Saturday, September 11, 2010

Fellowship and Forgiveness

At the end of the Lord's Prayer there are a few verses that are pretty difficult to understand. Namely, "but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses." -Matt 6:15.

Yikes. Those are difficult words. Why would Jesus say such a thing? Do we loose our salvation if we fail to forgive everybody who wrongs us?

First of all. No. And second of all, the fact that we know we are not saved by our own ability to perfectly forgive everybody else is exactly what makes this a difficult verse to interpret. But if Jesus doesn't mean that we are saved via forgiving others, what does he mean?

Right in the middle of the Lord's Prayer itself, Jesus has taught his disciples to pray asking that God forgive their sins, as in fact, we forgive others. Its important to remember that Jesus is not teaching us "the sinner's prayer." This is not a request for salvation, and so it is not the first time the pray-er of the prayer will have asked for forgiveness.

Part of becoming a Christian is repenting of our sins, asking for forgiveness. And when we do, we have assurance that we are forgiven for ALL of our sins, past, present and future. They will never stand in the way of our relationship with God again. So why then, does Jesus still teach his disciples to regularly pray prayers of repentance, seeking the forgiveness of their sins?

I think it goes back to something I wrote about some months ago. We have two relationships with God. Its true. I have both a legal relationship with God, and a personal relationship. The legal relationship relates to my justification. It means I am saved, adopted, cleansed, accepted in Christ, and nothing can ever change this. It is done. But I also have a personal relationship with God. And like all personal relationships, it needs to be maintained by frequent visits, by communication, by repenting of wrongs. This relationship can be hindered by sin, and so I need to repent regularly.

Its just like my relationship with Aubrey. Legally, we are married. We are man and wife, and nothing can ever change that. There is great peace in knowing this. But we also have a personal relationship. And this relationship requires constant maintenance. It requires that we communicate clearly, and spend time together, build a life together, and most importantly, that we ask each other for forgiveness when we have wronged one another. (and that we forgive when asked!)

1 John 1:6-10 teaches all about how our fellowship with God is maintained by repentance, and forgiveness of sins.

But getting back to the Lord's Prayer. This is a prayer that Jesus teaches to his disciples for their regular use. So when he teaches them to ask for forgiveness on a regular basis, he is not talking about their legal relationship with God. Rather, he is teaching them how to maintain an unobstructed personal relationship. I think the same thing holds true for thinking about these difficult verses, 14-15. He is not teaching that if we do not forgive those who wrong us, that our legal relationship (salvation) is in doubt. Rather, he is saying that if we harbor grudges, by failing to forgive others, that our fellowship (personal relationship) with God will be broken. Sin obstructs fellowship. God will wait to forgive us until we have repented of our grudge and forgiven others. But when we do repent of our unforgiveness, God is faithful and he is quick to forgive us, to cleanse us from all unrighteousness, and to restore us to the intimacy of fellowship which his children enjoy!

Fun fact: Thesis #1 of Martin Luther's 95: "When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ commanded men to repent, he intended that the entire life of believers be characterized by repentance."


Keith said...

These are good words Jeff, thank you.

I'm having a difficult time applying them right now with a certain family, but realize that I may not be praying for them and forgiving them frequently enough. Thank you.

Cyrus J. Shealy said...

Great post Jeff. I know and knew in my heart that my salvation can not be lost. I am loved by God because he wants to love me not because of my own works. However when I have read those verses in the past they were a stumbling block. I mean Christ said it so how could I contend with it. However as always you can't zero in on one scripture without the interpretation of the rest. Thanks for your teachers heart that took the time to write this post in a loving way that was confident and easy to understand.

I don't know if a person can make a request but can you share some thoughts on john3:5. Carissa and I have been studying the scriptures as they relate to baptism since I would like Gemma to be baptized. I came across these verses and I remember struggling with them for years. Is baptism a requirement? This is anotherinstanceofChrist saying something explicitly that does not fit with my understanding of baptism.

Thanks brother.