But I’ve Been Bad

December 14, 2012 § 7 Comments

photoMy 4 year old boy gave me joy by announcing his failure. This perhaps is an unusual response for a father, but I think it was an appropriate response for a father concerned with carrying out the Great Commission at home.

While on our way to visit Santa at the local Bass Pro Shops, my wife asked Levi if he was thinking about asking Santa for something for Christmas. His reply was, “But I’ve been bad.” This may sound strange, but the idea that my child thinks, rather knows, he is bad, excites me.

Don’t get me wrong, we praise Levi for the good he does, and often consider him a “good boy.” But the truth is that he, like me and every other human being, is on the naughty list. We are the modern manifestation of Adam. We’re bad, and realizing this early on is very good.

My hope is that Levi discovers the love and forgiveness of Christ, but like any solution, the problem—sin, in this case—needs to be known first. The truth of Romans 3:23, that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”, is the logical first step toward salvation. In fact, “if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves… If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:8,9).

The bad news makes way for Good News: “My little children… if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” (1 John 2:1) Jesus saves once we understand what we need saving from. I am rejoicing in Levi’s first steps in the truth, thanks in part, I guess, to Santa Claus.

God and Man Collide: Why the Hypostatic Union of Jesus Matters

December 6, 2012 § 3 Comments

The Hypostatic Union is the Christian doctrine of the two natures of Jesus Christ: that He was both God and man, perfectly, yet without sin. Below is a talk I gave to our church’s high school group on the topic, exploring the deity and humanity of Jesus through His life and what it means to us. This was part of a series asking “Who is Jesus?”

nativity

Adoration of the Shepherds by Gerard van Honthorst, 1622

Baby Jesus was human but sinless. Contrary to the words of Away in a Manger (“But little Lord Jesus, no crying He makes”), I am certain He cried plenty as all babies do to communicate hunger or some other discomfort. I’m sure Jesus made a mess in His swaddling clothes, spilled His Cheerios, but all without sinning in the process. As any Christian father may attest, children get around to sinning very early, but we know any crying Jesus made was not out of rebellion.

Twelve year old Jesus was still human but sinless. Young Jesus probably played with friends and was educated in the Hebrew scriptures, but wouldn’t have gotten in trouble or disobeyed his parents. Luke 2:40 shows that Jesus was not born with perfect knowledge, but “grew and became strong, filled with wisdom.” Once, after Jesus and His parents were separated for a short time, they found Him in the temple in Jerusalem talking with Jewish teachers. They were astonished by Jesus’ knowledge. Jesus knew His purpose on earth better than His parents did, but He reacted in obedience when asked to come home with them. Gaining wisdom, it seems He had more than the normal share for a young boy (Luke 2:43-49).

Grown up Jesus was human and still sinless. The Bible doesn’t chronicle Jesus’ life from the age of 13 to about 30, when Jesus began His public ministry. His divine nature became very obvious to others who witnessed His miracles and heard His message. Still human though, Jesus had the same physical needs as we do. In the Bible we read that He hungered, thirsted, grew tired, slept, wept, sweated, bled and died. He experienced human emotions like joy, sorrow, disappointment, and anger. In John 2:13-16, Jesus exhibited righteous anger at the farmers’ market of sorts that had formed in the temple. Before he drove out the animals and sellers and money-changers that were desecrating His Father’s house with commerce, rather than launching immediately into a tirade, Jesus paused and “made a whip out of cords”. (vs. 15)

Crucified Jesus was human but sinless as He bore our sin for us. As a human being, He endured all the physical agony that a Roman crucifixion had to offer. But I think Jesus’ divine nature also connected Him to at least two other great forms of suffering.

One was the emotional anguish, for the first time in all eternity, of separation from God the Father as the Father had to turn away from the sin the Son bore on the cross.

Another was something that no one but God is able to do: forgive sin. (Mark 2:7). Considering that God’s omniscience would have allowed Him to re-live every personal offense against God ever committed by everyone for all time, this burden must have been humanly unimaginable. (See post: Why Forgivenes Hurts)

The whole point of God becoming man was to offer Himself, the only perfect atonement, sufficient payment for the sins of man. As man He could die in our place; as God He could forgive sins and fulfill the need for a spotless sacrifice. “God made Him who has no sin to be sin for us.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)

Jesus experienced everything we experience. Hebrews 4:15 tells us that “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.” Jesus knows and loves you, and is ready to forgive. Can we relate to Jesus Christ? We can, because He became man. Can we worship Jesus Christ? We can, because He was God.
[See my post Did Jesus Really Claim to be God? for an apologetic debate with a Muslim on Christ’s claim to deity.]

Why Forgiveness Hurts

November 21, 2012 § 1 Comment

I’ve thought often about why forgiving someone is so hard. It isn’t just pride that makes it difficult. True forgiveness requires you to re-live an event that damaged you. That’s often the last thing we want to do. Whatever it is that person did to you must be re-played so that it can be dealt with. You have to face and embrace the reality of the offense before you let it go. Being held hostage by painful and repressed memories and carrying the hatred you may have for the offender is exhausting, so the process of forgiveness—the beginning of the end of all that—is worth the effort. But getting there is painful all over again.

Forgiveness may have been the most painful part of Christ’s suffering on the cross. I’m convinced it was more painful than the physical affliction of scourging and the emotional affliction of ridicule. It may have even rivaled the agony of the Son’s first ever separation from the Father as God had to turn away from the sin Jesus bore (Mat. 27:46). To really understand what Christ went through in forgiving our sin, we have to consider a couple things about God and sin.

Jesus was God, and God is omniscient. God knows everything, and this includes perfect knowledge of every sin, past, present and future.

Moral law comes from God. When we sin, we break God’s moral law, so every sin is a personal offense to God. God is personally offended by every sin of every sinner.

We could estimate some numbers for the math, but it’s enough to say that for Jesus to pay the penalty for all sins (Heb. 9:28) on behalf of all sinners for all time during one slow execution is unimaginable. Jesus, in His divine omniscience and foreknowledge, must have faced and embraced the reality of every past, present and future offense before forever stamping them FORGIVEN.

Skeptics have looked at Christ’s suffering on the cross and wondered how His personal sacrifice was supposed to cover all sin, either by belittling sin or His pain. I don’t wonder about that. I wonder with a heart of thanksgiving at the vastness of God’s love that compelled Him to forgive me, and to endure the pain that it no doubt required.

Three Challenges for Muslims

October 18, 2012 § Leave a comment

Of the many challenges for Islam, here are three that I think effectively show the incoherency of the Muslim doctrines of the corruption of Biblical text, of salvation, and of forgiveness.

1. Integrity of the Scriptures

This challenge is similar to one that Paul Bramsen presents in his book One God, One Message (pg. 29-31). The Qur’an speaks of the Gospel of Jesus (Injil) as a true revelation from God sent for “guidance and light” (Sura 5:46), and so was the Torah (Tawret, Sura 5:48). The scriptures were “granted inspiration”, and the people who possess them can attest to it (Sura 21:7). It’s actually eternal judgment that anyone who will “reject the Book” faces as the Qur’an warns in 40:70-72. Also, Sura 10:94 bids us to “ask those who have been reading the Scripture before you” to confirm God’s revelation, and Sura 3:93 names the Torah as the book that “truthful,” or “men of truth,” study.

Islam teaches that the Torah, Psalms of David, and the Gospel were true in their original form but have been corrupted, at least where they contradict the Qur’an. But when and how were these scriptures supposedly corrupted? The Qur’an was “revealed” between 610 and 632 A.D. Since the Qur’an regards the Torah, Psalms and Gospels as true, they obviously weren’t corrupted BEFORE the Qur’an was written. The Scriptures could not have been corrupted AFTER the Qur’an either, since by 600 A.D., hundreds of thousands of copies were in circulation in Europe, Asia, Africa in many languages—Latin, Syriac, Coptic, Gothic, Ethiopic, Armenian, and others. The Bible we use now is translated from these early manuscripts, of which we have whole and portions of scripture numbering over 24,000, all of which agree more than 99.5%. How could ALL these manuscripts circulating by 600 A.D. have been CONSISTENTLY altered so they reflect the same corruption that Muslims claim must have occurred?

There simply is no opportunity for the Biblical scriptures to have been corrupted. The Qur’an is correct in its claim that the Bible is the true revelation of God, the same Bible we have today.

[You can see how this argument works practically in a debate I posted on the topic: Quran:Read the Bible…]

2. Sincere Repentance (Really Sincere)

The Qur’an requires, in addition to righteous deeds, “sincere repentance” for the forgiveness of your sins (Sura 25:72 and 66:8). Ibn Hajar maintains that the most important definitions of sincere repentance (al-tawba al-nasuh) according to al-Qurtubi in his tafsir (exegesis), include “to sin and then never return to it (Umar)”, to hate sin and seek forgiveness for it every time it occurs to one (Hasan al-Basri), “to be genuine and true in one’s repentance (Qatada)” and to have sincerity in one’s repentance, all of which seem to affirm what the Qur’an says.

How do you know your repentance is sincere enough to earn forgiveness? What if we sin and return to it? What if we repent but don’t truly hate the sin? Or we miss a sin? And when we rely on our own sincerity in repentence, how do we repent of the sin of pride that comes from relying on our own sincerity to merit forgiveness, especially when the sincerity of the repentance is what is supposed to grant Allah’s forgiveness? We are then stuck in a never-ending circle of needing to repent of the sin we committed during repentance.

3. Forgive Me Maybe

What’s more, Sura 66:8 says “O you who have believed, repent to Allah with sincere repentance. Perhaps your Lord will remove from you your misdeeds…”. Allah doesn’t actually promise to forgive, but “perhaps” he will. Sura 2:105 says, “But Allah selects for His mercy whom He wills…”, so he doesn’t promise he will apply his grace fully to all who repent, assuming he wills that you are one whom he will forgive, and further assuming that they meet the undefined standard of “enough” in their level of sincerity.

On the “righteous deeds” that the Qur’an requires in addition to sincere repentance (Sura 2:277, 5:9, 8:29, 25:70,71, 28:67, 42:26, etc.), how do you know your deeds are righteous enough in Allah’s sight? Sura 23:102-103 seems clear: “Then those whose balance (of good deeds) is heavy, they will be successful. But those whose balance is light, will be those who have lost their souls; in hell will they abide…” How “heavy” must our balance of good deeds be? If “Allah will choose for his special mercy whom he will,” how can any Muslim know if his deeds, his adherence to the six pillars, etc. have warranted God’s mercy, even if the good deeds meet the target “weight” required by Allah?

Breakdown

In these ways, Islam is internally inconsistent. The Muslim’s reasons to reject the Bible are unfounded and contrary to the evidence, the Qur’an’s requirements for reconciliation with God are insufficient, and Allah’s capacity to forgive seems hopelessly limited.

Before a holy and righteous God, we are all in trouble. When God sent His Son Jesus to die in our place, it was the only perfect sacrifice that could be made for the sin of ALL mankind. “The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” (Phil. 4:7) comes from the hope and promise of God that “by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Eph. 2:8,9) Sinful man will always come up short before a holy and perfect God, but Christ’s payment is enough.

There is no rational basis for rejecting the Gospel of Christ—for Muslims, or anyone of us.

What Would a Loving and Forgiving God Do?

August 31, 2012 § 1 Comment

A post on an atheist’s Facebook page makes the following claim:

If god is all loving and forgiving, would he forgive someone for not believing in him, without being asked? If not, then he is not all loving and forgiving. If so, no one need to believe nor worship him.

Christian response:

The first assumption is flawed because it implies that God is only loving and forgiving. He is also righteous and just.

If a loving and forgiving judge lets a criminal go free without retribution, would he be a good judge, or a criminal himself?

Atheist:

Hebrews 10:17-18: “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more. And where these have been forgiven, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary.” And Hebrews 8:12: “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”

…the Christian god lets criminals go without retribution all the time. That’s pretty much his biggest selling point.

Christian:

The central point of Christianity is that Christ took on the retribution we deserved, in our place. The payment for our sin was paid in full, “once for all.” (Hebrews 10:1-18)

Jesus Christ was God, so the payment was adequate to cover our crimes, and He became a man so that He could suffer on our behalf.

The righteousness and justice of God requires that the penalty for sin must be paid, but His love is what caused Him to make that payment for us. Our willing acceptance of that free gift is where forgiveness comes in.

Atheist:

God can do whatever he wants, there is no rule book that he has to follow…he writes the rules (theoretically). Isn’t it more admirable to forgive unconditionally than to require a payment to be made? Real forgiveness doesn’t require payment. I think you might be confusing justice with forgiveness. I could go on and on about how crazy it is that a god would create humans with free will and then eternally torture them for actually using it…

Christian:

Thanks for the reply, these are great things to think about. I can tell you have. 🙂 God can’t change what is logically necessary (1+1=2) because logic is part of His nature (so if that is a “rule,” then no, God doesn’t “write” them, rather they’re conditions that extend from who He is). That crime must be paid for is actually a logically necessary state of affairs, and this makes sense when we look at where law comes from.

Only God can forgive sin (Mark 2:6,7 & Luke 5:21) because sin is a violation of God’s moral law, which is rooted in the nature of God. His law was broken and only He would have the authority to forgive. But even when God forgives, a payment must still be made. So of course there are conditions to God’s forgiveness. A guilty sinner can pay for his crimes by God’s judgment, or he can accept the payment that God provided through the atoning sacrifice of His Son on the cross (1 John 2:2) by repentance and faith. Either way, the debt is satisfied.

When a government makes civil laws (usually based on an understanding of an undergirding moral law, but that’s a separate discussion), we fully expect there to be payment for breaking those laws too, in the form of a fine or retribution. When it doesn’t happen, we cry foul. That’s because being made in the image of God (Gen. 1:27), we have an innate understanding of justice and the truth that crime requires payment.

On a personal level, we can forgive people, but not their sin. In the case of, for example, a physical assault, we can “let it go” and forgive the offender “unconditionally”, but the laws they have broken in their offense are a separate issue. Breaking God’s moral law is an offense against God. Breaking civil law is an offense against the state. Forgiveness is a renunciation of the violation, which happens within the context of justice (so yes, they are separate doctrines) but the violation must always be addressed in order for justice to be done.

It’s also logically necessary for there to be the possibility of sinful choices in the context of free will (and we would not want to imagine a world without freedom). “I could go on and on about how crazy it is” that God, moved by love for sinful people, provided a perfect Solution to the problem that everybody faces. Payment for sin is required, but the good news is it’s available from Christ, because we can’t come up with it ourselves.

Atheist:

I love how god and be forgiving and unforgiving, loving and unloving, just and unjust, logical and illogical depending on what verse you read in the Bible. You can pretty much use it to say whatever you want. But a big thing that bothers me about this god is that he would eternally punish a morally good person forever, but lavish blessing and paradise on a mass murderer for what? Belief. What is so good about belief? And really, what ‘sin’ is so bad that it would warrant eternal torture? That’s not true justice. I can understand serving a few lifetimes, but infinity? You lost me…

Christian:

God can be forgiving of repentant sinners and unforgiving of unrepentant sinners. There is no problem there, just as there is no problem with Him loving sinners but hating sin. Nowhere in Scripture though do we find God being unjust or illogical. (I am curious by what standard on atheism or naturalism that you would consider God to be either of those anyway).

In reality, there is no such thing as a “morally good person” because all have fallen short of God’s standard of good (Rom. 3:10,23). For those who want nothing to do with God, being eternally separated from Him in hell is really just a continuation of that person’s desires in this lifetime—God is really giving the sinner what he wants. I almost wonder if damned souls would actually get used to “torture” after a while. Either way, I think the severity of hell matches the true severity of sin, but it would take a heart that was ready for repentance to actually see the true severity of sin against a holy God.

Forget about earning your way to heaven, as your question “what is so good about belief?” implies. The message of the gospel is that there is nothing we can do to earn our way to a perfect God. I certainly don’t deserve it. That’s why He provided a way through Christ, the only perfect sacrifice. Belief is not something we use to buy our way, but the way we, using our free will, choose to follow Christ, recognize that sin has been paid for and enter into a relationship with Him—something that God desires all along. We can get hung up on the severity of God’s judgment and the simplicity of belief in Christ as the answer. Or we can recognize that yes, judgment is severe, but belief is simple: A loving and forgiving God made a way out of God’s judgment and into His presence that is simple enough for anyone to understand.

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