Some Common Wrong and Harmful Notions about Forgiveness and the Cross
In this post we further examine the comment which a pastor called Phillip submitted. In part one we discussed his assertion that “Jesus speaks of divorce being permissible, and his reason for such is that our hearts can be hard.” In this second part, we discuss what he said about forgiveness.
Please note that we are not implying that pastor’s motives are evil or that he is willfully trying to cause more suffering for abuse victims. But what we want to point out, especially to him, is that his thinking is flawed and that his words are going to do great damage by enabling abusers and further oppressing victims.
Here is the portion of his comment we are analysing in this post. The spelling & punctuation in his comment have not been altered. He is addressing Jeff Crippen’s post on forgiveness and the cross.
You wrote, “God never simply forgives sin – thus the reason for the cross – apart from His holy justice being met.”
I completely agree. I’m just hung up on this concept of us attempting to forgive (now), without the cross deeply impacting how we go about forgiving.
Doesn’t the cross impact us, as Christians? It is my reason for forgiving others, my fuel, my motivator, and my reason for loving.
I hope that makes sense.
Consider this: Jesus speaks of divorce being permissible, and his reason for such is that our hearts can be hard. It’s not because he wants justice to be fleshed out. Justice was fleshed out on the cross. Our inability to reconcile is a heart issue, even when is adultery or some other crazy life crushing sin.
Then the problem, in my eyes, is people trying to force forgiveness upon the offended. Although I think they should forgive, if their hearts are hard, moral instruction isn’t going to soften their hearts. Pointing fingers at a room full of offended people and telling them how scripture calls them to forgive isn’t going to lead to forgivness (at least not good, healthy forgivness). What will? Hearing that we are all sinners. That we don’t forgive like we should. How we too have sinned. That Jesus died for our sins. That those who have been forgiven much will love much. And letting the gospel melt our hearts.
Is our ‘inability to reconcile’ always an issue of our own hearts?
Phillip states: Our inability to reconcile is a heart issue. That is not always true. God Himself does not reconcile with all sinners. God Himself CAN NOT reconcile with all sinners. Is that because God’s heart is not right? No! It is because Holy God cannot and does not reconcile with the wicked — because the heart of the wicked is not right. There is no repentance there. God only reconciles people to Him if they repent of their sin.
To tell the wife of a an adulterer or an abuser that the reason she cannot reconcile with the philanderer/abuser is because of the hardness of her heart, is an utmost cruelty. And it is just plain wrong. In many cases, reconciling with such evil is what is wrong.
Let us imagine a woman called Jane who has suffered domestic abuse. She divorced her abusive husband some time ago. Jane is not a believer and she has little understanding of Christianity.
In her home alone and lonely on her couch in the evenings, Jane often thinks about how her husband mistreated her. She feels anger about what he did to her. Maybe she doesn’t hate him but she finds it really hard to stop thinking about what he did to her. After all, he’s still abusing her post-separation. And he’s won most of her friends and family over so they think he’s a great guy. She’s misunderstood by most people. She’s got some PTSD though she doesn’t know it. She’s got a log-jam of grief inside her and it’s hard to let it out because (a) no one wants to really listen, and (b) it’s congealed, crusted over, old and tired … same old same old…
Forgiving him has not been in the forefront of her mind; she isn’t sure whether she forgives him, or how much … but she sure knows she mustn’t reconcile with him … if she reconciled with him he would destroy her.
A friend invited her to church. Jane is sitting in Pastor Phillip’s church service and he tells the people, “Jesus died for our sins. Justice was fleshed out on the cross. Whenever we are offended by another person’s conduct, even when is adultery or some other crazy life crushing sin, our inability to reconcile is a heart issue. We are all sinners. We don’t forgive like we should. And because Jesus died for our sins, we can be forgiven. Those who have been forgiven much will love much.”
What will Jane have learned? She will have learned three truths:
- all have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God
- those who have been forgiven much, will love much
- because Jesus died for our sins, we can be forgiven
But she’s also heard three gross generalisations:
- we are all sinners
- we don’t forgive like we should (hear that ‘s’ word ‘should’ — red flag Jane!)
- our inability to reconcile is a heart issue
We are not all sinners. That is to say, though we are born into this world in sin, when Christ redeems us we are saints. Scripture does not address Christians as sinners.¹ The statement that we are all sinners is vital when doing evangelism, but it is easy to misinterpret when doing discipleship. It can all too easily be intepreted as sin-levelling: “all sins are equally heinous.”
The pastor’s message has imparted some truth to Jane’s mind, but that truth has been inextricably linked to some terrible falsehoods that are likely to put her off the gospel for the rest of her life.
If Jane’s heart is soft to the gospel, she will most likely think: “I see that I am a sinner. I accept that. I know I’m far from perfect. The pastor says I don’t forgive like I should. He says my inability to reconcile with my abusive ex-husband is a heart issue. That must be one way I am sinning: having a hardened heart towards my husband: having divorced from him rather than reconciling with him. He always accused me of being too hard on him. That must be what this pastor means by me having a ‘heart issue’. But I CAN’T reconcile with him. He would destroy me! I can’t accept this Christianity if it means I have to reconcile with my husband!”
Here is the truth, dear Jane, which you needed to hear: All unbelievers are sinners, but not all unbelievers are abusers. Many unbelievers are not abusers.
Here at A Cry For Justice we would never tell a non-Christian abuse victim that “we are all sinners” and link that with an inference that her failure to reconcile with her abuser shows she has is hard hearted. Why? Because, while she does need to hear that she is a sinner in need of a Savior, and the only Savior is Jesus Christ, if we tell her “You are a sinner” while we are advising her how to respond to her abusive husband, she will hear “You are a sinner” as: You have sinned in this marriage; your sin has contributed to the marriage breakdown.
And you can be certain that she will conclude that we think she carries some (or most) of the guilt for this disaster called a marriage. We would have laid false guilt on her and inoculated her against the gospel by giving her a false idea. We would have caused her to think that God sees her as bearing blame for the marriage problem. She would thus see God as not her potential Savior whom she could love and cling to, but as her abuser’s ally.
How can we be so certain of this? How can we assert this as a fact, without any qualification? Because her abuser has been constantly telling her that it is all her fault, she is the crazy one, she is the ‘oversensitive one’, she is the abuser, she is the liar, she is the one who made him behave the way he did, she is the one who has lost her grip on reality, she is the one who is mistreating and falsely accusing him!
Here is the truth: Many unbelievers (including our hypothetical Jane) are not abusers. Many unbelievers do not exercise a pattern of coercive control (ongoing actions or inactions) that proceed from a mentality of entitlement to power, whereby, through intimidation, manipulation and isolation, they keep their targets subordinated and under their control. Many unbelievers do not have a profound mentality of entitlement to the possession of power and control over their family members or dating partners (current or ex). Many unbelievers do not believe they are justified in using evil tactics to obtain and maintain power and control over others.
The rampant problem in the professing Christian church today is not that we don’t forgive like we should, but that we forgive like we should not.
In the fog-bound professing Christian church, believers are typically exhorted to reconcile in relationship with people who are not repentant. Such teaching fails to heed the Lord’s commands to:
- come out from among them and be separate
- reject the factious man after a first and second warning
- refuse to even eat with those who claim the name of Christ but who walk in sin.
And these are the things that this fellow’s comments, whether he realizes it or not, are condoning.
And then this fellow’s comments regarding the gospel “melting our hearts.” Once more his statements are jam-packed full of false guilt and shame for victims of evil. “Letting the gospel melt our hearts” as we go forth and blindly embrace universal forgiveness and reconciliation may sound heart-warming. It is anything but. It is a fantasy and fiction that leads to a very bad ending. The warmth of Christ’s love in our hearts is also supposed to burn with indignation against evil, not just with compassion for the lost and for those who repent.
Finally, this matter of justice being “fleshed out on the cross.”
We are not certain what Phillip means by this precisely, but we do know that such a statement communicates to us that we must not seek justice. That all justice upon our oppressors has been effected already at the cross. This is, of course, terribly unbiblical — and fertile fodder for abuser enablement. Justice has not been totally and absolutely meted out at the cross. There is much justice yet undone. Here is a taste of it:
This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering — since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed. (2Th 1:5-10)
And so we trust that this fellow Phillip will seriously re-examine his thinking on these things. To teach the concepts that he stated in his comments is to do great harm to the righteous who are suffering at the hands of evil, and to become an ally of evil — whether realizing it or not.
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¹ Christ died for all sin; but for that to be effectual in a sinner’s life, the sinner must repent and have faith in Christ as their Savior and Lord.
The Bible uses this terminology: All have sinned: all were born in sin; all are born with a fallen nature. If a person is born again through faith in Christ, that person is called a saint, a believer, a sheep, a child of God. The Bible says that saints still struggle with the flesh (Romans 7) and only when they pass into the next world will they free from the presence of sin and that battle with the flesh. It also recognises that as believers, as saints, we sometimes fall into sin; it exhorts us to confess and repent at such times (James 5:16) and it promises us forgiveness in Christ (1 John 1:9).
It is unwise and misleading to call all people in the pews ‘sinners’ as if they are all unregenerate, when some, or many, are born-again saints. (Whether that is true in all churches in these darkening end times, only God knows… In our view it is probable that some churches have not one born-again believer in their pews. )
The unregenerate person keeps on sinning; it is the chief distinguishing feature of his or her life. The saint may fall into sin, may have battles with the flesh, may have parts of their character needing much further sanctification, but no one who abides in him [no saint; no Christian] keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. (1 John 3:6)
Thus, one of the chief marks by which we can distinguish the unregenerate (sinners) in the pews from the true Christians in the pews (saints): the sinners keep on sinning.
Two-part response to an ACFJ comment
Part 1: True or False? “Jesus speaks of divorce being permissible, and his reason for such is that our hearts can be hard.” (Barb discusses the assertion “Jesus speaks of divorce being permissible, and his reason for such is that our hearts can be hard.”)
Part 2: Is this post. (We discuss Phillip’s notions about forgiveness.)