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LOVE, MERCY, FORGIVENESS
Published On : May 25, 1998
Last Updated : February 24, 2011
A Message Designed For Believers, God's High Standard, Love Is Supposed To Be A Principal Sign Of Our Christian Faith, When Secular Laws And God's Laws Collide, Backsliding And Christian Counseling, Jesus' Own Advice Regarding Christian Reconciliation, Building A Strong Scriptural Foundation One Verse At A Time, Our Christian Responsibility Is To Forgive, Life-Changing Power Of Prayer, Pray For Christian Brethren, Forgive And Forget - Easier Said Than Done, Forgiveness Is A Healing Balm, God Will "Forget" Our Transgressions Against Him, "Remember" And "Forget" In The Scriptures, Our Record Is Purged Clean By The Blood Of Jesus Christ, God's Eternal Record Books, Though Your Sins Be As Scarlet, Fate Of The Unrepentant Sinner, Are You A Stranger And A Foreigner To God Or A Member Of His Royal Household Through Jesus Christ?
At this point, it is important that you realize that all of of the verses that I have shared with you thus far regarding the act of forgiveness, were spoken and/or written by Jesus Christ and His Apostles. Equally important is the fact that these words were directed at the Christian Body of Believers. In other words, there is no indication that they were spoken to the unbelieving heathen of the world. Remember the verse which I shared with you earlier where Jesus said "But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me." Thus, it seems that this counsel is primarily directed at Christians who already know the Lord. This is because the Lord apparently holds His own Children to a higher standard than He does the children of the world. You may recall that Jesus also said the following to His Disciples:
"By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another."
John 13:35, KJV
In his first Epistle, the Apostle John also emphasized the importance of Christian love; even going so far as to say that those who do not love, do not even truly know God. In fact, he tells us that they are the children of the devil. Consider the following verses:
"In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother . . . We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death."
1 John 3:10, 14, KJV
"He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love . . . If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?"
1 John 4:8, 20, KJV
Thus we see that Christian love is meant to be the principal sign of our faith. It is supposed to be what sets us apart from other religions of the world. Notice also that John's words are again directed at the Christian Body, and not at outsiders. Of course, this is not to suggest that all of this wise counsel would not be good for the children of the world as well, as it most certainly would be; however, I am stressing this difference for a specific reason. As I point out in other articles, the Word of God advises us that we are not to concern ourselves with the affairs of this world. They have their own laws and their own ways of doing things, and they are not always in agreement with God's Laws. This is particularly evident in our modern day where there exists a growing body of man-made laws which contradict God's Laws in the most vile ways. I will leave it to you to decipher what I mean by that.
As we can see by the example of this dear sister in the Lord, the problem occurs when our interaction with the unbelieving people of the world results in our being threatened or harmed in some way, whether that harm, or threat of harm, is mental, emotional or physical. When such incidents occur, what are we supposed to do? How should we deal with them? If this were a matter which involved a Christian brother or sister straying from the teachings of the Gospel, the answer would be quite simple. Notice what James also tells us in the same chapter we looked at earlier:
"Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him; Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins."
James 5:19-20, KJV
What James is basically saying is that when problems arise within the Body of Christ, such as when a brother or sister backslides from the faith, Christian counseling is required, in order to restore the wayward brethren. In the previous verses, the verb "convert" is derived from the Greek word "epistrepho", which means to cause to return, or to bring back. This is an internal matter and has nothing to do with the children of the world. It is strictly a matter of faith; therefore, it should be handled by, and resolved by, those who are likewise of our same Christian faith. The counsel of James was derived directly from the Lord's own words which can be found in the eighteenth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew. Notice carefully the procedure that Jesus outlines for us:
"Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican."
Matthew 18:15-17, KJV
The previous verses greatly expand upon the verses that we looked at earlier; and this is exactly what we are striving for in our understanding of God's Word. As some of you will already know, my personal approach to Bible study has long been to carefully compare Scripture with Scripture. By slowly building upon our Scriptural foundation one verse at a time, we can arrive at the truth, and at the same time, expand our understanding of what is being said. Only in this way can we guard ourselves from falling into error; and even then, due to our human nature, there is still no guarantee that we will have a perfect understanding of God's Word. Notice again the various steps which Jesus advises us to follow as we seek to be reconciled with our brethren:
1. the offense occurs
2. the private rebuke
3. the offender refuses correction
4. the private rebuke with several witnesses
5. the offender still refuses correction
6. the open rebuke before the whole congregation
7. the offender continues to refuse correction
8. the offender is treated as a heathen and publican
As you may notice, this is essentially the very same pattern that we saw earlier with the following procedure:
1. the offense occurs
2. the rebuke is given
3. repentance occurs
4. forgiveness is granted
The primary difference is that in the second set of verses from the eighteenth chapter of Matthew, the offender does not repent despite three serious attempts to help him to see the error of his ways; and thus we are shown exactly what to do in such cases. So then; if we take into consideration all of the verses that I have presented thus far, we can summarize what they teach with the following:
As followers of Christ, it is our responsibility and duty to forgive those who harm us or who perform any evil act against us in any way. In fact, as we saw at the beginning of this series, Jesus advises us to pray for those who despitefully use us. Of the three times that this word "despitefully" is used in the New Testament, twice it is derived from the Greek word "epereazo". Pronounced ep-ay-reh-ad'-zo, Thayer's Greek lexicon defines this word as follows:
----- Begin Quote -----
1) to insult
2) to treat abusively, use despitefully
3) to revile
4) in a forensic sense, to accuse falsely
5) to threaten
----- End Of Quote -----
Thus, regardless of how much we may have been despitefully used, or abused, by a particular person, we should never underestimate the power of prayer to bring about repentance and positive, lasting change in their life. As the Apostle James tells us "The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much". Later on in this series, we'll be taking a look at some specific examples of lives which were changed in the past. So prayer is indeed powerful. The Lord and His Apostles spoke and wrote quite extensively concerning the positive fruit which can result when we earnestly seek His face in prayer. Consider some of the following examples:
"And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive."
Matthew 21:22, KJV
"But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord. A double minded man is unstable in all his ways."
James 1:6-8, KJV
"And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us: And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him."
1 John 5:14-15, KJV
"Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered."
Romans 8:26, KJV
Concerning the topic of specifically praying for our brothers and sisters in the Lord, we also find a number of interesting verses in the Epistles, such as the following:
"Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints;"
Ephesians 6:18, KJV
"For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding;"
Colossians 1:9, KJV
"Pray without ceasing . . . Brethren, pray for us . . . Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified, even as it is with you:"
1 Thessalonians 5:17, 25, 2 Thessalonians 3:1, KJV
"Pray for us: for we trust we have a good conscience, in all things willing to live honestly."
Hebrews 13:18, KJV
"Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much."
James 5:16, KJV
I am happy to report that as a result of the supplications of some of the Lord's special Prayer Warriors, who have devoted years to praying for certain hard-hearted individuals, lives have indeed been changed. In fact, such is the case regarding the dear sister who inspired this series. Some time ago, she informed me that the person who caused her harm in the past, is now seeking professional, as well as spiritual help. With time, he will hopefully come to full repentance, make a full confession, and finally make amends with this sister.
In thinking about our discussion concerning forgiveness and repentance, I am reminded of a popular worldly saying which says "Forgive and forget". While we have already seen that we are obligated by God's Word to forgive those who offend us, to my knowledge, the idea of forgetting has absolutely no Scriptural basis. Let's be honest about this. Sometimes we are hurt so deeply emotionally, mentally or physically, that we remain severely scarred for the rest of our lives. This is certainly the case with such crimes as rape, incest, child molestation, assault and battery, etc.
While it is easy for certain people to nonchalantly suggest that we should "Forgive and forget", it is more than likely that they have never been in the shoes of those who have actually been the victims of such horrible crimes, and thus have to deal with it for the rest of their lives. A clear case in point is my own dear sister. A number of years ago, she became the victim of a gang rape. To this day, because of the violent act which was committed against her person, she has had to remain on medication in order to maintain some degree of mental stability and normalcy in her life. To ask her to simply forget the incident is ludicrous to say the least. This horrible crime has left an indelible mark on her life.
While the Lord expects us to forgive those who offend us or who harm us in some way, given the gravity of some of these situations, I personally do not believe that He will hold it against us if we find it difficult to forget the incidents, or the perpetrators themselves. To try to force ourselves to forget such negative experiences in our lives is nearly a human impossibility. To even attempt doing this could very well result in one going completely insane. While a lot of people resort to drugs or alcohol in order to forget the incident, or the pain that is associated with it, they are not really forgetting it, they are simply masking it over temporarily by dulling their senses and state of awareness.
In some cases, the Lord is merciful to us; and thus, with the passage of time, we are sometimes able to forget the wrong which has been done against us, if it hasn't been too severe. It isn't that we consciously try to force the memory out of our minds through the work of the flesh, it is just that the passage of time sometimes acts as a soothing balm which eventually heals the hurt, and helps us to forget the pain. Whether or not my sister ever actually forgave those who committed such an evil act against her, I honestly do not know; it is really between her and the Lord. However, at the same time, her failure to do this could result in a root of bitterness springing up in her heart as we saw earlier in this series. Thus we can see that forgiveness, no matter how difficult it is to impart, not only helps the person who is being forgiven, but like a healing balm, it likewise helps to heal the person against whom the crime has been committed.
While it is indeed difficult for us humans to forget the evil acts which have been perpetrated against us, the Bible informs us in certain places that the Lord will "forget" our iniquities. For example, consider the following verses:
"And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more."
Jeremiah 31:34, KJV
"For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more."
Hebrews 8:12, KJV
"And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more."
Hebrews 10:17, KJV
I suspect that it may be a misunderstanding of the previous verses which has given rise to the popular phrase "Forgive and forget", as we discussed earlier. If we examine the Hebrew word from which the word "remember" is derived, we discover that when the Lord says He will remember our sins no more, it doesn't mean that He will actually forget them, but rather that He will simply not bring them to mind, or hold them against us any longer. In the Old Testament, the word "remember" is derived from the Hebrew word "zakar". Pronounced zaw-kar', it means to remember, to call to mind, to mention, or to record. Following is the full definition from the Brown, Driver, Briggs, Gesenius Hebrew Aramaic lexicon:
----- Begin Quote -----
1) to remember, recall, call to mind
1a) (Qal) to remember, recall
1b) (Niphal) to be brought to remembrance, be remembered, be thought of, be brought to mind
1c1) to cause to remember, remind
1c2) to cause to be remembered, keep in remembrance
1c3) to mention
1c4) to record
1c5) to make a memorial, make remembrance
----- End Of Quote -----
In the New Testament, the word "remember" is derived from the Greek word "mnaomai". Pronounced mnah'-om-ahee, this word carries the same meaning as its Hebrew counterpart, as we see by the following definition which is taken from Thayer's Greek lexicon:
----- Begin Quote -----
1) to remind
1a) to be recalled or to return to one's mind, to remind one's self of, to remember
1b) to be recalled to mind, to be remembered, had in remembrance
1c) to remember a thing
1d) be mindful of
----- End Of Quote -----
On the other hand, in the Old Testament, the word "forget" is derived from the Hebrew word "shakach" -- which is pronounced shaw-kakh' -- or "shakeach", which is pronounced shaw-kay'-akh. Again, following are the definitions which are provided by the Hebrew Aramaic lexicon:
----- Begin Quote -----
1) to forget, ignore, wither
1a1) to forget
1a2) to cease to care
1b) (Niphal) to be forgotten
1c) (Piel) to cause to forget
1d) (Hiphil) to make or cause to forget
1e) (Hithpael) to be forgotten
----- End Of Quote -----
In the New Testament, the word "forget" is only used on two occasions. In both instances, it is found in Paul's Epistle to the Hebrews. This word is derived from the Greek word "epilanthanomai". Pronounced ep-ee-lan-than'-om-ahee, the Greek lexicon defines it as follows:
----- Begin Quote -----
1) to forget
2) neglecting, no longer caring for
2) forgotten, given over to oblivion, i.e. uncared for
----- End Of Quote -----
Thus, based on the previous definitions, we can determine that to not remember something, or to forget something, do not necessarily mean the same thing in the Scriptures. The Lord does not really forget our sins, He simply chooses to ignore them once we have accepted His Mercy, and have been washed clean through the Sacrifice of His dear Son, Jesus. The Scriptures tell us that the Lord blots out our sins; He removes them from our record; which is precisely one of the meanings of that Hebrew word "zakar", which we looked at a moment ago.
This is precisely what is done sometimes in a court of law. On certain occasions, a statement made by the witness is stricken from the record. In other instances, due to the process of appeals, sometimes a person is later vindicated of a false accusation which has been brought against him; and thus, the crime is also removed, or purged, from his court record. Because of our faith in the atoning Sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and because of the Special Arrangement that God has made with His Son, as I explain in the series "Is Jesus The Only Begotten Son Of God?", God also gives us a clean record. He wipes the slate clean. God doesn't really forget our sins per se, but we are declared "clean" in His carefully-kept Record Books. Consider the following verses:
"Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool."
Isaiah 1:18, KJV
"Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities."
Psalms 51:9, KJV
"He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels."
Revelation 3:5, KJV
"And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works."
Revelation 20:12, KJV
Allow me to share with you a small, personal revelation that I received. In Isaiah 1:18, the Lord tells us that our sins are "as scarlet" and "red like crimson". Thus, we might say that before we accept Jesus Christ as our Savior, our sins are marked in bright red letters in the "Great Books" which are found in the Celestial Courts of Heaven. The American Heritage Desktop Dictionary defines scarlet as a bright red or red-orange color, and crimson as a vivid purplish red color. In other words, our sins are very apparent to the Lord; they stare God in the Face from the pages of His Book. They show Him without a shadow of a doubt that we are all guilty! Therefore, we are worthy of death; because as the Apostle Paul tells us:
"For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord."
Romans 6:23, KJV
However, as that verse also informs us, once we repent of our sins and accept the Salvation which comes through Jesus Christ alone, what happens? Quite simply, as the previous verses tell us, our transgressions -- or sins -- become as white as snow; they become as white as the wool of a newborn lamb. Imagine, if you will, what would happen if you were to take a pen containing white ink, and write on a white piece of paper. The words would not only be very difficult to see, they would basically be invisible. So it is with the Lord. Those bright red sins of ours which are written in His Great Books, become "invisible" to His Eyes, and He remembers them no more!
As I mentioned earlier, unlike us sinful humans who tend to hold grudges and store negative incidents in our hearts, so that we can use them later in a moment of anger to attack a certain person who did us wrong in the past, the Lord keeps His word. If He says that we are forgiven, then we are truly forgiven. We don't need to worry about it anymore. On the other hand, if a person has not come to accept Jesus Christ, and he has not truly repented of his sins, then he has not been forgiven, and his Heavenly Court Record is not clean! His sins are still written in bright red letters which stare God in the face; and someday, when the Lord opens His Great Books, that person is going to be awfully sorry; and here is why. Please note that the words in brackets were added by me for the sake of clarification:
"And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him [the beast], whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world."
Revelation 13:8, KJV
"The beast that thou sawest was, and is not; and shall ascend out of the bottomless pit, and go into perdition: and they that dwell on the earth shall wonder, whose names were not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, when they behold the beast that was, and is not, and yet is."
Revelation 17:8, KJV
And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works . . . And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire."
Revelation 20:12, 15, KJV
"And there shall in no wise enter into it [the Heavenly City] any thing that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie: but they which are written in the Lamb's book of life."
Revelation 21:27, KJV
"And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book."
Revelation 22:19, KJV
Thus again, we can plainly see that while God the Father does indeed forgive those who humbly approach Him through His dear Son, He does not forgive or forget the sins of those people who willfully and stubbornly continue to rebel against Him until it is too late. As we saw earlier, a central variable in the "forgiveness equation" is that an offender must first recognize his sins and seek forgiveness from the person whom he has offended, and then from the Lord Himself as well. If such an offender refuses to seek forgiveness, or if he is so hard-hearted that he will not even admit to the crime, what does Jesus advise us to do? The Lord tells us to treat him as a heathen and a publican.
Exactly what does the Lord mean by this? The answer becomes clear when we examine the original word in our Greek lexicon. The word "heathen", as it is used in the previous verses from Matthew chapter eighteen, finds its origin in the Greek word "ethnikos". Pronounced eth-nee-kos', Thayer's Greek lexicon defines it as follows:
----- Begin Quote -----
1) adapted to the genius or customs of a people, peculiar to a people, national
2) suited to the manners or language of foreigners, strange, foreign
3) in the NT savouring of the nature of pagans, alien to the worship of the true God, heathenish
3a) of the pagan, the Gentile
----- End Of Quote -----
As can be seen, Jesus is simply saying that such a person who refuses correction, and who refuses to submit himself to the Spirit of God, should be viewed and treated as a stranger or a foreigner. In other words, that person is no better than an unbelieving pagan; and in the eyes of the Jews, all heathen were considered unclean, including the Romans who dominated Israel at that time. In contrast to Jesus' remarks, it is for this very same reason that the Apostle Paul informs us that once we come to Christ, and are washed clean by His Blood, we are no longer considered strangers and foreigners; rather, we have become Royal Members of the Household of God. Consider the following verses:
"Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands; That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ . . . Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone;"
Ephesians 2:11-13, 19-20, KJV
Please go to part three for the continuation of this series.
⇒ Go To The Next Part . . .