STRAIGHT TALK ON REPENTANCE AND FORGIVENESS
By Rev. Ted Pike
18 Jun 14
Editor's Note: This is the transcript of my recorded Bible study under this title at Truthtellers.org.
The Christian stands apart and above a world beset by rivalries and resentments, eager to forgive and seek the eternal life even of those who persecute him. Yet Jesus, Who laid down commands to turn the other cheek and bless our persecutors, also says that there are times when the rejected and maligned Christian must require repentance from those who attack him. This is not vindictiveness or satisfaction of wounded pride. It is simple justice. It is part of the fact that, while God requires loves on our part, He, as a God of love, is also a God of justice. We as Christians, who are to conform ourselves to His image, also must respect God's requirement that justice be done toward us.
When must we require repentance from others?
Not every Christian is a Moses or Elisha, yet every Christian is backed up by God as His ambassador and witness in this world. Therefore, just as God did not take lightly insult against His great Biblical prophets, so He does not take lightly the scorn of His lowliest saints today. Let's lay a foundation for this important discussion by considering Biblical examples of God's anger at those who insulted His representatives. These are offenses which could not be overlooked or laughed away.
Turn first to Numbers 12:1:
And Miriam and Aaron spake against Moses because of the Ethiopian woman whom he had married: for he had married an Ethiopian woman. 2 And they said, Hath the Lord indeed spoken only by Moses? hath he not spoken also by us? And the Lord heard it.
What is so wrong about that? We read Miriam's beautiful ode after the drowning of the Egyptians when the Holy Spirit came upon her. He had spoken through her. Certainly, Aaron had spoken the words of the Holy Spirit to Pharaoh. He had been the mouthpiece of Moses.
3 (Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth.) 4 And the Lord spake suddenly unto Moses, and unto Aaron, and unto Miriam, Come out ye three unto the tabernacle of the congregation. And they three came out. 5 And the Lord came down in the pillar of the cloud, and stood in the door of the tabernacle, and called Aaron and Miriam: and they both came forth. 6 And he said, Hear now my words: If there be a prophet among you, I the Lord will make myself known unto him in a vision, and will speak unto him in a dream. 7 My servant Moses is not so, who is faithful in all mine house. 8 With him will I speak mouth to mouth, even apparently, and not in dark speeches; and the similitude of the Lord shall he behold: wherefore then were ye not afraid to speak against my servant Moses? 9 And the anger of the Lord was kindled against them; and he departed.
As stated at the beginning, our instinct as Christians is to let things pass, to seek peace, to minimize insults and offenses, to try as much as possible to laugh off slights and minimize any kind of conflict. But God is saying this is not something to be laughed off, to have the authority of Moses and his unique position before God equalized among the other prophets. God is coming down and is making an issue of this, and He underscores His anger.
10 And the cloud departed from off the tabernacle; and, behold, Miriam became leprous, white as snow: and Aaron looked upon Miriam, and, behold, she was leprous. 11 And Aaron said unto Moses, Alas, my lord, I beseech thee, lay not the sin upon us, wherein we have done foolishly, and wherein we have sinned. 12 Let her not be as one dead, of whom the flesh is half consumed when he cometh out of his mother's womb. 13 And Moses cried unto the Lord, saying, Heal her now, O God, I beseech thee. 14 And the Lord said unto Moses, If her father had but spit in her face, should she not be ashamed seven days? let her be shut out from the camp seven days, and after that let her be received in again. 15 And Miriam was shut out from the camp seven days: and the people journeyed not till Miriam was brought in again.
There are times when we as Christians are not to let things pass. We are to seek peace and to pursue it. We are to try to live at peace with all men. But part of the dignity and the backbone of a dedicated Christian is that he knows that he or she is an ambassador of God, and those who attempt to mock or even straighten him out in a fleshly way had better watch out because they are going against someone who is an oracle of the Holy Spirit to the church and to humanity.
Let's consider another example. II Kings 2:23:
And he [Elisha] went up from thence unto Bethel: and as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head. 24 And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the Lord. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them.
"Oh, Elisha, why don't you just laugh it off? Kids will be kids. Kids are foolish. Why don't you just forget it, shrug it off, go your way?" These youngsters undoubtedly reflected their parents' contempt for Elisha, but they were just children. God did not see it that way. The Lord brought those she bears down and tore up those 42 children.
Then in I Kings 2 David is drawing near to death and is charging his son Solomon. Now He is not saying, "Now, Solomon, you have a positive attitude as king and think the best of people, be an inspiration to your people, try to keep the peace, try to keep the waves subdued." He is saying here in this passage that he has some scores to settle.
Joab in verse 5 joined with Adonijah in rebellion and would have overthrown David and probably would have killed him. He was faithful to David with Absalom, but he joined in with Adonijah. He also killed Abner, who was the general who also tried to kill David and led the rebellion of Absalom, but he did kill Abner in the time of peace. He also killed Amasa the son of Jether, a young man who was chasing after Abner and would not stop. Joab turned and ran him through with his spear. David says he
…shed the blood of war in peace, and put the blood of war upon his girdle that was about his loins, and in his shoes that were on his feet. 6 Do therefore according to thy wisdom, and let not his hoar head go down to the grave in peace.
In short, the next chapter describes how Solomon went after Joab, and Joab fled to the temple and grabbed the horns of the altar. Solomon gave orders to have him killed because he shed innocent blood (or at least blood outside of war), and he had to pay with his own life.
David also said to Solomon: I want you to remember
…Shimei the son of Gera, a Benjamite of Bahurim, which cursed me with a grievous curse in the day when I went to Mahanaim: but he came down to meet me at Jordan, and I sware to him by the Lord, saying, I will not put thee to death with the sword. 9 Now therefore hold him not guiltless: for thou art a wise man, and knowest what thou oughtest to do unto him; but his hoar head bring thou down to the grave with blood.
Like Christ going to Calvary, David had returned indulgence and blessing for Shimei's curses, but he instructs Solomon to hold Shimei guilty. Solomon had commanded Shimei not to depart from the city of Jerusalem on pain of death. Shimei went out of the city, and that is all it took; Solomon sent his soldiers after Shimei and had him killed.
There is a time to forgive, and there is a time to demand abject repentance. If true repentance does not happen and the game playing continues and God is mocked and His ambassador is mocked, it is a travesty of God's justice to forgive that person unilaterally when they have not paid the price of repentance.
One might say: "These examples you've given are insults to the very greatest prophets in the Old Testament -- David, Elisha, Moses. Surely we as lowly Christians can't measure up to the stature of those great men. But Christ has a very different attitude toward us.” In reality, Jesus upholds and even magnifies the witness and the presence of the most inconspicuous believer as an ambassador of the great King.
Luke 10:1 says:
After these things the Lord appointed other seventy also, and sent them two and two before his face into every city and place, whither he himself would come. 2 Therefore said he unto them, The harvest truly is great, but the labourers are few: pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he would send forth labourers into his harvest.
Every laborer in the harvest of the Lord is precious to the Lord, vitally needed, and esteemed by God.
3 Go your ways: behold, I send you forth as lambs among wolves. 4 Carry neither purse, nor scrip, nor shoes: and salute no man by the way.
He is basically saying, "You're not in a public relations program here. You don't have to fulfill all the amenities of polite society. You are on a grim and a serious mission of saving souls, keeping them from sliding off the cliff of life into eternal fire. So don't worry about saluting everybody properly along the highway."
5 And into whatsoever house ye enter, first say, Peace be to this house. 6 And if the son of peace be there, your peace shall rest upon it: if not, it shall turn to you again.
If the Spirit of Jesus is not there, your blessing of peace upon that house is going to recoil back right at you, and you are going to find tension. You are going to find that they cannot get along with you; they are going to find problems with you. They are going to be offended at you.
7 And in the same house remain, eating and drinking such things as they give: for the labourer is worthy of his hire. Go not from house to house.
"Don't diminish yourself as a Christian," He is saying. "If you are in God's kingdom work, you are worthy of some tithes and offerings in one way or another. Don't go from house to house but dwell there until the Lord further leads."
8 And into whatsoever city ye enter, and they receive you, eat such things as are set before you: 9 And heal the sick that are therein, and say unto them, The kingdom of God is come nigh unto you.
He is saying: "You have the power to bring the kingdom of heaven to other people. You are a representative of the kingdom of God on this earth. You may have been living in the valley of the shadow of death and in Satan's territory; but when a sanctified missionary saint comes to you, the kingdom of God also comes with that person."
10 But into whatsoever city ye enter, and they receive you not, go your ways out into the streets of the same, and say, 11 Even the very dust of your city, which cleaveth on us, we do wipe off against you: notwithstanding be ye sure of this, that the kingdom of God is come nigh unto you..
This does not sound very loving, does it? It doesn't sound very charitable. Jesus is talking in very acrimonious terms. He is saying that the simple basic rejection of the witness and testimony of Jesus Christ is a terrible offense against the ambassadors of God and against God Himself. If you don't receive those who bring to you the simple message of salvation or repentance, a curse is coming against you. The kingdom of God is coming unto you but not unto joy and to peace; it is coming unto you in judgment. The kingdom of God can come in two ways: It can come in joy and peace and deliverance, but it can also come in condemnation. Jesus brings the kingdom of God when He comes on a white horse in Revelation, but He also has a sharp sword coming out of His mouth. He is treading the winepress of His fury. So the kingdom of God to us is not the same as the kingdom of God to the unrighteous and sinners.
12 But I say unto you, that it shall be more tolerable in that day for Sodom [which was incinerated by the fire from heaven], than for that city [or that individual or that church who rejects you and casts you out as you attempt to bring truth, light, and salvation to them as a humble Christian evangelist or witness for Christ]
We see here a feature of God's righteous personality, whether it is Miriam and Aaron casting an aspersion upon Moses, or it is people today rejecting and despising and badmouthing those who attempt to bring to them the truth of the gospel. He says it is going to be lighter judgment on the homosexual perverts of Sodom than those who reject the simple gospel message of truth, the message of holiness and turn us away. Jesus is saying you do not have to be a Moses or an Elisha or a King David. All you have to be is an ambassador and a messenger of Jesus Christ in this world. Thus you have an aura of sanction and protection from God around you that is awesome and formidable.
He is talking now to Jewish towns:
13 Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works had been done in Tyre and Sidon, which have been done in you, they had a great while ago repented, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. 14 But it shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the judgment, than for you. 15 And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted to heaven, shalt be thrust down to hell.
As Christ’s ambassadors we do not come to people on our own authority. We are coming with the authority of the Almighty, and our lips speak at the leading of the Holy Spirit as we struggle to find an opening of witness for Jesus Christ at the office, at school, in the home, wherever you are. As we see through a glass darkly but struggle forward to do God's perfect will in this world, the Holy Spirit speaks through us the necessary words to give all the light people need in order to be saved. So who needs Christ to descend from the heavens or somebody to be raised from the dead when God has average people like us to speak for Him to other people in the world?
16 He that heareth you heareth me; and he that despiseth you despiseth me; and he that despiseth me despiseth him that sent me [the Father].
There is a very pervasive idea in the evangelical church today that we have not only the right but an obligation to forgive others even when they do not want forgiveness and do not even repent and ask for forgiveness. This does an end run around the fact that when someone has maligned or harmed or persecuted us as Christians, they have persecuted and maligned God. They have gossiped about and denigrated the Almighty Who speaks through us as His representatives. Therefore Jesus is saying it is a very serious thing to denigrate and abuse a servant of God as he is going about the work of the kingdom. It is not something to be lightly dismissed.
And yet in the evangelical church today, there is a prominent and very powerful belief which is uncontested and taken for granted that if somebody has done us serious wrong we have the right unilaterally, on our own initiative, to say to that person both physically and in our own minds: "I forgive you. I absolve you. I free you from all blame in this particular situation."
One of the compelling reasons for this "right" is that evangelicals believe that unless they can somehow get off their back this monkey of resentment, anger, and brooding it is going to consume them. So the best way is to just declare: "You are forgiven." Suddenly, we can breathe easily again because we have forgiven them even though they did not appreciate the forgiveness, even though they did not ask for it, even though they probably do not even know that it ever occurs. It is a wonderful absolution. This is evangelical pop psychology that came into the church in the 1970s largely from the world and is now an uncontested value among evangelicals. It says that if you have a major conflict with somebody who has done you substantive wrong and won’t admit it, rather than let this churn around in your gut, you can declare they are forgiven. But we can’t do that without their repentance. We cannot forgive people who Jesus says are in the category of worse than the sinners of Sodom for rejecting and abusing the messengers of God.
Ultimately, this is not our quarrel. Jesus is saying: "I am speaking through you. If they reject you and abuse you, they are actually abusing the One who sent you." So this is not our quarrel but that of a God of justice also. In other words, it is kind of a triangle. There are three parties here: There is the active assailant, the one who attacks us; but in attacking us, he attacks two people. He attacks us and God Almighty. So all three people are involved, and certainly God and we have the right to the satisfaction of good, clean, sincere repentance. If that does not come, then the wrath of God abides on that person, and we have no right or power to stand in God's way to bring that person to judgment.
Jeremiah 48:10 says: "Cursed be he that doeth the work of the Lord deceitfully, and cursed be he that keepeth back his sword from blood." People find it hard to believe that such a verse is in Holy Scripture. But what we are told here is that every Christian, under the leading of the Holy Spirit, is on a search-and-destroy mission against sin in this world, particularly the root of sin in this world, which is human carnality, willfulness, rebellion, and reluctance to do the perfect will of God and give everything to Him. So the Christian is given the sword of the Spirit, and with this imparting comes a solemn obligation to take that sword and use it to pierce between the bone and marrow, dividing asunder the flesh and the spirit, and go after sin in the flesh and not be satisfied until that sword has slaughtered the evil root of sin in the heart of the person to whom the Holy Spirit is leading us to reprove and convict. This verse warns that the Christian is cursed who has been given the sword of the Spirit yet pulls back.
The modern evangelical idea that we have the duty and the privilege to unilaterally forgive even without other people repenting is a way of pulling back from God's requirement that they come clean, that they humble themselves to ask for forgiveness from the one they have wronged. God says we have no right to go to another before they have repented and grant absolution to them. Isn't that what the devil wants? Isn't that his dream: to be forgiven without having to ask God for forgiveness?
We are obligated then, by God to expect repentance as a manifestation of our duty to establish righteousness, to cleanse away sin. As God upholds His justice and righteousness in heaven, so are we to uphold to the best of our ability the same justice and righteousness on earth.
What can we do to get rid of the resentment, conflict, woundedness and hurt in ourselves? How do we transcend? Pop psychology tells us if we wait for an apology from those who have deeply wronged us we will only destroy ourselves. It is much better to forgive them although they have not repented. At least we are free of that awful burden. Isn't that worth something? Yet this, of course, is not the proper Biblical way to get rid of the burden: by excusing sin and joining with an injustice.
The proper way to get rid of the conflict of being the victim of a great wrong is that we must make sure we die to our own self-will, giving everything to Jesus and trusting and obeying him daily. We must look up only at God, and rejoice in the God of our salvation at all times. Only then can we receive from the Holy Spirit "the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:7)
We may pray, of course, for our attacker as God leads but also to turn that person over to God for His chastisement. Sometimes it is not in softening our heart toward evil people but in hardening our heart in tough love that God's will is done. Recently I had a deep splinter in my finger, and the body began to marshal a strategy to exclude that splinter. There was an encirclement of callus that took place around that splinter. This hardening process became more and more tight, coming to the surface, bringing up in almost a capsular form a hardening unit around the foreign object that could be torn out of the skin. The physical body is similar to the spiritual Body of Christ. When evil manifests itself an alien presence of self-will and rebellion in the spiritual body, there is a time for the body to harden around that foreign entity and say, "You are not of us. If you will not soften, you must not abide here. You must be expelled," as the splinter was expelled. This is what Paul did and recommends in I Corinthians 5, and this is because if the splinter or the evil or hypocritical person is not expelled from the Body of Christ, it will victimize the body, causing pain, disease, and harm.
It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father's wife. 2 And ye are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he that hath done this deed might be taken away from among you.
Already we find shades of modern evangelical attitude: "We must just keep showing love to this person. We can't help him if he is outside of the group and away from our love, fellowship, and good influence. "Luv" is the answer for this bad person." No, Paul says they must be "taken away from among you."
3 For I verily, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already, as though I were present, concerning him that hath so done this deed,
We are taught not to judge, but here Paul says according to the will of God he has judged this person for his sin. Is Paul the only person who has the right to judge? Jesus said, "Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment." (John 7:24) Every Christian is empowered by God to make Holy Spirit-led judgments concerning right and wrong and objective truth and our right to take sometimes drastic actions, as Paul is recommending here, even to remove hypocrites from our midst.
4 In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, 5 To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.
By "destruction of the flesh" is Paul talking about the killing of this man? No, he means that if, by excluding this person he will brought to his senses like the prodigal son, and his fleshliness, his willfulness, his disobedience to God will be destroyed, then such exile can and must be accomplished. This is tough love, but it is Biblical.
6 Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? 7 Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us.
If you have a house that is filled with termites, rot, and mold, you can spend tens of thousands of dollars trying to clean up that old house; but why not just tear it down and start over again? Tear it down, build a new level, concrete foundation, put in new wood, and build a new house. Then you will have something of real value. That is what we have to do with corrupt churches and people in our midst; there comes a time to throw it all out. Get out of the church, get people out of our family and fellowships who are representing that which is foreign to the body, puffing it up in pride and contention.
8 Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. 9 I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators: 10 Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world.
We want to lead sinners and fornicators of the world to Christ. In order to do that, we have to talk to them and associate with them.
11 But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolator, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one not to eat. 12 For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? do not ye judge them that are within? 13 But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person.
The offender has a strong point of view, however. Absalom wanted to return and get back into David's good graces. He wanted to get back into the city and see the king. Tragically, he finally succeeded, David kissed him, and then David's troubles really began. The offender, the one who has hurt you, bitterly perhaps, seeks to come and work out a kind of no-fault reconciliation. "Let's share the blame 50/50. I was partly at fault; you were partly at fault." The offender does not want to admit his entire fault. He wants to pretend he did nothing worthy of repentance. He says, "Why not let time heal this wound?" Does time have some kind of medicinal power to heal injustice? It is commonly believed that the passage of time heals injustice; it does not. God has an elephantine memory for the injustices and the sins of mankind clear back to the Garden of Eden, and time has not healed any of those. What the offender does not want to admit is that he is massively wrong, he is spiritually invalid, he is not a good person. He must repent. He must go down, die to his own way, apologize to others in this matter, and make restitution as far as is in his power. The person who is infected with ego, pride, and fleshly preservation considers it groveling and humiliation in repentance.
This is why such an offender is like the ancient king Agag who hopes that the bitterness of death may be passed, and he hangs upon the words of the Christian, even of the one he has offended, hoping for a no-fault deliverance that does not require complete repentance.
God had told Saul through Samuel to go down and slaughter the wicked Amalekites, those who had terribly resisted the progress of the Hebrews through the wilderness. Saul did not obey the Lord and saved the best of the sheep, etc. He also brought back the king of the Amalekites as a prize, a trophy of battle to swell his pride.
I Samuel 15:32: Then said Samuel, Bring ye hither to me Agag the king of the Amalekites. And Agag came unto him delicately. And Agag said, Surely the bitterness of death is past.
Does Samuel feel a sense of obligation to unilaterally forgive Agag, who has opposed God and His people and has not repented?
33 And Samuel said, As thy sword hath made women childless, so shall thy mother be childless among women. And Samuel hewed Agag in pieces before the LORD in Gilgal.
Samuel is not pulling back his sword from the shedding of blood. Obviously, we are not called to do that in a physical sense the way Samuel was, but we do have the sword of the Spirit, and we are obligated to cut in pieces every last vestige of carnality, fleshliness, pride, self-will, self-protection, rationalizations, evasions, procrastination, all the elements of the carnal man. We are supposed to go after that flesh at the leading of the Lord exactly as Samuel went after Agag, mercilessly, preaching for a verdict, threatening sinners that if they do not utterly repent and give God 100 percent they are in danger of hell. We must tell people that it is not enough to aspire to give all to God, to be holy, and to someday be victorious over the flesh and sin. Every human has the ability as a free-will being to make an initial decision of total consecration to God, and that “corn of wheat” as Jesus described our souls can fall into the ground and die. Sanctification is both instantaneous as we die to ourselves and then progressive as God shows us how we become more mature and more dedicated, but we must be unsparing in going after sin and any iota of rebellion against God. The representative of God cannot withdraw his sword; he must hew in pieces the rebellion and evasion of the offender who is always going to be seeking undeserved forgiveness.
Solomon said that the glory of a king is to overlook a matter. We strive to live at peace with all men; we do our best not to remember a wrong suffered. We do our best not to magnify slights or offenses. We bear all things, believe all things, and hope all things. We endure all things. We do not imagine in our hearts evil against our neighbors. But Scripture has very clearly laid down the fact that there are times when fleshly man does great wrong against the saints of God and that sin is not to be forgiven or passed over without the repentance of the offender. This is fundamental Christianity. This is the kind of hard line that the gentle Jesus spoke of. If people reject Christians and persecute them and do not repent, the believer is to wipe off his shoes against them as a testimony and proclaim that even the sinners of Sodom would have been more open to salvation than they.
The Christian's obligation to justice is an enormous consideration for the believer, one he must factor into his life. If he tries to do an end run around the need for repentance and justice as well as love and instead seeks to find consolation or even transcendence for wounds against him by unilateral forgiveness with no repentance from the offender, that Christian had better watch out because he himself can become an offender against the law and the justice and the righteousness of God. He can fail to uphold his duty to be an all-around representative of all the attributes of God in this world. He himself can become cursed by God for letting go the one whom the Lord has condemned to death of self-will.