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Slave-shackles-Does-the-Bible-condone-slavery"Forgive each other just as God, in Christ, forgave you." Ephesians 4:32

That's the flow - grace comes down to us for our sins and then it's meant to flow out to others for their sins.

If that's the pattern, what does it mean when we find another's sin "unforgiveable"? Well at that point we're accusing them of blasphemy. Why do I say that? Well that's what God calls the unforgiveable sin - blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. In Mark 3:28-30 we learn that rejection of Christ as Saviour is the blasphemy - it is the unforgiveable sin (for more on that, see here.)

But that language is interesting. When God says we've done something unforgiveable (i.e. finally and forever rejected Christ), He calls it a blasphemy. My point here is this: when we deem the sins of others to be "unforgiveable" we are saying that they have blasphemed.  They haven't blasphemed the Spirit, they've blasphemed our god.

I'll explain it like this. We might well find ourselves in the position of knowing:

1) Christ has forgiven me,

2) Christ commands me to forgive, and that...

3) the offences against me are minor - not only relative to Christ's forgiveness but even when compared to other atrocities in the world.

But, it can still feel impossible to forgive. At that point we're deeming the offender to have committed an unforgiveable sin.  In other words the offender has blasphemed our real god (our "functional saviour" to use a Tim Kellerism).

I might find countless offences to be "water off a ducks back" but if someone ruins my reputation, or if they harm my career or if they in any way hurt my children - that's unforgiveable.  At those moments it's good to be aware that "unforgiveable" is synonymous with "sacrilegious."  And it's good to identify the real god who we think is being blasphemed.

When the idol of "my reputation" or "my career" or "my family" is uncovered, it's actually a huge step forwards in forgiveness.  Because now I'm confronted with the reality of my own need. I must repent and seek forgiveness.  She may have ruined my reputation.  But worshipped it.  When I confront the ugliness of my own blasphemy, my eyes are taken off the horizontal and fixed on the vertical. I realize I'm not so much "offended party" as "offender".  In the language of Matthew 18, I start to realize the vastness of the ten thousand talent debt.  And the 100 denarii becomes instantly relativized - not just in theory, but hopefully as a felt reality.

So here's my contention - maybe I'm wrong, correct me in the comments - but I reckon...

If there's something "unforgiveable" in my eyes, there's something blasphemous in my heart.




How do you think of God's forgiveness?

The book of Colossians mentions forgiveness in three places.  Conveniently it's in chapter 1:13f; 2:13 and 3:13.

Let's work our way backwards.  In 3:13 Paul says:

Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.

We are to ungoingly forgive others in the present because the Lord has once and for all forgiven us in the past.  Forgiveness from the Lord Jesus is an event.  When did it happen?  Colossians 2:13 tells us:

When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having cancelled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.  (Colossians 2:13-14)

Even as we were uncircumcised sinners we were forgiven.  When?  As Christ was crucified.  On Good Friday, all that stood against us was permanently taken away.  God has forgiven me.  It's not something that hangs in the balance.  It has already happened.  Christ dying was God forgiving.

Forgiveness is not an act behind the cross.  It's not as though the cross clears the way so that now God can forgive me.  The cross was God forgiving me.  It all happened right there at Calvary.  In Christ, me and my sin and my guilt and every accusation against me was put to death.  Decisively.  Irreversibly.

How am I meant to think of my forgiveness now?  That's where Colossians 1:13 comes in:

For [the Father] has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:13-14)

Forgiveness is the essence of our redemption.  Like the Exodus of old, it is the promised land to which we've been delivered.  Our new Moses has taken us out of the dark Egypt of sin into a new Kingdom.  But in this new Exodus, Christ is not just the new Moses.  He's also the destination.  The very essence of the Kingdom is Jesus.

Therefore the Christian has been transferred from sin and into the Father's dearly loved Son.  This Father has been proclaiming "Behold My Son!" for all eternity and now we have come in on Him.  We are not merely forgiven.  We have been brought into Jesus in Whom we have  forgiveness.  Not just an event, but an ongoing status.

And since the Red Sea was one-way traffic, so now our forgiveness is an unloseable reality.  We do not fall in and out of forgiveness.  We have forgiveness because Jesus has us.  And He's not letting go.

Is this how you think of God's forgiveness?

In our preaching and liturgy I think it's easy to give a different impression.  I'm always thinking of forgiveness as "God wiping the slate clean" (and me filling it back up again!)  But the Apostle Paul puts the emphasis where it should be.  It was an event accomplished at the cross.  And it's a present status, enjoyed forever in Jesus.

Henry Lyte (reflecting on Psalm 103) gets it just right - it's a past tense doing that is also an ongoing declaration:

Ransomed, Healed, Restored, Forgiven



A re-post about forgiveness...

I've been studying Matthew 18:21-35.  I find it really helpful to put some modern-day figures on the money involved.  Ten thousand talents - let's call that a hundred billion pounds.  A hundred denarii?  Let's call that £5000.  I've cost Christ a hundred billion and He's forgiven the debt.  My friend has cost me five grand.

Now five grand is not nothing.  If you cost me five grand I will be mighty peeved.  But only until I remember the hundred billion.  And that's how forgiveness works.  It's always costly.  A hundred denarii aint nothing.  But first appreciate the hundred billion.  Then cancel the five grand.

But here's where a lot of my problems come from.  I refuse to face the damage done to me.  I dare not stare it full in the face and say "You robbed me of five grand (or even five million!) and I'm never getting it back."  I don't feel I have the resources to take such a hit.  So instead of facing the loss head on and drawing on my resources in Christ I convince myself that the five grand is not gone for good.  It can't be gone, it's all I had.  So I consider it as an outstanding debt.  And I make them pay.  In tit-for-tat and slurs and cold shoulders and the mental equivalent of voodoo dolls.

And whilever they are a debtor making repayments, forgiveness is just not an option.  I've bought into a repayment model and cancelling the debt is unthinkable.  But once I face the debt as a straight out loss I can say "Dang, it's cost me.  Now what?"  And that's really the position of us all when we are wronged.  The devil loves to tell us - "You haven't really lost out for good.  You can recoup your costs here, let me show you how."  But the devil is a liar.  I have lost.  It's gone and it's not coming back except by the redeeming hand of Christ.  But for now I need to appreciate the loss as a loss.  A dead loss.  Not bruised and battered.  Dead.  And it can only become gain in the hands of the Lord of Resurrection.

Because once I've faced the loss I then realise my options.  Bitterness/ hard-heartedness/ revenge is an option which involves its own costs.  On the other hand there's 'taking pity, cancelling the debt and letting them go' (Matt 18:27).

The one option I don't have (and never did have) was recouping the loss. But only once I've faced the loss am I able to make the decision that can free me (and them).  I've lost out and nothing will change that.  Now I've got to choose how to handle that loss.  The devil's way will cost me dearly.  But Jesus says "I know a way of handling this loss that will free you and free them and put you in touch with the power of my cosmic redemption."

It begins by acknowledging my own debt. Feeling the weight of my hundred billion.  Rejoicing in its cancellation.  Then facing the loss of the five thousand.  This is vital.  But it continues in taking pity, cancelling the debt and letting go.  In the end the only way to handle the loss is to realise it really is loss.


I'll be using this illustration tonight...

Perhaps some of you remember the 1966 World Cup Final.  Bobby Moore lifting the trophy for England.  You might remember just before that moment.  Moore realizes he’s about to meet the Queen, wearing her immaculate white gloves.  And he realizes, probably for the first time that day, his hands are dirty.  Do you remember him, walking up the steps of Wembley, wiping his hands on his football shirt?  Then he wiped them on the velvet draping before shaking hands with the Queen.

If he wasn’t meeting the Queen he wouldn’t have given two hoots about his hands.  Who cares, he’s just won the world cup.  But in the presence of purity, that’s when his uncleanness mattered.

The King of kings comes to you and offers Himself.  Not just a hand of friendship - both hands nailed to a cross.  Not just to bestow a trophy, but to embrace you and bring you into the life and love of  God!  And maybe you never really thought about it before.  But when you see His outstretched hands, you realize, "My hands are unclean."  Normally you don't think about it, but when the King of Love moves towards you, you realize, "I'm not clean.  My heart is not pure. I live in a broken world with a broken heart and a broken life."  If you don't feel like that, you don't really get who Jesus is.  He's the King! And He's pure.  And if you don't realize that your hands are unclean, you don't know yourself, and you don't know Jesus.  But if you know Jesus, let me tell you - He wants to embrace you.

Bobby Moore's efforts to clean himself up didn't really work.  He just smeared the mud around a bit.  You know what saved the day?  Not Bobby Moore wiping his hands, but the Queen thrusting out her hand.  That was the really significant gesture.  The Queen didn't flinch from Bobby Moore's dirty hands and Jesus doesn't flinch from you.  The Queen got her gloves dirty and welcomed Bobby Moore.  And a billion times more importantly, Jesus got Himself dirty to embrace you.  He opened His arms wide on the cross and He took your sin and shame.  That's what this King is like.  He's the King who the dirty run to.  Because through His death He gives us cleansing, forgiveness and a stunning welcome into the very life of God.

There is the strongest link between God's forgiveness of us and our forgiveness of others.  Therefore, what does it mean when we find another's sin "unforgiveable"?

Well, what does God find unforgiveable?  Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (Mark 3:28-30) - for more thoughts from me on that, see here.

So what about sins we find unforgiveable?  What's going on there?  Well, in my limited experience of my own struggles and in talking to others, it's involved blasphemy against the offended person's true god.  I've spoken to people who are well aware that:

1) Christ has forgiven them,

2) that Christ commands them to forgive, and that...

3) the offences against them are minor - not only relative to Christ's forgiveness but even when compared to other atrocities in the world.

Yet they say "I simply cannot forgive that."  Essentially they consider the offender to have committed the unforgiveable sin.   In these cases it's not that the offender has rejected Christ (the basic issue at the heart of the unforgiveable sin).  But they have opposed the offended person's real god (their "functional saviour" to use a Tim Kellerism).

I might find countless offences to be "water off a ducks back" but if someone ruins my reputation, or if they harm my career or if they in any way hurt my children - that's unforgiveable.  At those moments it's good to be aware that "unforgiveable" is synonymous with "sacrilegious."  And it's good to identify the real god who we think is being blasphemed.

When the idol of "my reputation" or "my career" or "my family" is uncovered, it's actually a huge step forwards in forgiveness.  Because now there's something very concrete for me to repent of.  You see, she may have ruined my reputation.  But I worshipped it.  My eyes are taken off the horizontal for the moment and fixed on the vertical.  I realize I'm not so much "offended party" as "offender".  In the language of Matthew 18, I start to realize the vastness of the ten thousand talent debt.  And the 100 denarii becomes instantly relativized - not just in theory, but hopefully as a felt reality.

I preached on the unmerciful servant from Matthew 18 last Sunday.  (I'll post it up when the audio comes available).  Let me give one reflection on how the whole subject was received...

There were two groups of response.  Group A were those who struggled to forgive (I was expecting that).  But I was surprised there was also group B - those who longed to be released by unforgiving friends and relatives.  Now take a wild stab in the dark - what gender do you think were all the members of Group A?  And what gender do you think were all the members of Group B?

Why do women and men seem to struggle with forgiveness in different ways?  These are wild generalisations but, what are blogs for eh?...

Thought 1 - women are often more open relationally and therefore the wounds go deeper

Thought 2 - reconciliation will be more costly for women where there's a higher expectation of openness in the future.

Thought 3 - mostly when we "forgive" we don't write off people's debt we write off the people.  This false forgiveness goes a lot more unnoticed among men than women.

I have other things to say on forgiveness, but do you have other thoughts on this seeming gender disparity?

I love long-haul plane flights.  No kidding.  Love them.

It's 24 hours where no-one expects anything from you. You slouch in your seat and play video-games while long-suffering helpers serve your merest whim.  It's like being a teenager all over again.

And the guiltiest of all pleasures - you allow yourself to watch Truly Terrible films.

And so to Eat Pray Love.  Emma lasted about 20 minutes.  I very nearly walked out.  But I endured to the end.  And now I know why Mark Kermode's review was four words: Eat Pray Love Vomit.

The thing is Eat Pray Love should be a little slice of heaven.  As Jonathan Edwards almost said, Heaven is a world of eat pray love.

The trouble with Julia Roberts' eating, praying and loving is that all the verbs are in the reflexive.  And so it's a vision of hell.

Roberts' character (Liz Gilbert) divorces her hapless husband for no particular reason other than his geeky romanticism.  She then decides she needs an extended period of me-time.  She eats in Italy.  Prays in India.  And finds love in Bali.  But the object of all these activities is most definitely herself.

Using ground-breaking technology, the dialogue was written using Google's Random-Sanskrit-Aphorism-Generator.  But the translation breaks down fairly regularly, e.g. phrases like "quest dynamics" and "To lose balance sometimes for love is part of living a balanced life".  But those with a passing knowledge of the Oprahic languages should catch the gist.

Perhaps the film hits its nadir with its advice towards the end:

"Never let anyone love you less than you love yourself" - truly the spirit of antichrist.

The most disturbing scene comes from Richard Jenkins' character in India.  His advice to Liz throughout has been to stay at the Ashram until she learns to forgive herself.  But it's a lesson he's found impossible to apply to himself and so we hear a genuinely moving account of his alcoholism and family break-down.  He's flown across the world and put himself through a thousand spiritual disciplines in order to find forgiveness.

The gospel has bad news and good news for him.  Bad news:  forgiveness is outside him. It cannot be self-bestowed.  Good news: Christ freely gives it.

But the film painfully portrays the prison of self.  And no-one escapes it.  By the end, everyone is richer, fatter and more Satanic.

There's only one saving grace.  The film is so utterly grotesque it ought to wake people up to the bankruptcy of its vision.

Together with a couple of other churches, we're running a series of mission events in the week running up to Easter.  It's part of the nationwide Passion for Life initiative.

In writing a press release for the papers I sought the help of a local minister whose first career was journalism.  I told him the line-up of speakers: We have a former high-flying politician (Jonathan Aitken) who was brought down by perjury charges and found Christ in prison.  We have an international sportsman (Henry Olonga) exiled from his own country of Zimbabwe for standing up to Robert Mugabe.  We have a former police officer who forgave the criminal who shot him in the face.  And we have evenings on science and the new atheism.  (By the way, please pray for our events.  We want to see people trust Christ!)

After I ran through all our events he said to me, "Which night do you think people will talk about in the pub?"  That was his diagnostic for a good headline.  And as soon as he said that I knew the answer immediately: The policeman who forgave his almost-killer.  (Read the amazing story here).  He agreed.  That definitely has the biggest wow facter.  There is no power on earth to enable that kind of forgiveness - it is so out-of-this-world.

Just interesting isn't it?  The celebs, the powerful, the big names can't hold a candle to the testimony of an ordinary man who puts the gospel into practice.

For more on forgiveness:

The mad genius of turning the other cheek

Cheek turning 101



The Sunday School teacher asked:

What do you need to do in order to be forgiven by God?

Billy piped up:



Got it in one Billy.

Are you a sinner?  That's all you need to bring.  Jesus will do the rest.



Turning the other cheek is the very nature of Jesus' posture towards us.  It defines His way.  This is true in the OT as much as the New.

It is a response to being wronged.  (Note that being sued and forced labour are the parallel cases in Matt 5:40,41 - it's not just about non-violence, it's about our posture towards any and every kind of assault).

When you are wronged the natural response is either retaliation or retreat.  You either strike back or shrink away.  Jesus commands an entirely different response - standing firm in meekness.  Offering the other cheek effectively says:

It hasn't worked has it?  You want me to diminish myself - either to run or to descend to your level.  But here I am in an apparent weakness that hides unnatural strength.  You have not won.  I have taken the blow and remain unaffected.  I have arrested the cycle of violence and now I stand here confronting you with your own wickedness.   I'm outmaneuvering you.  I have entirely changed the terms on which we are relating.   You may change them back again, but each time I will disempower you by refusing to perpetuate your aggression.  I may look like I'm losing.  But in reality you lost the minute you struck me.  And I refuse to join you.  My way - the way of voluntary weakness - is really the only way to win.

Now we know how this tactic has worked en masse.  Think of Gandhi's non-violent protest.


But here I want to think about it's transformational power in personal relationships.

Imagine three families where one of the members acts as a kind of scapegoat.  The scapegoat is the member of the pack who becomes the perpetual butt of every gag.  The family only properly functions when the scapegoat is to blame.

In family A the scapegoat eventually hardens into a sharp-tongued, spikey wise-guy. 

In family B  the scapegoat shrinks into a self-blaming, shy, clutz. 

But what about a third way?  Imagine if the scapegoat finds Christ.  And in Him finds a power to receive the very worst blow and neither to lash out nor to shrink down.

And so this time the barbed comment comes their way....

Father:  You just crashed the car, you stupid clutz!  You're always doing that.  What's the matter with you, how can you be such an idiot?!

Now scapegoat A would fight back.  Scapegoat B would crumble into tears.  But in family C the scapegoat says...

Oh Dad, I'm much worse than a clutz.  My life is chaotic, I'm always running late, I never look where I'm going.  There are some deep seated problems that I'm praying through right now, and 'stupid' doesn't even touch the depths of my problems.  But Dad, let's forget about the car for a second and let's talk about why your first response to my car accident was to abuse me?  Seems like there's something pretty wrong in our relationship if that's the case...

Wouldn't that be a powerful?  Wouldn't that be turning the other cheek?

Or a marriage (could be any marriage!) where the husband comes home late after some ministry activity:

[Fuming] You said you'd be home half an hour ago!

Response A:

Honey, it was for the gospel!  And if you were for the gospel you'd understand!

Response B:

I give in.  I can't win.  I'm off to blog...

Response C:

You're right.  There were some unavoidable delays, but at heart you're right - and it's worse than you think.  I have this horrible need for people to think I'm a funny, personable guy so I stick around to crack jokes.  I put my image ahead of my word to you and that's awful, I'm going to pray about it.  But first can we talk about a better way of communicating in these situations?

You refuse to retaliate, you take the blow in all its fullness and then you turn to address the relationship (not the fight).

Now you have a go.  Is there a situation where you need to turn the other cheek?  How will you do it?


PS - for a brilliant example of Bob Kauflin turning the other cheek to a guy stealing his car battery, listen to the first 5 minutes of this

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