Allen Jackson - To Forgive or Not Forgive - Part 1
In this particular session, I wanna kinda turn to the assignment we have towards forgiveness. Previously we've looked at how God has made forgiveness available to every one of us and why that's important, and how it can be processed in our lives. But in this session, I wanna talk to you about the challenge, whether to forgive or not to forgive, 'cause it's a choice we make typically on a daily basis. We're walking through a season of awakening in the church, at least in the West. I think God is calling his people to a different kind of awareness.
It seemed to begin about the time that we heard about that virus from China, and we all had to grapple with the pandemic, but most of the things we're seeing didn't begin then, it's just as if God began to awaken us from a slumber and our awareness began to increase. And it's exposed some things in the church, that's where I've spent most of my life and I certainly have, I can deliver an informed opinion. Doesn't mean I'm always right, but it's not just a random opinion. And in church world, there's some things that have flourished for a while. Cheap grace, the idea of sin without consequence, or casual forgiveness, those have been the most common road signs along our current spiritual highways.
And those aren't limited in any single denomination, or any tradition, or style of worship, or region of the country, those have been pretty typical points of demarcation on our spiritual journey for a season. And I would submit to you that they're dangerous. They're dangerous because they aren't accurate descriptions of the road that's before us. And here's why, it is not complicated and I'm not gonna give you all the verses, I think you'll intuitively understand. Grace is not cheap, grace emerges from sacrifice. And if you benefit from grace, it's because someone else has made a tremendous sacrifice for you to have that privilege. So to treat grace as if it were insignificant, or to treat it in a casual way, is very disrespectful of the sacrifice that was made so that you might be the beneficiary of that grace.
Sin, sin has a consequence always, no exceptions. It's not always immediate, thank God, but the consequence is a reality. And I wanna encourage you to never doubt that reality. And linked to that, I would submit that forgiveness should never be sought in a casual manner. To receive forgiveness is a life-changing event. And gifts which alter the course of your life, should never be sought or received with an attitude of indifference. You see if we're not forgiven, the full weight of our guilt has to be born alone. And that's not a circumstance in which any one of us would wanna find ourselves. So this issue of forgiveness it's more than just a traditional Christmas topic, or an idea that I'm familiar with, it's a word that I think is overused or certainly needs some definition in the frequency with which it's used in our culture.
I wanna begin with Jesus's instructions to us, and perhaps the most familiar prayer that we have in Christendom. Jesus's disciples asked him to teach them to pray, and this was the model prayer, the pattern for prayer he gave them. It's Matthew 6. "This then is how you should pray. Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, as we have forgiven our debtors. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you don't forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins".
A part of that model prayer is the very clear admonition from Jesus to seek forgiveness for ourselves, and to be ready to extend forgiveness to others. And it's the one component of that prayer to which Jesus added a bit of commentary and we just read it, it's that 14th verse. He said that "Our forgiveness is contingent upon our willingness to forgive others. And if we refuse to forgive, then we separate ourselves by our choice from the forgiveness of God". Pretty sobering stuff. He establishes, Jesus establishes for us that every one of us has a need of forgiveness. Because you see the standard isn't pretty good, the standard isn't doing better than most, God's not gonna grade on a curve, the standard is his absolute holiness and purity, and unless you meet that standard, you or I cannot participate in his kingdom.
That's why we need help, because none of us are absolutely pure or holy. Not the best amongst us and a 99% isn't good enough. So God had to intervene, that's the whole purpose of the redemptive story of Jesus. It's why the celebration of Christmas is such a vital part of our calendars. God's entrance into our world, incarnation Jesus coming in an earth suit, to be the only human being to ever live a pure and holy life. Then he was qualified to offer himself as a sacrifice for my sin and for yours. It's a wonderful time of the year, it's worthy of celebration. We need forgiveness, but then we are given the assignment of living lives, that are defined by being forgiving people. It's one of the key components of the Christian Church, of the Christian faith of what it means to be a Christ follower.
And I would submit to you, it's largely misunderstood, it's often used to manipulate. Even the seculars, the people who choose not to follow the path of Christianity will use the notion, the concept of forgiveness, to try to manipulate Christians. We need to understand what the assignment is, and when it's called for, and what it means for us. I'd like to take it one step further by at least acknowledging a distinction between a transformational faith and a transactional faith. You can be a religious person, but actually not be a participant in the kingdom of God. You can have rules, and keep holidays, and have vocabulary, and wardrobe.
You know, you can have the facade, because our faith is not primarily expressed from the outside in. You can't tell if I'm a Christian by the way I look. You can't tell by the presence of a jacket or the absence of one. You can't tell because I have a southern accent or I don't. You can't tell by my hairstyle, or the color of my skin, or whether we're male or female, if I'm a Christ's follower, if I'm a good one or a bad one, because our faith doesn't start on the outside. Amen, and anytime you try to define your faith by some external point, the region of your country, your nationality, your vocabulary, your hair color, whatever it may be, it's idolatry. Because you put something in front of what actually qualifies us for the kingdom of God, and that's our relationship with Jesus of Nazareth.
Don't be a hyphenated Christ follower. Let the defining characteristic of your life be your allegiance to Jesus of Nazareth as Lord, Christ and King. And then whatever other descriptions you wanna build after that okay, but let's start with that. Transformational Christianity, is a change from the inside out. From the outside in, it's just transactional. You gotta do the right thing, say the right words, sit in the right place, not get caught doing the wrong things. Transactional Christianity meets obligations. It's where you fulfill your responsibilities, it's kind of burdensome, it's a little loathsome, it's intrusive, it's confining. It leads to self-righteousness, 'cause inevitably you look at the things you're doing and you think, "I know people that aren't doing these and I must be better than them".
It almost always leads us to the place where you think I've done enough, you're just gonna keep raising the bar on me, enough is enough, I've done enough, I'm done. And almost inevitably, that transactional Christianity is centered in my ability, my strength of will, my force of character, my resources, my volunteerism, my something, it's me-centric. Transformational Christianity is very different, it has a different set of markers. It's dependent upon a power beyond me, I cannot make myself better. I can choose self-discipline, I can yield to the Holy Spirit, I can cooperate with him, but I am dependent upon a power greater than myself to bring God's purposes to bear in my life. And if you haven't grappled with that, you've missed a fundamental component of what it means to be a Christ follower.
Folks, we need help. We need help in our world. I mean, Christians say, "You know, I don't know if I believe in all that miraculous supernatural stuff". Well, exactly what do you believe in? We have no story, we have no faith apart from that supernatural, miraculous kind of stuff. I get it, it's messy and sloppy and we don't control it 'cause it's beyond us, but we benefit from it, our lives are transformed by it, I wanna understand it better. A power beyond ourselves, we're not gonna outwork evil, or outthink evil, or out organize evil, or out donate evil.
Now I wanna spend the balance of this time on this notion of your choice and my choice to forgive. You see, when I choose to forgive, it really isn't about other people, it isn't beyond me, the beneficiary of my willingness to forgive first and foremost primarily is me. So when we talk about this issue, once we've established my need for forgiveness, that's a transaction between myself and God or yourself and God, we've looked at that. But now God, Jesus gave us the assignment of forgiving others. It isn't that other people need me to absolve them, I need the freedom that comes from forgiving others. Because when I refuse to forgive, I incarcerate myself in anger, and resentment, and bitterness, and hatred and a whole host of things that limit me emotionally, spiritually, relationally. They give evil access to my life, to my thoughts, to my behaviors, to my outcomes. It diminishes the role of the Holy Spirit in writing my story.
So forgiveness and my choice to forgive is really about me. Look at Luke chapter 23 and verse 34. Jesus is on the cross, he's been being tortured now for several hours. He's been beaten in a variety of ways, he's taken 39 lashes, 40 were supposed to kill a man, he's been forced to carry his cross through the streets of the city of Jerusalem, his city. He's been mocked, he's been spat upon. And now he's hanging on a cross hungry, thirsty, naked, so disfigured by the torture he's barely recognizable. He's just moments away from death and he prays a prayer. You know the prayer, it's Luke 23:34. "Jesus said, Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they're doing. And they divided up his clothes by casting lots".
They're gambling for Jesus's clothes at the foot of his cross. No compassion, no mercy, no interest, no awareness of injustice, none of that. His enemies are standing at a little greater distance but still close enough to see him and to watch and still close enough to reign upon him their criticisms. "If you're the king of the Jews, save yourself. The one who saved others, can't even save himself". And through the haze of the pain and the humiliation of hanging there in want of all things, and above the heckling of his adversaries, Jesus prays a prayer, "Father forgive them, they don't know what they're doing".
Well I wanna ask you a question. Do you think that the religious leaders that are standing there heckling him, don't know that they're heaping insults on him? Do you think the Roman soldiers that stretched his hands out with the ropes and then drove spikes through his wrist and threw his feet, do you think they didn't understand that was painful? It's gonna be an ouchie. When they lifted that cross up to drop it into the hole, do you think they didn't understand the excruciating pain that that was gonna bring to bear? Well they're not idiots. So let me ask you a related question, who was the beneficiary of Jesus's prayer? Do you think the point of that prayer was to absolve them of their guilt? "Oh, they didn't understand, bless their hearts". Good southern prayer.
If you have ever been in Southern everybody just say, "Bless their hearts". No, I don't believe that, I believe the beneficiary of Jesus's prayer was Jesus. Through the pain, and the suffering, and the agony, and the injustice, he understood the assignment, he had to forgive them. Nothing about that scene is fair, nothing about it is right, nothing is appropriate, Jesus didn't want to do it. He said multiple times at Gethsemane, "If there's any other way, I'd rather go that way. But if there is no other way, I'll choose your will". And now from the haze of the suffering, he says, "Father, forgive them". I believe that prayer was for Jesus.
Do you imagine, and this is an important question, do you imagine there were consequences to torturing Jesus to death? Do you really think those people got a pass? It's a very important question because as we unpack this notion of forgiveness, what you believe about that question is gonna determine a lot of your answers. Do you believe they got a pass? We're gonna look at some scriptures and see if we can understand it a little better. I don't believe they got a pass. Our nation these days is being divided by hatred. Purposefully and intentionally, it's being sown and cultivated in our midst. And those fomenting the division, they don't have our best interest as their motive. They use some of our bassist responses to foment that division. Things like violence, and entitlement, and envy, and discontent, and language of the oppressor and the oppressed. And the typical pattern, if you step back from it and then separate yourself from the individual expressions, the typical pattern is to present the government as our resource for change.
Folks, we should understand something from human history. Human governments have never resulted in justice and liberty for all. They never have. So the weaponization of hatred and division to separate us from one another, does not have our best interest at heart. We have to make the choice to forgive. There's some simple fundamentals about forgiveness that we should know and I'm gonna give them to you quickly, I'm not gonna belabor them, but the first is that forgiveness is not optional. You don't really have a choice. Jesus introduced that idea to you in the Lord's prayer. He said that our forgiveness is conditional upon our willingness to forgive others. In Matthew 6:14, Jesus said, "If you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you don't forgive them their sins, your father won't forgive your sins". You don't need a preacher to help with that. Forgiveness is not optional.
Now, forgiveness is not an emotion. You don't have to feel like forgiving, you don't have to feel generous, you don't have to feel compassionate. Forgiveness is a decision, it begins in your will, it's a decision. And like most of your important expressions of self-control, the decision precedes the feelings, right? Most of the things that are not easy to do in life begin with that decision, the intent to walk that path and your feelings will catch up. How many times has a parent said to their child, "I love you," and they really thought, "I'd like to lock you in a closet for a couple hours". But they know it's the inappropriate action, so they'll say what they intend so their behaviors and their feelings will catch up. I'm not advocating child abuse.
You know, I meet people who exercise more than I do, and they talk about a joy in it that I don't understand. All right, the most joyful part of exercise is completion, I find that to be rewarding. I showed up, I put in my time, I completed the discipline, that's good. I feel reasonably okay about that. I would've preferred a donut or a biscuit with gravy, but I made a choice, and I can't say I was excited about my choice, I thought the donut sounded better and a fritter sounded much better than the donut. But forgiveness in our lives begins with a choice, and it is not optional. You will never make a case, that is so convincing to hold your unforgiveness, that God will side with you. No matter how gross the injustice, no matter how dark the expression of evil, no matter how intentional the disruption, the assignment is to forgive.
There's no question that Jesus on that cross was there by the intent of people. He wasn't crucified accidentally, he wasn't crucified by mistake, he wasn't crucified in a momentary glitch, in a governmental process, there were multiple off ramps, none of them were taken, and Jesus was crucified on a cross. And he said, "Father, I choose to forgive these people". Now he's our model. So it begins with the decision. Secondly, there's no statute of limitation, or perhaps a better way to say it, there's no threshold of suffering that justifies unforgiveness. You can't say, "Well, the thing I was subjected to was so distorted, so abusive, so dark that I have a right". No, we don't because God has shown to us mercy.
Matthew 18 and verse 21. Says, "Peter came to Jesus and said, Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me"? You gotta love Peter. Peter is like every man. He's the voice among the disciples that I'm most comfortable with 'cause he's saying the things I'd have been saying if I'd had the courage to speak up. "Well Lord, this forgiveness stuff you've been telling us about, just how often do I need to do this"? And then he thinks of the most absurd boundary, "Seven times"? You can almost see Jesus smile. He said, "No, not seven times but 77". Now there's some technical issues with the text, it could be even more than that, 77 is the lowest number. "No Peter, a whole lot more than that". You gotta see Peter's shoulders slump.
See, we've lost sight of this as a people. I mean the Christian, the church in our culture we've kinda lost sight of what this means, and so we're being manipulated by hatred and anger and frustration. We have this assignment to be a forgiving people, we practice it in so many ways, and yet we've been fallen, we've fallen prey to this deception. Just most of us learned history from a high school coach someplace that didn't wanna be in the room with us. So this will be a pretty casual overview, but I know you're responsible that in World War II, the Nazis were responsible for the conservatively 40 million deaths, 40 million. We've forgiven them. We worked to rebuild, and restore, and to move forward as a nation, as a globe. We've done the same with the Japanese for their attack on Pearl Harbor, we forgave them. We did the same thing with the Islamic terrorists for 9-11.
We're in the process of doing the same thing for SBF Sam Bankman Friedman for the collapse of FTX. Hundreds of millions of dollars whoosh, he's mourning on an island. We choose to forgive. We've also forgiven the Muslims for their invasion of Europe, and we forgave the Mongols for invading Russia and Eastern Europe, and we forgave the Vikings for raiding southward into Britain. We celebrate all those cultures as being vital and important and having contributed to the global story. At the same time we're taught to hate Europeans for migrating to North South America. It's illogical, it's embittering, it's destructive.
And if you hold that logic, if you really hold it close and you embrace it and you take it to the next logical step, we should begin to hate those that are invading our southern border. I mean, after all, they're taking billions of dollars from the US citizens. They're overwhelming our educational systems, our healthcare systems are available housing. I don't think that's the right approach. In fact, I think it would be wrong, we're a nation of immigrants. We have to figure out how to do it orderly, we have to do it legally, we need to do it intentionally. That's what it means to be a people who live under the authority of law. But we need to wake up and understand the grand manipulation of academia, the media, politicians, whoever it is that's seeking to divide us.
You see, the root of the division is spiritual, and the church has an essential assignment, we have a message of forgiveness. There is failure enough globally throughout history, we can't stand and focus on the failure, we have to acknowledge our sin, in humility, we have to repent and we have to move towards forgiveness and healing. Forgiveness is not optional, there's no threshold of suffering that justifies our hatred, and our anger, and our bitterness, and our resentment, God will not side with that. And then thirdly, forgiveness can be achieved quickly, I like this. I mean, I think the microwave is a wonderful invention, it's a little slow, but I think it's wonderful.
Mark 11:25, Jesus again he says, "When you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins". How long does it take while you're standing there praying, if you remember something you haven't forgiven, forgive them. Make the decision. And we're gonna talk a bit more about that in some other sessions, but forgiveness is available to you. That I wanna plant the seed today to begin to ask the Spirit of God, "Is there anyone, any circumstance, any organization, any nation, whomever, that I'm holding hostage to my anger and resentment and bitterness, until they do something"? They're gonna have to earn that forgiveness, they're gonna have to qualify for it, by an apology, by something, I wanna point out that stands apart from the invitation of scripture. And the direction we've been given is to forgive, to forgive.
Hey, before we go, I wanna say a prayer enabling you to forgive. When you hold forgiveness, it doesn't punish the person you're angry at, it limits what God can do in our lives, let's not do that. You can say this prayer with me. "Heavenly Father, I forgive". And you can fill in the name or the organization, whoever it is. "I release them of any obligation to me, I set them free in Jesus's name. Lord, I pray for your best in their life, amen". Now you may need to repeat that prayer until your emotions catch up, but you make the choice to release that person, it'll change your future. God bless you.