God is on our Side

In the fifth chapter of his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul emphasizes God’s desire for reconciliation with those who are separated from Him.

“Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”

Reconciliation between offended parties can be very tedious and difficult work. Many will tell you that unless both parties are truly dedicated to being reconciled, a disagreement or a feud can go on for years or even for life. This is true whether in personal relationships, or in those between whole groups of people or nations.

These words to the Corinthians confirm for us that God, on His part, is dedicated to reconciliation with us, the people of the world. This availability for reconciliation demonstrates to us God’s great love, for as the text says, He is willing to overlook our trespasses in order to restore our relationship. This is astounding considering that we are the ones who rejected God in the first place, and who have rejected Him with our sinful actions too many times to count.

It is a good thing that Jesus supports the concept of forgiving someone “490 times” in Matthew 18. It is a good thing that “God is love” according to 1 John 4, and that love “does not take into account a wrong suffered,” according to the famous love passage of 1 Corinthians 13.

Many people get this picture backwards. They think of themselves as the innocent party who was just minding their own business, when all of a sudden God marched up with a list of unreasonable demands that had to be met or the relationship would be severed. But scripture, as we have seen, just does not fit that picture. God is actually the one who is willing to overlook the past and invite us back into His arms. God is “not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance,” according to 2 Peter 3:9.

We are going to have to humble our pride if we are to come to Him. We cannot portray Him as a demanding tyrant who forces us to jump through hoops for His own arbitrary reasons. Rather, God, like a loving parent, knows what is best for us and calls us gently and lovingly to follow the path of life.

The apostles found themselves as ambassadors on Christ’s behalf, literally begging for God’s estranged children to return to Him. God wants us to be with Him! He wants everyone to be with Him! He is on our side! So much so that He would not only overlook our sins against Him, but that He even sent His own Son to die at our hands, who even then prayed “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”

God is pulling for us. His invitation to life still stands. In the words of Jesus, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.”

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Humble Confession – by Austin Gonzales

Following God’s instructions concerning one aspect of life will help us follow His instructions in other aspects, as well, so that we can live better lives overall.

Recently, I’ve been thinking about this in regards to humility and confession.

(James 4:10) Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.

(1 Peter 5:5b) …all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.

(James 5:16) Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.

(1 John 1:9) If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

In my (limited) experience, if I am going to truly apologize for an offense, or if I want to try and obey the command to confess my sins to a brother in Christ, it definitely requires swallowing my pride. In turn, it helps me develop humility – just a little bit at a time – when I sincerely apologize to someone, or confess a sin that I have been hiding.

When we apologize; we are admitting to God, to our friend, and to ourselves that what we did was wrong – no matter how valid our excuses may seem to our prideful selves. Similarly, when confessing sin, we are admitting that it was indeed a sin. So we have no excuse – since “with the temptation [God] will provide the way of escape” (1 Corinthians 10:13) – and we realize the need to resist any desire to do it again. Therefore it helps us, when we confess wrongs, to humble ourselves by understanding that some things are wrong no matter our reason – the ends do not always justify the means. And in so doing, it can also help us with obedience to God.

We have a need to confess not just our sins, but also the struggles we go through. How are our brethren supposed to “bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2-3) or “look out for [not only their] own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4), if we do not let them know what we are going through? Except, of course for the deep, painful wounds that “they can’t do much to help with,” right? No! Rather, we especially need to confess those kinds of inward struggles!

Even if there is nothing that a fellow member can actively do to help; they can listen. Simply the action of speaking your thoughts and emotions out loud does much to help us understand and process such issues. Also spiritually, the deep, hidden wounds are just the opportunity Satan can best use to tempt us with – especially the ones that nobody else knows you are thinking about. This is also where humility comes in. We do not want to appear ignorant, weak, or un-Christ- like, etc.; so we don’t want to let people know that we hurt. But humility tells us that we are ignorant, weak, and un-Christ- like. Everyone is, except for the LORD Himself. That is why humility tells us that we must confess our need and appeal for His help – as well as the help of His church.

Confession and humility can also give us tools to be proactive and take preventative measures to avoid or resist temptation. Accountability, for one thing (Galatians 6:2-3). As I have just mentioned, humbling ourselves to admit struggles, or sins that we struggle with, means that others can help us through them. However, this requires communication and complete honesty – both of which, humility can help with; and both of which can help to build humility. When we “tell the whole truth, and nothing but the truth,” then our brethren can most effectively help us out. It may have to do with keeping an eye out for situations that they know may tempt us. Or maybe they can get us in contact with someone who has been through the same struggles. In addition to such things, communication and honesty build stronger relationships between us.

Advice I hear about marriage or relationships nearly always includes being honest
and/or constantly improving communication. It is how we become close to our family in Christ – and it helps us come closer to Christ Himself.

Humility is also required when we are hearing confessions or apologies from someone else. When someone comes to us in such a way, it is easy to be tempted to judge them, gossip about them, or not to forgive them – maybe in not so many words. But if we keep in mind that we have committed offenses of our own, and that God has been so gracious to forgive us, it helps us to forgive them and to honor their confidentiality – to pay it forward. Colossians 3:12-13 tells us, “So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.” Additionally, when hearing confessions; humility can tell us that we do not always have the answers. When someone opens up to us, we may really want to help with any advice we can offer. But humility can teach us to think before we speak. Not always – but sometimes – the best thing we can do is to listen.

To sum up, God “is faithful and just to forgive us our sins,” if we humble ourselves and confess our sins.

Scriptures and Thoughts on “Forgiveness”

What does forgiveness actually mean? What does it look like?
Old Testament –
Celiychah (noun) – abundant forgiveness – NEVER does this word in any of its forms refer to people forgiving each other.
Calach (verb) – to forgive/pardon. The only Old Testament verb with “to forgive” as its primary meaning. Used ONLY of God.
Nasa’ – to lift, to raise, to bear, to carry – refers to both divine and human forgiveness.
Kaphar – to cover, to purge, to make an atonement, to make reconciliation, to cover over with pitch. Kacah – to cove, can also mean “to conceal, hide”

New Testament –
Aphesis (noun) – the act of freeing and liberating from something that confines; release, or the act of freeing from an obligation, guilt, or punishment; pardon, cancellation… “The forgiveness denoted is almost always that of God. It is constantly needed, and is granted when requested so long as there is a readiness to forgive others. Its basis is the saving act of Christ.”
Aphiemi (verb) – to dismiss, release, let go, send away… used for the cancelling of sins and debts.
Charidzomai (verb) – to show one’s self gracious by forgiving wrongdoing; forgive, pardon.”
Apoluo (verb) – to grant acquittal, set free, release, or pardon.

In this case, the Old Testament words really help us in our theology! They strongly delineate God’s forgiveness and our own.

So what would this look like, acted out?

How God illustrates forgiveness:
Isaiah 1:18 – like red wool becoming white again – a miracle!
Psalm 103:12 – as far as the east is from the west
Micah 7:19 – You will tread our sins underfoot and hurl our iniquities into the depths of the sea.

When God forgives, does He actually forget?
Isaiah 43:25 – “I will remember your sins no more.”
Hebrews 10:17 – “I will remember their sins and lawless deeds no more.”

But remember that the true meaning of “remember” is to call to mind. The terminology allows God to be omniscient, but not to call to mind, emphasize, or “remember” our sins.

But what do you think, does He literally forget them?

Surely He knows that we are sinners, for He planned from the foundation of the world to send Jesus – 1 Peter 1:20, and the cross, which we say is beautiful and worth commemorating, and which is commemorated by the Lord’s Supper – Luke 22:19-20, and Jesus said we will eat the meal with Him in the kingdom!

So it seems that God will not forget that we are or have been sinners, but that He will not call to mind, or put on display, or take into consideration, our sins.

Will God ultimately forgive everyone of their sins?
Matthew 6:15 – “if you do not forgive others…”
Hebrews 10:26-31 – “there no longer remains a sacrifice”
Matthew 7:23 – “I never knew you, depart from me you evildoers”
Matthew 25:41 – “depart from me into the eternal fire.”

How can I get God’s forgiveness?
Acts 2:38 – repent and be baptized!
1 John 1:7,9 – walk in the light, confess your sins

Is there a difference between God’s forgiveness and man’s forgiveness?
See notes in Hebrews words for forgiveness. There is a kind of forgiveness that only God can do.
Psalm 51:4 – “against you only have I sinned” – David’s guilt was ultimately before God.
Mark 2:5-11 – “only God can forgive sins” – only God can actually clear guilt!

Romans 12:19 – humans are never to take vengeance – meaning that humans are never to try and “get even” by making someone suffer in proportion to the suffering they have caused. So human forgiveness then is not simply letting someone off the hook when it comes to divine justice, for we are never the arbiters of that in an ultimate sense.

So what is human forgiveness then? As the Hebrew words indicate, it is a removal of debt, or a covering of error. It could also be an acknowledgement in some sense that we are not the final judge of the person.

Is it ever appropriate to withhold forgiveness?
1 Timothy 1:13 – “Because I acted in ignorance”
Luke 23:34 – “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do”
Acts 17:30 – “In previous times God overlooked such ignorance, but now commands all men everywhere to repent.”
Romans 1:18-20 – God’s wrath is against them, they are without excuse because of their knowledge.
James 3:1 – teachers are held to a stricter judgment

Are we forgiven/not forgiven by God based on our knowledge? Think about it. Forgiveness is always offered by God while we are on this earth, but it is not offered unconditionally!
Hebrews 10:26-31 – forgiveness is NOT extended to belligerent, intentional sinners.

But also notice, that as we have said, God’s forgiveness and man’s forgiveness differ. Man can always extend forgiveness (and is required to do so, Matthew 6:15). Whether the individual is actually released from their guilt by God is not our concern.

But what about this idea of human forgiveness being a releasing from debt or a covering of error, surely we are not always obligated to do this? While forgiving a debt can be a powerful way to show someone godly mercy, perhaps the heart of forgiveness is in not standing in moral judgment over someone, as only God can do this.

2 Peter 3:9 – Just as God wants all to come to repentance, so should we!

What aspects of forgiveness are dependent on the recipient?
As indicated above, by the references above, forgiveness of our actual guilt by God is dependent upon our repentance, and that repentance means that we do not willfully sin where we have knowledge of right and wrong.

Consider also Luke 13:5 – unless you repent you will all likewise perish

As far as human forgiveness goes, that kind of forgiveness does not appear to be a release from divine guilt in the first place, but only a release from ultimate personal moral judgment, and potentially of debt or shame, etc. So it does not depend on the recipient at all. Matthew 6:15 is unqualified!

Does that mean that I do not allow them to be prosecuted in a court of law? No, for that is allowing a power ordained by God to act for the protection of society. But it does mean that I let go of my personal sense of authority to ultimately judge.

What if I am supposed to forgive, but I just cannot bring myself to do so?
Understand what forgiveness really is, see discussion of forgiveness of God vs. man.
Romans 12:19, 13:1-4 Hand the right to judge or take revenge over to God and the governing powers that He has established
Ephesians 4:32, Colossians 3:13 – Remember that Jesus has offered forgiveness to YOU
Matthew 18:23-35 – Consider just how great the forgiveness is that God has offered you

How can I forgive myself?
(Page 52)
Luke 22:60-62 – Peter felt guilty about his sin
Matthew 27:3-10 – Judas felt guilty about his sin. Judas hanged himself.
John 21:15-19, Acts 1:15-2:40 – Peter went on to be a leader in the church

2 Corinthians 7:9-10 speaks of worldly sorrow which leads to death, and godly sorrow which leads to “repentance without regret” and salvation.

What do you think? How can one choose to have, or come to experience, godly sorrow rather than worldly sorrow?

Matthew 18:23-35 – understand that forgiveness is NOT about what people deserve. It is given freely, and we are expected to give it others as well.

Isaiah 43:25-26 – God forgives us for His own name’s sake, He has His own reasons for being pleased to do so!
John 19:30 – Jesus said “it is finished.” He has already paid the price. The gift of forgiveness is yours to accept or deny, but He has already paid for it either way.