Opening the Door to Forgiveness

The part of us that opens the door to forgive others opens the door to forgiveness.


I recently wrote about how our wounds provide a model for how we relate to God and understand Him, the hurts we receive from others. That post was inspired by Tim Keller who said, “The way we distribute mercy says a lot about how we relate to God.” Because God forgives us as we forgive others (Luke 11:4), our forgiveness is tied into how we see God, understand Him and relate to Him.

The two keys are 1) how we understand God’s love and 2) how we understand our own sinfulness. Both of these perspectives are measured best by the cross, by the example of God shedding all of His power and privilege to become human, and being found in human form, submitting Himself to His own plan by sacrificing Himself on the cross for our sake. (Phil. 2) We can understand our own sinfulness in relation to the cost of redemption – the life of God’s son (God in the flesh); and we can measure God’s love by the same standard.

God loved us to much that He gave His life, the human life He took on and sacrificed for us. By the same token, the extreme cost of the life of Jesus is the a measure of the depth of our sin. We have been forgiven much!

Our understanding of the greatness of God’s love for us, and the great depth of our sin, helps us in understanding why we need to forgive others. If God loved us so much, we are free to love and compelled to love others by the same measure. In more mundane terms, if our sin was so great that Christ had to die for us to redeem us, we can certainly forgive the lesser sins others have committed against us.

In fact, to bring this home, we can only be forgiven to the extent (by the measure) that we forgive others. Our forgiveness and our forgiveness toward others is inextricably linked. Perhaps this is because Jesus and the Father (and the Spirit) are one, and Jesus calls us to be one with them (Him). (John 17:21) We can’t be one with God if we harbor unforgiveness toward others!

In some sense, then, forgiveness is formulaic. Jesus has stated for us a kind of “law of forgiveness” kind of like a law of physics. He is telling us, “This is how it works.” How do we, then, go from intellectual ascent and academic understanding to real life? I like the way NT Wright puts it when he says that the bit (part) of us that opens the door to forgive others opens the door to forgiveness.

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How Our Wounds Help Us Understand God

How we deal with our wounds is a model for how we relate to God.


In the prayer Jesus taught his disciples, he taught them to pray, “Forgive our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” (Luke 11:4) Jesus illuminated that prayer with the parable of the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18:21-35), after Peter asked him how often we must forgive those who sin against us. In the parable, the master forgave the great debt the servant owed him, but the servant demanded payment of the small debt someone else owed him. At the end of the parable, the master says to the unforgiving servant, “Should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?”

I have been listening to Tim Keller a lot lately. Keller says, “How we deal with our wounds is a model for how we relate to God.” He adds that “’the mercy rule’ demonstrates that God distributes His forgiveness through people. He forgives us as we forgive others.”

It isn’t that we mete out forgiveness to others so much that God metes out forgiveness to us based on how we deal with our wounds from other people. God, apparently, has built into the fabric of His universe the principle that we are forgiven to the extent we forgive. It’s like a law of physics in the moral and spiritual world.

In addition, Keller says, “The way we distribute mercy says a lot about how we relate to God.” When Peter asked how many times must we forgive?” He offered what he undoubtedly thought was a generous amount: Seven times. You have undoubtedly heard the statement: Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. This sentiment is not a new one. Sometimes we say, “three strikes, and you’re out!” Peter upped the ante generously to seven times, probably thinking that surely seven times is good enough.

But Jesus said, “No, seventy times seven!” We should forgive people exponentially more than we think! In fact, the real point of what Jesus was saying is that we shouldn’t keep tabs. We should always forgive… if we want to be forgiven.

Ultimately, though, we can’t understand this unless we begin to understand God.

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God is the Fulfillment of the Desires He Built into Us

We all have a conscience and a desire and need for the cleansing of our consciences.


“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!” Psalms 51:1-2 ESV

I have written about how we can’t throw out the Old Testament and accept the New Testament in its place, as modern sensibilities might suggest. (See, for instance, Jesus and the “Old Testament God”) The Old Testament is the seed for the New Testament. Everything revealed in the New Testament was first revealed in the Old Testament. The Old Testament finds its fulfillment in the New Testament.

Moderns tend to want to view “the Old Testament God” as something different from the God revealed in the New Testament by Jesus, but Jesus affirmed the Old Testament.  Jesus says that the Old Testament anticipated and pointed toward him. (“And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” Luke 24:27)

The Bible verse of the day quoted above was prayed by David in Psalm 51. David expressed the desire of all of us when he asked God to have mercy on him, to “blot out” his transgressions, to wash away his iniquity and to cleanse him from his sins. We all have a conscience and a desire and need for the cleansing of our consciences.

We do have the capacity to ignore our consciences and to deny that desire for forgiveness. If we do that too often and too long, our consciences become callous and dull; the desire for forgiveness diminishes; and we no longer have the sensitivity God built into us that drive us toward Him. Psychology tells us that we all have that conscience, but we do have choice in how we respond to it.

C S Lewis talks about how our desires and our needs have a correlative reality in something that fulfills those desires and needs. He observes that we hunger, and there is food to meet that hunger; we thirst, and there is water to quench that thirst; we have sexual desires, and there is conjugal love we have with another person that fulfills that desire… at least temporarily.

That those desires are only temporally met and satisfied, says Lewis, suggests that there is something else, something more. We also have a deeper and more fundamental longing within us to know God and to be known by God, to be forgiven by God and for eternal life and relationship. CS Lewis says that the reality we know, the satisfaction of temporary longings and desires, is some evidence of a more fundamental and satisfying reality that will fulfill our enduring and deepest longings.

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Nothing is Covered

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to have your life played back on a large screen for the world to see?


“[N]othing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known.” Matthew 10:26 ES

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to have your life played back on a large screen for the world to see? All of the things you did when you thought no one was looking splashed up on a giant screen? Nowhere to hide…. I think most people would shudder to think of it.

… and if you don’t shudder, you might not be thinking hard or long enough about what that giant screen might show – every unkind word, hateful thought, deviant desire, selfish indulgence, prideful arrogance, lustful dream and every act you have ever done.

The truth is that God sees it all. He sees everything you have ever done, everything you have ever thought, and everything you have ever desired to do.

Therefore, when Jesus said that “nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known,” He wasn’t saying that in reference to God. God already knows. He has already seen all you have done, all you have thought and all you have desired to do.

If God has already seen all you have done, all you have thought and all you have desired to do, what was Jesus talking about?

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Search Me Oh God

Depositphotos Image ID: 67632305 Copyright: alazs

Judas Iscariot is a tragic figure in the Gospels. He is known best for betraying Jesus Christ, leading to his crucifixion. John wrote this of Judas many years after the events occurred in the garden of Gethsemane: “he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.”

Given John’s characterization of Judas, it’s a bit unnerving, perhaps, to think that Judas spent years in the company of Jesus. Judas knew Jesus intimately and was part of the very inner circle of followers of Jesus. Jesus certainly knew Judas as well. He knew well that Judas would be the one who would betray Him. He “called it” at the Last Supper.

Have you considered the fact that Jesus allowed Judas so close to him all that time, knowing what Judas would do? John’s comment about Judas many years later, describing Judas as a “thief” who helped himself to the funds that Judas oversaw for the group of disciples, suggests that John knew the character of Judas as well.

The betrayal of Jesus, of course, was part of God’s plan. It had it happen. Jesus came to offer himself as a sacrifice for the sins of men, but Jesus added, “But woe to that man who betrays him!”

What sort of man betrays Jesus? Was Judas just an evil person?

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Where Do You Stand in Relation to God?

If we choose to continue to go our own way, and insist upon our own values and ends, God will let us go. Love does not coerce or force itself upon another.

Depositphotos Image ID: 100613226 Copyright: tokkete

We live in a world that defies God. That is the point of the Adam and Eve story. The temptation to go our own way is great. In fact, like sheep wandering without guidance, ignorant of the dangers that lurk around us, we have all gone astray. That is our lot.

From Adam and Eve, throughout all of the Old Testament, this is the story of the world. This is the world into which God came, having reduced himself from the greatness of being our creator[1], to become one of us, in the form of the man Jesus[2].

That God loves us could not be more intimately or completely demonstrated for us than in the life of Jesus. Though he was God[3], he did not hold on to His privilege and power over us. He emptied himself for us. He came humbly and obedient to his own purpose, which was to lay down his own life for us[4] in a demonstration of love and compassion the world had never seen before and has never seen since.

God came into the world, and the world did not recognize him or receive Him[5]. Yet God was faithful to his purpose. He was faithful in his love for us. He was faithful to fulfill what he came to accomplish, which was to redeem us.

He came while we were yet sinners[6]. He didn’t wait until we became holy, righteous and good. He would have still been waiting. He came to heal us from all that makes us broken, which is our innate inclination to separate ourselves from God and to go our own ways.

This is the world and the reality in which we live. The world sets itself in opposition to its creator. Many people pay lip service to God, but their hearts are far from Him[7]. They deny Him in the way they live their daily lives. Though they honor Him with their lips, their actions belie them.

The good news, which is what Gospel means, is that God loves us anyway. He came for us while we were in this very condition, knowing the worst of us. God became man and lived among us knowing how corrupt we were, that we would reject him and knowing that we would attempt to put him to death. He came anyway. This is the extent of God’s love for us.

Our choice of how we will live in this world has consequences because of God’s love and the fact that He made us in His own image, to love him back. We are not compelled to love Him, but we are given the freedom to love Him. We are not robots or automatons who have no choice. But our choice is eternally significant.

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How Do We Measure Our Relationship With God?

depositphotos Image ID:40565079 Copyright: atholpady
depositphotos Image ID: 40565079 Copyright: atholpady

I don’t see anywhere in the teachings of Jesus a statement that we will be judged by the degree to which we have achieved justice for the wrongs that have been done to us. God is just. In fact, he is perfectly just, but He didn’t leave us any instruction to that effect.

We may think of God’s justice in the context of an eye for an eye.[A]  Where there is a wrong, perfect justice requires recompense. We don’t feel this any more keenly than when we have been wronged ourselves by others.

But there is a flip side to God’s justice. The flip side of God’s justice is God’s mercy, and God desires mercy more than God desires justice.[B] God desires to extend relationship to people rather than assign punishment. In fact, our own relationship to God can be measured by the extent of our relationship with others.

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