The Perfect Prayer

Pray, then, in this way: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen.

 

~Matthew 6:9-13

 The perfect prayer. Given to us by God Himself.

Here’s a bit of personal testimony:

 About 2 years ago, I was driving up to New York, to visit my girlfriend and her daughter. It was a pretty dark time in my life, just a few months before my conversion.

As a practicing pagan, I had opened myself up to demonic obsession. As I was driving through Pennsylvania I heard a voice in my car with me, telling me that if I just let the car go I could end all of the pain and all of the doubt I was having about my life. All I had to do was get to the top of the next hill and let go of the steering wheel.

 That voice was so soothing, and it made so much sense… I knew that I needed to do something but it seemed like there was a fog in my head. And then the first words of the Lord’s Prayer came to mind, and the words began to spill out of my mouth.

At first, it was from the head. I was a pagan, after all. But the voice in the car hesitated as I recited the prayer. The voice would get louder, and then I would get louder. Every time I came to the end of the prayer, I would start over from the beginning. Eventually I was driving through the midnight darkness of the Pennsylvania mountains screaming the Lord’s Prayer, watching the road through tears and driving snow, wondering if I would careen off the road and into one of the many deep gullies that bordered the highway. I don’t remember anything except saying the Lord’s Prayer over, and over, and over again.

I lost an entire hour of that trip—I simply did not remember getting to where I was. You can decide for yourself how that happened; I don’t know, God knows… but I was safe. There was nothing in the car except the sound of the tires burrowing through salty road slush and the soft blue glow of the dash lights. I was about thirty miles from where the “argument” had begun, in a small town, sitting at a stoplight. I was safe.

In this case, reciting the Lord’s Prayer by rote saved my life. It was the fact that I was so familiar with it that allowed me to pull it up and speak it, even when I couldn’t actively think for myself.

I’m not going to say the Lord’s Prayer can’t be used alone. It most certainly can be, if it’s said from the heart, and not the head. The problem that many of us run into, however, is that we tend to pray the Lord’s Prayer by rote. I know that this is a problem I have had in the past—I am so familiar with this prayer, that I can say it without feeling it. That’s a problem, because God insists that we seek His face earnestly. Just shuffling along, saying the words while you’re thinking about something else just doesn’t cut it. But in general, I have found that unless I’m saying it out of desperation I often repeat it mechanically, without feeling. So what I have taken to doing is using the prayer as the outline for my own prayers. This way, I know that my prayers are said in way that is pleasing to God; by not repeating the prayer verbatim, I am forced to really focus on each part of it as I say it. It also constructs my prayer in a way that gives glory to God before asking for my needs.

God wants us to ask for His help, but He wants that we should be humble about it. When we pray, we should be seeking His face, not His hand; “… seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matthew 6:33).

 I’ll be unpacking this in the next few articles, but here’s the basic scheme:

  • “Our Father, who art in heaven”: come to the Lord with an admission of God’s Lordship over us, by acknowledging that He is our Father and confess that, being “in heaven,” He is higher than us in stature and in power, omniscient and omnipotent
  • “hallowed be Thy name”: the name of God is above all other names. “I AM THAT I AM,” eternally and infinitely. We ask that His name be honored above all others, and that He be recognized as sovereign over all Creation.
  • “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”: we acknowledge and ask for His return in glory, we anticipate His kingdom; we ask that all things be in accordance with His divine will, not only in heaven, but also in this corrupted, perishable earth
  • “Give us this day our daily bread”: we ask for His provision for our physical, bodily needs—food, shelter, clothing—in order that we have the health and strength to glorify His name
  • “and forgive us our debts, as we have forgiven our debtors”: we not only ask forgiveness  for our own sins, but we affirm that we have forgiven those who have wronged us “in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous… Therefore you are to be perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:45, 48)
  • “and do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil”: God does not tempt anyone (James 1:13), but He may allow us to fall into temptation in order to test us, or humble us (1 Corinthians 10:13). This is a petition that He not allow us to come into temptation before we are ready; to give us grace to recognize and avoid temptation; and an acknowledgment of our weakness and dependency on Him.
  • “For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen: The final verse of the prayer is not in the oldest New Testament manuscripts, but it is still worth noting. After asking for our own needs to be met, this is a final affirmation of God’s power and glory, and our promise to recognize His sovereignty.

Wow. This has been a longer post than usual! Y’all are probably sitting there with your eyes rolling back in your heads, muttering, “BlogDude, puhleeeeeeease let this end!” Well, I will, for now. But we’ll be coming back to this subject again in the near future; I just think that it’s important to understand a few points that I couldn’t cover today.

Have blessed day, everyone. I love you all—truthfully, I’ve been through some difficult spiritual times lately, and it has been a blessing and an encouragement to know that I have a family in Christ. It gives me the spine I need to face my own shortcomings, and just try to be a better man and Christian. I’ll see you back here on Tuesday.

~BlogDude

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Response to Tom McLean (Annihilationist)

My earlier post about Annihilationism and Universalism apparently ruffled some feathers. The discussion thread was spammed by responses from an annihilationist group that was begging responses to their arguments; since it was the weekend and I’m the sole moderator on this site, (I have help with content, but at present I am the only author and admin) I was unable to answer all of the posts (at one point there were 12 comments from these guys awaiting moderation, most over 1000 words and all of them begging responses to multiple objections).

Because I wasn’t responding fast enough for them (and their real intent wasn’t actually discussion, but rather to direct people to their website, where they hoped to promote this heresy), one of the annihilationists who had been responded to decided it would be a good idea to do an end-run around me by copying his comrades’ responses into his own.

As a result, I was forced to lock the thread and delete the discussion. I don’t have a problem with discussion, but there is a certain amount of etiquette that one can expect in a real debate, even on the internet.

As a matter of courtesy, and because I believe that this is an important issue that should be addressed, I have taken the time to respond to the most pressing of the annihilationist arguments; the responses will be posted as individual posts to each of the people involved.

These threads will not be open for discussion, as a result of what happened with the Annihilationism and Universalism article. 

 

Tom McLean- “If you were to insert the word separation or transition into the vast majority of the places the word death is found in the bible, they simply would not make sense. The word “separation” is found in the bible 26 times and it has nothing to do with death. The word transitioned is not found in the bible.”

If you were to exchange the words in the English translation, this would most often be true. However, we aren’t talking about the English translation’s meaning; we are talking about what the text means in its original form. What might be nonsensical in English could very well have made perfect sense when used in the original language. One of the reasons that various translations disagree in the particular use of certain words and phrases is that the people doing the translation are trying to find what their idea of the best way to phrase the passage would be. For instance, the word “dog” may mean an animal, “to relentlessly pursue,” or “an unscrupulous or immoral man.” It all depends on the context; however, the same word, “dog,” is likely to have completely different connotations in Russian, aside from the original meaning of a four-legged animal of the canine species.

Attempting to force modern English context onto ancient Hebrew or Greek words in order to make them fit a desired meaning is just poor exegesis.

T.M.- “…in the New Testament the word death is found 124 times and again I found nowhere that it was called “separation”. The majority of the time the Greek word that is used is as follows:
άνατος
thanatos
than’-at-os
From G2348; (properly an adjective used as a noun) death (literally or figuratively): – X deadly, (be . . .) death.

“First mention is important in the Bible;
Gen 21:16; Here we see the first mention in the Bible of the word death and following is the meaning in Hebrew –
mâveth
maw’-veth
From H4191; death (natural or violent); concretely the dead, their place or state (Hades); figuratively pestilence, ruin: – (be) dead ([-ly]), death, die (-d)

“As one can see there is no mention of the word separation in the Bible’s first mention. 
Additionally, the majority of the time when death is used in the Old Testament it uses this word “maw’-veth”

Actually, the first use of the word “death” (mahwet) is in Genesis 2:17, in which God warns Adam not to eat from the Tree of Life; in this passage “death” is almost universally accepted to mean “spiritual death, separation from God,” as well as its standard meaning of man’s natural death on earth. In this case, “first use” actually illustrates that the word is used in both respects. Dependence on “first use” as an argument here fails to support the annihilationist argument.

T.M.- “Sometimes the word for death in Hebrew is
mûth
mooth
A primitive root; to die (literally or figuratively); causatively to kill: – X at all, X crying, (be) dead (body, man, one), (put to, worthy of) death, destroy (-er), (cause to, be like to, must) die, kill, necro [-mancer], X must needs, slay, X surely, X very suddenly, X in [no] wise. An example verse for this is Ex 21:12 Again we see no word “separation”.

This is a red herring. The use of the word in this context is clearly in reference to the physical, temporal death of humans in this life—the murder victim (murdered) and the murderer (executed by other men).

T.M.- “Maybe I was not clear when I listed Rom 2:7 etc, but five times God used the word “immortality” in scripture.”

Three of those five times in the New Testament (1 Timothy 1:17; 2 Timothy 1:10 and Romans 2:7), the word “aphthartos/aphthasia” is rendered in the KJV as “immortal;” in more modern translations it has been correctly rendered “incorruptible.”

T.M.- “I simply wanted to show that when God uses the word immortality in his holy word he never says the unsaved receive immortality… you will see I referenced all of chap 15, That is because the context of I Cor 15 clearly shows God is talking to Christians, and the context I Cor 15 in no way teaches that all men will receive immortality.”

This argument is specious; in the same way that annihilationists would claim that this chapter provides no evidence of immortality for all of the risen dead, there is absolutely nothing in the chapter that indicates that the risen wicked are annihilated—it’s an argument from silence. Taken as a whole, the text (in context with both Paul’s discussion, and the rest of Scripture) supports the orthodox view of the wicked being raised to immortal, ever-lasting shame and contempt.

T.M.- “Destroy – Strongs – apollumi
ap-ol’-loo-mee
From G575 and the base of G3639; to destroy fully (reflexively to perish, or lose), literally or figuratively: – destroy, die, lose, mar, perish. The complete Word Study Dictionary – Spiros Zodhiates Th.D.
Spoken of eternal death, i.e., future punishment, exclusion from the Messiah’s kingdom. In this sense it has the same meaning as apothnesko (599), to die (Matt 10:28)
Young’s Analytical Concordance to the Bible – Matt 10:28 Destroy = to lose off or away, destroy

“Here we have 3 different Greek renderings, and in addition to Vine’s we have 4 that do not completely agree on everything. The point is, as it is with various Bible translations and Bible scholars so it is with the Greek, there are various translations and various scholars and they don’t always agree.”

However, all 4 also have points of agreement, which annihilationists would appear to have ignored.

T.M.- “Vine has one view, but there are also Greek scholars who support the Conditionalist view.” 

As well as secular Greek scholars that define the word as: “leave behind, abandon; leave over; lose a possession; kill (a man); destroy; be killed (of an animal); perish; ruin, undo a person” (Enoch, “Lexicon to Herodotus;” emphasis mine). Here you can see that “separation” is in fact a very plausible meaning to extract from the word.

T.M- “The context of Matthew 10:28 indicates a soul can be killed by God and destroyed in hell.”

However, in the original text, Christ uses two different words for “death” within the same verse:  “And do not fear those who kill (apokteino) the body, but are unable to kill (apokteino) the soul; but rather fear Him who has the power to destroy (apollumi) both body and soul in hell.” It doesn’t stand that Christ would use the separate words—each of which carries its own connotations—unless He meant to make the distinction.

T.M.- “See also Ezek 18:4 & 20,”

As I pointed out in the “first use” argument: either meaning of the word “death” (physical or spiritual [in the sense of separation from God]) can be applied.

T.M.- “…James 5:20″

And again, the implied meaning is open to interpretation, although on balance the similarities in various translations (in regards to their points of agreement, and the overall context of Scripture) lean heavily in favor of the traditionalist view.

Of course, if one is unwilling to deal with the semantics of arguing over which translation should be more authoritative, we can always go back to the original church fathers; until Arnobius, 200 years after the Crucifixion, they were in complete agreement with an eternal hell.

T.M.- “Souls are not inherently immortal and not all souls live forever, some die the 2nd death. Rom 6:23”

Again, this doesn’t support the annihilationist claims based on both the translations and the “first use” argument, and the nearly universal recognition that the “second death” refers to eternal separation of the soul from God. “Separation” requires “being;” annihilation posits that souls are not separated, but cease to be. Something cannot be separated from nothing.

T.M- “…Rev 21:8”

This verse fails the annihilationist test because it specifically references the lake of fire, in which the condemned will be tormented “forever and ever.”

T.M.- “Yes it [the crucifixion of Christ] was horrid and terrible, beatings, whippings, humiliation, and excruciating crucifixion. The worst death one could die, however the actual duration of his suffering was but a very short time compared to say – eternity.”

This is a category mistake. It isn’t the duration of suffering; it’s the quality of the person doing the suffering. In the Old Testament, we see God refuse the sacrifices of the Israelites because they have stopped offering Him the best of what they have– lame lambs, sickly oxen, etc.  (Mal. 1:6-14). Jesus, being perfect in every respect, shed His blood for the redemption of all sinners. It is an individual decision to accept or reject this gift of forgiveness, but it is through this sacrifice that Death and Sin have both been defeated; and both will be cast into the lake of fire before the White Throne judgment. This being the case, the annihilationist argument that “death” refers to “annihilation” at the Second Ressurrection ignores the fact that there will be no more physical death— it will be consigned to the lake of fire, where it no longer has any power over men.

This argument also misses the point of the sacrifice by substituting the duration of the suffering for its magnitude. Jesus bore the penalty for every sin ever committed and ever to be committed until the end of the current earth in one single act, and was forsaken by the Father (“ELI, ELI, LAMA SABACHTHANI?”) in retributive justice, which Jesus bore in Himself all at once as a substitution on our behalf. It was through the quality of the sacrifice and the magnitude of the penalty borne that we are saved. Trying to tie salvation and punishment to the duration of the sacrificial act is degrading to the sacrifice made and denigrates Christ’s love and actions for us.

Responding to Objections to the Existence of Hell (Part 2)

Today we’ll be picking up where we left off with Monday’s blog…

 

Objection #5: So, you’re telling me that a genuinely good person– someone that takes care of his kids, his wife, volunteers in the community, treats everyone with respect—you’re telling me that that guy isn’t going to Heaven?

Yup, that’s what I’m telling you. But I’m only telling you that because that’s what God told us (Romans 3:21-28, for starters). Without faith, there is no salvation—we are all sinners and fall short of God’s standard for what is “good:” perfection.

Objection #6: Why doesn’t God just overlook my sin?

Oy. Seriously? For one thing, God can’t even tolerate the presence of sin. Or, maybe a better way to put that is that sin cannot exist in God’s presence. Without being cleansed of our sins (by the propitiating sacrifice of Jesus) we can’t even get through the front door of Heaven. God fills the place up entirely, and a sin-filled spirit can’t exist in a place of perfect Holiness.

Also, at what point does God start noticing our sins? Is it okay to say, “Well, that guy and I are both liars; but he’s a tax cheat, and I just lied to my wife about hanging out at the cathouse that one night…?” I can see it now: Jesus sitting on the Great White Throne, the Book of Life open in front of Him, calling out, “Smith! R.J., from Newark… lessee, you were exactly 80% good—you’re in! Grab your robe from the bearded guy at the Gate… okay, Smith! R.J., from Decatur… ooh, too bad, 79.9% good, go to Hell, guy. Down staircase, to the left, there… hush, now, quit your whining, you should have scratched that poodle’s ears…”

The fact is, sin is like U.S. policy towards weapons of mass destruction: “A germ is a chemical is a nuke.” “A lie is a rape is a genocide.” It’s all the same in God’s eyes, because none of it is tolerable. Are there degrees of punishment? The Bible seems to indicate there are (more on that in another segment). But it doesn’t matter whether you’re in solitary confinement, or in general population: you’re still in prison.

Objection #7: Regarding the redeeming value of Hell

Basically, the argument goes like this: if no one ever returns from Hell, and if it isn’t reformatory, then what is the point?

The point is, that it satisfies God’s justice. In fact, it not only satisfies, it glorifies God’s justice by demonstrating exactly how high a standard it is. The more terrific and fearsome the punishment is, the “brighter the sheen on the sword of God’s justice” (Geisler, Systematic Theology). God is awesome; therefore, anything emanating from God—even (perhaps especially) His wrath—must be awesome, as well. Since the wicked have refused to give God His due in life, God reclaims it from them in death, by a majestic and incomprehensible display of His wrath and judgment. People may choose to give God glory in this life, or God will reclaim it from them in the next; they will have no choice in the matter, then. Either way, God’s gonna get what’s His, folks.

All people are useful to God in some way. In Heaven, the saved will be useful for praising God’s mercy; in Hell, the unsaved will serve as a demonstration of God’s justice.

Finally, a final separation of the “wheat and tares” is necessary in order for good to triumph over evil. What frustrates evil is good; by sending the unsaved to Hell, and the saved, to Heaven, God arranges that there is no good to frustrate evil people, and no evil to frustrate the good.

Well, that covers some of the more common objections. On Monday, we’ll pick back up with the subject of “eternal punishment v. annihilationism;” that is, the fundamentalist view that the damned receive eternal physical punishment as opposed to the (increasingly popular) view that the unsaved are simply snuffed wholly out of existence when they die.

Have an awesome weekend, and God bless!

Aich Eee double hockeysticks (part 1)

Hello again, brothers and sisters!

Today, I wanted to write a little about Hell. There are a couple of reasons that I wanted to address this particular subject:

a)    It doesn’t get much attention in sermons.

b)    It can be a confusing subject, with many conflicting views expressed– even among evangelicals.

c)    Jesus talked about Hell more often than Heaven, which should give some indication as to its importance in His teachings.

d)    A great many people have romanticized the notion of Hell, and popular culture, art and philosophy have tended to downplay, rather than illuminate, the horrors of the place.

Now before I get too far along, I want to be clear that the reason I believe that the subject of hell doesn’t get much attention in sermons—at least in our church (and Pastor Reggie actually talks about it more often than most preachers I’ve heard in the last twenty years) —isn’t because anyone is “afraid” to preach or teach on it, as is the case in many churches. It is just a very, very complicated subject to approach in the context of a one-hour church service, or even in a Sunday school lesson plan. It’s also not the easiest of lessons to create an outline for; as stated before, it is a complicated subject that tends to engender a large amount of disagreement.

Bearing that in mind, there are a few guidelines that I’d like to lay out for this discussion. Of course, I am encouraging more thorough conversation about the subject, but these guidelines will tell you where I come from as I present the material—and I believe that this position is both theologically and philosophically sound.

First, Hell is a real, literal place of eternal suffering for people who have rejected Christ Jesus.

Second, Hell is a place of punishment, not a place where people are sent simply because God doesn’t want them around. (I will explain this point in some detail, especially as it pertains to popular culture.)

Third, Hell is the final destination of the unsaved, to which they will be consigned at the time of the Second Resurrection.

Fourth, the devil does not rule in Hell.

Fifth, there is no escape from Hell. All people live, die once and are then judged (in other words, there is no Purgatory or similar state into which the soul passes after temporal death).

I will not address the subject of Limbo, or specifically whether or not unsaved children go to Hell (as some denominations and other religions would have us believe), except to say that I believe it to be sound doctrine that children who have not reached the age of moral discernment are taken to Heaven at death; there is no sound theological or scriptural teaching that contradicts this idea. (It also exceeds the scope of the present conversation, although we may well address it later, if an interest in this topic is expressed).

 

So, I’ll start with some of the various views of Hell (this will be, by no means, an exhaustive list, but I believe it will cover the most prevalent ideas), after which I will attempt to narrow down the concepts until we have reached what should be a pretty good idea of its reality; we will discuss the specific teachings of Jesus on the subject of Hell; and finally, we will talk about the ways in which popular, secular culture has perverted the idea of Hell in ways that tend to romanticize, and even glorify, Hell in order to entice people into a state of fatuousness.

Thursday, I’ll begin by discussing the various names for Hell and its environs. See you there! (Thursday, I mean. Not the other place. I’m not going there, thank God.)

When the devil goes to Hahvahd…

I’m hanging out at the bookstore, perusing the Religion section, and I come across a book that purports to point out “glaring contradictions” in the Bible. I opened the book to a random page, and find that apparently, King David did not kill Goliath.

Huh?

I read further. According to this author, the Bible says in 2 Samuel 21:19, that “Elhanan… killed Goliath the Hittite.” But 1 Samuel 17 tells the story of how David killed Goliath! I thought to myself, “Quack.” Chuckling to myself, I meandered to the front of the store, managing to exit with my debit card lightened by a mere fifty dollars (a personal record).

Once I got home, I read the passage that Dr. Quack had cited, and… uh-oh. That can’t be right. Can’t be.

I went to the original Hebrew:

“struck Elhanan the son of Jaare-oregim the Bethlehemite Goliath the Gittite and the wood of his spear like the beam weaver’s.” (Hebrew doesn’t read anything like English, as you may have guessed.)

Okay, so this was a puzzlement. But I know that the Bible doesn’t contradict itself; this needed more attention. Why would the Bible say that David killed Goliath, and then later relate that Elhanan was the one who slew the giant?

1 Chronicles 20:5 (and Strong’s Concordance) provided a clue.

And there was a war with the Phillistines, and Elhanan the son of Jair killed Lahmi the brother of Goliath the Gittite, the shaft of who’s spear was like a weaver’s beam.

Well, that clears things up. A little. I then looked at the authorship of both books. 1 Chronicles is believed to have been written by Ezra, in about 450-430 B.C. (David’s reign ended with his death in 971 B.C.). 1 and 2 Samuel are believed to be compilations of books written by Samuel, “Nathan the prophet,” and “Gad the seer.” Stylistic and grammatical evidence suggests that a single compiler used works by all three in assembling the Books of Samuel. It is surmised that 1 Samuel was written/compiled sometime between 931 and 722 B.C.

This didn’t clear things up, but it shed some light on a possible explanation. I did some more research, and I concluded the discrepancy was, at worst, a scribal error committed when copying the manuscript. (This conclusion is supported by Geisler and Howe, “Big Book of Bible Difficulties,” pp. 176,7). The 1 Chronicles record of the event clearly states that Elhanan slew Goliath’s brother. 1 Samuel is more contemporary to the event but may well have been passed down through oral tradition, or else was copied many times over. Also, it’s a compilation, not written by a single hand. The (probable) solution lies in the fact that Ezra would have had multiple sources of documentation that were not available to the editor of Samuel; in addition, rather than being a compilation of books written by several authors, 1  Chronicles is a single, contiguous work by a single author.

Remembering that the Bible is a literary work, a historical record and a message to mankind that is God-breathed but not dictated, I have no problem in seeing a minor textual error in this light. However, I’m a Christian. Imagine how this would have looked to a skeptic. In the book, it stated that this was one of the many “proofs” that the Bible is myth. Of course, this “scholar” didn’t bother to mention the record in 1 Chronicles; nor did he mention anything about the authorship. By writing in a manner that made it appear that his research is beyond scrutiny, and supported by the alphabet soup after his name, this guy was undermining a central character of not only the Old Testament, but of the Gospels, as well.

Well-educated quacks looking for book deals. The only means we have to defend ourselves is to know the Bible. By know it, I don’t mean that we should be able to quote Scripture. We need to know as much as possible; the historical context, the cultural context, the social context.

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned; and in their greed they will exploit you with false words; their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep. ~II Peter 2:1-3

 

Forgiveness

I hope that this finds all of you in good health and high spirits, Reader. God is awesome!

 Today’s subject is: forgiveness.

Then Peter came and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?”

Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.”

Matthew 18:21,22

Okay, so Jesus is saying that forgiveness should be unlimited, just as God is willing to forgive each of us without limit. In the parable that follows this statement (Mt. 18:22-35), Jesus highlights the injustices of our failures to forgive others, when we—who for the sake of sin cannot enter God’s Presence! —have been forgiven on account of the death of His own Son.

 In this verse, Jesus is talking about forgiving our brothernot forgiving sin. That’s God’s job! All sin must be paid for, but we are not the ones to exact payment. We live our spiritual lives in the knowledge that God has forgiven our sins through the sacrifice of His Son, Christ Jesus. In fact, not just forgiven—we are justified in the eyes of God because the blood of Christ covers our sins. God can’t see them. It’s like the sin never even happened.

 Whoa. Heady stuff. So, um… how does it apply to us?

 Turn it around; your friend lies to you, and you get hoodwinked. You really, really want to see justice done. In fact, “tormented forever, time without end,” seems appropriate. What to do, what to do… EUREKA!

 Just put your child up to be spit on, beaten, humiliated, slandered, scourged and then hung, naked, with his name prominently displayed next to the main highway leading into town and left to die a slow, agonizing death! It’s all good!

 Makes sense, right? No sane person even considers that this is reasonable. But it was necessary in order for us to be forgiven and have a relationship with God.

 For all have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed…

    Romans 3:23-25

 Christian behavior is often not so much a stumbling stone to the unbeliever, as it is to the “saved”. When someone wrongs you, how do you react? Not what do you do; the question is: what is your heart’s reaction? Because this—more than your outward response—indicates the type of person you are. When someone cuts you off in traffic, it’s easy enough to smile and say, “Well, he’s clearly in a hurry. Let’s say a quick prayer for his safety,” when your heart’s reaction at that moment was, “This is why they should let us mount grenade launchers on the hood of the car!”

 Murderer. (Hey, I didn’t say it. Jesus did. Sermon on the Mount. Check it.)

 There is another aspect to this, as well: in the parable, Jesus ends by saying, “And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. So shall my Heavenly Father also do to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from his heart.” (Mt. 18:34, 35)

 There’s no way for us to control that knee-jerk internal response. It isn’t in the nature of men to do that. We aren’t longsuffering.

 God is. (Right now, stop reading this, pick up your Bible and read Romans 6; just read the whole chapter, it will do you good).

 This brings us to the point. (I know; brevity is not my spiritual gift. You can see why I love Paul.) If what we experience inside manifests itself by our outward actions, what am I? Does this mean that if my first reaction is anger, all is lost? May it never be! (Love Paul.) It just reinforces that I’m human.  By yielding to the Spirit, each time I’m faced with this situation it will be easier for me to surrender to the Spirit’s guidance. Eventually, I begin to have love and forgiveness toward others in my heart.

I’m Christ’s example to a wicked, degenerate world. God forgave me. Can I forgive others?

Not always. Lord knows, I’m trying, but there are a lot of people to whom I really want to see justice done. That isn’t my place: “VENGEANCE IS MINE; I WILL REPAY,” saith the LORD. There’s also the small matter of not being a stumbling stone to others (setting the right example through actions and words), and it’s “a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”

 I’d just as soon avoid being on the receiving end of that whole “vengeance” thing, thank you very much. So…

… Forgive.