reversed! In the end, the unforgiving servant lost much more than the judgment he faced at the beginning , which was the loss of all of his belongings. He was instead, given a second judgment, which was to be "handed to over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him"(18:34). Being tortured for an indefinite period of time certainly seemed reminiscent of what Jesus had just said would happen to the wicked in Matt 13:49-50 9 (the tares among the wheat). Jesus had also already said in Matt 10:28, ""And do not fear those who kill the body, but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell." In any case, this wicked servant was consigned to a hellish torment because he did not fear God or learn from His character, and forgive his fellow servant.

The new covenant or 'contract' of forgiveness was initiated by a loving God who wished to again fellowship with fallen man. He sent His Son Jesus to become sin for us. God's response toward sin is His wrath, and Jesus legally (according to God's laws) satisfied that wrath for us,. Through His sacrifice, we are eligible to obtain forgiveness of sins. After Jesus' ascension into heaven, the Father sent the Holy Spirit to continue representing Jesus' righteousness so we may know what true purity is, and to convict us of sin so that we might repent. When we respond and repent, confessing our sins, Jesus cleanses us from all unrighteousness. Because of the Lord's example of forgiveness and mercy, we are commanded to maintain our part of the contract by forgiving our fellow man. If we do not, the contract is voided as much as we have voided it. In other words, we are not forgiven to the degree that we have not forgiven others. We are subject again to God's wrath and judgment.

If God Has Forgiven us, How Can We Refuse His Forgiveness?

Sometimes, we might have become convinced that whatever we have done is 'unforgivable'. It does not matter if others forgive us, or that we are told God forgives us. We remain convinced that somehow our sin, our crime, our weakness, is a special case. Perhaps we may not know why we feel this way---we may not remember when we decided we were such horrible creatures. Perhaps we have compared ourselves to others, and find ourselves coming up short-undeserving of mercy or grace. We may be compulsively hurting ourselves, or finding a more subtle way to punish ourselves-somehow never allowing ourselves to succeed or enjoy love, for instance. Or, we may have done all the right steps possible yet still feel a sense of incompleteness. This incompleteness could be because for some reason we are unable to ask another person or persons for forgiveness, because the time may seem past for the opportunity to do so.

The Apostle John said that if we are walking in the light, we do not hate our brother. Most people who inwardly harbor a hatred or contempt for themselves would never consider hating a brother. Yet if we are bitter against ourselves-if we hate ourselves---are we not hating a brother, too? If we hate ourselves, we have just changed the target of our hate, but the principle is the same. It is not any different to hate the person inside ourselves than it is to hate a person outside of ourselves. Christ loved us and died for us, as well as for our brother. So we are no less deserving of His love and sacrifice than any other person on earth, regardless of how we feel about it. 

Beneath all the confused feelings and strong impulses is a choice. Once we understand this, we can choose to either agree with God's value of ourselves or disagree. A choice to hold ourselves hostage to guilt and condemnation negates the work of the cross and the grace of Christ. We are telling God that He made an error when He created us with our weaknesses, and that it is unacceptable that we should be so 'imperfect'. We are saying that what we have done is impossible to redeem, even though Christ decided long ago that it was, and decided to go to the Cross on our behalf. 

Christ died to cover our past with His blood and set us free from it. So, even though we cannot reverse the past and undo what we have done, we are not bound by the things of the past unless we decide to be. If we accept His forgiveness for our sins, we are only declaring ourselves to be Christians---We are only saying that we have faith in the "good news" of the message of the Gospel (Luke 16:16) And if we have difficulty with our faith, or in decision to accept God's free gift of grace for us, then we have the power of His death and resurrection to call upon to help us do that. 

Whatever the reason is that we might despise ourselves, it is not a work of God to reject ourselves. It is not in His character to look for a reason to reject His creation, but to reconcile with it instead (2 Peter 3:9). If we are bound by a spirit which leads to tells us to hate or despise ourselves, we can be assured that He came to destroy the works of the devil. (1 John 3:8) So, just as Jesus was resurrected by the power of the Holy Spirit, we can be 'resurrected' too by the Holy Spirit into a 'new creature' who accepts himself or herself as much as God accepts us (Rom. 8:11).  Weakness or imperfections should not lead us to reject ourselves, because Christ considers every weakness a strength in Him. His work is not to excise our weakness from us (since we are created well), but to instead transform it  (2 Corinth. 12:9) 

Please remember that condemnation comes from the devil, not from Christ. If we are in Him-in His light, there is no condemnation (Romans 8:1) Condemnation and conviction are not the same. Their source is different, and so is their fruit. The Holy Spirit is Christ's Advocate. He reveals what true righteousness is, and convicts of sin. If the Holy Spirit is the One who convicts, the fruit will be predictable. Successful conviction means that someone comes closer to Christ--- believing in Him. Successful conviction means, true repentance, which is more active than passive (for instance, active retribution or kindness). Successful conviction means confessing and knowing the love of God. The fruit of successful condemnation, however is the opposite-hopelessness, isolation, depression, self-loathing, and destruction. It is the 'ungodly sorrow that leads to death'

Believe it or not, there is a way out of this type of sorrow. Here are the steps to do that:

  1. Choose to "forgive ourselves" because He has already forgiven us and we can accept that by faith. Forgiveness is not a feeling, it is a choice and the "good news" is that the choice was made by God already. Anyone who accepts God's free gift of forgiveness through Christ qualifies to receive that gift. Verbally pronouncing that we choose to forgive ourselves is a way to "hold fast our confession." (Heb. 4:14-16) and agree with God's ways and will.
  2. Choose to accept ourselves in Him, by faith. This means believing in God's Love in spite of the 'evidence' of how we feel about ourselves and our own worth. After all, faith is the "evidence of things not seen"(Hebrews 11:1) If we lack faith, we can ask for it (Mark 9:24)
  3. Repent of sinning against ourselves. Repentance, after all, is turning away from one thing, and toward another. It is a 360 degree turn-not just the determination to turn away from lies, but to turn and reach up toward God. Remember, repentance is active and not passive. It may mean confessing our self-loathing to a brother, and asking for ministry to break whatever the enemy has sown into our psyche. Believe or not, it is through the true ministry of the Holy Spirit---conviction-- that we can be gently reminded to make the right choice of having grace upon ourselves. Through conviction, we triumph over condemnation.
If we refuse to have grace upon ourselves, we would need to repent of what I call 'backwards pride'. This is the type of arrogance that causes us to believe we are somehow a 'special case'-more evil than all the other sinners out there, and more able to judge ourselves than God Himself. We are not a better judge than God-we do not know more than Him, even about ourselves (Romans 8:26-27). He clearly states in the scriptures that He WILL forgive, once we have applied His outlined steps. It is a shocking realization to know that we are no better, AND no worse, than our fellow man. God knows just how horrible everyone has been and what people are capable of. Still, He chooses to redeem us.

While we have opportunity, we should always seek forgiveness from those we have harmed.  We could even give retribution--doing some kind act. Too often though, people feel guilt or remorse, and yet do nothing about it until its too late.  In the case of an incompleteness, we need to remember that God can help us transcend obstacles--even time or death. By listening to God's instructions, I've had 'supernatural' circumstances occur which have allowed me to make the effort toward reconciliation.  In prayer by ourselves or with others, Jesus can also act as our Advocate or 'intercessor' to relay a message to someone across the barriers of time and death (even generations). I've heard testimonies of these occurances which lead to a sense of completeness in the spirit!

The One Unpardonable Sin

Jesus said there was only one sin that God would not forgive. That sin is not murder, lying, stealing, adultery, or shameful perversion. It isn't one of the 'cardinal sins'. It's none of what we humans would consider the 'top ten' most horrible things a person can do. It's not even what we would think is God's Top Ten--the Ten Commandments. Jesus describes this unpardonable sin in both Matt 12:21-32 and Mark 3:20-30 as 'blasphemy' or 'speaking against the Holy Spirit'. It is obvious in these passages that this means the knowledgeable, verbal attributing of the work of the Holy Spirit to Satan. This is what Jesus warned the Pharisees of when they began to say the power by which Jesus cast out demons was really the power of the devil, not God. This 'power' was the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Triune God-hood. To say that Jesus was out of His mind as the Pharisees did was a pardonable sin, but to revile the character of the Holy Spirit by attributing the supernatural power or manifestations of the Spirit as being done by the devil is an "eternal sin" (Mark 3:30)

"And whoever shall speak a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whoever shall speak against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, either in this age, or in the age to come." (Mat 12:32)

If God Has Forgiven Us, Can We Forgive Him?

It seems sacrilegious to think of forgiving God. It is. But let us suspend religious thoughts for awhile, and consider how we might be angry at God. God is all-powerful, after all. He makes promises in His word. What if we feel betrayed by Him? What if we don't understand how He could let bad things happen? What if He didn't stop things, when we think He could or should? These are questions people ask in their inner hearts sometimes, but are too afraid to ask out loud. If we are angry with God Himself, then we might also become bitter against Him, and want nothing to do with Him. Who wants a God like that?

There are many issues in forgiving God. Some have to do with the fact that God didn't conceive of evil or approve of it, but people still have the free will to do heinous acts of sin. This is a difficult thing to accept, especially if the heinous acts are done against you or your loved one. God is all-powerful, but the devil is the god of this world-for now. That sounds too simple, perhaps. But it's true. Most people have a difficult time accepting the idea that God seems 'limited' on this earth. His 'perfect will' is done in heaven, not on earth. If it were done on earth, we would not have to pray for it as Jesus Himself did in the Lord's Prayer. It's the sinners who often get their way before the day of vengeance. At the day of vengeance, they are paid back for their deeds. (Matt. 16:27)

Philosophy is of small comfort, however, for those who are being tortured. I would recommend you not give 'quick fix' answers to those in excruciating pain or who are under oppression now. Even Solomon, the wisest man on earth, found no answer for oppression. In the entire book of Ecclesiastics, oppression was the only thing Solomon did not give an answer for:

"Then I looked again at all the acts of oppression which were being done under the sun. And behold I saw the tears of the oppressed and that they had no one to comfort them; and on the side of their oppressors was power, but they had no one to comfort them. So I congratulated the dead who are already dead more than the living who are still living." (Eccl 4:1-2)

Solomon looked upon the unfairness of unrelenting oppression and came up with nothing but despair. Anyone who has truly experienced oppression, knows despair. In my experience, the question of 'why?' cannot be answered completely. Pain cannot be philosophized away, but it can be emphasized with as Scripture instructs us to do:

"Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep." (Rom 12:15)

Without the aid of philosophy or the over-spiritualization of religion, we are left with the same kind

of anger toward God as we might have toward a person. Philosophy would put ineffective Band-Aids on pain, and religion would tell us that it's 'wrong' to be angry at God, and therefore we should deny these 'wrong' feelings to ourselves. But feelings aren't right or wrong. They are just feelings. There comes a point in healing in which we become more aware of our feelings, and are ready to process them. At this point, we can process our disappointment and anger -even toward God Himself. We don't understand this Person or His ways completely, or the 'why' of something that's not fair. Expressing and discussing our pain with God and how we feel about it is better than holding bitterness against Him and losing fellowship with Him. He would rather us forgive Him (as ridiculous as that may sound to the religious or to philosophers) than be apart from us. We can choose to forgive Him, just as we would choose to forgive a person.

We Are Christ's Ambassadors

"Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ, and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were entreating through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God." (2 Cor 5:17-20)

By the New Birth the Christian is a new creature of the sort that belongs in the new creation-a creation that is now reconciled to God . As a "new creation" (v. 17) of God, believers have a new calling as "ambassadors" of Christ. An ambassador represents his nation and his king, and has great authority because he is entrusted to by his king to act on his behalf. This is extremely important, because the people to which the ambassador is sent to don't actually see the king, but they see the ambassador. Not having direct contact with the king, the ambassador is their first clue to what the king is like. I believe this is why the wrath of God came upon the unforgiving servant. He did not act with the character of God like Christ would have. Therefore, he failed miserably as His ambassador. We cannot act like 'old creatures' and expect to be commended as an 'ambassadors' at the same time.

Our assignment as ambassadors is as to preach the message of reconciliation (vv. 19, 20) and to perform the ministry of reconciliation (vv. 18, 20). Our first priority is the urgent concern that man be reconciled with God through the avenue of forgiveness God provided-Christ. The Bible pictures man as an enemy of God (Rom. 5:10) in his unredeemed state. Reconciliation has reference to a change in relationship from hostility to love, acceptance, and friendship. Thus, in repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus, a man is reconciled to God by the death of Christ. His basic relationship has changed from that of an enemy of God to that of a friend of God. We are to carry out our task with a sense of urgency as we "implore" (beseech, beg) men to be reconciled to God.

This might include not only the unbeliever, but the false believer also. He too, is walking "in the dark" (1 John 1:6), and has a mind set on the flesh which is "hostile to God" (Romans 8:7). The false brother "loves the world" (1 John 2:15) and does not keep His commandments (2:4). He cannot violate Christ's commandments and also be God's friend, any more than the wicked unforgiving servant. Jesus said, "You are My friends, if you do what I command you." (John 15:14)

Ambassadors Are Not God

If we are indeed in Christ, we are given much authority and responsibility as His ambassadors. But there are limits to our authority. We are challenged by Jesus in the parable of the unforgiving servant to forgive as God would. But we have an authority higher than ourselves, who has all knowledge and also ultimate responsibility. That Person is God the Father. If the unforgiving servant had no one to answer to, he could conceivably be an unmerciful 'god' to his fellow servant without eventual judgment from a Higher Power. It is more than coincidence, I believe, that the wicked servant who did not obey God's command to forgive met the same fate as the false prophets in Matt. 7:15-23. They were also wicked. They called Jesus 'Lord', and practiced the gifts of the Spirit, yet at the judgment they were prevented from entering the Kingdom of God. Instead, Jesus said, "Depart from Me, you who practiced lawlessness." (7:23)

God promises vengeance (Deut 32:35-43), and a day of vengeance (Isa. 34:8), yet He is also slow to anger. He promises that He will not let the guilty go unpunished. This includes the wicked, whether 'unbelievers' or 'false believers' who have defined themselves as His enemies by their lawlessness and disobedience to His commands:

"A jealous and avenging God is the LORD; The LORD is avenging and wrathful. The LORD takes vengeance on His adversaries, And He reserves wrath for His enemies. The LORD is slow to anger and great in power, And the LORD will by no means leave the guilty unpunished. In whirlwind and storm is His way, And clouds are the dust beneath His feet." (Nahum 1:2-3)

As Christ's Ambassadors, we are commanded by scripture to: 1) forgive the humble and repentant, just as God would, and 2) leave room for the God's judgments upon the proud and the unrepentant (the wicked).

Leave Room for the Wrath of God

"If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, "VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY," says the Lord. "BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS UPON HIS HEAD." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." " (Rom 12:18-21)

"'Vengeance is Mine, and retribution, In due time their foot will slip; For the day of their calamity is near, And the impending things are hastening upon them.' For the LORD will vindicate His people, And will have compassion on His servants; When He sees that their strength is gone, And there is none remaining, bond or free."… "If I sharpen My flashing sword, And My hand takes hold on justice, I will render vengeance on My adversaries, And I will repay those who hate Me." (Deu 32:35-36, 41)

There is a wise Alcoholics Anonymous saying: "Let Go-Let God". Only God is God. We cannot force someone to repent or get help. We cannot control people, and we cannot force God's hand, either. If we supplant God's will by taking vengeance, then we are acting as though we are God. We are not to take God's place in this way. In fact, it is no accident that a great deal of the practice of the occult (illegitimate authority) is toward the goal of reprisals, retaliation, and revenge. Only the arrogant would believe that they know what is a just and adequate repayment for evil, and seek to accomplish this by their own will, apart from God. Even so, the arrogant do not have the power to consign someone to hell. God can. We cannot place ourselves on the throne of God. If we do, we have actually put ourselves in the way of God. Chances are, we don't want to be there. When His wrath is poured out, we'll be right in the path of it! It's best to move out of His way, and let Him have His way, too!

All of God's instructions regarding dealing with people who sin against us, whether 'our enemies' or 'our brothers' are ALL designed to bring about conviction and repentance on their part. For the unrepentant enemy, our instructions are designed to convict him of his behavior as soon as we have the opportunity to do so . At the same time, the command to "overcome evil with good" (Romans 12:21) protects us from using the other person's transgressions as an excuse for us to fall into the sin of retaliation or bitterness.. It's like the classic adage, "Two wrongs don't make a right". As we concede to bitterness, we will eventually direct at anyone who is vulnerable-often whoever is close by.

"You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the LORD." (Lev 19:18)

© Copyright 1997 by Teri Lee Earl All Rights Reserved
* The Believers Study Bible, Version 1.0c
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