I visited an evangelical Bible study group recently and the topic of discussion was forgiveness. It was a very small group consisting of three women, myself and another man. One of the ladies said “If we don’t forgive others for their sins against us, God can’t forgive us for our sins against Him.” This is when I broke my silence by correcting this heretical statement.
I clearly laid out the fact that God is love. Therefore, God is forgiveness. Our sins are forgiven every time – before we confess our sins, ask for forgiveness or release anger and bitterness toward another person. However, we can prevent ourselves from receiving God’s forgiveness if we don’t forgive others who wrong us or if we have unconfessed sin or something of that matter that disrupts our inner communion with God.
Unfortunately, the three women chose to actually argue against this spiritually-liberating truth and ganged up on me. They started by using scripture to make their point and went to a verse in Isaiah. I quickly pointed out that this was the Old Testament. This is significant because Christ had not been revealed when Isaiah lived or when the book bearing his name was written. The early church proclaimed Christ as “the image of the invisible God” who is the central revelation of God in all of human history – we know what God is like by looking to Jesus. The Old Testament was written at a time when humans thought God was much less loving than we know God to be because of Christ. Because of Christ and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the early church, we have the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament, which proclaims God in Holy Trinity as being much more than loving, but as being love itself and in the highest form imaginable.
However, they argued this by proclaiming that the Bible is “the true word of God, every word.” The one lady asked me point blank “do you believe the Bible is the true word of God.” I paused because she was asking a loaded question, yet demanding a simple answer. Theology doesn’t work that way. One of the other ladies chimed in “is it God-breathed? Is it inspired?” I boldly proclaimed “It is definitely God-breathed and inspired.” The first lady asked “every word?” I must have paused again; I know I never blacked out, but I wish I had. “Conversations” like this give my soul a type of headache. They serve no purpose because I can’t help these people. I avoid “conversations” like this like the plague and even avoid these kind of people just to spare myself the frustration. They caught themselves, for which I give them credit, and admitted they were insensitive and intolerant. They asked me to forgive them, but I wasn’t angry. I didn’t respond to this as though I had been wronged. So, it stuck out to me that these ladies thought because they wrong someone, that other person feels wronged and is angry. Therefore, they assume that person needs to forgive. No! The offender needs to repent, confess and receive forgiveness. That stands on its own, but they refused to understand this point. It strikes me as arrogant to assume God needs to forgive us just because we sin. The sin is our issue, not God’s.
In reflecting on the event, I realize that legalists really have a problem with forgiveness. They think they are forgiven because Jesus died on the cross and that because He died on the cross and they have accepted Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior, that God the Father has forgiven them. No, No, No! Because of Jesus, the early church, the scripture and our faith – we know we are forgiven! It is clear to me now that it is common for many, many evangelicals do not believe God IS love!
Legalism limits God by embracing a small god who only lives and works within cause and effect and a reward/punishment system. This is what people believed in under the Old Covenant, which means the days of the Old Testament. Christ came to put an end to all that and the early church carried on the work. Unfortunately, even in the 1st Century, church people were resurrecting the Old Covenant and dressing it up as the New Covenant by mixing Christ with an Old Covenant-driven theological model. This is what was happening in the Church at Galatia. Paul had an acute handle on what was going on there and addressed it bluntly in his letter, which we know as the Book of Galatians in the New Testament.
It is not difficult to find Christians jwho have embraced “Old Covenant 2.0″ under the guise of the New Covenant. When they fail to believe God is love, they fail to believe in Christ – yet in the very name of faith in Christ. Usually, it isn’t faith at all – it’s certitude. If you are ever in evangelical religious circles, watch for people automatically referring to the Bible and it’s supposed-teaching as their authority for religious ideas and concepts, instead of Christ’s teaching and the early church’s teaching about Christ. I have addressed this in greater detail in another blog: https://godislovechristianblog.wordpress.com/2013/05/07/the-church-has-lost-its-love-for-god-in-the-name-of-god/