Dallas Burdette November 23, 1997

Thrust statement: God forgives in order for one to obey.

Scripture Reading: John 15:9-11; Psalm 130; Romans 6:1-4, 12-14.

Elizabeth Achtemeier, a minister for the United Church of Christ, tells the story of the mindset of an association that ordained a practicing lesbian to the ministry. She wrote:

On February 21, 1982, the Potomac Association of the United Church of Christ voted by a margin of three to one to ordain to the Christian ministry a practicing lesbian. Many of us fought against the decision, and when the vote was explained, one minister said, "It did not seem to be the loving thing to do to vote against her." I cite this incident because the statement of that minister is so symptomatic of our time: "It did not seem the loving thing to do to vote against her."

Since God is love, should Christians condone such behavior? Or should Christians speak out against sin? After all, forgiveness is "part and parcel" of the Christian message. Do we not sing: "Just as I am! Without one plea, But that thy blood was shed for me, And that Thou bidd'st me come to Thee, O Lamb of God, I come! I come!" Again, do not the Scriptures say: "in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins" (Colossians 1:14)? Do we not want to love? Isn't love and mercy the message of Christianity? Christians want to forgive. Christians want to accept people "just" as they are – "Just as I am!" is what we sing.

Did not Christ embrace all sorts of people during His ministry? What about the woman of Samaria – she had had five husbands (John 4:5-26). Again, what about the woman caught in the very act of adultery, "neither do I condemn you," says Jesus (John 8:11). Did not Jesus and His disciples eat with "tax collectors and sinners" (Luke 5:30)? When Peter inquired about the number of times forgiveness should be extended to the transgressor, Jesus responded by saying, "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven" (Matthew 18:22). Forgiveness is what Jesus taught. Forgiveness is the loving thing to do. If we do not forgive, how can we expect God to forgive us? Remember the comments of Jesus following the example of how to pray: "For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses" (Matthew 6:14-15).

Purpose of Forgiveness

Are you relying upon God's forgiveness to continue in your life-style of sin? What about repentance in the life of every individual. Is repentance necessary to forgiveness? Does repentance demand a change in one's way of living? Just what does repentance mean to you? Does the grace of God demand a different life-style for those in the kingdom of heaven? Are we now citizens of the kingdom of Satan or the kingdom of God? Should this spiritual geographical location make a difference for the believer? Consider the words of Paul, an apostle of God, to Titus:

For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works. Speak these things, exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no one despise you. (Titus 2:11-15).

It is true that Jesus taught us to forgive; but somehow, we have forgotten Jesus' purpose in offering forgiveness. We have come to the point in our civilization, where in the name of "Christian love," we will approve nearly any life-style and forgive almost any wrong. And, in similar fashion, we expect acceptance and forgiveness, no matter how we live. Forgiveness does not allow us to continue in the same life-style; rather, it demands a change of course of action. Do we justify our course of action by saying, "It would not be the loving thing to do for God to vote against me"?

What does the Psalmist say about forgiveness and right living? In our Scripture reading, we read Psalm 130. Let's re-read this insightful Psalm again and observe his understanding of what forgiveness is all about.

Out of the depths I have cried to You, O Lord;
Lord, hear my voice!
Let Your ears be attentive
To the voice of my supplications.
If You, Lord, should mark iniquities,
O Lord, who could stand?
But there is forgiveness with You,
That You may be feared
(vv. 1-4).

The Psalmist reveals that he counts on God to forgive sin. He, then, reassures his fellow worshipers that the Lord will redeem them from all their iniquities:

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
And in His word I do hope.
My soul waits for the Lord
More than those who watch for the morning—
Yes, more than those who watch for the morning.
O Israel, hope in the Lord;
For with the Lord there is mercy,
And with Him is abundant redemption.
And He shall redeem Israel
From all his iniquities
(vv. 5-8).

For the Psalmist, God's forgiveness is not without its purpose. Yes, there is forgiveness with God in order that "You may be feared" (v. 4). There is forgiveness with God in order that He may be served with veneration and conformity to His will. There is forgiveness with God in order that His acceptance of us may allure us to a different life-style. Since there is a change in venue from darkness to light, then there must also be a change in our manner of life.

Paul, too, addresses this issue of righteousness in his discourse to the Roman Christians. He asks the same question that our reckless nation asks: "Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?" (Romans 6:1). In other words, "Can't we just continue to sin that grace may abound? Can't we just go on in our old life-style in order that God may go on forgiving, forgiving, and forgiving?" Paul responds, "Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?" (Romans 6:2). Then, Paul spells out God's design for the redeemed, that is, the forgiven:

Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life (Romans 6:3-4).

Paul is saying that God took us back in order that we may keep his commandments. Christians respond in love to His love by living a life retailored by His power. In other words, according to Paul, any and all life-styles are not acceptable to this forgiving God; we do ourselves and others no good deed when we prescribe that any life-style is OK. God wants obedience and a loving response to His commandments. Christians are to respond to His love by living a life transformed through His power. Should one extend forgiveness to one who continues in his or her life style of homosexual or lesbian activities or adultery or fornication? The answer is, "No, unless one returns home and forsakes sexual immorality. " One must put behind an ungodly manner of life.

To the world this call for reformation in one's life may appear harsh and judgmental, but God demands this change. For many, this call for change is refused because they seemed determined to go on breaking the commandments of God. This rejection and judgment goes against the grain of our live-and-let-live age – an age in which everything goes. Listen to the words of Jesus as He rebukes the religious leaders of His day for not submitting to the commandments of God:

Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:17-20).

Have we lost our sense of moral outrage against sin? Do we no longer remember that we are in a spiritual battle? Since we, as Christians, are the "light of the world," then we must call for justice. Even with Israel, they, too, were to call for justice and condemn evil, but they were participating in evil, not rebuking iniquity:

For your hands are defiled with blood,
And your fingers with iniquity;
Your lips have spoken lies,
Your tongue has muttered perversity.
No one calls for justice,
Nor does any plead for truth.
They trust in empty words and speak lies;
They conceive evil and bring forth iniquity (Isaiah 59:1-2).

Again God paints a dismal picture of life in Israel:

Justice is turned back,
And righteousness stands afar off;
For truth is fallen in the street,
And equity cannot enter.
So truth fails,
And he who departs from evil makes himself a prey.
Then the Lord saw it, and it displeased Him
That there was no justice.
He saw that there was no man,
And wondered that there was no intercessor
(Isaiah 59:14-16);

God expects His children today to be concerned about evil. It is in this vein that Paul reminded the Christians of Ephesus about their role in fighting the forces of evil:

Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places (Ephesians 6:10-12).

Elizabeth Achtemeier uses the following pregnant words in her sermon to describe the world's insensitivity to wickedness:

Only an age that really knows nothing about the mercy of God can treat forgiveness in such a manner, however, because God has an ultimate purpose in calling us to newness of life, and that final purpose is fully one of love.

I plead with you today to reflect upon the life that God desires to reflect His glory. One cannot experience the full joy of salvation if one is living in denial of God's requirements. There can only be complete fulfillment of joy when one walks in the commandments of God: "And these things we write to you that your joy may be full," writes John (1 John 1:4). Again, John deals with the Christian's relationship to two different life styles:

This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:5-7).

In concluding this message, I remind you of the Scripture reading from the Gospel of John in which our Lord said:

As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full. This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. You are My friends if you do whatever I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you (John 15:9-11).

There is pardon with God, but it is granted to man in order that He may be obeyed. And we are called of God in order that we may have joy that passes all understanding. I plead with you today, put your trust and hope in the Lord. Remember that "You are the salt of the earth" (Matthew 5:13) and "You are the light of the world" (Matthew 5:14).


PREACHED:

Grassy Church of Christ (Grassy, Alabama), November 23, 1997, 11 a.m. Service