Forgiven

unforgiven

In 1992 Clint Eastwood released the last Western he both filmed and starred in. I would imagine, him now at the age of 84, that this will be the last in his long line. That film was entitled Unforgiven.

I don’t know who it was that was “unforgiven” in that story. Maybe everyone. Most of the time they all end up dead anyway. It is probably the perfect title to such a movie.

Let us all be thankful that this is not the byline to the Scriptures – the Holy Bible: the Unforgiven and Abandoned. Merrily, that is not its subscript. That distinction might go to The Long History of the Christ and His Lost, then Found. The Son of God and forgiveness is what the Bible is all about.

With this as its theme, the key verse in God’s book could be Luke 19:10: “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”

There are a total of 31,102 verses in the English Bible. Yet, at just 65 verses in we come to this ominous phrase: “Where are you?” God was doing the asking. The rest of the Bible is used to answer that question and to offer a solution to the problem. That being said, the focus of the Scriptures is not man. Decidedly not. Its theme is God. The glory of God, the thoughts of God, and the works of God, including Calvary.

Did you know that everybody goes to God eventually? Nobody is left behind. You’ll get to go too, no matter what your background. Let there be no thought to the contrary. The problem lies in that not everyone will be able to stay with God. The world’s multitudes will then be judged and cast off.

Ecclesiastes 12:7 says about death that, after it, “the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it.” Hebrews 9:27 adds that “after this (comes) the judgment.” So the real question is not who will make it into the presence of the Almighty, but who gets to remain.

In Bible times, a city would do much of its business in its gates. The powers that be would convene and decisions were made. Consider the beginning of the afterlife this way. You’ll have your time before God in His gates. Every soul will be considered. Entry will be the question.

Who are you? The “Forgiven, Yes” or the “Forgiven, No?” I implore you to base your response on your standing at the present. Some plan getting right with the God-things some glory day tomorrow: secure a plot of ground, complete your last will and testament, and say a little prayer tomorrow, nearer the end. It’s a time-space fact that tomorrow never comes. It’s always today. Where are you headed today, presently?

My topic is forgiveness. Not the pardoning of others, “those who trespass against us,” but forgiveness and reconciliation with God, its highest brand. While sorting through the subject, I shall mention a few things that forgiveness is not – false notions – before we come to what it is. When using a radio in a strange city, sometimes you need to tune through all those static gushing wrong stations to get to that one right station you are looking for. When it comes to doctrine, to do this is not some incidental byproduct of the process. It is something that has to be done. It is needful, even hoping to affect the toppling overthrow of all such regimes of thought. This essay does not reach so high, but may it at least add its weight.

At the bottom of this heap are those who don’t recognize sin at all. They manage this in a variety of ways. Those who cut cleanest from any consciousness of moral responsibility are those who do not even recognize God’s existence. These believe that there is no teacher in the room precisely because they wish for no teacher to be in the room. They do this so that they can act precisely in a manner as if no teacher is in the room. If ever they were intellectually honest, for one lucid, full oxygen moment, they would have to admit more truth to the statement than anything else. But then, that would be coming from the “no-God” leaders. The “no-God” followers have a myriad more reasons, mostly because of unflagging faith in their teachers. So there is a teacher in the room after all, and it is the students. None of this is becoming to order in the classroom.

Then there are those who don’t go as far, though they might as well. The focus of these is set squarely on the passing pleasure of their sin. That’s the everything. There can be a God, there can be no God. On this they don’t care to squabble; they’re just going to do what they do. If it ends up that there is a they, he, she, or it, that deity is good with their actions, or had better be. Sometimes these state it, “God loves me just the way I am.” An intriguing statement. Never do they attribute its knowledge to rising out from any of the religious writings. Though they are not trying for any objective standard by their statement, it is a highly prejudiced statement after all, if we would give the idea even a quick pass through, it does have one slight kibble of truth in it.

God does have a love for the human world, but it is not a love that loves them “just the way they are.” It is a love that loves them in spite of the way that they are, and wishes to change the way they are, decidedly. In fact, in a sterile heaven, this is no mere suggestion. I would not even go so far as to think of a mother who loves her muddy child, but is sure going to scrub the caked brute down before he gets into the house. Our problem runs deeper than that. There is no parental relationship at all. Enmity has severed all family ties. There is no mom, because there is no son. When we first come to God, we come to Him from a place of total estrangement. Estrangement complete. We are unrelated. A creation, fallen. A family no more.

Other folks have found a personal peace with their wrong, “I’m right with God because,” and then present such an opening argument, the facts of their case thudding flat so loudly, as to cause the covering of the ears of all in the courtroom, including its judge. For man, forgiveness from God must be the topic of discussion we are most consumed with. Let us be slaphappy about any ol’ way of performing brain surgery, than to be reckless with “I’m good with God.” The brain surgery can only kill you once.

When we speak of the forgiveness of God, we are talking about the character of God. He forgives according to His character. The entire world may be comforted in that it is a good, wise, and benevolent character. I don’t think it is fair to say that God is godly. That even sounds off. It is not enough. Having to do with those same virtues, more than God is good, He is “Holy, Holy, Holy.” More than wise, “He alone is wise.” More than loving, “God is love.” He does not embody love. We do that. He IS love (emphasis God’s, see 1 John 4:8 and 16).

His forgiveness is in accordance with these. He does not juggle His attributes, holding firm to one while throwing another up high in the air, so that He has time to perform that which He holds. He holds, and is, them all, always, at all times. When sorrowful souls slip into hell’s descent, God does not quick toss love upward, letting go of it for those moments of jurisprudence. It is a loving God who sends souls to hell. And, of course, the more astute statement is that they send themselves. He did all to prevent such from happening. Nevertheless, His goodness will not allow sin into heaven.

On the flipside, God is not with a loveless righteousness. He could never take on the opinions of, say, Jonah. That is, God could not carry such distain for a people as to take a pass on His “love” characteristic, so that He might express zealous jealousy. It is fair to say that there are emotions with God, but never moods. A mood is when one characteristic overtakes another. A mood can hardly be reasoned with. God is the epitome of reason. He cannot ignore or overlook any one of His attributes at any time. On the forgiveness side, our amazement should not be that so many fall into hell, but that a single soul ever enters into heaven.

Some suggest that all will be forgiven no matter what, all of the “mostly good” that is. “Really bad people, murderers and serial rapists in prison, won’t, but everyone else, law abiders, will.” What they really mean by this is “us law abiders . . . with our level of law abiding,” unwittingly lowering the bar a great many notches. This “bar,” I might mention, does not even exist. Perfection has no bar. Even the thought of the existence of a bar speaks of imperfection, or measuring perfection. It cannot be measured, accept by, possibly the word “all.” Perfection is every bit.

Going back to our pole vaulter, “Yes, I have done wrong at times.” Inferring to “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away . . . ” Never would this person suggest any shenanigans going on at the present. These unwittingly believe two falsehoods: 1.) They believe that our modern notion of “statute of limitations” is a divine right active throughout the universe. 2.) Also, they believe that their ungodly thoughts, words, and deeds of today, in adulthood, are not sin. “Mistakes” and “human error” are the current terms for it. Many nights of ignorant slumbering splendor lie between iniquity and a boo-boo.

Many tell me, “Yes, but everybody does that.” Which I wholeheartedly agree with, everybody does do it. Sin has spread to every man. That is a sound Bible concept. What I don’t understand is how total depravity everywhere should call for justice nowhere. Maybe they are counting on a too busy deity who has not the time with such a backlog of cases.

Still they bring up that “God is love.” But they believe that God, being love, favors the “love” ball. In their perspective, goodness is hardly even found suspended before the juggler in air. It doesn’t exist at all. It’s not that they do not deal properly with God’s righteousness. They don’t deal with it in the slightest. When God says, in the Bible, that He is love, He means with His righteousness too. Both are active. Whatever He might do for love, will be kept in sync with whatever He does for righteousness.

It is imperative for all that God does deal with sin justly. Let me counter the false notion again – that “God forgives all in the end, the whole planet, out of the kindness of His divine heart, Christ’s work on Calvary properly applied or not.” I’ll try and do it with a true story.

I was driving home from Detroit one day. It was in the early springtime. The snow was newly melted, revealing a terribly littered I-94. Along one stretch were lined bulging large plastic bags, one after the other, for about a mile. It was clear that this was the remains of an “Adopt a Highway” cleanup. They did a great job too. After those bags would get toted off, that mile was going to be looking snazzy. That, to my mind, is the results of the false picture of an all-loving God forgiving the world’s sins blindly, a general amnesty to all litterbugs regardless of faith or doctrine. Friends, it doesn’t work that way. Why not?

Using our illustration, what’s going to happen out there in a few months, let alone just a few weeks, maybe days? What will that highway see again? That’s right, litter. Garbage will once more be strewn all over the place. With forgiveness that way, it never stops. In a sense, nothing has changed. The offenders are still at large. That method actually covers up the problem instead of fixing it. In one sense, it doesn’t deal with it at all. The highways might look better for a season, but that’s all about to change.

Also, what about other sins? True, you might be able to return a stolen locket. It might work somewhat with robbery, theoretically, but you can’t unhate someone. You can’t unlie a lie or unslap a face. Adultery can’t be rewound. It’s an act complete. Fini. Once a person is murdered, that’s it. Just carting off the body and burying it doesn’t undo the deed. Out of sight is not out of mind in such cases. The results of this type of forgiveness would be even more sin; piles of litter up and down New Jerusalem’s streets of gold, not to mention, hatred, lying, and murders. Heaven would start to take on a shabby skid row look to it. None of us would want to truly imagine that. In no time, you would have two earths and no heaven.

God’s offering of forgiveness is far greater than that. Not only is there the erasure of past sinful behavior, but also, the complete overhauling of the sinner into a fine new creation, thus dealing with sin’s both cause and effect. The dentist will not just give temporary numbing rubs, but will drill his way down to the root cause, and redeem us there also.

Some look at a few passages in the Bible as teaching that God gives us a second shot at believing after we die, sort of a Mulligan to those who whiffed it. However, that does not track with the Bible’s clear teaching in many places: the punishment of unrepentant sinners forever. Multitudes of them.

Here is a favorite passage of the “Second Chance” crowd. It is Philippians 2:9-11: “Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Is that “every knee” every knee? And is that “every tongue” every tongue? I agree with them here. I think that it is. It is true that all of human creation will, in the end, come to the correct realization that Jesus is Lord. Believer, pagan, and atheist will all believe and confess it aloud. They will bow low, and state so noisily. They will do this because the glory of the, then revealed, God of heaven will behoove them to do it. There is no mistaking the majesty of God when flagged full. That does not mean that such will lead to their redemption.

Look at the fallen angels today. They are filled with little but blasphemes and scoffing. It is primarily they who are the authors of heresy. But then, during the time of Christ, when they crossed the Savior’s path, what developed then? Mark 5:6-12 says of one demon possessed man that when he “saw Jesus from afar, he ran and worshiped Him.” Hmm? He also spoke to the Master.

“What have I to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I implore You by God that You do not torment me.”

No blaspheme there. Jesus asked the demon his name, he spoke it. Jesus commanded the demon(s) to come out (there ended up being more than one). Out they came. Total obedience and reverence. They couldn’t help themselves. Still, that does not mean a heartfelt surrendered position. It’s only His Almighty presence overcoming their comparatively feeble presence. Once He left, it is them back to their old tricks. I believe that it will be that way in the eternal state too. No passage of Scripture clearly teaches anything otherwise.

There are many “hell to pay” passages in the Bible. Let’s not go that way right now. The results would fill many typed pages. Who is it then, of mankind, that is in hell there? Who would pass up on a second chance in the Kingdom Age, with the glory of God on His Great White Throne in plain blinding sight? There they will all be confessing Him praiseworthy. No one will pass this up. Nevertheless, a true second chance is not offered. Believe? They sure do now, just as the demons do, who believe “and tremble.” But sadly, it is too late. They have run clean out of earthbound “accept-Him-today” chances.

So, we’ve seen a few things of what forgiveness from God is not. How about what effectual forgiveness is? To do this, we can only begin with the awful news. Mankind is deep in it – trouble. We’re a mess. Moses, when he saw the grievous sins of the Hebrew children, cast down the tablets of stone as a sign against them: “You have broken the law of God as I have broken these tablets on which they were written,” so to speak. We have all transgressed. No one can hide behind the clever turning of phrases to lessen the obvious. This is true for every last one of us. “For all have sinned.” So now, being “good enough” is not an option. Again, the deed’s done.

There was an exceptional young man who presented himself to Jesus one day in Matthew’s gospel (chapter 9). He was a fine specimen of both kind humanity and faith, Judaism. Stout. Well-to-do. With “please and thank yous” pouring easily from his lips. Even loved his mother. He asked the Master Teacher a question with curiosity burning its flame inside him. He really wanted to know.

“Good Teacher, what thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?”

A common misconception. “What must I do?” “How can I earn it?” Jesus, knowing from where this guy was coming, answered this way, “If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.” He was speaking of the famous Ten. Much was revealed by the man’s response to this.

“Which ones?”

What kind of question is that? All of them, of course. “Which ones not?” Jesus rattled off several, leaving out all four that have to do with loving God and the last one, about not coveting.

The guy said that he was good with those, “What do I still lack?” He knew that something was wrong with just doing your best at “good.” His nagging conscience told him so. We have sinned, and if we had but a single cell of honesty anywhere in our system, we’d admit it.

When Jesus pointed out the man’s covetousness and lack of deep love for God, in one fell swoop, the man up and left Him, yes, unforgiven.

The twelve were upset by this. They probably knew the guy. He was a teacher of the law, and no hypocrisy about it either. Once the man was out of sight, they asked Jesus, “Who then can be saved?”

In Matthew’s gospel it says that before Jesus answered their question, he “looked at them.” Nowhere else in that gospel does it say that Jesus “looked” and then “said.” Usually it simply mentions that “Jesus said” the next thing. This is the only time in all of Matthew. I can picture His piercing gaze now. It was that same glare that my parents so sternly telegraphed across the room when I was a boy. I know it well. They would make searing retina burning eyeball contact with me to make sure that I was paying full attention. They didn’t want me to miss the edict that was coming next. Maybe the Savior was going for that. When Jesus had bore sufficiently in He spoke, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Such a concise statement of definitive truth with so many results flowing from it.

Iniquity is with us. The scarlet letter is S for sin, and it is more than embroidered onto our garments; it is sown to our hearts. It is with us organically, down to the very DNA of our flesh. All appears hopeless in this.

This is why the good news (gospel) is so good. In brief, the gospel is the death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus stood-in, taking our place. It was wholly, fully, legally, and fixedly substitutionary. He offered a very great exchange: Himself for all mankind. He paid the collective price. Believe in Him and He promises to apply His assets (a considerable sum) to our deficits. We go scot-free.

Then, our sins are not only forgiven, but purged, washed, removed, down the drain. We are no longer with them. 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Cleansing and purging are one and the same. The big idea here is removal. They are gone.

At my house, garbage pick-up is Fridays. Roll our little dumpster out there to the curbside with its deposit of greasy napkins, watermelon rinds, brown apple cores, carrot shavings, dirty paper towels, burnt matches, putrid cottage cheese, rotten eggs, oily rags, and the like, and it wah-lah disappears, is removed, taken off to who knows where. Don’t know. I’ve never followed the truck. Don’t want to. Don’t care. It’s just off my premises.

How does the death of the Christ (one) achieve all of that (redemption for so many)? The answer lays in the value attributed, by God, to His Son’s sacrifice at Calvary. The appraisal of Jesus’ life was without price. It cannot be accurately assessed. “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” It can be seen from almost any angle. Let’s try just one: Jesus Christ is the Eternal One.

Isaiah 9 calls him, “Mighty God, Everlasting Father.” That last part could be translated “Father of Everlasting (or eternity).” Eternal life was with Him. He bestowed it. His merits to hold such an exalted position rest in the fact that He is eternal God.

Speaking of the Christ, Micah 5:2 says, that His “goings forth are from of old, from everlasting.” So He is “from everlasting to everlasting.” (see also, 1 Timothy 6:15 and 16).

The redemption miracle began at the incarnation. How could the eternal step into the temporal? How could the timeless put on time? He did. He became flesh and blood Man.

My father used to suffix certain statements that were true with “no bones about it.” For this we might change that to, say, “Jesus became a man, bones about it.” Bones, skin, hair, feet. The whole works. Why? Man sinned; man had to die. One finite man might be able to give himself for another finite man, throwing himself on a grenade, but how can one man die for the sins of all men? He would have to be Infinite Man. And Jesus, through the incarnation, was precisely that. The Eternal One was born, then died.

The bill seems so enormous. How can any single anything pay it? With this, the equation is reduced completely down. It now lays at its simplest. Any assets that exceed a debt may be applied to that debt. To this 1 Peter 1:18 and 19 says, “Knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.”

The measure of that preciousness exceeds greatly the sum total of the weight of the world. So now, “where sin abounds, grace does much more abound.”

Sin, with its guilt, is gone from us, and not simply, but in a detailed, full, statutory manner. Then comes alive the statement, (Romans 8:31 and 33) “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? . . . Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.”

Both litter and litterer are dealt with. This, God’s plan, can fit souls for heaven, as it still does to this day to all who seek its refuge.

About William Cole

I am an all-the-time pastor, a part-time hospice chaplain, and a sometimes author. The church is eight miles out in the country from Marshall, MI. The hospice work is with Oaklawn Hospice, where I am Spiritual Care Coordinator. It's right in the town of Marshall. The writing I do to relax. I am elatedly married to my wife, April, and am a proud father to two fine young ladies, Ashley and Maty, not to mention my delightful exchange student daughter, Jessica.
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