Forgivable?

I had another article prepared for today, but something has been on my heart this morning after hearing that a long-time acquaintance has “fallen” in a very public way.

I won’t go into the details, because they really aren’t relevant, but I want to think through what this means as Christians publicly fall.

Why is it that we’re so quick to pounce on the failures of other believers?  Now, I get the difference between repentance and un-repentance.  If a believer is un-repentant, there is a great deal in scripture on how to deal with those issues, but that’s not where I’m focused today.  My thought is more with how we handle (and mishandle) the brother or sister who has fallen and repented.

Some train-of-thought ramblings here as I work through Concerns, Cause, and Cure:

Concerns:

1. We in the church seem to be much more ready to pounce on the failures of our brothers and sisters in the body of Christ than the world is ready to attack  the unregenerate sinner.  If a repentant member of your church had a public failure, would they be handled the same as a hollywood star who checked into rehab? Would they get the “second chance” from the church or would they become a pariah?

2. Do believers feel safe in confessing sin in the church, or do they know that doing so would cost them social clout, status, and respect?

3. What are members taught about sin and their relation to it?  How are they to view themselves in light of sin?

Causes (of the above):

1. I find my human nature, and the unchecked character of it when played out in the church, is that I’m ready to pounce on the sin of others. Why?

First of all, it’s salacious.  It makes a good story.  Many of us are “churched” enough to not openly gossip, but prayer requests can surely serve the same purpose.  “Did you hear?” has wounded many brothers and sisters over the years.  Satan is the accuser of the brethren.  He’ll take all the “Did you hear” help he can get.

Secondly, if we’re honest, it makes us feel better about ourselves.  We “compare ourselves to ourselves” and rather than doing the uncomfortable work of facing the sin in our own lives, we take comfort in the fact that at least we’re not “them”.

2. If the view in your church is “We don’t do that”, then anyone who falls and does “that” (whatever that may be in your tradition) is, well, not like you anymore.  Good Christian people don’t do “that”, so now the brother or sister isn’t one of the holy “us”.   This fear creates a culture of hiding your sin and locking it away to never see the light of day.  The risk is just too great in confessing it.  And while fighting this fight alone, what happens to the sin?  It deepens.  Guilt, shame, fear are present as the accuser of the brethren goes to work.

3.  If the concept of sin in your tradition is that it just something you “don’t do” and to do so is a failure, you’re not only inaccurately teaching your people, you’re setting them up to either deceive themselves into believing they’ve “got it”, or creating despair in those who realize that they don’t.

Let’s get this straight:  You sin every hour of every day.  If you come from some traditions, that may shock you.  But what did Jesus say?

[34] But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. [35] And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. [36] “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” [37] And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. [38] This is the great and first commandment. [39] And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. [40] On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
(Matthew 22:34-40 ESV)

I don’t do that. You don’t do that. You know you don’t do that. God knows you don’t do that. Sure, make up some behavioral/moral rules, check the box, and then compare yourself to “those people” who do “that”.  The list changes with every culture: We don’t dance, we don’t drink, we don’t go to the movies, we don’t “mixed swim”, we don’t cut our hair, we don’t wear makeup, jewelry, drive cars, use electricity.  Good. Good for you.  How are you measuring up the Jesus’ words above?

I’ll tell you how; We sin.. every… single… hour, in word and deed against God and our neighbor.

BUT.. the Cure:

[5] This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. [6] If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. [7] But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. [8] If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. [9] If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. [10] If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
(1 John 1:5-10 ESV)

You have sinned, and you have been forgiven.  How then can we pick up stones to throw at our brothers and sisters in Christ, knowing that our only righteousness comes from the same savior who saved them?

There’s a word for that…. hypocrite!

A study by the Barna group polled non-christians on their perception of christianity.  The study explored twenty specific images related to Christianity, including ten favorable and ten unfavorable perceptions. Among young non-Christians, nine out of the top 12 perceptions were negative.

The top 2? that present-day Christianity is judgmental (87%), hypocritical (85%). WOW! That should crush your heart as a believer. I won’t lose a minute of sleep over the world being offended by the gospel, but if my hypocrisy, OUR hypocrisy is the stumbling block?  Ouch.

I see this playing out in quotes like the following. I’m using this as an example, but I’ve seen many wordings around the same philosophy:

That someone who professes Christ could every nod their head in agreement with such a statement is jaw-droppingly absurd.

[6] For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. [7] For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—[8] but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. [9] Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. [10] For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. [11] More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
(Romans 5:6-11 ESV)

Huh. We were enemies with God, and He reconciled us to Himself through His own death.  Glad he didn’t “respect” His stature as God enough to “walk away” from someone who was His enemy.  To be forgiven by a righteous God and feel that way toward others?  Wow.

How on earth did the church, who stand as benefactors of GRACE come to be most known for being judgmental and hypocritical?

[23] “Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. [24] When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. [25] And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. [26] So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ [27] And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. [28] But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ [29] So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ [30] He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. [31] When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. [32] Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. [33] And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ [34] And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. [35] So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

(Matthew 18:23-35 ESV)

So, this is my message to you, someone who sins every hour of every day.. just like me:

If we say we have not sinned, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.

But.. the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

The choices stand in stark contrast. My human nature doesn’t want to walk alongside the one who has fallen and tell them they have been forgiven.  It’s more enjoyable to let them hang their head in shame, avoid them like the plague, and ask other self-righteous hypocrites to join me in a chorus of “can you believe what they did?”  Complete hypocrisy.

One of the beauties of the reformed tradition is the preaching of Law and Gospel and the joint confession of sins in every service. Here is an example of that type of prayer. I ask that you think through it and ask yourself how ready you should be to secretly celebrate the falling of a brother or sister in Christ:

Most merciful God, we confess that we are by nature sinful and unclean. We have sinned against You in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone. We have not loved You with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbor as ourselves. We justly deserve Your present and eternal punishment. For the sake of Your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us. Forgive us, renew us, and lead us, so that we may delight in Your will and walk in Your ways, to the glory of Your holy name. Amen

and Amen.

Marc

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