Acts 13:38-41, “Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through this Man is preached to you the forgiveness of sins; and by Him everyone who believes is justified from all things from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses. Beware therefore, lest what has been spoken in the prophets come upon you: “Behold, you despisers, Marvel and perish! For I work a work in your days, A work which you will by no means believe, Though one were to declare it to you.'”
1 John 2:12, “I write to you, little children, Because your sins are forgiven you for His name’s sake.”
Luke 17:3-4, “Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, ‘I repent,’ you shall forgive him.”
My wife and I sat there in stunned disbelief! We glanced at each other and just shook our heads in sorrow. This would eventually prove to be the last straw so-to-speak, and a confirmation and release from the Holy Spirit that it was time to move on.
Let me go back for some of you that may not have read some of the things I had asked and even promised to the Lord in my past. One main thing that I asked/vowed to the Lord, with a hundred percent support of my young wife, was that no matter where the Lord wanted to take me, no matter what or even how He wanted to teach me, I would be a willing vessel, if He would just use us as He sees fit.
You don’t make a statement like that to the Lord lightly! You may think you are being spiritual and noble, but the Holy Spirit WILL take you at your word. So those of you who are young in the Lord, be aware; this was one area of a Christian’s walk that I had not been taught on. But, in my defense (and that of my wife), we sincerely meant it.
With that in mind, the Holy Spirit DID lead us to a small congregation in Arizona where we were living at the time. Soon, my wife was teaching kid’s Sunday School and I was teaching and preaching at nights on Sunday and Wednesday quite regularly.
For some background to set the scene, let me say that I eventually found out the “Pastor” and his wife were former Sunday School teachers from a neighboring Assembly of God Church where evidently they had some disagreements with the Pastor and staff there. Over a period of time, they accrued a small following, broke off from that denomination church and started there own independent “Charismatic” church. Did I mention we told the Lord we would go wherever He wanted us to go?
At first the church was small and quaint, very family oriented and friendly. The “Pastor” was easy going and laid back and he had not just his wife, but one of his younger sons, helping him as much as he could. The services seemed to be very inviting and at first to my wife and I very Scripturally based. When you’re new to a congregation, let alone a new place to minister (serve) it seems like a honeymoon at first. Then you start to get close to not just the people, but to the way things are done and some things are handled. Over all, we had been there for three plus years and had eventually seen a lot of things go on that made us scratch our heads, as-it-were.
Two weeks before, I had been preaching on a Sunday night and believe it or not (which I didn’t know the full story at the time), a couple of women came in soon after service started and their actions were strange to say the least. In the middle of my preaching they started waving their hands my way and chanting, yes, chanting in an almost whispering way, but still loud enough to hear. I paused and looked to the “Pastor” who just seemed to ignore it.
I couldn’t. People sitting near them were fidgeting uncomfortably and I could see the disruption. My heart was pounding, yet, I put my Bible down on the Pulpit and asked the congregation to bow their heads and pray. I had never done anything like this before. But as soon as the majority of the congregation had bowed their heads, I looked directly at the two ladies and said, “In the Name of Jesus Christ, I rebuke you and your evil curses upon this congregation.” I know my face was beet-red for I could feel the blood rushing. They both looked startled and I then told them, “if you persist in this behavior we will be glad to pray for you if you are interested in repentance, but if you are not, you are free to leave at once. The choice is totally yours.” They bolted out of there like there was no tomorrow. As soon as I gained my composure, I finished the message, which by the way WAS on forgiveness, and then as a congregation we spent some time in prayer before adjourning.
The “Pastor” nor his wife said anything during or after the service and since I was NOT an assistant or associate in title, I just let it go for the evening. My wife and I talked about it quite a bit that evening. As was my usual custom, the next morning before going to my secular job, I stopped at the church to join the “Pastor” in prayer for just about an hour. During an interval I asked him about the two ladies and he just casually stated, “Yeah, they’re a couple of the local witches that visit from time to time, they’re harmless.” Harmless, I thought. I had to press it and I asked him about it. He told me they don’t hurt anyone and if they hear the Word of God, then so be it. No harm, no foul. Yet, I distinctly had seen some of the congregation visibly disturbed. This had been just one more thing that to me didn’t add up and didn’t make sense. There had been much more things I had experienced there and seen in the way they do things and the way they “served” the community in which they were a part that caused me to understand why people would come and go, and the congregation seemed to be at a stagnant impasse. There was no vigor, no excitement, no passion within those four walls. It was as if, it was a make-believe church or just a show and it truly reminded me of the Scripture that the Apostle Paul wrote Timothy; “. . . having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away! For of this sort are those who creep into households and make captives of gullible women loaded down with sins, led away by various lusts, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” – 2 Timothy 3:5-7.
We were already to the point where we just KNEW something had to change, but we just didn’t want to be out of the Lord’s will as we hadn’t felt a release from the Holy Spirit yet. Then that Sunday night two weeks later. Two weeks AFTER I had preached a message on the importance of forgiveness when two witches came in to try and disrupt the service we heard a message that sealed it for us.
“If a person does not repent, nor ask forgiveness from you, you are not responsible for offering them forgiveness! Again, you DO NOT have to give or offer forgiveness!” I wasn’t sure if I had even heard that right. I looked at my wife stunned and she just looked at me and shook her head. I had heard some things from this pulpit that I had just taken as a difference of opinion on certain Scriptures, nothing that seemed foundationally significant concerning our relationship with God or with one another, but this was right to the foundational heart of our redemption in Christ Jesus!
This “Pastor” also used the Scripture that Jesus told Peter (Matthew 18:21-22), concerning the number of times to forgive to justify the statement that “even God has a limit to how much He will forgive!” No Scripture references, a few life examples from his experiences, but no Biblical background to lend authority to the statements. To me, it was like the things I had come to suspect and even wonder about, now had come to a head and it was like a searchlight, or a beacon had been aimed at the heart of this congregation. Now mind you, I am giving you only a summary and cursory example to bring you to a point I am going to make.
Forgiveness, pardon, redemption are ALL at the very heart of Christ Jesus’ mission of coming to earth as a man, to pay the ultimate Blood sacrifice necessary to satisfy the Father’s justice for mankind’s sin. It is based on His willingness to forgive however many times, in whatever situation to those who voluntarily CHOOSE to accept the gift of His sacrifice for that penalty that HAD to be paid!! This in part is where so many fall short, for though they are wiling to accept it for themselves, they act as if their part is over and done with, not realizing that the gift given is just the beginning. We can’t earn that gift nor even repay that gift, but that gift if in all actuality is realized, allows us a spiritual renewal that causes us to realize the gift that we received must in turn be passed forward to others as well.
“Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection.” – Colossians 3:12-14.
The way the Apostle wrote this verse conveys it as a command; “bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.” It is something as a follower of Christ Jesus we MUST do. There is no option clause in ANY verse dealing with forgiveness!
Even Jesus Himself stated very emphatically about the NEED to forgive! We love to quote what has come to be known as The Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13), when in actuality it is an EXAMPLE of how to pray, but we always seem to leave it at the Amen part at the end of verse 13! Yet Jesus, our Savior and Redeemer went on to say, “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” – Matthew 6:14-15.
And I have to say, here is where a problem with a lot of those who claim to be Christians comes forth; to some, forgiveness is just saying I forgive, yet treating the one forgiven as if they were NEVER forgiven. Forgiveness, like ALL Christian and Spiritual Attributes is not just a noun, a “something” but rather to be an example OF Christ, forgiveness and other Spiritual Attributes are VERBS! They are ACTIONS, something we must DO!
You might be asking why I am going on and on about this and so adamant about it. Well, first as I stated, forgiveness is a foundational base of what it is to be a TRUE Christian. Today we live in an age where a lot of people are Christian in title because they believe in “something” spiritual, it doesn’t necessarily have to be Jesus Christ! Sad, but true!
Second, if you have been raised in a Christian home, taught even the basics from the Bible, the principle of forgiveness is one of the main premises for which you have been taught. I have a relative who at least by their actions seems to have forgotten the foundations of forgiveness and since they are family we have spent much time in prayer and yes, even time in instruction AND admonition trying to show them the loving, unconditional way in which they should be treating their Christian relation. But, sadly they post on social media sites things that are totally contrary to Biblical and Scriptural principles and yet, they say they have forgiven.
One post from this relative stated, “We’re not accepting verbal apologies this year, only changed behaviors.” These posts are aimed at their relation they “think” has mistreated them somehow. That sounds at the surface the sane thing to do, and that is where it is misleading. This very type attitude is from the world and the enemy, the devil. It stems from the theory that you only have to forgive so often and then you can put conditions on your forgiveness! You can dictate what constitutes an acceptable reason to forgive. But I have already given you just a FEW of the many Scriptures that command unlimited and unconditional forgiveness!
What kind of spiritual state would we be in if our Heavenly Father told each of us, “change your behavior first and then, maybe, I will give you the gift of my Son’s sacrifice?” That is like using the analogy, that “you must take a shower first to get clean so that you can take a bath!” If our Heavenly Father desires you to change (and yes He does want us all to be more like Him) He will do it in a way that is best for you and in most cases, you won’t realize it until you HAVE changed. But did you see the keyword I used? HE will do it! He doesn’t ask you to do it first and then when you are holy are righteous without spot and wrinkle, He will save you! You come to Him the way you are, dirt, warts and all! Let HIM worry about all that; what He wants is to cleanse your heart and spirit first and then let Him worry about the rest. Your heart and spirit is cleansed through unconditional forgiveness in the Blood of His Son, Christ Jesus!
If Christ shows us the Character, Nature and Attributes of our Heavenly Father, and we are to be examples of Christ and He is OUR example, then doesn’t it stand to reason that we also are to forgive unconditionally and let God deal with changing the forgiven person?
We ARE forgiven first unconditionally, but once forgiven, we MUST forgive others to continue in our forgiveness. A life of forgiveness demonstrates forgiveness within our own lives, and forgiveness of others demonstrates in reality a life of unconditional, Agape Love.
You know, you CAN fool others by saying the right thing and by stating you have forgiven others, but if forgiveness IS in your heart, it WILL demonstrate in the way you treat others. The fact remains, if you continue to hold unforgiveness and bitterness in your heart, you CANNOT nor ever will fool our Heavenly Father!
The circumstances that took place in that Arizona church did lead to the Holy Spirit releasing us from that ministry. It was one of those places that the Lord took us at our word, not just in going there, but as most people learn how to do things through proper instruction, sometimes the Holy Spirit teaches us by watching and observing how NOT to do something. It was a major learning experience in our lives, but it also cemented our relationship on the Holy Spirit’s guidance AND to always seek God’s PERFECT will in our lives!
This experience actually inspired me to write in my book, “Walking With Christ” the chapter entitled “Walking in Forgiveness.” Forgiveness has been a very real revelation in my life for I have been forgiven completely when others doubted God’s willingness to forgive. Because of that, forgiveness is a lifestyle of living a life of unconditional love and it could be for anyone through the power of the Holy Spirit and the Gift of Christ Jesus!