Jim Wilson is the retired director of Community Christian Ministries in Moscow, Idaho. He will be posting regularly, so check back in soon!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Forgiveness Versus Excusing: Vision Obscured

This quotation is from Bob Flynn, President of The Christian Military Fellowship.

One day Jesus said to His disciples, “There will always be temptation to sin, but what sorrow awaits the person who does the tempting! It would be better to be thrown into the sea with a millstone hung around your neck than to cause one of these little ones to fall into sin. So watch yourselves! If another believer sins, rebuke that person; then if there is repentance, forgive. Even if that person wrongs you seven times a day and each time turns again and asks forgiveness, you must forgive.” (Luke 17:1-4 NLT)

I find that when I think I am asking God to forgive me I am often in reality (unless I watch myself very carefully) asking Him to do something very different. I am asking Him not to forgive me but to excuse me. But there is all the difference in the world between forgiving and excusing. Forgiveness says, “Yes, you have done this thing, but I accept your apology; I will never hold it against you and everything between us two will be exactly as it was before.” But excusing says “I see that you couldn’t help it or didn’t mean it; you weren’t to blame.” If one was not really to blame then there is nothing to forgive. In that sense forgiveness and excusing are almost opposite. (C.S. Lewis, Virtue and Vice)

We often needlessly wander through the darkened fortress of discouragement and despair—the high, impenetrable ramparts of our own building. Brick by brick they did rise from the hardness of our own heart—cemented indestructibly by the piteous mortar of our ever-bleeding soul. We are powerless to extricate ourselves from this fallen estate because of our self-deception. We think we are asking forgiveness for our sins, but without accepting responsibility. Did the Scriptures say that Christ would “excuse” our sins? No, He offered forgiveness if we confess them. If we look to the testimony of the Cross, we can see the Savior offering prayer on our behalf, “Father, forgive them.” He could not yet forgive us because we had not repented. Nevertheless, His example was to pray for our forgiveness and not (as we would) harbor ill will in the heart).

We are in darkness when we fail to wrestle with the responsibility of our own sin! Our honest confession must begin with the attitude of our heart. Are we really seeking “excusing” when the Scripture clearly teaches us to seek “forgiveness?” Our journey must begin at the gates of penitence—the work of the Holy Spirit that allows us to grieve over our sin and see its result through His eyes. Then is our repentance possible and our forgiveness assured.

As we walk this path to forgiveness, the Holy Spirit will bring to light the true gravity of our offenses. Though clearly we are no longer the objects of the wrath of God, our sin still comes with its own reward. If we are the conduit through which the offense travels, the gravity looms large. But if we heed the conviction of the Holy Spirit upon our heart, then the road back into the Light of Christ appears before us; and what we meant for evil will be transformed by Him who sits upon the throne of the universe.

Consider today the aforementioned words of Clive Staples Lewis and his warning to be careful that forgiveness petitions be not instead desires of excusing!

Grace is the spring of the Christian’s walk, and furnishes directions for it. He cannot with impunity (chapter 17) despise the weak. He must not be weary of pardoning his brother. If he have faith but as a grain of mustard seed, the power of God is, so to speak, at his disposal. Nevertheless, when he has done all, he has but done his duty (Luke 17:5-10). (Dr. John Darby)

We are here taught, that the giving of offenses is a great sin, and that which we should every one of us avoid and carefully watch against, Luke 17:1, 2. We can expect no other than that offenses will come, considering the perverseness and forwardness that are in the nature of man, and the wise purpose and counsel of God, who will carry on his work even by those offenses, and bring good out of evil. It is almost impossible but that offenses will come, and therefore we are concerned to provide accordingly; but woe to him through whom they come, his doom will be heavy (Luke 17:2), more terrible than that of the worst of the malefactors who are condemned to be thrown into the sea, for they perish under a load of guilt more ponderous than that of millstones. This includes a woe, 1. To persecutors, who offer any injury to the least of Christ’s little ones, in word or deed, by which they are discouraged in serving Christ, and doing their duty, or in danger of being driven off from it. 2. To seducers, who corrupt the truths of Christ and his ordinances, and so trouble the minds of the disciples; for they are those by whom offenses come. 3. To those who, under the profession of the Christian name, live scandalously, and thereby weaken the bands and sadden the hearts of God’s people; for by them the offense comes, and it is no abatement of their guilt, nor will be any of their punishment, that it is impossible but offenses will come. (Matthew Henry)

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