Monday, September 10, 2007

Changing everything

A few weeks ago I asked readers to participate in a survey and I would like to discuss those results here. First, however, I would like introduce a sensitive topic that may completely derail the way one thinks about God. First, let’s set this up with a common scenario: when I am witnessing, taking people through the Ten Commandments to show how God views the heart (“there is none righteous, not even one”), and people confess with their mouths how they have broken the law of God I ask, “If God were to judge you by the Ten Commandments, would you be innocent or guilty?” Most everyone will admit guilt (which is quite a movement through Proverbs 20:6)! Next I ask, “Would God send you to heaven or hell?” Many will say, “Heaven.” This is an odd statement, considering one’s confession of guilt. When I ask people why they think they will go to heaven, I often hear, “all I have to do is ask forgiveness and God will forgive me and let me into heaven . . . right?”

What is forgiveness? When the Moravian missionaries first went to the Eskimos, they could not find a word in their language for forgiveness, so they had to compound one. This turned out to be: Issumagijoujungnainermik. It is a formidable-looking assembly of letters, but an expression that has a beautiful connotation for those who understand it. It means: “Not-being-able-to-think-about-it-anymore.”[i] Is that what we mean by God’s forgiveness, that God is not able to think about how He sees our heart anymore? Do people just hope that God suffers some divine amnesia when He looks and speaks forgiveness, after all the Bible does say, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 Jn 1:9) How can God let the offender into heaven, despite the guilt already agreed upon through simple forgiveness?

I used to think that is exactly what happened, that I would say, “God, please forgive me,” and that sealed the deal. But then I saw this verse, “He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous, both of them alike are an abomination to the Lord.” (Proverbs 17:15). It says that the justifier of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord. This means that if God forgives the wicked, simply says, “it is just as if you’ve never sinned, you may go,” He would be an abomination to Himself!

Picture this: you are standing before a judge who has list of your crimes before Him and He says, “Well, what do you have to say for yourself?” What can you say? “Judge, please forgive me. I’ll never do it again.” If He says, “You are forgiven and are free to go, just as if you’ve never done any wrong,” He is actually worse than any criminal that could stand before Him. On the other hand, if He is good judge (and He is), the only act He can do is pass down justice.
Listen to what God says! “Keep far from a false charge, and do not kill the innocent or the righteous, for I will not acquit the guilty.” (Exodus 23:7) In other words, “I will not acquit the guilty!” That means, “I will not acquit the guilty!” God, because He is a good judge, cannot absolutely discharge a criminal from the obligation justice demands, which is punishment. The sinner is an enemy of God, who will give an enemy what an enemy deserves: eternal destruction.

Because God is a good judge, he says, “To show partiality to the wicked is not good, nor to thrust aside the righteous in judgment." (Proverbs 18:5). The wicked cannot be dismissed because of a simple, “I’m sorry, please forgive me.” Justice MUST take its course, and punishment must fall on the one who tells one lies (regardless of reason or outcome), or has ever stolen anything regardless of value, or has ever committed adultery (lusted), or blasphemed, or created a god of one’s own understanding, or does not set one day aside out of seven, or murders (hates) or dishonors parents, or desires the things of the world or even fails to love God above all else! Partiality does not come from a righteous, good judge! “He who says to the wicked, ‘You are righteous,’ peoples will curse him, nations will abhor him; but to those who rebuke the wicked will be delight, and a good blessing will come upon them.” (Proverbs 24:24-25)

How is it we can preach God’s love and forgiveness, give hope for deliverance from wrath, sin, death and hell, and still understand that God cannot simply grant forgiveness and justify the sinner? Is this an inconsistency? What are we missing? I’ve learned that we have missed a most vital element. The Bible cannot be wrong, for God is consistent. Since we have nothing to offer God and He certainly cannot be bribed, what makes us think all we have to do is ask forgiveness and we are off the hook? Partially the blame lies in a cheap gospel, the truth that Satan does not want the world to know.

This is part of the reason I asked for the survey a few weeks back. 45.5% of those who responded to my survey said they were saved from hell. 43.2% said they were saved from sin. 11.4% said they were saved from God. Nobody said they were saved from the Devil. If we understand what forgiveness entails, then we will understand the right answer for this survey. First, everyone was correct in that we were NOT saved from the Devil. When we get the right view of forgiveness, we learn that we are saved from God, who delivers us from the power of sin (and ultimately, the presence of sin), and lastly, from hell. Look at it this way, when we ask forgiveness, what or who is the object of the asking? It is not sin, nor is it hell. We ask forgiveness of God because we have offended His holy majesty by breaking His law.

I like to ask people this question: “what is the difference between a good lawyer and the best lawyer?” Do you know what the difference is? Think for a moment before you read on. Most people tell me the best lawyer is the one that gets you off. This is not correct. While the good lawyer knows the law, it is the best lawyer who knows the judge. Let that sink in for a moment while you read these verses:

And according to the Law, one may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” (Hebrews 9:22)

For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Col 1:13-14)

But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” (Ro. 3:21-16)

During the Revolutionary War there lived in Pennsylvania a pastor by the name of Peter Miller. Although Miller was greatly loved by everyone in the community, there was one man who lived near the church who hated him and had earned an unenviable reputation for his abuse of the minister. This man was not only a hater of the church, but it also turned out that he was a traitor to his country, and was convicted of treason and sentenced to death.

The trial was conducted in Philadelphia, and no sooner did Miller hear of it than he set out on foot to visit General Washington and interceded for the man’s life. But Washington told him, “I’m sorry that I cannot grant your request for your friend.”

“Friend!” Miller cried. “Why, that man is the worst enemy I have in the world!”

“What?” the general exclaimed in surprise. “Have you walked sixty miles to save the life of an enemy? That, in my judgment, puts the matter in a different light. I will grant him a pardon for your sake.”

The pardon was made out and signed by General Washington, and Miller proceeded at once on foot to a place fifteen miles distant where the execution was scheduled to take place that afternoon. He arrived just as the man was being carried to the scaffold, and when he saw Miller hurrying toward the place, remarked, “There is old Peter Miller. He has walked all the way from Ephrata to have his revenge gratified today by seeing me hung.” But scarcely had he spoken the words when Miller pushed his way through to the condemned man and handed him the pardon that saved his life. [ii]

Man in his sin is the enemy of God. The judge Himself has gotten down from the bench and come around the other side, gave up everything He had to make payment Himself to provide deliverance from Himself. Should one wish to partake of the forgiveness God offers for the cleansing of sin, one must take Jesus and all He offers and requires, for without what God accomplished on the cross, there is no forgiveness for sin.

Justice must fall somewhere, and it fell on Him. Too many people nod their head at Jesus, but want to take their chances with the judge. They say, “Oh, God is not a wrathful, mean God. He is God of love!” and I remind them they have broken the 2nd Commandment, making a god to suit their sin.

Someone said it well. "A God without wrath, brings people without sin, into a kingdom without judgment, to a Christ without a cross."

[i] Tan, Paul Lee. Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations : [A Treasury of Illustrations, Anecdotes, Facts and Quotations for Pastors, Teachers and Christian Workers]. Garland TX: Bible Communications, 1996, c1979.

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