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Wednesday
Jan202016

Let Us Do Good To All - Galatians 6:9, 10

Throughout the letter to the Galatians, the Apostle Paul has emphasized the doctrines of the gospel of grace.  That is, your works, no matter how good, are not meritorious in the least.  But lest we misunderstand the passionate burden of the inspired apostle, he ensures that we know that good deeds are a proper and necessary part of the Christian life.  And he even encourages you to not grow weary while "doing good."  This is a very general exhortation and should be understood as an overall direction to do good in all kinds of circumstances, but what is a good work?  First, a good work must be according to God's will as revealed in His Word.  For example, giving money to a destitute and unrepentant drunk is not a good work no matter how destitute he is.  Second, your motivation ought to be your love of God, not so that you may gain some personal advantage in reputation or power.  Third, it needed to be an outward expression of your faith in Christ.  A good work is not performed out of a sense of mere obligation.  Lastly, your goal needs to be God's glory.  If you seek the approval of men, as the Lord told the Pharisees, you have your reward.  All of this is beautifully summarized in the Heidelberg Confession Q/A 91. "What are good works?  Those only which proceed from true faith, and are done according to the Law of God, unto His glory; and not such as rest on our own opinion or the commandments of men."  You should also note that the admonition to not grow weary implies that we can grow weary even in doing good.  There are perhaps thousands of reasons why we may despair of doing good works, but the apostle provides an antidote:  "...in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart."  The important thing to notice is that it is in due season.  There is always a delay between the sowing and the harvest.  This spiritual harvest may not even be in this life.  This is an exercise in faith.  But if you believe that the Lord is faithful, it makes despair in doing good much less likely.  So let us not faint, but persevere to the end in doing good.
And as the text says in verse 10, "therefore."  Within the context of the book, there are at least three "therefores":  1) Because you have been instructed in the most holy faith…(Good theology), 2) Because you are the recipient of divine charity and grace…(Right perspective), 3) Because you are a steward of all that you have received…(Acknowledgment of God's sovereignty over all that is and His claims on even you).  it is a necessary consequence of these things that we​​ ought to pursue "doing good" as we have the opportunity.  The Lord will often present to you and me the opportunity to do good and you and I are to pursue those opportunities.  And as the text says, "let us do good to all."  The general obligation to do good extends to all persons in all conditions.  It is not confined to only those we like or those we agree with.  We are even to do good to our enemies!  Let us be honest:  in our reformed tradition, we have had from the beginning a very complicated relationship with "good works".  But what does the Scripture say?  From one source we learn that 1) Good works are a testimony to the outside world.  Titus 2:6-8, "Likewise, exhort the young men to be sober-minded, in all things showing yourself to be a pattern of good works; in doctrine showing integrity, reverence, incorruptibility, sound speech that cannot be condemned, that one who is an opponent may be ashamed, having nothing evil to say of you."  2) Good works are the natural result of redemption and fulfill a divine purpose for us.  Titus 2:11-14, "For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works."  3) Good works are a practical and temporal expression of the true and pure faith.  Titus 3:8-9, "This is a faithful saying, and these things I want you to affirm constantly, that those who have believed in God should be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable to men.  But avoid foolish disputes, genealogies, contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and useless."  4) The performance of good works is to be perpetual; you will never come to the place where they are not part of your life.  Titus 3:14-15, "And let our people also learn to maintain good works, to meet urgent needs, that they may not be unfruitful.  All who are with me greet you. Greet those who love us in the faith. Grace be with you all. Amen."
The apostle also tells us that we ought to discriminate in our good deeds.  This may be startling to our ears, but that is what the text teaches.  "...let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith."  When having to choose who to serve, we are to discriminate in favor of those who are believers.  It is not that we exclude the others, but preference is to be shown in doing good to others who are members of this spiritual family.  This admonition points you to a deep truth:  the good works which we ought lovingly to perform amongst ourselves is based upon our unique and precious relationship with each other in Christ.  As we read in Ephesians 2:17-22, "And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near.  For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father.  Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit."  All of us have come from outside, and all of us have been adopted into the family of God.  All of us have been strangers, and all of us have been graciously converted into a divine habitation.  And seeing this is so, how can we not joyfully maintain good works?
All For Him,
Pastor Schlegel
Wednesday
Jan202016

The Fundamentals of Forgiveness - Part 9 (Galatians 6:1-5)

In this text, we are instructed to look to the attitudes and behaviors we have when dealing with a repentant offender.  This is a very important point because it is not about forgiving in a merely formal sense, but that our heart condition be right.  Verse one tells you to restore with a spirit of gentleness.  In the immediate context, the apostle is referring to a specific kind of offense if someone "is overtaken in any trespass".  That is, he is not speaking of intentional or malicious offences.  Those offences need to be handled differently (I have dealt with this in previous ministries).  But if a fellowship is broken by an inadvertent or careless word or deed then you, as one who is guided guided by the Holy Spirit and are thus "spiritual" are to "restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness."  The effect of the offence is like a broken or dislocated bone.  (Note that it is the one committing the offence which is the one with the broken bone.)  A good physician will attempt to restore the bone in the least painful and violent manner.  So it is when we deal with one another regarding these inadvertent or careless words or deeds.  There are implications for the one offended.  The text tells you to "consider yourself" because you are also liable to be tempted.  It is possible that you can sin against the one who offended if you lash out in rage or seek revenge instead of seeking to restore with meekness.  The apostle is provided you with a clear application of the doctrine of the fruit of the Spirit.  Here we find  love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control being directly applied to how you should respond to these occasions.  And yes, it will cost you something.  You will not be able to indulge your native tenancy toward such things as anger, hatred, etc.  Rather, you are called upon to bear a burden.
Verses 2 and 3 refer to our mutual duty to bear one another's burdens.  We are called to bear patiently with one another's sins, and this is what we are doing when we seek godly restoration according to godly means.  We are all weak and we are all subject to clumsy and ignorant acts of hurt to those we love.  It is a supreme act of love to help take up that burden and, setting aside pride, help someone who has hurt us.  In doing so, you "fulfill the law of Christ."  John 13:34 and 35 reads, "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.  By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another."  If you want to do that which is pleasing in the sight of the Lord, it is not in the sacrifices and ceremonies of the Law and it is not in such things as the false teachers in Galatia were teaching.  Rather, it is in fulfilling this law of love.  Id doing so, you also demonstrate that you understand the harsh truth; you are also a sinner. saved by grace and you are not self deceived.  Reconciliation has been accomplished by Christ and you are the unworthy recipient of that blessing.  It was all of grace and you did not add anything.  So if, when someone commits an inadvertent offence against you, you adopt an air of superior holiness and greater maturity, you are self-deceived.  The apostle is striving to warn you from such an act of thanklessness pride.
Lastly, in verses 4 and 5, you are exhorted to "examine your own work."  To put is another way, the apostle is telling you to put first things first.  Before you seek to deal with this kind of offence, look to your own heart and be less concerned about what everyone else is doing and saying -  including the one who committed the offence.  You have an obligation before God to make sure your seeking a godly resolution according to godly means and with a godly disposition of heart.  It you are seeking to exalt yourself at the expense of the other one, not only will the reconciliation be much more difficult, but you are not seeking God's glory.  Paul tells you that if you do so, you can "rejoice" in yourself.  The apostle could boldly assert that he had behaved in Corinth in such a way that he had a clear conscience.  II Cor. 1:12 says, "For our boasting is this: the testimony of our conscience that we conducted ourselves in the world in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom but by the grace of God, and more abundantly toward you."  That is, you can have peace regardless of how the attempted restoration proceeds."  (By the way, this is also an act of God's grace in you.)  Each of you has his own burden to bear.  (Verse 6)  You will have to give an account of your dealings before the Judge of All.  This is not a load which is shared.  You do not have to answer based upon some standard which is based upon what others do.  that is to fall into the trap of the Pharisee.  "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, 'God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust??, adulterers, or even as this tax collector.  I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.'" (Luke 18:10-12)  We know which one was justified.
So to review:  1) Beware of your own natural desire to assume a position of superiority when dealing with those who have been overtaken in a trespass.  2) Come along side and seek to gently restore what is out of place.  3) Be sure to do so with a spirit of meekness, knowing that you yourself are subject to the same weaknesses and temptations.  4) Be sure to look to your own responsibilities.  You must answer for how you handle things.  5) And let us all be sure to seek restoration and reconciliation with one another as Christ has also pursued restoration and reconciliation for us.
All For Him,
Pastor Schlegel
Wednesday
Nov042015

The Fundamentals of Forgiveness - Part 8 (II Corinthians 2:4-8)

In this eighth post on the subject of forgiveness, the assumption is that a sin or offence has been committed and that the offender has been confronted.  The other assumption is that the offender has confessed to the offence and repented.  Now, we will see (at least one set of) the answers to the matter of what happens next.  How are we supposed to relate to the person who has sinned and repented and even made restitution as necessary?  As is often the case in the Scriptures, the instruction reveals what the natural and unbiblical tendencies are in us; in this particular case, the tendency to hold them off at arm's length or even shun them completely.  So the apostle begins with the beginning – forgiving the trespass (in verse 7).
In a sense, this is covering territory already covered in previous ministries.  But what are the foundational reasons for forgiving?  First, it is a divine command.  That is, according to the clear testimony of Scripture, we do not have the authority to withhold forgiveness from one who seeks it from us if they have confessed their sin and repented of it.  (I would refer you to the first three sermons in this series.)  Secondly, it is a fruit and necessary consequence of your own repentance/forgiveness before the divine bar of justice.  If you have confessed and repented of your great sins against​ ​the divine majesty, you know that it is the only thing to​​ do because of your forgiveness.  (See Matt. 18:21ff)  Thirdly, there is only one unforgivable sin (and it is automatically not a sin against you, but against the Holy Spirit).  With this foundation, what are we to do in the ecclesiastical discipline context?  Biblical ecclesiastical discipline is designed to be step-by-step.  At each point there is opportunity for repentance.  This also means that there is also opportunity to forgive.  Indeed, it is your privilege to do so as it reflects the longsuffering forgiveness you receive from God through Jesus Christ.  We must always remember that the object of ecclesiastical discipline is always restoration.  If it is about revenge, shaming, or any other motive, it is not biblical eccleciastical discipline.  Biblical ecclesiastical discipline is authoritative and thus serious business.  It ought not be exercised lightly, and we should greatly desire reconciliation, because we are never, by ecclesiastical discipline, declared to be beyond hope.  Also, you are to forgive in the interpersonal relationship context.  As a matter of review, this means that when the offender is forgiven, it is never to be a matter of offence again.  It should not be thrown in the face of the offender as a way of getting an ounce (or pound) of flesh.  It is not that it is forgotten, for that is impossible, but the offence is removed.  It no longer causes a break in fellowship.
After the first step, the apostle exhorts us to comfort the soul of the repentant offender.  Once again, let's consider the foundational reasons.  In I Thess. 5:14, 15 we read, "Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all.  See that no one renders evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good both for yourselves and for all."  This text tells us that there are times when we must confront offences (the unruly).  But it also recognizes our weakness; we are to build up what is broken down; and it expresses patience – the patience we all require from time to time.  And it is a confession of the truth that we, in Christ, are one, as we read in Philippians 2:1, 2.  "Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind."  If the point of the confrontation of sin is repentance and restoration, then we have a loving obligation to those who have confessed their sin and repented.  In the ecclesiastical discipline context, as we read above, it is necessary to "warn those who are unruly".  It is not loving to ignore sin and offences.  And sometimes, it is necessary to be firm and even harsh in the context of ecclesiastical discipline, and if the one who is out of the way responds the way he should, then the church, and those who are members of the church, have the obligation, yes privilege, to comfort the one who has been pierced by the discipline.  Again, the point is not rendering evil for evil, but the rendering of service to one who needs to hear a voice of correction.  This act of comforting should be a part of every act of discipline from personal admonishments up to and including excommunication as the case was in Corinth.  In the interpersonal relationship context, it is not your place to make the one who offended "pay" for his offence.  This does not necessarily mean that everything goes back to the same as it was before the offense.  There may be a need for a system of accountability, for example.  It may be necessary to require "lifestyle changes".  In fact, willingness to submit to these things is an indication that the repentance is genuine.  Nevertheless, if one reacts the way we hope and intend when we confront sin, it means that they have realized the true nature of the sin or offence and (should be) grieving over it.  Comfort is often necessary.  As the text says, there was a concern that the offender ​​could be overwhelmed which his sense of sorrow.
​Lastly, you are to reaffirm your love to the repentant offender. (verse 8)  Again, we must consider the foundational reasons before seeking an application.  I would direct you to three verses.  Heb. 13:1, "Let brotherly love continue."  It is the Lord's will that brotherly love be perpetual.  That is, when things are working the way they are supposed to work, relationships are restored and love abounds.  Eph. 2:1-7, "And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.  But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus."   And Rom. 5:8, "But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."   Divine love was extended to you in the midst of offences.  Praise be to Him that it was!  What would be our state if He did not love us until we were "lovable"?  So, in the ecclesiastical discipline context, we better make sure that love is the motivation in the first place:  Love for truth; Love for the church; Love for the one who is out of the way.  Certainly, it ought to be part of the restoration.  The divine example is offence – then mercy – then saving love applied in Christ and through the Holy Spirit.  It is not that we were so lovable first!  Love and discipline (rightly administered) are inseparable.  If one element is missing, it is not godly.  Likewise, in the interpersonal relationship context, love is necessary in the midst of offences.  This is probably the hardest part.  Your flesh – your pride and desire to build up yourself at the expense of others – will fight you every step of the way.  But let us plainly understand:  that is sin.  It may also be an offence against the one who offended you.  You are to demonstrate love to the repentant offender.  The silent treatment, sniping, rehearsing past wrongs is contrary to the Word of God and inconsistent with the love of Christ for you.  Peter betrayed the Lord and He gently and lovingly restored Him.  Remember, the goal of seeking and granting forgiveness is reconciliation.  It cannot happen if you withhold your affection to the guilty, but repentant offender.  It is not a one-way street. It is a two-way street.  Yes, you are the one who has been hurt, but in order for there to be healing, you must reaffirm your love.  If you do, yes, you are opening up yourself to more hurt.  But the withholding of love guarantees that there will always be hurt because the reconciliation is not allowed to occur and the wound never heals.
So forgive.  Truly forgive without deceit.  Comfort and you will also be comforted.  Reaffirm your love, for you are the recipient of great and merciful love even though you have sinned greatly and purposefully.  What you have received, likewise give.
All For Him,
Pastor Schlegel​

In this eighth post on the subject of forgiveness, the assumption is that a son or offence has been committed and that the offender has been confronted.  The other assumption is that the offender has confessed to the offence and repented.  Now, we will see (at least one set of) the answers to the matter of what happens next.  How are we supposed to relate to the person who has sinned and repented and even made restitution as necessary?  As is often the case in the Scriptures, the instruction reveals what the natural and unbiblical tendencies are in us; in this particular case, the tendency to hold them off at arm's length or even shun them completely.  So the apostle begins with the beginning – forgiving the trespass (in verse 7).
In a sense, this is covering territory already covered in previous ministries.  But what are the foundational reasons for forgiving?  First, it is a divine command.  That is, according to the clear testimony of Scripture, we do not have the authority to withhold forgiveness from one who seeks it from us if they have confessed their sin and repented of it.  (I would refer you to the first three sermons in this series.)  Secondly, it is a fruit and necessary consequence of your own repentance/forgiveness before the divine bar of justice.  If you have confessed and repented of your great sins against​ ​the divine majesty, you know that it is the only thing to​​ do because of your forgiveness.  (See Matt. 18:21ff)  Thirdly, there is only one unforgivable sin (and it is automatically not a sin against you, but against the Holy Spirit).  With this foundation, what are we to do in the ecclesiastical discipline context?  Biblical ecclesiastical discipline is designed to be step-by-step.  At each point there is opportunity for repentance.  This also means that there is also opportunity to forgive.  Indeed, it is your privilege to do so as it reflects the longsuffering forgiveness you receive from God through Jesus Christ.  We must always remember that the object of ecclesiastical discipline is always restoration.  If it is about revenge, shaming, or any other motive, it is not biblical eccleciastical discipline.  Biblical ecclesiastical discipline is authoritative and thus serious business.  It ought not be exercised lightly, and we should greatly desire reconciliation, because we are never, by ecclesiastical discipline, declared to be beyond hope.  Also, you are to forgive in the interpersonal relationship context.  As a matter of review, this means that when the offender is forgiven, it is never to be a matter of offence again.  It should not be thrown in the face of the offender as a way of getting an ounce (or pound) of flesh.  It is not that it is forgotten, for that is impossible, but the offence is removed.  It no longer causes a break in fellowship.
After the first step, the apostle exhorts us to comfort the soul of the repentant offender.  Once again, let's consider the foundational reasons.  In I Thess. 5:14, 15 we read, "Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all.  See that no one renders evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good both for yourselves and for all."  This text tells us that there are times when we must confront offences (the unruly).  But it also recognizes our weakness; we are to build up what is broken down; and it expresses patience – the patience we all require from time to time.  And it is a confession of the truth that we, in Christ, are one, as we read in Philippians 2:1, 2.  "Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind."  If the point of the confrontation of sin is repentance and restoration, then we have a loving obligation to those who have confessed their sin and repented.  In the ecclesiastical discipline context, as we read above, it is necessary to "warn those who are unruly".  It is not loving to ignore sin and offences.  And sometimes, it is necessary to be firm and even harsh in the context of ecclesiastical discipline, and if the one who is out of the way responds the way he should, then the church, and those who are members of the church, have the obligation, yes privilege, to comfort the one who has been pierced by the discipline.  Again, the point is not rendering evil for evil, but the rendering of service to one who needs to hear a voice of correction.  This act of comforting should be a part of every act of discipline from personal admonishments up to and including excommunication as the case was in Corinth.  In the interpersonal relationship context, it is not your place to make the one who offended "pay" for his offence.  This does not necessarily mean that everything goes back to the same as it was before the offense.  There may be a need for a system of accountability, for example.  It may be necessary to require "lifestyle changes".  In fact, willingness to submit to these things is an indication that the repentance is genuine.  Nevertheless, if one reacts the way we hope and intend when we confront sin, it means that they have realized the true nature of the sin or offence and (should be) grieving over it.  Comfort is often necessary.  As the text says, there was a concern that the offender ​​could be overwhelmed which his sense of sorrow.
​Lastly, you are to reaffirm your love to the repentant offender. (verse 8)  Again, we must consider the foundational reasons before seeking an application.  I would direct you to three verses.  Heb. 13:1, "Let brotherly love continue."  It is the Lord's will that brotherly love be perpetual.  That is, when things are working the way they are supposed to work, relationships are restored and love abounds.  Eph. 2:1-7, "And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.  But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus."   And Rom. 5:8, "But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."   Divine love was extended to you in the midst of offences.  Praise be to Him that it was!  What would be our state if He did not love us until we were "lovable"?  So, in the ecclesiastical discipline context, we better make sure that love is the motivation in the first place:  Love for truth; Love for the church; Love for the one who is out of the way.  Certainly, it ought to be part of the restoration.  The divine example is offence – then mercy – then saving love applied in Christ and through the Holy Spirit.  It is not that we were so lovable first!  Love and discipline (rightly administered) are inseparable.  If one element is missing, it is not godly.  Likewise, in the interpersonal relationship context, love is necessary in the midst of offences.  This is probably the hardest part.  Your flesh – your pride and desire to build up yourself at the expense of others – will fight you every step of the way.  But let us plainly understand:  that is sin.  It may also be an offence against the one who offended you.  You are to demonstrate love to the repentant offender.  The silent treatment, sniping, rehearsing past wrongs is contrary to the Word of God and inconsistent with the love of Christ for you.  Peter betrayed the Lord and He gently and lovingly restored Him.  Remember, the goal of seeking and granting forgiveness is reconciliation.  It cannot happen if you withhold your affection to the guilty, but repentant offender.  It is not a one-way street. It is a two-way street.  Yes, you are the one who has been hurt, but in order for there to be healing, you must reaffirm your love.  If you do, yes, you are opening up yourself to more hurt.  But the withholding of love guarantees that there will always be hurt because the reconciliation is not allowed to occur and the wound never heals.
So forgive.  Truly forgive without deceit.  Comfort and you will also be comforted.  Reaffirm your love, for you are the recipient of great and merciful love even though you have sinned greatly and purposefully.  What you have received, likewise give.
All For Him,
Pastor Schlegel​

Monday
Oct052015

The Fundamentals of Forgiveness, Part 7 - Jer. 18:18 - 23 & I John 5:16

In this seventh entry on the doctrine and practice of biblical forgiveness, we come to a very practical question.  What do you do when the offender is not repentant and even goes to the next step?  Here at the beginning, we know at least one thing.  We know that if what we have learned to this point is biblical, our conclusions now must be likewise biblical and consistent.
Context is always important and in the text in Jeremiah, context is HUGELY important.  The first context is conspiracy.  The people did not know who the real enemy was.  They heard the truth and the truth encouraged their rage.  Truth does this sometimes.  Secondly, the people attacked.  As a way to cope with the truth, they seek to attack the truth-teller, they seek the hurt of the truth-teller and, they seek to avoid the message at all costs.  To sum it up, the people responded with prideful rejection.  This was an indication of their spiritual state.  It was also an indication of effects of turning away, not from the man Jeremiah, but from God.  All of these responses are, sadly, too common anytime someone speaks the truth to one who is in the wrong.  It is quite possible that if you confront an offence, even if you are kind, gentle, and loving, the response may be one of anger toward you!  What are you to do then?  In part, the answer is found in what Jeremiah does next.
In verse 19 through 23, Jeremiah responds with calling upon God in prayer.  In verses 19 and 20, Jeremiah proclaims before God that he is faultless and faithful.  He says that he did good to his enemies.  He confesses that he followed the Lord's direction.  That is, he knows that he is not the one who is in the wrong and that he is the one who is persecuted without a just cause.  So it is natural that he now places himself in God's hands.  Likewise, if we speak the truth and we are trying to uphold the good and right according to God's word, we are to place the matter in God's hands.  This means that there may come a time when we cannot pursue the matter further and, rather than seek our own revenge and justice, we must leave it to God's perfect justice.  But this is not the end of the matter because of what we read next.  In verses 21 through 23, Jeremiah prays that they would be punished.  It is true that he does not seek his own revenge, and he does not take matters into his own hands and that the Lord who is judge, but he also prays that they would not be forgiven.  This is the most startling imprecation of all of what Jeremiah prays.  This is a serious matter.  It is an awesome thing to come into the presence of God at any time, but to do so to beg God's eternal destruction on another is not a light thing.  But the question is, should we do the same thing and pray the same prayer?  First, the prophetic voice does this even now when the word is read and faithfully preached.  II Cor. 2:15-17, "For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.  To the one we are the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life. And who is sufficient for these things?  For we are not, as so many, peddling the word of God; but as of sincerity, but as from God, we speak in the sight of God in Christ."  Secondly, the prophet was divinely inspired to pray and record this prayer.  We are not likewise inspired, but we do have the Scriptures and if the Scriptures tell us to do it, they also tell us how we are to do so.  The question is whether or not the Scriptures tell us to.  There is a difference between example and command.  Thirdly, this is NEVER, EVER, the first action.  In the examples in Scripture, this happens only after the Lord's enemies "fill up" their iniquity.  Jeremiah did not just forgive them anyway and unconditionally.  But perhaps more importantly, he also did not seek personal vengeance or harm.  This brings us to I John 5:16.
It is common to think that the actions and attitudes of Jeremiah were something that was for that time, but since the coming of Christ, it no longer applies.  This verse would indicate that this is not entirely correct.  In this verse we see two circumstances.  The first, "If anyone see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death…"  This speaks of a unique circumstance:  The commission of a sin (as opposed to a life of sin).  It also speaks of a unique person:  a brother in Christ.  So notice first of all that the question is not a question of sin versus no sin.  All believers sin and sometimes we sin greatly.  So John is not contrasting sinning and not sinning.  The second circumstance is not speaking of the "ordinary" sins and offences which are a sad, but "normal" part of the Christian walk.  In the second, the circumstance is sin of a different character.  So how do we know the difference?
What is meant by a "sin unto death"?  We know that in the context of John's writing, the death referred to is a spiritual death.  (e.g. I John 3:14, 15; 5:12)  Also, this exact phrase appears in the ancient Greek translation of Numbers 18:22.  In that verse, the indication is that it is a knowing and presumptuous sin worthy of death.  One that is committed even after one knows the truth and knowingly and wantonly pursues it anyway.  This was the situation with Jeremiah and appears to be the same kind of sin.  "Whatever breaks the fellowship between the soul and Christ, and, by consequence, between the individual and the body of believers, is unto death, for there is no life apart from Christ. It is indeed true that this tendency inheres in all sin. Sin is essentially death. But a distinction is to be made...between sins which flow from human imperfection and infirmity, and sins which are open manifestations of a character alien from God...It must be carefully born in mind in the study of the passage, that John is speaking of sinful acts as revelations of character, and not simply in themselves...'Such sinning as is characterized, not by the object with which it is connected, but by the disposition from which it proceeds.'"  (adapted from Vincent's Word Studies)  In this case, the apostle says "I do not say that [we] should pray for that."  That is, we leave it to God's judgement and, while not forgiving, neither do we seek their harm.
What are the implications?  Like Jeremiah, we may need to turn aside from the one who responds to the truth with rage or further sin.  And like Jeremiah prophetic example and John's apostolic instruction, we recognize that we do not forgive.  For those who have set themselves against God and His people, and are seeking their destruction, we may appeal to God that He convert them or judge them, but we are never to seek personal revenge.  We also are to do good to them and pray for them (Matt. 5:44), but we do not forgive them.  That is, the offense remains.  There is much confusion in this regard.  Withholding forgiveness does not mean we seek their harm, nor does it mean that we never forgive.  But it does mean that the relationship is broken as long as the offense remains and is un-repented of.  Also, for those who are brothers or sisters and have sinned, upon confession and repentance, we must forgive.  We ought not try to be more merciful than God, nor more forgiving than God.  It often sounds pious and godly, but it is actually not more pious and godly at all and can actually cause harm.
All For Him,
Pastor Schlegel

 

Monday
Oct052015

The Fundamentals of Forgiveness, Part 6 - I John 1:5 - 10

One of the most difficult aspects of the doctrine and practice of forgiveness is the conditional nature of divine forgiveness.  We must begin by asking a very important question:  does God forgive everyone absolutely, unconditionally, and unilaterally?  If your answer is yes, then if you are consistent, you will assert that every Christian has the obligation to forgive everyone, all the time, unconditionally.  In a sense, this is the easiest position to have and it appears to be the "nicest" position.  But is it the biblical one?  If your understanding is that the Lord is merciful and gracious and that He forgives eagerly and completely, but also that this forgiveness is extended only to those who come humbly seeking it while confessing that they have sinned and those who refuse to do so are not forgiven, then that leads us to a very different conclusion.  The fact that the Lord withholds forgiveness to a particular class of person is plainly taught in the Scriptures.  One of many examples is Matthew 6:15  "But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses."  This one example shows that, at least in principle, the Lord does withhold forgiveness under certain conditions.  Based upon Ephesians 4:32, we are to forgive "one another, even as God in Christ forgave you."  That is, the act of divine forgiveness is to be our pattern and guide.  (DISCLAIMER:  To say that the Lord's forgiveness is in some senses conditional, does not mean that you should spend all of your energies trying to figure out a way to not forgive because some (likely petty) condition has not been met.  Rather, the biblical example of divine forgiveness shows that the Lord is longsuffering and eager to forgive.)
If We Say That We Have Fellowship With Him… (vv. 5 – 7)  At the beginning of this section, the apostle says, " This is the message…"  And that message is that God is light.  That is, it is not created, but inherent to who He is.  God is light means that He is light, not bits and pieces here and there, but light which permeates every aspect of who He is in Himself and there is no darkness in any respect.  Light reveals.  Light illuminates.  Light brings knowledge and exposes reality.  Darkness hides.  Darkness obscures.  Darkness perpetuates ignorance and keeps us from perceiving the reality of things.  Of course, when the Holy Spirit uses this kind of language, He is not speaking primarily of photons or the lack thereof.  The Scriptures are using these terms by analogy.  The created physical universe illustrates what is true metaphysically.  That is, there can be no deception or sin which attaches to God.  So, "If we say we have fellowship, it means that we claim to share in the light of God.  If we are walking in darkness, then there is a problem.  This is referring to a continual life and practice.  The apostle is speaking of a perpetual activity.  This should give you comfort.  When you sin, it is not the place of the Christian to assume that he is no longer a Christian.  (What we ARE to do will be addressed below.)  Perpetual walking in darkness is what is being referred to.  If you are walking in darkness, then you are lying.  You are not "doing" the truth.  Truth is not, in the biblical sense, merely abstract facts.  It is something to practice and ultimately it is a person.  The Lord Jesus Christ is the personification of truth and the one upon whom truth is based.  Indeed, as the text says, contrarily, if you are walking in the truth, you are the one that has fellowship with God.  Again, the verb is active and continual.  The question is, how do you know if you are walking in the truth?  The Scriptures are the infallible guide.  It is in the word that the light of God is revealed.  And when we are walking in the light, not only is our fellowship with God, we can have fellowship with one another.  And as much as the walking and doing are continual and active. So is the cleansing by the blood of Christ.  And that blood is sufficient to cleanse all sin.  Here is a great and glorious truth.  As you and I walk in our pilgrimage, we sin and stumble and fall.  But this is not an indication that we are lost.The reality of the struggle against sin does not mean we are a hypocrite or lost.  Rather, it is assumed and implied by the need of cleansing by the blood of Christ.  It is only by that cleansing that we can have fellowship with a God who is light.  It is the only way to have fellowship with one another.
Applications:
1.  It is possible to deceive oneself and live a lie.
2.  Cleansing from sin is indispensable to fellowship with God.
3.  It is also related to our fellowship to one another.  The removal of the offense is necessary for a relationship to be repaired and restored.
If We Say We Have No Sin… (vv. 8, 9)  The assumption is that there is sin.  This is a most reasonable assumption in regards to our relationship with a holy God.  To deny that we have sin is to deny who we are and who God is.  It is to live a lie.  The deception is also self-administered.  The light of the truth is proclaimed in the gospel:  you and I are great sinners, and the Lord Jesus Christ is a great Savior.  When you are confronted with sin against the most-high majesty of God by reading the Word or hearing it preached, what is your response?  When you are confronted with sin against another human (believer or unbeliever) made in the image of God, what is your response?  the text says, "If we confess…"  To confess means to say the same thing.  It is also active but not perpetual.  (As indicated by the tense in the original)  True confession implies that the mind has been changed.  This means no equivocation and no excuse-making.   It also implies that once it is (truly) confessed, it does not need to be continually confessed because it has been forgiven.  And if we confess our sins to God, then God is faithful/just/righteous to forgive.  The one who has confessed his sin ought to be confident that the sin is forgiven.  God will not still hold that one accountable who has been cleansed by the blood of Christ.  God would be supremely unfaithful if this were not the case.  It would also be a great injustice on God's part to forgive those who deny their sin.
Applications:
Confession (saying the same thing) is a necessary prerequisite to forgiveness.
Once confession is made and the offence is acknowledged, forgiveness is the only just course on the part of the one offended.  This is what the Lord does for you and me.
And notice, according to God's justice, there are "obligations of justice" placed on both the offender and the offended.
Lastly, the Holy Spirit says, "If We Say That We Have Not Sinned…" (v. 10)  This is distinct from the other verbs for "sinning" in the section.  The force, while not a good translation, is "I don't sin".  It demonstrates a particular hardness.  It is a refusal to come to grips with the plain truth of the matter.  And this is true whether we consider our fellowship with God or our fellow man.  When confronted with the charge of causing offence, it is natural to defend yourself.  If you are a Christian, this natural instinct was overcome by the Holy Spirit and you confessed yourself to be a sinner before the just and holy God.  But it is possible that someone accuses you of an offence and it is a false accusation.  Your first inclination should be self-examination, not self-defense.  If say we have no sin before God, we make God a liar.  In regards to the gospel, God has revealed to us the truth.  The Lord Jesus Christ has told us the truth.  Faithful gospel preachers preaching the message we have heard from the beginning have told you the truth.  To deny this truth is to accuse God, the Savior, and faithful preachers of being liars.  This is a serious charge and many do not even realize that they are making the charge.  Contrary to the spirit of the age, truth is non-negotiable.  Truth is true because the God of Truth has ordained it to be so.  And to deny that truth is to say that the giver of that truth is a liar.  But furthermore, if one claims to be a believer and yet denies that he has sinned, he is showing that he is, in fact, not a believer and the truth is not in him.
Applications
1.  It is necessary that you see yourself as a sinner.  This has eternal consequences.  To not confess this is to deny the salvation which is freely offered through Christ.
2.  But also, it is necessary that you remember that you also sin against others.  Confession of sin to one another is a prerequisite to restoration.
3.  This is the only way we can live in love and harmony together.
All For Him,
Pastor Schlegel