Salvation ... comes from the Lord ... because they take refuge in him. (Psalm 37:39-40)

Sunday, January 3, 2016

The Great Commission to Forgive

    When you hear the term "great commission" in the context of the Bible, what do you think of? The first four books of the New Testament are narratives written about the life of Jesus. Jesus gave his followers specific instructions about continuing his ministry when he left the earth. Christ's Great Commission is described similarly by Matthew 28, Mark 16, and Luke 24. Most people focus on evangelizing and discipleship to categorize the activities described by the Great Commission. "Go and make disciples of all nations, ... teaching ..." (Matthew 28:19-20).
    John's gospel narrative is very different from the other three in many ways, and particularly in describing the Great Commission. John records this, "Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”  And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven” John 20:21-23. His view of evangelism and discipleship takes on an inside out perspective.
    In contrast to the other three, John describes the Great Commission as a lifestyle of modeling forgiveness. Understanding and practicing forgiveness is central to the Christian faith, however, too few Christians make it a central part of their lives. In my book Escaping the Pain of Offense: Empowered to Forgive from the Heart, I discuss some of the consequences of this deficiency including relational conflict, mental health problems, and lower quality of life. For many, instead of fulfilling the Great Commission of representing Christ's forgiveness to the world, they fall to what I would call the Great Omission neglecting the role of forgiveness in their faith.
    A common omission is failing to allow God to be the Lord and final Judge of people and circumstances in our lives. In becoming a Christian, the conversion experience includes recognizing the need for a Savior (Jesus) and receiving God's forgiveness into a new birth. At that point forgiveness is not finished, but it only begins. The forgiveness received from God by a believer (at conversion) is now to be given to others. The initial surrendering to God grows into an on-going relationship that involves deeper surrender and should involve greater capacity to forgive and be forgiven. That is the subject matter of my book (title mentioned above).
    One of the simplest definitions of forgiveness I've discovered is surrendering to God the right to judge. Offense is a common part of life. At one point or another, we all offend, and we all become offended. In a particular incident, we may find ourselves on one side of an offense or the other, the guilty, or the guilty's object. When we are on the guilty side of an offense, desiring to be forgiven may come to our thoughts more quickly than when we are offended with our thoughts first turning to trying to find someone else to blame. Sometimes guilt is difficult to ascribe to one party or another. Pre-judgments, mis-judgments, and critical-judgments make it even harder, but surrender is always an essential element of forgiveness. Surrendering your right to judge doesn't mean you are surrendering your rights for justice to be served. God is a perfect Judge, executing perfect justice and perfect mercy simultaneously (see chapter 3 of my book for an explanation). When you surrender to God the final rights of judgment, it puts your heart in a condition to focus on a hopeful future instead of a hopeless past. For both the offender and the one offended, a journey of redemption is possible.
    For a Christian, forgiveness is not an option but a mandate. Another theme I unpack in my book is the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation. In many cases, forgiveness sets the stage for reconciliation. The New Testament Apostle Paul describes the Christian life as a "ministry of reconciliation." He says, "And he {Jesus} died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. ...  Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!  All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation:  that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.  We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors ..." 2 Corinthians 5:15-20). First, let me comment on the phrase "the old is gone, the new is here." Some interpret this to mean Jesus has accomplished forgiveness of sins, and therefore the practice of forgiveness is no longer necessary. Yes, Jesus has completed the work of forgiveness by dying on the Cross and being resurrected to dwell with the Father. No, it does not mean our part is done. Surrendering our hearts to Jesus at a conversion experience is only the beginning of the journey in forgiveness. Jesus uses the illustration of occupying a house to show how our life with Him progresses. In buying a house we receive the legal title and deed, but we still may have to paint, hang curtains, move furniture, and make it a home. Even after habitation, some rooms may need work and remain "projects" for some time. So too, in our hearts, our understanding and practice of forgiveness must continue on a path of cooperation with God to make our being a more inhabitable dwelling for his presence, and useful tool in His hand for the ministry of reconciliation.
    A second thing to note is that, "he has committed to us the message of reconciliation." Both being reconciled to God through Jesus, and being reconciled to one another as human beings reinforces John's perspective of the Great Commission. If Christ followers aren't modeling forgiveness and reconciliation, who will? The symbol of the cross gives us a picture of the vertical and horizontal connection of relationships. As we receive God's forgiveness to restore our relationship with Him (vertically reconciled), He empowers us to forgive and reconcile with fellow human beings (horizontal reconciliation), and help some find their own relationship with God restored and freed to help others as well. This is the eternal purpose and perspective for our lifespan on earth.
    Guilt for sin has traditionally been recognized as the main thing standing in the way of this reconciliation. I have recently come to view shame as an even greater hindrance. Guilt and shame are two different problems. While guilt links a person to their behavior, shame attacks the person for who they are. Guilt focuses on the "doing," while shame focuses on the "being." Guilt says, "I did a bad thing." Shame says, "I am bad." Guilty actions can be amended with restitution, but pronouncing shame condemns irreparably. Whether true guilt is present or not, many shaming the self results in self-condemnation, self-bitterness, and self-rejection. Shame creates condemning judgments, magnifies feelings of low self-worth, and separates our heart and mind from God as the master Designer of our being and the loving Father relationship he desires for us.
    God never shames his sons and daughters. When you feel shame it is not from God. Shame tells you that you are not worthy of receiving God's forgiveness (as an offender). When you are on the other side of forgiveness as the one offended, shame tells you the offender is not worthy of your forgiveness or God's forgiveness. This shaming often disguises itself in some form of critical judgment. When you are tempted to think of someone else as a jerk, loser, or good-for-nothing, you must surrender to God the right to judge that person or situation and repent for any wrongful actions you may have already taken. Our bad reactions toward other people are often rooted in the shame residing in our own inner person. Reconciling our relationship with Father God must include identifying the shame we carry by allowing God to show us where it may be hidden, and surrendering it into His care.
    God is looking for followers who will allow the Son Jesus to carry the offenses of this world for them. Our world is a broken place to live. We cannot escape offense, but we can escape the pain of offense. The distinguishing mark of a Christian in this world should be to view offense as an opportunity for God's love to pierce the power of offense, and allow His Son Jesus to redeem the offenses one by one in our lives. Forgiveness is God's idea and plan to accomplish his purpose for his people. Facing offense head on may cause some temporary pain. Allowing yourself to feel the pain, affords you an opportunity to experience God in a more meaningful way. That can never be a bad thing. We must practice receiving God's love in greater measure so we can give his gift of love to others as part of the great commission. We must grow in our capacity to receive God's love and become the person he intends for us to be. His love grows in our hearts when our judgments are surrendered to him.
It's time the Church deals with her offenses. The brokenness offense causes is evident all around us. Why can't we admit offense for what it is? Have we adopted a "religiously correct" speech similar to "political correctness." I like to think of what would happen if instead of using the term "church split" we would call it a "garbage heap of unresolved offenses." Much of what we call "disunity," is in reality a lack of willingness to work through offenses. Granted, there are many other real problems contributing to our proneness to offense such as unhealthy perspectives of conflict, lack of communication, and lack of trust and trustworthiness. But the greatest impact to be made on our corporate offenses is for each individual to examine his own heart in honesty and humility before God to expose and correct offense as the great commission mandates. This also fulfills the vision of the ancient Psalmist who wrote, "Great peace have they which love thy law: and nothing shall offend them" Psalm 119:16; KJV9. We all want peace of mind and heart, but it comes with conditions. These are not overbearing, but conditions for which our loving Father stands with open arms ready to receive our participation.
    When someone offends you, you must be careful not to confuse their guilt with shaming the person (or persons). Condemning judgment toward God, yourself, or other people must be recognized as a chief enemy of forgiveness and reconciliation. Think of someone you believe has judged or offended you. Are you willing to release judgment of the person(s) who has done you wrong? Whether intentionally or unintentionally on the other person's part, the grip of the pain is in your power to release. Are you willing to surrender it to God right now for his judgment? I guarantee this will be the most freeing thing you can do. I can make this guarantee because I practice this regularly, and I help many other people do the same. In doing so you are fulfilling the Great Commission and helping to prepare others for finding their guilt and shame surrendered to God.
    I leave you with an exhortation to stop what you are doing right now amf read Psalm 32. May your 2016 be filled with Psalm 32 blessings!
(click here to read Psalm 32)

Note: For more on how to understand and practice forgiveness see some of my other articles posted on the blog site. I welcome your feedback and an opportunity to discuss this topic further with your study or prayer group. Please contact me to talk in person or via media technology.
 by Ed Hersh, Blue Rock BnB Healing Ministry


  1. Ed, you discussed some very good points that we all must remember and practice.

  2. Thanks for taking the time to reply. God is good.