Thursday, May 12, 2011

God Forgives but We Don't

 Depth of mercy! Can there be 
 mercy still reserved for me? 
 Can my God his wrath forbear, 
 me, the chief of sinners, spare? 
Charles Wesley 

I want to begin this post with a simple question, "How deep is God's grace and mercy?" Perhaps another way of stating it is, "Are there some sins beyond the redeeming reach of Christ?" The verse that immediately comes to everyone's mind is Mark 3:29 which says, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin. Now there is much speculation and debate about what this verse means and questions about how exactly one blasphemes the Holy Spirit. I don't want to get into all those details here 1) because that is not the point of this post and 2) I don't have clear answers to give myself. What I will say is this, I believe that if you are worried about having blasphemed the Holy Spirit...you probably haven't. Why do I say that? Simply because the Holy Spirit in conjunction with the Word of God brings conviction of sin. If the Holy Spirit has stopped working on you then you aren't going to feel any sort of conviction over having committed this sin. Once again I have digressed from the topic at hand.

What I think often gets overlooked regarding Mark 3:29 is Mark 3:28;

Truly I say to you, all sins shall be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they utter;

Many times in the Gospels Jesus will use a literary devise called hyperbole. In essence this is an exaggeration. For instance, He tells us that if our right eye sins we should pluck it out rather than suffer eternity in Hell with both eyes. He says the same thing about our hands. Does that mean that Jesus is condoning self-mutilation? Heavens no! What He is doing is trying to illustrate the gravity of sin. I do not believe that He is exaggerating the facts in Mark 3:28. What I think He means is that ALL sins will be FORGIVEN, bottom line, period, end of story. Now, here is the rub and the larger point that I want to make. Too often we, as Christians, define our own unforgivable sins. Usually murder is not on the list. If someone is found guilty of this crime and they repent and trust in Christ we praise God for the amazing testimony that they have. Drug addiction is the same along with a myriad of other vices. However, there are some sins that we refuse to rejoice over when a person turns from them.

From here on out I am going to be rather blunt, not because I want to seem radical or edgy but because I believe the situation calls for transparency. In many Christian's minds divorce has become the unforgivable sin. It stands above the rest and has a unique place apart from other downfalls. Most would be unwilling to say that divorce will disqualify a person from entrance into Heaven if they trust in Christ. However, it does seem to disqualify people from being used by God for ministry. The question I have heard is, "Would God call a divorced person to _______ (fill in a ministerial capacity)?" I can't help but wonder if there were similar questions floating around when Jesus called Matthew, a tax collector. We see in Matthew 9:11 how people felt about tax collectors and sinners so I have to believe that the ill feelings were translated onto the disciple who was of that profession. What about Paul? We know the Christians were skeptical of his usefulness to God after all he had done to persecute the Church. Then there is Moses who was a murderer and yet was used by God to be the greatest leader Israel ever had. I would be remiss if I didn't mention King David as well who fell into temptation with Bathsheba while he was king! However, David saw the error of his ways and repented and it was that humility before God that defined his character. Jesus' own genealogy is replete with harlots, sinners, and criminals but they were all still used by God to increase His Kingdom because they were willing to admit their flaws and turn to Him. The one time I can think that a something disqualified someone from part of God's plan was David not being allowed to build the Temple. The reason was not his impropriety with Bathsheba though, it was because he was a man of bloodshed.

Some churches today refuse to ordain a divorced man in the capacity of deacon or pastor. Why? The perception is that divorce disqualifies a person from that office. It follows that God may forgive that sin but man is unwilling to. This may not be the explicit sentiment but it sure is implicit. Why not judge a person's ability to hold office on their character and calling rather than their past failures? We proclaim from the rooftops that God's grace is sufficient and that it covers all sins. We say with great confidence that when a person is born again the old passes away and the new takes over, that Christ has actually created something new, but...

"Well Christian, we are not judging that person's character or calling. It is really nothing personal." Oh but it is. Whenever someone goes through a traumatic event like a divorce it becomes part of who they are and, more importantly, it makes them who they are today. It is part of what has created and refined that character that they have and maybe, just maybe, it gives them abilities for ministry that others don't have. What if God is going to use that painful part of their past in a way that increases His Kingdom? What if that person is uniquely situated to show the love and grace of God to others who are dealing with the same trial?

I do not want to be misunderstood on this important matter. God hates divorce and if we have any sense we will too. It tears a family apart at the seams. Lives and hearts are damaged in ways that are sometimes irreparable. God disapproves of divorce just like He disapproves of lying, stealing, idolatry, murder and all the other sins. We should not simply overlook divorce or any other sin. However, the Bible tells us that once forgiven our sins are removed from us as far as the east is from the west and that they are cast into a sea of forgetfulness. It seems to me that the state of a persons heart and life NOW is far more important than mistakes they have made in the past. None of us are perfect, no not one, even after we are saved. Please find for me one pastor, deacon, missionary or evangelist who has been perfect from the moment of their salvation. Look all you want but you will find none. I am not suggesting that we make excuses for our sins or that they don't matter. They do and sin is a very serious subject to God. What I am suggesting is that grace is greater than sin and that is the message of the Gospel and we, as Christians, MUST STOP qualifying sin and disqualifying people because of their failures.

For any of you who have struggled with how your past effects your present or future ministry I want to leave you with the words of the Apostle Paul;

The Law came in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more. Romans 5:20

Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Romans 8:1

Godspeed,
Christian

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