Friday, April 10, 2009

Love: Forgiveness God's Way Is Effortless

"Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, long suffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfections." 
-Colossians 3:12-15

In the last post you may have been shocked at the suggestion that saints can forgive continually and effortlessly, no matter the abuse received. Please don't misunderstand. This is not a statement that I or other saints always forgive effortlessly and continually. It is a statement of the greatness of the power of our God, who has poured out His love into our hearts by His Holy Spirit (Romans 5:3). This verse does not say that God gave us more of our love by our strength. Rather, He poured out (not dribbled out) His love, by His Holy Spirit, in our hearts. It is all about Him and His love from His Spirit flowing out of you in all directions at all times. Love is the first fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22) and forgiveness simply flows from a heart filled with love.

So, if God's power is more than sufficient and His Holy Spirit is always in us, why is there such a lack of the fruit of the Spirit among God's elect and beloved children? Unforgiveness, bitterness, self-centeredness, self-protection, impatience, irritation, anger, unkindness, envy, and much more seem all too commonplace among those washed clean in the blood of the Lamb. And why are so many Christians so easily offended? Are not these evidence that continual love and forgiveness are extremely difficult, and maybe even beyond the reach of the average Christian? How can I say (and insistently so) that such should be effortless and indeed are effortless? Here is the first key: it is not about you and your ability, but rather all about Christ and His strength. Do you believe this? The second key is that our gracious God has seen ahead and has already given you everything you need to love and forgive everyone who will ever abuse you in any way (2Peter 1:2-4). Do you believe this? The third key is that Christ loved you first and simply commands you to love His wayas He has already loved you. Do you believe this? Notice the "as" in Colossians 3 above: forgive as Christ has already forgiven you.

How has Christ forgiven you? If you are a Christian, when did Christ pay for your forgiveness? Was it not on the cross of Calvary nearly 2000 years before your first sin? And does not His forgiveness of you mean that you wronged Him and He chose to suffer for you? And was not the Father pleased to bruise His Son on the cross for your sin (Isaiah 53:10)? And if the Son is the exact image of the invisible God, then must not the Son also have been pleased to suffer for your sins? And when did Christ offer you forgiveness? Was it after you realized that you were a sinner? No, it is clear in scripture that you did not seek Him (Romans 3:11); He sought you. Did He decide to forgive you after you confessed your sin? No, rather His forgiveness was waiting for your confession, and even anticipating your first and every sin. Did you catch that? This is an important part of the vision of Christ's forgiveness of you. His forgiveness in full was ready and waiting before your first sin. He continued to wait--maybe many more yearsuntil you confessed yourself a sinner and rested in the work of the cross. All the forgiveness you would ever need was waiting for you to receive it. Do you see the beauty of this precious gift of forgiveness? God in Christ pre-forgave you all your sins.

God's pre-forgiveness of you includes:
*God saw ahead that you would wrong Him.
*God loved you and chose to pay the penalty of your abuse of Him.
*God planned from before the foundation of the world to send His Son to the cross for you.
*God chose to forgive you before you wronged Him.
*God had no hesitation to forgive you.
*God even sought you out to give you that gift.
*God's gift of forgiveness was ready for your need and more than enough for your need.
*God gave you forgiveness; you did not take it; you simply received it.

Love is the source of forgiveness. A heart filled with God's love is full of generosity that anticipates need. Here is a simple illustration of what it should look like in your life (or mine) to forgive all other saints as Christ forgave you. Envision yourself carrying a gift box everywhere you go. This box is filled with love and forgiveness which Christ has bountifully supplied. You eagerly want to give from your box to every needy saint to bless them, remind them of the cross and to glorify God. These saints are so precious to God and the gift so valuable, that you always keep it outstretched toward every saint you might meet. For any saint to mistreat you, he must reach through your box of love and pre-forgiveness. The more he attacks the more gift he receives. Onlookers may wrongly surmise that your abusers are "taking" from your box and even taking advantage of you. But your gift cannot be taken, rather only received. You are free to see their need and not their abuse. And since the Lord continually fills your box, you are glad to be in fellowship with these whom the Lord loves and has gladly forgiven. Some may need (attack) little and others much, and even often. But that is God's business. He did not hesitate with you so you have no need to hesitate with any of His children. It matters little if they confess to you, since you business is loving them to the end as Christ loved you, with patience and hope. Their confession is Christ's business with them. And you never weary of carrying the box, since Christ is your supply, and the box reminds you of Christ's great forgiveness of you.

Are you beginning to get the picture? This simple illustration only scratches the surface of the depths of God's way of love and pre-forgiveness. The Christian life is much more than this, but it is at least this. The more you meditate on Christ's love for you the more your love and forgiveness will flow to all those around you, especially toward those who abuse you. That is after all what you and I did to Christ. If it takes effort or is difficult, then you are "trying" to love or forgive in your own strength. But if you walk in the Spirit, love and forgiveness will flow like a river from your heart. Of course there is pain in betrayal and abuse, but we get to choose if our hearts are hardened or softened by the pounding. Do you want to love and forgive? If you do, I would suggest praying often, at least daily, for God to help you learn to love His way. Thank Him often for giving you everything you need to love all the saints He has placed around you. And expect Him to answer by giving you opportunities to practice love! You may find yourself becoming more sensitive to your lack of love. But don't be discouraged; this is a good sign. The Spirit should make you sensitive to where you are not like Christ. The Father sees you as perfectly accepted in Christ. If you do not want to love and forgive, . . . does your lack of desire bother you?

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