Monday, May 25, 2015

The Business of Forgiving

God’s love for his creation and  his plan for redemption is radical. So radical, in fact, that the thought of Christ and Christians forgiving one man has sparked outrage across our nation. It’s extremely difficult for us to imagine extending forgiveness for the perverse sexual assault of children, and yet Christ was willing to give his life for Josh Duggar (and for Bruce Jenner, me, you, the Food Lion clerk, Hitler, Gandhi, etc.). I do not know all the details surrounding Josh’s heinous acts, nor do I know his heart. However, I would like to try and explain why many Christians are responding the way they are. This is what we believe, and it affects our response.
1) What makes a person guilty before God?
Any amount of sin. [See Romans 3:9-24]
2) What qualifies as sin?
Anything that is contrary to God’s commands/standards is sin. Any willful thought, word or action that falls short of the purity of our Creator is sin. Jesus said not only murder and adultery, but anger and lust are sins that will be judged and are worthy of punishment in hell. [Matthew 5:21-22, 27-28; Leviticus 20:26; Matthew 5:48, James 2:8-13]
For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.
James 2:10

3) What are the consequences of sin?
Sin separates us from a personal relationship with God while we live on earth. It drives a wedge between us and God that no human efforts can mend. Our sin also affects the world around us – even our words can be “full of deadly poison” (James 3:5-10). The greatest punishment, however, is death. This is not only physical death, but a spiritual death that involves eternal separation from God, and therefore separation from all goodness. The fires of hell and eternal torment are the consequence for sins against an eternal God. [James 1:14-15; 2 Thessalonians 1:9; Matthew 25:31-32, 41, 46]

4) Is there any way to be forgiven?
Remarkably, yes.

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 3:23

5) How are people forgiven?
Forgiveness comes through repentance and faith in Christ. I’m not sure how to express the depth of this in so few words. First of all, biblical teaching is that repentance is “more than just remorse” – it is a “wholehearted turning to God…a complete turn from self to God" (1376). Salvation from the previously mentioned consequences of sin comes through a rejection of our old self and a receiving of a new life, united with Christ in faith and completely surrendered to him. Fully human and fully God (and fully sinless), Jesus alone was able to atone for the sins of humans. He absorbed our punishment for sin when he died on the cross, and defeated that death when he rose from the grave. This plan runs from Genesis to Revelation, the beginning of time until the end of time. It is not haphazard, but an intricate and intentional plan of a loving God. [Luke 5:32; Romans 8:1-14; Isaiah 43:25]

6) Are some people beyond hope?
No. God does not show favoritism. Prostitutes and murderers alike were loved by Jesus – they were forgiven, and their lives changed forever. All who genuinely come to Christ will be forgiven, and eternal salvation cannot be stripped from a person. It is not earned, so our efforts (good or bad) do not have the power to maintain or eliminate salvation. Every sinner forgiven by Christ has a secure hope for the unimaginably beautiful eternity he has planned. [Hebrews 8:12; Romans 2:11; James 3:2; Luke 15:7; Romans 10:10-13; Ephesians 2:8-10]

7) How are we to respond to all this?
I hope you might seek to understand the Christian viewpoint, but if you have no relationship with Christ then I can’t really speak to your actions apart from the law. Responsibilities for the Christian, however, are as follows: Confess sin directly to God and others in the church, praise God for his forgiveness, extend forgiveness to all (how can we withhold forgiveness in a human to human situation when the God of the universe has forgiven our lifetime of sins against him?), and provide accountability for fellow Christians, participating in church discipline if needed. Amidst temptations and sins, Christians are to continue living a life of repentance and faith as God’s children – and we are not to take advantage of God’s grace, using it as an excuse for sin to abound. [Romans 6:1-2, 9-11]

To conclude…Josh’s story is not a new one. Those who follow Christ and read his word, the Bible, recognize this controversy as all too familiar with only a few details being different than their own life with God. The sins that have been made public were disgusting and the implications devastating. No one is debating that. His sin renders him worthy of hell and God’s eternal judgment. However, if he confessed his guilt, genuinely repented before God, and turned to follow Christ, he is a new man. He will still fall to sin, as do all Christians, but by God’s grace and mercy he is forgiven and living under the Holy Spirit’s guidance. Do not expect followers of Christ to hold a grudge in situations where our God extends mercy and grace.

If the acts of sexual abuse were committed recently, or if Josh was defending his actions, a great deal of discipline would be needed. However, the matter was addressed over a decade ago by his family, church and police. If their response was inadequate, that’s very unfortunate and we can reflect on any potential changes needed in the law – but it was dealt with seriously as they saw fit, and those of us currently learning about the tragedy do not constitute a jury. My hope now is continued healing for the girls, and continued accountability with brothers in Christ or counseling for Josh if he still struggles with impure sexual desires.

* Chad Brand, Charles Draper and Archie England, ed., Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary. Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 2003.

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