Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Order of Two Simple Words: Forgiveness and Repentance.

At the time of writing this entry, I must confess that I have understood little of the grace of God. I have been well schooled in the art of legalism and have been one that would call the Law, Grace and Grace, the Law. These are not words that are in any sense interchangeable yet the confusion that they are interchangeable is found in the order of two words: Forgiveness and Repentance. I have discovered that the order of them and the priority that you put them in is perhaps a window to your own soul, perception of yourself and even God. It is the order of these two words that is the difference between light and darkness, pressure and peace and perhaps the most important, living in Hell or Heaven while we walk this sod.

Anatomy of Legalism: Having the wrong order of the two words

Many of us take the approach and so order our lives that repentance then forgiveness are the power and order of things. We repent so that we can be forgiven and so the dynamic of our lives is set forth in that fashion and is the controlling action of our lives. Stop for a minute and know yourself. Know that in this dynamic that forgiveness is the fruit of repentance. You might be surprised to know that this is really practicing Legalism. Hear me out: when practicing a legalistic lifestyle (and so dysfunctional) , the pressure is never diffused and only builds the higher that you climb – check yourself as see if this is not so. The holier you get the tighter the noose around your neck. You become a person hard to live with and the love you have grows cold because you see the lack of repentance in others who do not see things the way that you do; there is no forgiveness only sin…and we all know sin cannot be fellowshipped. Please note that any group or individual that has this understanding and life experience becomes separatists in nature. They are the ones who break off from the rest of the church because they only see the shortcomings in other ways of belief and not the people who walk differently in their faith. Please know that this is an evolutionary process that in the end becomes a closed end group – it might take years to devolve into a toxic state but it will because it is based on the power and force of man and religion . These characteristics are an earmark of a legalistic spirit that has masqueraded as the Holy Spirit. There is nothing new under the sun. Jesus defined and eschewed a group that manifested these same characteristics – The Pharisees. They had in themselves derived an economy in God where righteousness was a practice not received by grace. Historically, legalism first sought to destroy the message of the gospel and then it joined the church. Paul fought the same battles as Jesus. Why is this so? Man by his very nature is religious and legalism is the power of religion.

The Answer to Legalism: Jesus Christ

Let’s take a close look at 1 John 2:1:

“My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous…”

You will see that the Lord is spoken of as an advocate. So what exactly is an advocate? It is also translated as ‘comforter’ in essence parakletos in the Greek. The same word is another moniker for the Holy Spirit as spoken by Jesus in the Gospel of John (14:16). To expand this definition of ‘advocate/comforter’, in Hebrews Jesus is described as a High Priest who enters into the Holy of Holies in heaven to offer His own blood as a sacrifice. Here is where it gets interesting. Jesus does not offer His blood repeatedly but once and for all. The sacrifice is finished. His blood has been applied, we have been changed – we stand covered in blood, His blood. There is no force that can remove it. In the same vicinity of the dialogue of Hebrews 8, there is a stunning phrase: ‘for I will be merciful to their unrighteousness and their iniquities will I remember no more…” This is the conclusion and fruit of the New Covenant established by Christ – no longer are we considered as enemies to God but as children of God. This is the state of a believer. We have been forgiven our sins – past, present and future, based on the work of Christ alone. Paul the apostle reaches this conclusion in Romans 3:24 - we are justified freely by His grace through Jesus’ work on Calvary. Elsewhere Paul describes the law as a schoolmaster in the epistle to the Galatians – the epistle where the Pharasaic spirit in the New Testament is crushed under the heel of our Redeemer. In the Greek, this word schoolmaster is a telling word. A schoolmaster was a slave assigned to boys born to a higher station than themselves (nobility or at the very least the higher social class), to train them in morals and life until the age of maturity. So, in essence my friend, we were under the law for a time but when grace came through Christ, we might understand our need for Him and to confirm that we were born unto a higher station, that is the family and nobility of God. We must understand the power of Jesus as it concerned the Law. He came to fulfill it but more than that, He came to remove the shackles of it that His counterparts, the Pharisees used as leverage to oppress and abuse the publican and the sinner. These were the composition of the rabble Jesus came and spent the most time with during His earthly ministry – it is they who received the Good News not the rulers of the synagogue.

Brennan Manning in his book ‘The Ragamuffin Gospel’, sets down the true and full revolutionary nature of God concerning sin through the example of Jesus sharing a meal with the publicans and sinners:

“In first-century Palestinian Judaism the class system was enforced rigorously. It was legally forbidden to mingle with sinners who were outside the law….Sadly the meaning of meal sharing is largely lost in the Christian community today. In the Near East, to share a meal with someone is a guarantee of peace, trust, fraternity, and forgiveness – the shared table symbolizes a shared life. An Orthodox Jew’s saying ‘I would like to have dinner with you’ is a metaphor that implies ‘I would like to enter into a friendship with you’…to extend a dinner invitation is to say “Come to my mikdash me-at, the miniature sanctuary of my dining room table, where we will celebrate the most sacred and beautiful experience that life affords – friendship." That is what Zaccheus heard when Jesus called him down the sycamore tree, and that is why Jesus practice of table fellowship caused hostile comment at the outset of His ministry. It did not escape the Pharisees’ attention that Jesus meant to befriend the rabble. He was not only breaking the law, He was destroying the very structure of Jewish society…{sic -a quote within the book Brennan Manning uses follows to drive home his point}…The physical contact which he {sic Jesus} must have had with them at table (John 3:25) and which he obviously never dreamed of disallowing must have made them {sic -the sinners at table} feel clean and acceptable. Moreover, because Jesus was looked upon as a man of God and a prophet, they would have interpreted his gesture of friendship as God’s approval of them. They were now acceptable to God. Their sinfulness, ignorance and uncleanness had been overlooked and were no longer being held against them..”

(I highly recommend this book to those who come from legalism – it will help them rediscover the basis of our faith is forgiveness and not some deviant form of obedience).

To that I would add the support of the following scriptures:

Rev 3:20 Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.

Rev 19:9 And he saith unto me, Write, Blessed [are] they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb. And he saith unto me, These are the true sayings of God.

When we invite Jesus into our lives, He sups with us. In other words, we enter into a bond of friendship and fellowship to the point of sharing a life together – a bond not so easily broken even for the imperfect, in fact in spite of it. The fellowship He offers is in spite of all that we are and all we will ever be. He comes to help and to stand alongside us. It is to lift us up not to remind us of how far we have fallen and how much we have failed – this is far too apparent already to those of us who are honest – I confess to you I am a ragamuffin. Secondly, the second scripture cited above is perhaps about the most glorious of events. This great event centers around the table of the Lord. A table set and the invitation made to those who would come. We look for positions at the table when it is the table itself that is the shining desire of God to have a great and deep fellowship with us. It is a promise that God will have a relationship with us in eternity that centers around His desire for us to have deep and meaningful fellowship with Him.

Harness the true Order of the Words Forgiveness and Repentance

So what is the dynamic that we must harness in our lives? It is that we must have a motivation that we want to be more like Him not to feel defeated when we are not like Him. In other words, it is forgiveness that must undergird any true repentance. In Pentecostalism this is a foreign concept because in their tradition they believe repentance must be obtained first before forgiveness. It was never so. Historically, let the words of Christ himself set the precedence “…Father forgive them, for they know not what they do…” It even goes farther back than the Cross because that event was not a random act of kindness but planned. In Rev 13:8 we get a sense of just how far back God reached out to man...this scripture makes it clear that in the mind of God forgiveness was planned to be extended to man so repentance would and could matter heavily in our lives. This scripture lays down clearly that the Lamb of God was slain before the foundation of the world. No friends, forgiveness is the power behind repentance and its only true power.Forgiveness was intended and set into motion before we ever were. Without it we stand only with sin in hand in the presence of a God who cannot fellowship it. But as it says in Hebrews, we are boldly to approach the throne through the way made for us through Christ’s own blood. It is the very trail of forgiveness. We must repent based on the love of Christ and our own heart response to that love: Our Love in turn. We love Him is why we repent, because we do not want to break the heart of the One we love. It is this that is the seed of true holiness not minding sets of scriptures and legal extrapolations of scripture done by those whose motivation may be good but deadly flawed. Repentance based on forgiveness will cause lasting change; it is not relief from guilt, it is the chisel in the hand of a loving Savior who seeks to take out the things in us that do not reflect Him and our desire to let Him make us so.

Here is a final thought: If forgiveness was set into motion before the foundation of the world, this truth has and will bring new meaning and weight in our lives. How important is forgiveness to be extended to those who have wounded us so badly. It is the center and cornerstone of the gospel's meaning and intent. If forgiveness is present in us, truly present, it builds a roadway for those who have hurt us ,intentionally or not, back to us...repentance and then what we seek most of all - reconciliation. It is the most positive act we can perform. It is one thing we can do that fully reflects the face of God and reveals Him in clear unadorned and unobstructed light.

Forgiveness then Repentance: It is the correct ordering of the two words –it is the correct ordering for an abundant life.