Unfortunately, we have often found ourselves lacking good servants in the church. Many times this is because of lack of teaching (discipleship) or simply a lack of commitment by members of the body. Other times we have been guilty of 'disabling' many useful servants for the Lord simply by our lack of forgiveness. That is the subject that we are going to deal with in this message.
There are many talented, faithful Christians who are not permitted to use their talents in the Lord's Church, simply because their 'brothers and sisters' in the Lord refuse to forget their past. This would apply to the qualifications of the leadership as well as to many other areas of service.
The fear of the Lord and the pursuit of holiness in a fallen world.
In Scripture “the flesh” is a metaphor for the carnal nature of fallen man, which is in opposition to the Spirit of God. The attributes of this carnal nature are listed in Galatians 5:17-21: “Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you just as I have forewarned you that those who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.”
It is so crucial that Christians overcome this base nature that we are told in the last verse above that we will not inherit the Kingdom of God as long as we practice these things. The removal of that nature is referred to as our spiritual circumcision, which is the circumcision of our heart, as we read in Romans 2:27-29. So we want to take the time to look at each of these works of the flesh, and how they are to be cut out of our life so we can replace them with the fruit of the Spirit, which is the Christ-like nature. That is our goal, not to just rid ourselves of the evil, but to fill our hearts with God.
The first work of the flesh that is listed is “immorality.” This includes fornication, which is having sex outside of marriage, and adultery, which is having sex with someone other than your spouse. It also includes homosexual sex, which the Bible calls not only a sin, but a perversion and an abomination. These are sins; they are forbidden, and under no circumstances are acceptable behaviors for a Christian.
Does this mean that anyone who has ever fallen to one of these cannot inherit the Kingdom of God? No. There is grace for those who stumble and the forgiveness of sin if we repent and seek the forgiveness of God through His atonement. However, it is a different story for those who “practice” these things. That implies the continual, repeated sin that is not repented of.
A second question would be whether a Christian who falls into repeated affairs or a lengthy affair cannot be saved because they have practiced these things. This is a good question and one that is certainly worthy of examination. It is addressed in a number of Scriptures, but we will look at Hebrews 6:4-6: “For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God, and put Him to open shame.”
There is obviously a line that can be crossed where it becomes impossible to renew one again to repentance. This also implies that if someone can still repent, they must not have crossed that line. The key is if they can still repent. Repentance is more than just feeling sorry for having committed the sin, and is more than asking forgiveness – it means to renounce the sin and turn away from it, resolving not to do it again. So if someone can still repent, they can be forgiven and they can still inherit the Kingdom of God. Hebrews 3:13 says, “But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called ‘Today,’ lest any one of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”
Sin does harden the heart toward repentance or makes it harder to repent. Sin is also deceitful, and those who practice it often become so deceived that they no longer see it as sin, and therefore cannot repent of it. I have witnessed this process with far too many, even with those who had an extraordinary anointing and have been mightily used by God. In fact, it seems that the more anointed you are when you fall into sin, the faster the hardening takes place and the deeper the deception is.
I know one such very anointed man of God who engaged in lengthy homosexual relationships lasting for years. When it was exposed, the depth of his hardness of heart and the level of deception was astonishing. Every conceivable homosexual act was performed repeatedly, but because he was only involved with one partner at a time he became enraged when it was even implied that he was a homosexual! He had begun to call the sinful acts “fellowship” and ways that he was helping his partners “to get free of their homophobia.” Could he really believe anything that foolish? It seems that he really does.
Though this man finally admitted to everything when confronted with the evidence, there is a difference between admitting something and repenting of it. This was a man that was known all over the world for the powerful spiritual gifts that operated through him, and his knowledge of the ways of the Spirit. However, when this sin was exposed I have personally never witnessed more irrational thinking than what came out of this man. We must never underestimate the power of sin to deceive. The greater we think we are in the Lord and the more pride we have in that, the more vulnerable we can be and the further we can fall when we do.
I am convinced that the Church today has some of the greatest leaders that it has had since the first century. There are great problems in the church today, but there are also many more reasons for great hope. I have had to deal with some very ugly things in the church, and in some leaders, but this has by no means shaken my faith in their ultimately becoming a bride without spot or wrinkle.
We must also keep in mind Galatians 6:1, “Brethren, even if a man is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, lest you too be tempted.” “Any trespass” covers a lot. We must also have as our goal the restoration of any one who falls into any sin. As stated above, there obviously is a line that can be crossed when it becomes impossible for one to repent. However, it is my opinion that only the Lord knows when this has been done. Therefore, regardless of how deep the darkness is that one falls into, it is my resolve to hope and pray for their repentance and do anything I can to help them as the Lord gives me the grace. I have learned repeatedly that His grace and mercy reaches much further than my own.
“If you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
- Jesus, from the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:14-15)
Just after Jesus gave His disciples the majestic “Lord’s Prayer,” He inserted a difficult teaching about the necessity of forgiveness. It’s almost as though He felt He must go back and expound one of the key parts to the model prayer – “Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors.”
Protestants generally have had a hard time with this saying. Jesus seems to be promoting a salvation of “works,” by implying that God’s forgiveness of a person depends on that person’s forgiveness of another. There are several ways that Bible teachers have tried to squirm out from under such a hard teaching. Perhaps we should instead make our home here.
A crucial part of Jesus’ Kingdom message was the announcement of forgiveness. Many times, before Jesus would heal someone, He would announce their sins forgiven. He called His disciples to forgive others no matter how many times they had been wronged. He demanded His followers forgive not only the personal offences of their neighbors, but also their outstanding financial and social debts. Within this ministry of forgiveness, Jesus states that one cannot refuse to forgive others and still hope to bask in God’s forgiveness.
It does not help you to have one artery clear for blood to come rushing to your heart if the artery going out from your heart is blocked. A heart attack is still inevitable. You cannot stay alive by simply taking in one big breath of air and refusing to exhale. You cannot climb a tree and expect to remain up high if you cut off the branch you are sitting on.
Forgiveness works the same way. You cannot expect to receive God’s forgiveness unless you are an open vessel through which His mercy can flow on out to others. A blocked artery that refuses to allow blood to be pumped through will only cause heart failure. If we think we have accepted God’s forgiveness but are not forgiving others their debts, spiritually, we are as good as dead.
Matt 18:23-35 Therefore the Kingdom of Heaven is like a certain king, who wanted to reconcile accounts with his servants. When he had begun to reconcile, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. But because he couldn’t pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, with his wife, his children, and all that he had, and payment to be made. The servant therefore fell down and kneeled before him, saying, ‘Lord, have patience with me, and I will repay you all!’ The lord of that servant, being moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt. "But that servant went out, and found one of his fellow servants, who owed him one hundred denarii, and he grabbed him, and took him by the throat, saying, ‘Pay me what you owe!’ "So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will repay you!’ He would not, but went and cast him into prison, until he should pay back that which was due. So when his fellow servants saw what was done, they were exceedingly sorry, and came and told to their lord all that was done. Then his lord called him in, and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt, because you begged me. Shouldn’t you also have had mercy on your fellow servant, even as I had mercy on you?’ His lord was angry, and delivered him to the tormentors, until he should pay all that was due to him. So my heavenly Father will also do to you, if you don’t each forgive your brother from your hearts for his misdeeds."
Restoration Through Forgiveness
We all have a past - a storehouse of good and bad memories that can still affect the way we live today. Even though I grew up in a godly home and had great parents, some painful things happened to me during my childhood years. I would like to snap my fingers and - poof! - all the painful memories would he gone. But I can't do that! Paul says in Philippians 3:13-14, "Forgetting what lies behind... I press on toward the goal...." Well, I wholeheartedly agree with Paul! We need to press on... but we also need to be able to forget what is behind! And I think most of us have a difficult time knowing how to do that.
No matter what has happened to you in the past, God's goal is to bring you to a condition where the negative issues of the past no longer affect your present and future life in Him. In His Word, the Lord promises to restore the fullness of our lives. In Joel 2:25 (KJV) He says, "And I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten, the cankerworm, and the cater-pillar, and the palmerworm, my great army which I sent among you." Now why did this scripture happen to list those four particular insects?
Because if we were to take these insects and release them on a plant, all four working together would eat the leaves, the branches, the main stalk, and finally the root. Now what would be left? Absolutely nothing. The plant would be destroyed.
But God says that He will restore to you the years that have been nibbled and eaten away... no matter what has happened to you! Even if you feel like you've been totally destroyed, God intends for you to be restored.
The First Step To Godly Restoration
I want to tell you about the first and most important step to godly restoration. It is the first step to freedom within ourselves and freedom in our relationships with other people. Real hurts don't come out of the ground or out of the bushes... deep hurts come from other people. And deep hurts don't heal except through the process of forgiveness.
For us to really be free from the problems and hurts of our past and to be free from the consequences that continue to plague us... we must forgive. This is a godly absolute, and God absolutely will not change His stand on this!
There is a portion of scripture from Jesus' "Sermon on the Mount" in Matthew 6:14-15 that packs one of the biggest "wallops" in the entire Bible. Every time I read these verses my knees get weak, because they contain an incredibly important message from the heart of God!
The "Sermon on the Mount" begins with: "And when He saw the multitudes, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. And opening His mouth He began to teach them, saying (Matt. 5:1-2)
To whom was Jesus speaking this crucial message? His disciples! Or to put it in modern terms - this sermon was spoken to believers! To people who knew the Lord Jesus. This is not a message to the unsaved. We need to understand that fact in order to fully understand Matthew 6:14: "For if you forgive men for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you."
What a wonderful promise! If we forgive, God will forgive us. But now verse 15 follows: "But if you do not forgive men, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions." I don't know about you, but I want to be forgiven by God! I make mistakes! I do things that are wrong, and sometimes my attitude is just not what God wants it to be. I want to receive forgiveness at these times in my life, but God tells me that if I don't forgive... I'm going to be stuck with the consequences of my sin. And I certainly don't want that!
As I travel throughout the Body of Christ, I hear people saying, "Oh, I've forgiven - it's not a big issue for me anymore!" They want to pass forgiveness off as "no big deal," but they're not really understanding the seriousness the Word of God gives to the issue of forgiveness. To God - it's a very big deal!
What Forgiveness Is Not
Forgiveness is not a feeling. If you're waiting for some lovey-dovey sensation to come over you, you're going to have a long wait - maybe forever! In all my years of counseling, I have never come across someone who really "feels" like forgiving. Pushing your hurt far back into the recesses of your mind doesn't mean you've forgiven the person who hurt you. As time passes, our memory will fade and the hurt will become more distant, but time alone cannot heal the wounds. Only God Himself can heal the heart.
Forgiveness is not pretending you weren't hurt. Don't shove the incident under the carpet! Don't rationalize and pretend that what happened to you didn't really hurt you - that it isn't a real issue in your heart. Pretending and forgiveness are certainly not the same thing.
Forgiveness is not saying what the person did wasn't wrong. Sometimes we feel that if we forgive, we're actually declaring that what the other person did "wasn't so bad." That's like trying to say, "It really wasn't all that wrong. It must have been my fault. I must have been standing in the wrong place when that car hit me!"
If I walked up to you and punched you in the nose, then later came to you and said, "I'm really sorry," what would you say? Would you respond back and say, "That's okay"? If you say this, do you know what you've just told me? You've just given me permission to do it again! You've said, "That's okay!"
What was okay? Was it okay to hit you? No! It was not okay! When' someone comes to you saying, "I'm sorry - I was wrong," and you respond back with "It's okay" - then I believe you're giving them permission to hurt you, and that's really giving them permission to sin.
I don't think we have a right to tell another person that it's okay to sin. Our proper response should be to simply say, "I forgive you."
Forgiveness does not mean you have to trust that person again. A young girl came to counsel with me awhile ago. She was very, very nervous, and it took 20 minutes for her to feel free enough even to begin talking about herself. Finally she told me something she had never told another human being - that her father had raped her almost every day for the past four years.
Now do you think that I should have encouraged her to forgive her father and then go back and trust him again? No! At that point, her father did not deserve to be trusted.
I am not saying that she shouldn't ever trust her father again - as Christian's, we need to allow those who have hurt us the chance to prove themselves trustworthy in the future. But forgiveness is a separate issue from trust. I believe that we can completely forgive a person, but still not have the ability to trust that individual.
Trusting comes only as we get to know someone and believe in that person's character. That's why I can trust God - because I am confident in His character! We develop trust for human beings only as they have proved themselves trustworthy.
When someone really lashes into you, your natural response will probably be anger, hurt, and a lack of trust. If forgiveness means you have to make yourself totally vulnerable to that person and leave yourself open for another emotional or verbal assault, you'll probably choose not to forgive.
But if you can fully understand that "forgiveness" and "trust" are two separate issues, you'll see that forgiveness is not totally beyond your grasp.
Forgiveness is not relieving other people of their responsibility. Our thoughts usually follow this kind of logic: "They really hurt me! If I forgive them, they're gonna walk away scot-free. They're not going to have to face up to what they did, and they're not going to have to answer for their wrong actions!"
We think that forgiveness is somehow letting people "off the hook" so they don't have to answer for their wrong actions. But God is completely capable of making sure a person is held accountable. You can't relieve anyone of their responsibility -you don't have that ability! None of us does, because we're just human beings. Only God can cleanse us by His grace.
As you accept responsibility for your wrong attitude and the unforgiveness in your own heart, you release God to work in a greater way than ever before in the heart of the person you've struggled to forgive. I'm not suggesting that God hasn't been' working all along, but forgiveness will release God as never before to do His restoring work in this person's life.
What Forgiveness Is
Well, what is forgiveness then? I want to give you a definition that you won't find anywhere else. I have probably spent more time studying the word "forgiveness" than any other word in the English language.
Forgiveness is a decision I make to obey God and to walk, as a life-style, in a higher realm by not allowing someone else's actions or attitudes to dictate my actions or attitudes.
First of all, forgiveness is a decision. Even though some decisions can be very difficult, God has given us the ability to make them. Even if our emotions are screaming "No! No!" we're still capable of making a choice to forgive. It's not really accurate to say "I can't forgive." That's not true. What you're actually saying is "I won't forgive."
It's a choice. A difficult one, you bet! One you don't feel like making - sure! But possible? Yes! It is possible to forgive even though there is nothing within us that feels like forgiving. It's an act of our will - not our emotions!
Forgiveness is a decision I make. Who makes it? I do. Even God Himself cannot make that decision for you. Only you can decide to forgive with your heart. If you don't forgive, you will have to live with the crippling consequences of your unforgiveness.
Forgiveness is a decision I make to obey God. Forgiveness is not a suggestion - it's a commandment. God doesn't say, "It would really be a good idea if you could find it in your heart to do some forgiving." No! He says, "You must forgive"! Forgiveness is a choice of obedience to God and it's something that can take place in the privacy of your own heart.
Even if you are angry or bitter towards someone who has already died, forgiveness is still possible for you. Because forgiveness is an issue of the heart. And as you forgive, you are going to know God's freedom and liberty in your life.
Forgiveness is getting your own heart right before God. That's where it must begin - between you and the Lord. I don't believe we should go and talk to someone until we first have our heart right before God. Then, as the Lord specifically directs, you can communicate forgiveness, restitution, and reconciliation to the other person.
I consider that to be a classic statement from a gentleman with great experience in dealing with people who never found freedom and liberty in God. And I have seen, from my own experience as a counselor, that unforgiveness will bring your spiritual life to a halt.
But forgiveness is the greatest weight loss program known to man! Want to lose some (spiritual) weight? If you forgive, you will immediately sense the heavy weight of unforgiveness lifting.
A Lifestyle Of Forgiveness
If someone mentions a name, and you get a "check" in your spirit because it reminds you of another person by the same name... that's evidence that something's still wrong. Any person or memory that makes your blood pressure rise should give you an indication of something in your past that's not resolved. The Lord may be trying to show you that you haven't forgiven.
We're not usually aware of unforgiveness in our hearts towards someone unless we're doing daily battle with negative emotions. But the issue really isn't how often you think about that person - but rather what happens when you do think about them.
What happens when you recall a certain situation? What goes on internally? It might be something you only remember once a year, but when you do remember - your blood starts to boil! Then there's bitterness in your heart. And bitterness will kill you -spiritually, emotionally, and physically.
So we can't just forgive one time and say, "That's over with!" It's something that has to be maintained. I can't guarantee that after you've forgiven you won't be hurt again. In fact, I can almost guarantee that you will be! Forgiveness isn't saying, "I'll forgive... but just this once!" That's not forgiveness.
Forgiveness is a lifestyle of taking our rightful place in God and saying to the person who continues to hurt us, "I'm sorry you feel the way you do about me, but I'm not going to respond back to you in the same way." Taking this stand puts my emotional health and destiny in the Lord's hands, instead of letting the person who's giving me the problem rule my emotional life.
This is hard to do, but it is possible. And it's the only way we're going to really rise above the constant conflicts we have to deal with in human relationships. Forgiveness says, "No! In the name of Jesus, I am going to rise above that and not let your problem become my problem."
Because a wrong reaction is just as bad as a wrong action. If someone hurts you, and you react to it in a sinful, wrong way, then you are just as wrong as the one who hurt you.
The bottom line is this: If you refuse to forgive (or say you can't) what you're really saying is that holding on to your hurt is more important to you than going on with God. It's that simple. I believe the Word of God says that if you don't forgive, your spiritual life will stay where it is until you are able to forgive.