Not to long ago, I made the following comment: \”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 have a clue regarding 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.
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 determent, 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.
If you are a Christian (or not), you may believe that going to heaven or hell 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 judgement, 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.
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 in fact, we should be teaching and preaching that humanity needs to be reconciled to God. To compound the problem, we have 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
No where 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.
Consider the Matthew 18 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.
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 17:3-4:
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.
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 acknowledgement of a Holy God nor an 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.
\”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)
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 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.