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Saturday, February 19, 2005

Drawing the Line

Charlesdog recently asked a question that deserves closer attention:
Is there ever a line that we draw in “forgiveness”? What if one of your friends beat his wife, who was also one of your friends? Should you allow him in your house, even if he doesn’t repent? Can you really forgive him, or would it be empty forgiveness, like, “I know, I’m a Christian, so I have to forgive him, because that’s what I’m supposed to do.” When can we draw the line on unconditional love? Even if we “forgive” these people, could we really love them the way we should when we don’t trust him around our kids? Is there like an exception, when you are protecting people like your family, who you frankly love “more”?
I think this is a great question, because it gets at the heart of the matter: where do we draw the line? Rather than answer it directly, however, let's turn it around first.

It seems to me this is precisely how we want God to treat us. We want our own absolute autonomy (freedom to do whatever we want) -AND- we expect him to forgive us no matter what we do (because after all, "God is love"). We want to have our cake and eat it too.

So how does God answer the question? He consistently calls us to do two things: repent and believe.

When we repent we acknowledge that we were wrong. That we actually have done things that are vile, that we deserve punishment, not mercy. It is impossible to be repentant and still believe that I can do whatever I want to do, because repentance implies morality, and morality implies a standard that is above and beyond me.

Most of us have no difficulty seeing the sin in others, the things they need to repent of. But we're a lot less inclined to point the finger at the guy in the mirror, because, quite frankly, we have a vested interest in seeing ourselves as the "good guys".

Now where things really get interesting is when we look at the second half of God's response. He doesn't call us to DO something (pennance, pushups, good works, whatever). He simply calls us to believe. Believe what?

God calls us to believe that he will forgive us because of what he has done in Christ on the cross, not because of anything in and of ourselves. Scripture calls this "putting your faith in Christ." (and believe me, the more I start to acknowledge my own sin, the more faith it takes to believe that God could actually forgive me).

So what if your friend beats his wife? Should you forgive him? It depends on whether he is truly repentant - and only God can truly see his heart; that's why we need to be quick to give the benefit of the doubt.

But should I say something to him about it? That depends on whether I'm really his friend. Sometimes the easy way out is to simply say, "Hey, its alright. I'm ok. You're ok. We're all ok..." But that's a bunch of crap: it IS a big deal. You are beating your wife, man! And if I am really friends with his wife, then for her sake I had better tell him its wrong. And if I am really his friend, then for his sake too I had better say the same thing: "You have a problem! You need to deal with it, and if you can't, you need to get help."

Back to that mirror. What if we spit in God's face and worship ourselves rather than him? Should he forgive us? If we're really repentant, and believe God's promise, then yes, he will. Should he say something to us about it? That's exactly what he does through Scripture - he says we have a serious problem (sin), and we are utterly incapable of dealing with it ourselves. And that's why God sent Jesus to save us. Jesus is God's ultimate word to us (and we can only know him through Scripture).

Jesus reveals that our problems run deep, all the way to our hearts. And then he actually does something about it. He offers his righteousness (and everything that goes with it) in exchange for our sin (and everything that goes with that). But he only offers it to those who are willing to repent and believe.

I wish that wasn't the case, because there are times where I've actually wanted to hit my wife (and were probably times where she wanted to shoot me). Part of me really wishes I COULD do whatever I want and still be ok. But I've got friends who love me too much for that...

A real friend calls a spade a spade and tells it like it is. That's what we do with those we love. That's what God does with us. He never says that its all ok, but he does promise forgiveness for any sin - there is nothing which can separate us from God's love if we are united to Christ in faith.

That's where God draws the line...


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