Saturday, April 13, 2013

Forgive and Forget

On my birthday, a relative who had spiritually wounded me sent a card that contained a reference to Philippians 3:13-14, “Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, [14] I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

The implication is that I should forget the past and move forward. First, I would be remiss if I did not correct the misinterpretation of the Scripture. Paul is not suggesting we forget the past, he is telling us to forget the sinful life we left when choosing to accept Christ and walk the narrow path to salvation. “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62). He is giving us an eternal recipe for success: Forgetting the old man of sin that should be dead and buried, and reaching forward to what only a new creation in Christ can attain.

So Paul's text is not about forgetting the past. It is not about forgetting grievances against you. In fact, Paul is the first to warn against those who have proven to be “dogs” and “evil workers” - those who have received a “false circumcision” (Philippians 3:1). He implores us to examine the evidence which our past contains in order to make a determination between those who “walk according to the pattern” and those who are “enemies of the cross of Christ” (Philippians 3:17-18). As the apostle examines his own life, he remembers distinctly which single congregation supported him when he first began to preach and the fact that every other congregation neglected to help him (Philippians 4:15).

But my relative – who claims to love me – has suggested that I need to let go of the past and move on ... to forget any perceived sins against me. In effect, I am being asked to consider the family relationship as more important than whatever grievances I may have. This certainly is a popular thought. Modern psychologies – which have invaded both the world and the church – teach us that we cannot move forward – in our lives, in our relationships – unless we learn to forgive. It is said that we must not harbor resentments. “You have to forgive and forget!”

But is that the truth? Why then has God said to the churches three times, “I have this against you” (Revelation 2:4, 14, 20)? In fact, can you find even one passage of Scripture in which God forgets the past and overlooks sins committed against Him? Only one thing – ONE – causes God to forget sin, and that is repentance. In every other case, God has indeed harbored resentment. “I will set My face against you” (Leviticus 26:17). “I will act with hostility against you” (Leviticus 26:24). “I will act with wrathful hostility against you, and I, even I, will punish you seven times for your sins” (Leviticus 26:28).

““You who have forsaken Me,” declares the LORD, “You keep going backward. So I will stretch out My hand against you and destroy you; I am tired of relenting! [7] I will winnow them with a winnowing fork at the gates of the land; I will bereave them of children, I will destroy My people; They did not repent of their ways””
(Jeremiah 15:6-7). Why didn't God just forget about the past? Because “they did not repent of their ways.”

Forget psychology! Forget Oprah Winfrey! What does Jesus say? “If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. [4] And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him” (Luke 17:3-4). According to the Master, there is no forgiveness apart from repentance.

I have made my grievances crystal clear against my family members. I would love for the family relationship to be restored. I long for the fellowship of those who desire to be my Christian brothers and sisters. But this isn't about a petty insult. This isn't about getting my feelings hurt. This is about the rejection of my ministry to Christ, and therefore Christ Himself.

I have been fired by “Christian” congregations four times. In each case, members who claimed to love me and my family believed lies and turned away from us. They would not support us. They denied the evidence of my life and my preaching. I cannot forget that. God does not forget that. A separation has been made. “Any place that does not receive you or listen to you, as you go out from there, shake the dust off the soles of your feet for a testimony against them” (Mark 6:11).

Only once in almost thirty years has someone from a former congregation contacted me to say, “I was wrong.” Once. That brother I graciously accepted back into my life with tears. The repentance was sufficient to warrant forgiveness. For the rest – even from my family members – I'm still waiting.

I cannot forgive sinful behavior apart from repentance, because God does not. Not one unrepentant sin has blindly being overlooked by the Lord. He does not ignore our transgressions with a conspiratorial wink. Man is superior at excusing sinful behavior. “Oh, we're only human. We're all just imperfect people.” God never makes such declarations. Can you really imagine Him saying, “Oh, it's all right, you're only human. I'll ignore that sin since you're all just imperfect people.” Only by repenting will proper fellowship be restored.“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).

My family treat me as if I have severed the ties that bind us as some sort of temper tantrum. Just the opposite. I take no pleasure in the separation, nor have I walked away from them lightly. What has been done was affected only after much prayer and consideration of the Scriptures. Before I ever considered their sins, I first considered my own, as Jesus says, “First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye” (Matthew 7:5).

Also, they (my family and former congregations) have in effect – by their behavior and speech – suggested that no sin was committed. If they do not see their sin, that is their problem not mine. I am responsible to the Scriptures, which state, “Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them” (Ephesians 5:11). I cannot force someone to understand, or even to listen. All I can do is speak truth.

God did so in abundance, yet His people – those who claimed to love Him – rejected His spiritual assessment. “How have we despised Your name?” (Malachi 1:6). “How have we defiled You?” (Malachi 1:7). “How have we wearied Him?” (Malachi 2:17). “How have we robbed You?” (Malachi 3:8). Jesus also warned of such blindness – and its repercussions – early in His ministry, “Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ [23] And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS’” (Matthew 7:22-23).

In fact, considering such Scriptures, it becomes all the more necessary for me to remove myself from such people. Overlooking the sin would only perpetuate the blindness. The right thing to do when unrepentant sin remains blatant and outstanding, according to the apostle of Christ, is to sever fellowship, “I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus” (1 Corinthians 5:5). Sometimes it is only by an extraordinary measure that wickedness can be revealed and realized.

Our Declaration of Independence claims that when it becomes time to “dissolve the …. bands which have connected them with another … a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”

Our founding fathers were following a biblical model … and so have I. As Jesus says, “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. [16] But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that BY THE MOUTH OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES EVERY FACT MAY BE CONFIRMED. [17] If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector” (Matthew 18:15-17).

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