True Forgiveness vs a Religious Practice

So fundamental to the Christian life is forgiveness, that when Jesus was asked about how to pray, he included it as the fundamental principle that must exist, for any spiritual communication to even be heard, between God and the individual.

“After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen. For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” ~ Matthew 6:9-15

This is why Jesus in another place plainly states:

“Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.” ~ Matthew 5:7

True forgiveness produces a true change in the individual. One primary reason why: because the individual has come to deeply realize that they are blood-guilty before Almighty God! And that their only hope is: that the same one they are guilty before, will have extra-ordinary mercy upon them.

“Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions. Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” ~ Psalm 51:1-3 & 7

As is shown in the scripture above, the stain of their sins is not something that can be removed by their works, nor by any procedure or religious practice. Therefore later in the same psalm, he plainly states:

“For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.” ~ Psalm 51:16-17

Only the same Almighty God that they have deeply offended, can cleanse them and make them clean. This is why he throws himself upon the mercy of God and states:

“Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me.”

When God washes away your sins, the reality of this mercy received, causes the individual to not only change spiritually, but also in the way they think and act.

“Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.” ~ 2 Corinthians 5:17-20

So transformational is this forgiveness of the soul, that the individual now becomes a representative messenger for the one that forgave them. They become an ambassador for Jesus Christ, and the power of his love that works through the kingdom of God.

But Satan has created his religious form, to counteract this power of forgiveness. And that religious form broadly is described as “paganism”. Many years before Jesus came down to Earth: Paganism had already deceitfully changed the notion of forgiveness, into a religious practice.

  1. You constantly go back to sin of some kind; and so you constantly come back and ask for forgiveness over and over again. Consequently, you never obtain complete victory over sin. So forgiveness becomes a religious practice: a special license or privilege, to continue in sin. You believe that your religious practice cleanses you of your sin, over and over again.
  2. Furthermore, Paganism set up special people for you to confess your sins to. And through that knowledge of your sins, these people would leverage the shame of that knowledge, to manipulate and control you.

The Catholic Church incorporated these same paganistic practices into their belief-control religious system. They misused scripture, to justify the Roman Catholic hierarchy, teaching the same sin and confessional practices.

Later on Protestant Churches would start to do the same thing, but in different ways. They would teach: sin you will, and sin must. But you don’t need to confess your sins to a man. Therefore Jesus is like a forgiveness trash can, for sin. You can daily dump your sins on him, by asking for forgiveness daily. But you never will be completely changed in your heart.

Therefore, spiritually you are transformed into a messenger for Satan’s paganistic message: sin you will, and sin you must. Just continue to ask for forgiveness over and over again, as a religious practice. A practice that becomes hardened and indifferent to the severity of the personal sacrifice Jesus suffered: to not only pay for your forgiveness, but also to deliver you completely from all sin!

Allowing forgiveness to become a religious practice can harden anyone. Let us look in the scriptures at what happened to a man named Saul, who later would be more commonly known as Paul. Saul became very hardened and indifferent towards God, even though he sought forgiveness from God regularly, as a religious practice that was specified in the Law.

So through what we read about Saul: we learn that before we can be forgiven from the throne of God, we must be fearfully awakened to our sinful condition before God’s presence. God himself, through his Holy Spirit, must have convicted us of our desperate sinful condition!

When Saul was persecuting the church: he had absolutely no conscience that what he was doing was wrong. A religious practice of seeking regular forgiveness, had caused him to become so hardened, that he could not recognize the Spirit of God pricking at his conscience. Later on Jesus told Saul that what he was doing was “kicking against the pricks.”

Saul conspired with the Jews that persecuted and martyred Steven. And all the Jews were pricked by the witness of God through Steven.

“And all that sat in the council, looking stedfastly on him, saw his face as it had been the face of an angel.” ~ Acts 6:15

This witness of God through Steven, was so tormenting to them, that they lost all sense of proper and fair judgment. So they ran with a frenzy upon Steven.

“But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God. Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord, And cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul. And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.” ~ Acts 7:55-60

And so Saul continued in his hardened heart, and sought further to persecute all the church. If forgiveness is nothing more than a religious practice, then when we are troubled by the full gospel, we also will fight the truth. And we also will despise and persecute those who live the truth of the full gospel.

“And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him. As for Saul, he made havock of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison.” ~ Acts 8:2-3

None of the cries of the Christians, nor the martyrdom of saints, like Steven, was breaking through to Saul’s conscience.

How could Saul become this way? He was raised around the scriptures, and could expound upon them. The reason why: because of the deceitfulness of sin.

“For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me.” ~ Romans 7:11

The Law highly recognized the need for forgiveness, and it had a method for forgiveness. But the law went no deeper than that. It created an inconvenience for sin. A recognition of the seriousness of sin. But the Law did not create the ability for the heart to receive the full power of forgiveness. That power only became possible through Jesus Christ!

“What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.” ~ Romans 7:7

Because modern-day Christianity has made forgiveness a religious practice, it takes a strong shaking message to awaken people to their need for true forgiveness. Saul also had to be seriously shaken. He needed to be awakened to his need for Christ to forgive him, and deliver him.

“And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest, And desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem. And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven: And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?…” ~ Acts 9:1-6

When we truly comprehend how our sin is directly against Almighty God, it will cause us also to greatly fear! Saul suddenly realized that God’s own Son had died for his sins, and that he now had been boldly sinning against God himself! Saul was terrified!

“And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do. And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man. And Saul arose from the earth; and when his eyes were opened, he saw no man: but they led him by the hand, and brought him into Damascus. And he was three days without sight, and neither did eat nor drink.” ~ Acts 9:6-9

When Saul eventually realized the witness of forgiveness for his sin, he did not treat being forgiven lightly! And when any of us truly comprehend the seriousness of sin, and then find forgiveness straight from God’s throne, we also will be very serious, and not treat it lightly.

“For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death. For behold this selfsame thing, that ye sorrowed after a godly sort, what carefulness it wrought in you, yea, what clearing of yourselves, yea, what indignation, yea, what fear, yea, what vehement desire, yea, what zeal, yea, what revenge! In all things ye have approved yourselves to be clear in this matter.” ~ 2 Corinthians 7:10-11

Saul did not fully realize that he was covering his own sin by a religious practice, until the Lord awakened him spiritually. But there have been others who served the Lord, who later fell into sin and chose to cover it up. When this happens, it takes a true man of God, led by the Holy Ghost, to pull the covers off, and to awaken the hypocrite to their awful spiritual condition.

King David was such a one that fell into sin, and then sought to cover it up. And so the Lord sent Nathan the prophet, to shaken and awaken him.

“For thou didst it secretly: but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun. And David said unto Nathan, I have sinned against the Lord. And Nathan said unto David, The Lord also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die. Howbeit, because by this deed thou hast given great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme, the child also that is born unto thee shall surely die.” ~ 2 Samuel 12:12-14

This severity of gospel judgment is necessary, because it is very difficult to spiritually awaken a hypocrite. Especially one who has accepted forgiveness as just a religious practice. If David was not corrected, others would be inclined to follow his horrible example.

But trying to awaken someone out of hypocrisy, or trying to restore someone who has fallen into sin, is a ministerial work that takes spiritual maturity.

“Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.” ~ Galatians 6:1

A person who has fallen into sin, has already taken on a different spirit. They are not the same as someone who never knew salvation. Therefore it takes someone who is both humble, and has spiritual discernment. Because we need to be sure we are operating under the direction of the Lord in trying to restore someone, and not our own spirit. Because the reality is, if the Lord isn’t drawing them at this time, then it’s not the right time to recover them. They might just take up a religious profession, and then later cause greater harm to others in the body of Christ. It doesn’t mean that we can’t still show that we love and care about them. But until the Lord is speaking to their heart, we will not be able to recover them.

Additionally, our Lord gave us direction on how to deal with an individual that is claiming salvation, but yet is causing trouble and harm in the body of Christ. There is an order that exercises respect. And when we follow that order, the Lord will honor how we try to correct a situation.

“Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican. Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” ~ Matthew 18:15-18

Now, not only does God forgive, but God expects us to also forgive others. Even if that other person does not acknowledge the wrong that they have done. The ability for us to forgive another, is actually the greatest power that God has ever granted to mankind!

Only God can forgive sins against him, but he has granted to us the ability to forgive someone who has personally wronged us. And if we are not willing to forgive another, our Lord has plainly told us, that he will not forgive us.

“Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.” ~ Matthew 18:21-22

And then Jesus went on to tell a parable to clearly emphasize God’s expectation that we always forgive.

“Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants. And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents. But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made. The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt. But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellowservants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest. And his fellowservant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt. So when his fellowservants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done. Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee? And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him. So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.” ~ Matthew 18:23-35

Just as the servants in this parable were grieved when their fellow-servant was not willing to forgive another: the Holy Spirit will be greatly grieved, when forgiveness is not practiced among those claiming to be his people.

“And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” ~ Ephesians 4:30-32

Seeking for forgiveness needs to run very deep. It needs to cause us to search what we have done, and whom we have affected. And it creates in us the strong desire to make whatever we can, right again.

This purpose is clearly shown to us in the scriptures, when Zacchaeus showed Jesus his full intention to repay everyone he had stolen from.

“And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up, and saw him, and said unto him, Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for to day I must abide at thy house. And he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all murmured, saying, That he was gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner. And Zacchaeus stood, and said unto the Lord; Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold. And Jesus said unto him, This day is salvation come to this house, forsomuch as he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.” ~ Luke 19:5-10

So does God’s forgiveness remove accountability for our sins in this life?

“Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” ~ Galatians 6:7

Even though the Lord forgives you, it doesn’t mean that you won’t have to pay a price for your sins in this life. If you have committed a crime, and they have arrested you and placed you in jail: you can pray to God to change your heart and forgive you of your sins. But that does not remove your jail sentence.

God is a God of justice and mercy. And often we must suffer the justice of righteous judgment in this life, to deeply learn our lesson. A lesson that teaches us to not go back to our old sins. In addition, other people need to see that God is a righteous judge in this life. This is so that they will fear, and not do the same sins that others are doing.

Ultimately God holds us all accountable for our actions. In other words, we are held responsible to operate with integrity relating to the change that God has done in us. And others have a right to hold us accountable for our past actions, and to see over time that we have really changed. They will not be able to necessarily trust us right away. We must earn their trust. Especially if we have wronged them.

Forgiveness and trust are two different things. Just because someone has forgiven you, doesn’t mean they have to trust you. You need to earn trust by a consistent behavior that shows that you have really changed for good. And that you are not treating forgiveness as just another religious practice.

I know of a minister in another country, who has fallen into sin multiple times. But when he comes back for forgiveness, he expects to be accepted in the ministry right away. Is that an appropriate expectation? No! And because he has fallen many times, it is unlikely that he should be recognized as a minister ever again. He should be thankful to just be forgiven, and to humbly be a child of God.

When Judas fell spiritually, and betrayed our Lord, he was later completely replaced with someone else. We must remember, that God is a God of justice, even with those who labor in the ministry.

“And they prayed, and said, Thou, Lord, which knowest the hearts of all men, shew whether of these two thou hast chosen, That he may take part of this ministry and apostleship, from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place.” ~ Acts 1:24-25

Now Peter also fell in a moment of weakness, but he immediately went out and wept bitterly over it. He did not conspire to a betrayal, nor did he continue on in sin.

“And Peter said, Man, I know not what thou sayest. And immediately, while he yet spake, the cock crew. And the Lord turned, and looked upon Peter. And Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said unto him, Before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice. And Peter went out, and wept bitterly.” ~ Luke 22:60-62

There are two important lessons for us in what happened to Peter.

  1. Maintain a close spiritual life with the Lord. Before Peter fell, when he should have been in prayer, he fell asleep in the garden. Jesus warned him: “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
  2. Do not go someplace, or be around certain people, that you are not spiritually strong enough to maintain a boundary against sin. We should avoid places and people of strong temptations.

Finally, forgiveness is one of the principal doctrines of the church. And as such, we must continue to forgive others for the rest of our lives. And being willing to forgive others, will create an attitude of true love and long-suffering with one another in the church. And this is critical for our success and unity, among those who believe the full gospel.

“Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness.” ~ Colossians 3:12-14