Once upon a time, I suggested that “teaching people to know the Word rather than to know the Lord is the single greatest failure of the modern church era.”
There were fewer responses to that post than one might imagine. A pastor friend of mine chimed in and took me to task, saying that “properly teaching the word is teaching the Lord.” The operative word in that phrase is “properly.” There is a difference in teaching law and doctrine and teaching relationship with God. One may properly teach the Bible regarding law and doctrine but not know how to demonstrate faith and relationship. The Pharisees and Scribes were masters in teaching law and doctrine, as are many of our pastors and teachers.
If one lacks faith and a relationship with Jesus, what business does one have teaching it, or even the doctrine and law? And therein is the problem: we have learned how to teach and exposit the law (good versus evil), but rarely have we succeeded in properly teaching the word of faith and relationship (life).
Just because someone has been to Seminary and sat under or read after the venerated saints and learned from the self-proclaimed best doesn’t mean that same person can teach faith and relationship. We actually believe (to our detriment, I might add) that all one must do is go to seminary and regurgitate what they’ve been taught and repeat the things they’ve managed to scribble in notes or memorized from Sermons On the Net.
Case in Point: Reconciliation vs. Forgiveness
You may believe that going to heaven hinges completely on God forgiving you of your sins. Or you may believe that you will be judged according to your works before God makes up his mind where He is going to send you. But the problem is this: your status before God does not rely upon what He is going to do in the future at your judgment, nor is it entirely about what you’ve done in the past, nor it is entirely about faith and Him forgiving you. There is a deeper root, and it’s called reconciliation.
You’ve been Forgiven: You need Reconciliation
One of the core issues concerning redemption and salvation is reconciliation. Our misunderstanding of this stems from the fact that we have taught and preached that humanity needs, yea, requires God to forgive them of their sins when we should teach and preach that humanity needs to be reconciled to God. To compound the problem, we have incorrectly taught that reconciliation and forgiveness always go hand-in-hand, and at worst, we have taught that they are the same.
Reconciliation is not Forgiveness
Nowhere is this fallacy more apparent than in the typical Sunday morning pulpit teaching regarding forgiveness and reconciliation between you and a friend. Conventional wisdom states that if your friend sins against you 490 times, and you forgive him 490 times, then you and your friend are also reconciled by the act of your forgiveness.
And that, my friends, is the lie.
When you study reconciliation and forgiveness, you will find that they’re not the same words, and they don’t have the same meaning. You will also find that forgiveness can happen privately, while reconciliation is a mutual agreement between two parties.
The word forgive is aphiēmi (af-ee’-ay-mee). It means “to send forth, in various applications: – cry, forgive, forsake, lay aside, leave, let alone, let be, let go, let have, omit, put away, send away, remit, suffer, yield up.”
The word reconcile is katallosso; (kat-al-las’o). It means “to change mutually, that is, (figuratively) to compound a difference: – reconcile.” In this day and age, the word “compound” may seem out of place in this definition. Well, there is an additional meaning of this word, which is “to settle amicably: adjust by agreement” (Meriam-Webster)
While there are other words used for reconcile and forgive in the NT, it can be clearly seen from these definitions that reconciliation is not the same thing as forgiveness. Forgiveness is a singular, personal matter of laying aside, whereas reconciliation is a cooperative, plural matter of mutually changing.
If your Brother Sins …
Consider the Matthew discourse on forgiveness and reconciliation
If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.Matthew 18:15-18
Expose the Fault; Brace against failure?
The first step of the process, as outlined by Jesus, is to “show him his fault in private.” And if he hears you, then you have won your friend. Also, consider what Jesus said in Luke:
Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.Luke 17:3-4
Therefore the Matthew 18 instruction of “if he listens to you” means that your friend, having been rebuked and/or shown his fault, there must be a subsequent and appropriate response: a demonstration of repentance. In such a case of demonstrated repentance, you offer him forgiveness. Pay special attention to the fact that Jesus said: “if he repents.” It is only in the presence of repentance that forgiveness is offered.
The other warning relates to not forgiving: “Be on your guard…” Your job is to guard against unforgiveness.
What then, of Forgiveness?
Does God command and expect us to forgive? Absolutely.
But not the way we’ve been taught in our churches. There are two types of forgiveness.
The first type is personal forgiveness which is commanded and expected of the offended in every case of an offense. Secondly, there is reconciliation forgiveness which is offered to the offender in the presence of repentance. Personal forgiveness and reconciliation forgiveness are not the same. Personal forgiveness is meant to free you – the offended – of bitterness and resentment, and reconciliation forgiveness is meant to free the offender of his conscience regarding his offense against you.
In terms of a relationship with God, the scriptures teach that only through faith and repentance is reconciliation achieved. Why? Because without belief and trust, there is no acknowledgment of a Holy God nor a Holy standard. Without repentance, there is no turning away from that which caused offense. Therefore, faith and repentance are paramount, and reconciliation forgiveness does not happen outside of those two things. During his journeys, Paul taught both of these things, repentance towards God and faith towards the Lord Jesus Christ. And in doing so, he referred to this ministry as a ministry of reconciliation, not as a ministry of belief and forgiveness. This is what some evangelists and evangelistic messages teach: just believe, and you’re forgiven.
What people don’t like about this process is the rebuke. But doesn’t God have plenty of rebuke for sin (just read the books of Moses and the prophets)? People prefer not to hear the rebuke. Instead, they would rather persuade you to “just wipe this and that under the rug and move on, as if it never happened; we’ll just forgive and forget the whole thing, okay?” It is the epitome of co-dependence, and Jesus is not co-dependent.
If God is not willing to be reconciled with you outside the confines of a rebuke and a reconciliation (whether it be of the Old Covenant of bulls and rams or of the New Covenant of Jesus Christ), why then do we act as if we can just wipe things under the rug and pretend they never happened, and call that forgiveness and/or reconciliation? Are we greater than God? Does God pretend sin never happened? Does He overlook rebellion? Does God save a person who refuses to repent of their sin?
Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from My sight. Cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, reprove the ruthless, defend the orphan, plead for the widow. Come now, and let us reason together,” Says the LORD, “Though your sins are as scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they will be like wool. If you consent and obey, you will eat the best of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword. Truly, the mouth of the LORD has spoken.Isaiah 1:16-20
Belief in God and faith in Jesus Christ must work in concert with repentance and confession of sin: they are necessities for salvation. Anything less or more is heresy – anything that adds works to faith, excuses faith, or removes or minimizes confession and repentance, or excuses God from the process, is a lie. Grace is that which makes you into something which you cannot become by yourself. And grace can not be used of God to activate the power of redemption unto salvation outside of the precondition of your faith, your confession of sin, and your repentance:
For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.Ephesians 2:8-10
From that time Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. ()Matthew 4:17
I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.Luke 5:32
I acknowledge my sin unto thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the LORD; and thou forgave the iniquity of my sin. ()Psalm 32:5
So, the point is this: you can believe that God exists. You can also believe that Jesus died for your sins. And you can believe that God has forgiven you. Or not, as the case may be. But the fact of the matter remains until you’re willing to repent of your sin and be reconciled to God, you will remain in your sin. And should you remain in your sin, you will die and be judged in your sin.