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Friday, January 8, 2016

Forgiveness: additional Sunday School Notes

Last Sunday we looked at the proclamation of forgiveness on a personal (disciple) level. We said that Jesus said that we should forgive others as we are forgiven. We also looked at it as mission (apostle level) - this is the churches role as ambassadors of the Good News. God forgives but we mediate it in word and deed. There are numerous scriptures around this theme.
Forgiveness opens us to being healed. "Unforgiveness" is a barrier to God's salvation being effective in our life. Personal forgiveness is a skill the disciple acquires through practice. The apostolic role of forgiving sinners (manifesting God's forgiveness) supersedes the individual. It is a sacramental ministry. It is a church ministry. God's forgiveness is bigger than what a human can forgive! However, the experience of the sinner is impacted by how well the minister communicates this forgiveness. God's Mercy is a power flowing through us, which we can impede. The faith and wisdom and openness of the minister matter. The belief, openness and desire of the recipient matters just as much!

The process of forgiveness is likened to the removal of a burden, cleansing, or cancelling a debt. Sin is a power. Our sinful acts, sinful desires and sinfulness impact the health and well-being of our bodies, souls and spirits (as well as our community and the body, soul and spirit of others). That negative power has residue. It is an opening for the demonic. It can be a habit which can change one's character. It can impact mental or emotional function, create (bad) desires and weaken the will. Paul spoke of the power at sin at work within us (Romans 7) and our helplessness to overcome it. The addictive nature of sin is well documented--the Bible calls it being "a slave to sin." Forgiveness is an expression of the salvation which sets us free. The ministry of the church includes the directive to free people from sin. Freedom from sin, however, goes deeper and broader than forgiveness. A brief review of reconciliation may be helpful here.

1. Forgiveness is the beginning of the process, not the completion! The goal is reconciliation, a re-establisment of right relationship (with God and one another). Sin breaks the relationship. The power of sin increases the brokenness by reducing trust and making us more sinful. It impacts how we view others and how we view God. Forgiveness establishes a "safe place" to face the truth. It frees us from denial and blaming others.
2. Forgiveness invites introspection and admission. If we are safe to face the truth, then we can face ourselves. We can be aware of our faults, failures and shortcomings. Not only do we "do" sins but we "are" sinners. Our desires, thoughts, and intentions can be sinful (covertly) even if our "acts" are not (overtly). If we are truly forgiven (and we believe it, feel it, experience it) then we can look in the mirror.
3. Admission produces remorse. When we admit the truth, we can feel genuine sadness for what we have done. Guilt, without shame, is the proper response to grace. It is a positive on which we can build. Feelings are an important dimension of human being.
4. Remorse, a feeling, produces a desire for restitution and reform. Feeling guilt, we recognize our responsibility. This generates the desire to make things right and change our life. True remorse is not only 'feeling bad,' but 'desiring good.' It is a longing for the "way things ought to be" (Kingdom living). Love of the other moves us to treat the other as we would want to be treated.
5. Desire is expressed in choices and behaviors: repentance. Repentance is active (Hebrew=to change one's direction on the path of life, Greek=to change one's mind, to think in a new way). When we repent we are a new creation in response to grace/forgiveness. It is outwardly manifest and actively rebuilds what sin has torn down. It is not done to purchase/earn forgiveness! It is a response to forgiveness. It is done to live abundantly (life and not death) in the Kingdom shalom.
6. Union with God makes us 'godly'. The nature of our relationship with God is spiritual unity; God's Spirit fills us. We are one with God. We are the body of Christ. We are His presence in the world. Jesus was obedient (Luke 24:42 "Father...not my will but yours be done." John 5:19 "the Son can do nothing on his own, but only what He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise." John 8:28 "I do nothing on my own but I speak these things as the Father instructed me") and we must be as well. We must "be perfect as our heavenly father is perfect" (Mt 5:43-48 in doing good to all, even those against us, and loving our enemies.) 'Perfect' means to reach the true goal/outcome of our humanity!

It's about relationship Reconciliation (human to human, human to God) is about love and union. If one is forgiven but does not do the work of repentance, the forgiveness is ineffective. The "healing power" of forgiveness is blocked without reconciliation. Forgiveness is costly (think of the crucified Jesus saying, "Father forgive them...") for that reason. Forgiveness provides the hope for a new beginning at the cost of letting go of old wounds and injustices.

As ambassadors of God's healing/saving love/mercy/justice, we offer hope by proclaiming God's offer to sinners, but we do so including Jesus' invitation to trust God and be transformed. Jesus said, "REPENT AND BELIEVE." As we also said earlier, the message is no less true if the minister is a poor vehicle, but the power of transformation can be severely impacted. The fullness of Christ's reconciling love and forgiveness is available, but the individual minister can constrict the flow. Hence, it is important to be ever vigilant in prayer, study and personal disciplines. We have the power and authority to heal and forgive, but the real world is full of all manner of obstacles to keep that from happening as effectively as we (and God) would like.

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