Forgiveness and Christian Confusion...
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. "For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. "When he had begun to settle them, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. "But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made. "So the slave fell to the ground and prostrated himself before him, saying, 'Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.' "And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt. "But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denari; and he seized him and began to choke him, saying, 'Pay back what you owe.' "So his fellow slave fell to the ground and began to plead with him, saying, 'Have patience with me and I will repay you.' "But he was unwilling and went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed. "So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened. "Then summoning him, his lord said to him, 'You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 'Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?' "And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him." (Matthew 18:21-34)
The concept of forgiveness is extremely important to Jesus of Nazareth, as he teaches on it a number of times. Where would any person be without the forgiveness of the true and living God? See the Words of Jesus above to get that answer.
Since the King contended with, and rebuked, the religious leaders of his day for their mis-understandings and half-truths which they preached supposedly in the name of the King's Father (Matt. 5:21, 27, 31, etc.), should not we be very careful about the teachings of the religious kingdom's today? If the religious system is of the darkness, then should we not be very wary of the "truths" that they say are essential to believe in order to be accepted by God? How consistent are the christians in their teachings on forgiveness?
If you have some clarity in your spiritual vision, you should be able to see that the religious systems of men are against God the Father and His Messiah. Is it not therefore possible that Israel, before Messiah came, also erred in adding religious junk picked up from their neighbors, to God's gospel of faith being proved by obedience? Is it not possible that the foundation upon which christianity was formed (the Old Testament), was corrupted by men?
One of the key marks of christian religion is their belief that their "statements of faith" articulate their faith. Each group/sect/organization/denomination/church has its "statement of faith" which they say contains the key doctrines or beliefs of their faith. What the christians don't realize is that the phrase "doctrines of faith" is an oxymoron...that is, it is a phrase containing contradictions. You see dear reader, faith is not something that can be described using theology or doctrine. Theology or doctrine can be used to describe what or who a person has faith in, but it does NOT describe or create faith. Faith is not something that exists in the realm of intellectual beliefs or concepts. True faith is a spiritual dependence or reliance on a person or thing to live one's life. Doctrine or beliefs, in contrast, are concepts that exist in men's minds. True faith cannot be articulated, spoken or written, but rather it can only be lived out in one's daily life. True faith is what a person is trusting in or relying upon for the why and how to live one's daily life while on the earth.
If one looks at the "statements of faith" of the average christian group or organization (usually called 'the church'), one will find that usually NONE of their beliefs has anything to do with the how of living out Jesus' teachings. Instead, the 'key doctrines' on these statements are pure theology having to do with their particular slant on doctrines derived from the bible...pretty much how many angels fit on the head of a pin type-stuff in terms of practical living. Of course the christians will be offended by this and respond, 'our statement of faith deals with the essential truths of christ'. What they really are saying is that their statements articulate their beliefs about who THEY think their christ was/is and what THEY think he did for them.
This is a very clever deception, thinking that believing these intellectual doctrines or somehow admiring things about their christ will please God. But the real Messiah says in the gospels that those who love him will OBEY him. He does NOT say that those who have correct intellectual understanding about his person and what he did while on the earth will gain salvation. No, in contrast he teaches that a child-like FAITH in himself and his Father, which faith manifests itself in obedience to Jesus' teachings and commands, is what will provide salvation. If this is true, and Jesus says it is, then what value is there in believing a statement of faith dealing with alleged facts about some christ or God? None whatsoever unless one already has faith and that statement of faith contains truth taught by the Light.
My hope for this article is that by exposing the errors of a few of the 'key and orthodox doctrines of christianity' found in their statements of faith, some might see the foolishness of the christian way and turn away from it and enter onto the narrow Way of faith in the Real Jesus of Nazareth.
What are the most important doctrines that usually make their way to the top of the list of the average bible-believing christian organization?
The bible is the inerrant, infallible Word of God - see Is the Bible the Word of God?
Their Christ is part of a trinitarian being - see Some thoughts on the Trinity
Their Christ was born of a virgin (what difference does that make to following Jesus?)
Their Christ died as a substitutionary (or vicarious), propitiary, atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world and those who believe the doctrines in their statement of faith (usually defended as believing in their christ), will receive the benefits of that sacrifice, the forgiveness of their sins and thus entry into heaven.
This article will deal with this last key doctrine. Let's define their big theological terms first.
Vicarious (or Substitutionary) - An Old Testament (and before that the surrounding culture's) concept of substituting an 'innocent' animal (by death/sacrifice) as a sin offering for the sins of a person.
Propitiation - From the Old Testament (and before that the surrounding culture's) concept of a blood sacrifice offered to appease the just wrath of an angry deity (Rom. 3:25)
Atoning - The concept of making amends or repairing a wrong done. Specifically from the Old Testament (and before that the surrounding culture's) concept of removing one's sin or guilt by an offering of an animal's blood sacrifice or other religious rituals.
What does it mean to forgive? A contemporary dictionary defines it as, "To excuse for a fault or offense; pardon; to absolve from payment of". The term "pardon" is defined as, "to release (a person) from punishment; forgive".
Perhaps one of the best Old Testament definitions of forgiveness is given in Psalm 103:
"He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, So great is His loving-kindness toward those who fear Him. As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us. Just as a father has compassion on his children, So the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him." (Psalms 103:10-13)
The Son of Man spells out forgiveness quite clearly in this passage:
"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. "For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. "When he had begun to settle them, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. "But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made. "So the slave fell to the ground and prostrated himself before him, saying, 'Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.' "And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt. "But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denari; and he seized him and began to choke him, saying, 'Pay back what you owe.' "So his fellow slave fell to the ground and began to plead with him, saying, 'Have patience with me and I will repay you.' "But he was unwilling and went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed. "So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened. "Then summoning him, his lord said to him, 'You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 'Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?' "And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him." (Matthew 18:21-34)
In this beautiful illustration, Jesus plainly supports the majority concept of forgiveness that can be found in the scripture from Genesis to Revelation. The Lord in the above teachings "forgave him the debt", which means the servant did not have to pay the lord anything in return for the 10,000 talents loaned to him - the lord forgave him the debt and received nothing in return for that act of forgiveness/compassion. Nor did the Lord require something from the servant in order to grant forgiveness, except a repentant heart/attitude. To state it plainly yet again, forgiveness is the act of one person removing or absolving the debt, obligation or justice owed or deserved by another person who owed debt, an obligation or deserved justice to that first person. If we are sincere seekers of truth from the scripture, we should be able to agree on this definition of forgiveness.
Let us look at the concept of forgiveness from a financial perspective. If I borrow $1,000 from a bank, and another party pays the bank $1,000 for me, can the bank honestly come to me as say, "your debt is forgiven"? No, for the bank received payment for my debt, and thus true forgiveness cannot be granted - the debt was paid. There can be no compassion/mercy granted in this example because the bank still insisted that the $1,000 be paid back - they don't care by who - and in fact they received the full payment on the debt.
As another example, lets say that I am a relatively poor farmer and I borrow a horse from a neighbor to use on my farm. But, while using the horse to do some work, I accidentally kill the horse. A relatively rich farmer hears of the accident, has compassion on me and gives one of his work horses to the neighbor who lent me the horse. My neighbor then comes and says, "I forgive you the debt of not returning my horse". Is this true forgiveness? No it is not, because my neighbor received an equal payment for his loss - he received a new replacement horse - and thus he lost nothing, and thus there is nothing to forgive. Again, forgiveness is the removing or absolving of the debt, obligation or justice owned or deserved by another person. No debt or obligation was removed or absolved, rather it was paid by a third party.
Now, the doctrine of vicarious atonement taught by the christian leaders says that God needed to receive payment in full as a condition of granting forgiveness. They teach that Jesus paid in full for the sins of the world by his substitutionary death on the cross. But if this is so, then God the Father has never truly forgiven anybody since he received payment in full for all our sins. Worse than that, the christian doctrine teaches that God would not have been willing or able to forgive anybody unless his son paid for their sins.
Some other things to think about in regard to this strange belief.
If you cannot find Jesus teaching these things (and in truth he does not), or teaching things contrary (in truth he does), then perhaps it is time to let go of the religious system's teaching of propitiary, vicarious atonement? Jesus says that to enter the Kingdom of God, we must come as little children. How many little children that you know of can understand propitiary, vicarious atonement? Why not simply and sincerely ask God for mercy for our sins?
The christian leaders will object to this simple truth by saying, "but God cannot be just if he simply forgives people's sin without payment". The question must be asked, why not? Where did Jesus teach that his Father must receive payment of some kind before granting forgiveness? Jesus not only did NOT teach that, he in fact taught the opposite (remember the story he taught above?).
The christians might then use an illustration in an attempt to prove their doctrine is correct. They will say, "well, can you imagine a human judge having a guilty murderer brought before him and just say to him, 'you are forgiven, you may go free'". This analogy is faulty. A human judge is not God and cannot see the heart. If the murderer was truly repentant in their heart (evidence of such repentance would be a sincere and committed desire to make restitution to the victim's family in some manner and receive punishment), why should the judge not forgive him? Remember, to be truly repentant means not only that you are grieved over your sin, but that you will not commit it again. In like manner, if God sees a heart that is truly repentant, he will require no more than that in order to extend his mercy to that person. God will make all things just at the end of all things when all people are judged. But until that time, we can be assured from the Son, that the Father is eager to grant his compassionate forgiveness to the truly repentant heart without any payment required. For to demand payment would, by definition, not be granting forgiveness.
Ransom Not Sacrifice
What did Jesus say regarding his death and its meaning?
"For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many." (Mark 10:45) & "...just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many." (Matthew 20:28)
Perhaps this saying of Jesus addresses this issue in the clearest manner. First, please note that Jesus did not describe his death as a sacrifice to his Father. Jesus nowhere says that he was a sacrifice to appease his Father's wrath and pay for the sins of the world. Certainly, if Jesus was to be a sacrifice to appease his Father's wrath, he had much opportunity to teach such a thing. And yet, Jesus says NOTHING about his death being a sacrifice. Jesus does address the Old Testament concept of sacrifice, and this is what he has to say to the religious leaders about that concept:
"But go and learn what this means: 'I DESIRE COMPASSION, AND NOT SACRIFICE,' for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners." (Matthew 9:13) & "But if you had known what this means, 'I DESIRE COMPASSION, AND NOT A SACRIFICE,' you would not have condemned the innocent. (Matthew 12:7)
Only if we are willing to listen to Jesus as our sole spiritual Authority, will the OT idea of sacrifice be let go. The Words of God even snuck through in the OT with the prophets Jesus quotes here. What is unclear about, "I desire compassion, and not sacrifice (or "not a sacrifice")"? Yes, the Father's heart was able to be seen all along for those with eyes to see - you just needed the right heart to hear His voice amidst all the ignorance and error also included in the Old Testament. The true and living God, Jesus' Father, does NOT desire sacrifice, but rather compassion be shown to others even as He is eager to show compassion to all those on the earth.
In contrast to the sacrifice teaching, Jesus said he would give his physical life as a "ransom for many". It must first be acknowledged by the reader that a sacrifice, in a biblical context, means the shedding of blood of an 'innocent' animal in order to pay the moral debt of a guilty person. The Old Testament describes this concept many times in its pages.
The term "sacrifice", in a biblical context does NOT mean the contemporary culture's understanding of the term. One common way the contemporary culture would define sacrifice, would be the giving up of something important in order to achieve or attain to, some goal or purpose. In this sense, Jesus did sacrifice much, as he allowed men to cause him much horrific pain and shame in their attempt to destroy his physical life. But both the Old Testament, as well as the contemporary christian 'scholars', do not define sacrifice in that way. Rather they explicitly define it in an Old Testament context as an atoning, vicarious giving of physical life - specifically needing the spilling of blood - in order to propitiate the wrath of a angry deity.
A ransom, on the other hand, is the paying of something of value to a party holding people captive or hostage in order to secure their release. The sacrifice belief says that God the Father required the blood sacrifice of his innocent Son in order to offer forgiveness to those who were guilty. In contrast, Jesus says that he would lay down his physical life in order to pay some sort of ransom to a third party (Jesus identifies this third party elsewhere as the prince of the world) who was holding people captive whom his Father (and himself) wanted to free. Thus, we see the significant difference between a sacrifice and a ransom.
Glorious, isn't it! Jesus describes the freedom that would come to individuals who wanted to receive the benefits of the ransom, with the following words:
"THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD IS UPON ME, BECAUSE HE ANOINTED ME TO PREACH THE GOSPEL TO THE POOR. HE HAS SENT ME TO PROCLAIM RELEASE TO THE CAPTIVES, AND RECOVERY OF SIGHT TO THE BLIND, TO SET FREE THOSE WHO ARE OPPRESSED, TO PROCLAIM THE FAVORABLE YEAR OF THE LORD." (Luke 4:18-19)
"If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free." (John 8:31-32)
Jesus tells us plainly how to receive the benefit of the ransom he paid in several places including the John 8 passage. He says, "If you continue in My word", we will be made free. Please note he does not say, 'if you believe I paid a sacrifice for you, you will be made free'; nor does he say, 'if you believe things about me (know facts about me), you will be made free'; nor does he say, 'if you believe I died as a sacrifice for your sins you will be set free'; nor does he say, 'if you study the bible and believe the bible you will be made free'; nor does he say, 'if you respond at some evangelistic event you will be made free'. He says none of these things to the shame of the christians who say he does mean that. What Jesus of Nazareth says is that those who "continue in HIS word" will be set free. That is, they will be set free from the bondage of darkness and the key condemning sin (love of the world) that binds all who don't respond to God's love by believing what Jesus says and therefore doing what he says.
Let us take a look at this from another angle.
Let us say there is a dad who has two sons. One son is a rebellious, lazy, uncaring young man who does not seek to honor or help his dad. He spends his time on selfish endeavors and looks to take advantage of his dad's resources, for he does not love his dad much but instead loves himself much more. The other son, however, is faithful and dedicated to his dad. He spends his time both helping his dad and looking for ways to bless his dad and to please his dad, for he loves his dad greatly. Then one day, the dad says to the good son, 'son, I need to beat you mercilessly for the sins of your bad brother'. Let me ask the reader a question. Is that dad acting justly in punishing his innocent son for his guilty son? The answer is obvious to all who are not blinded by religious dogma.
If you answer, 'well, what if the good son wanted to be beaten for the sins of the bad son'? First of all, what good son wants to be beaten for the bad behavior of a mean brother? When Jesus was in the garden of Gethsemane asking for his Father to take the cup away, was that his expression of "wanting" to be beaten for the sins of his rebellious siblings? And when the Son said, "not my will be done, but yours", was that the Son offering to be beaten? If your belief is the Son's love for his bad sibling is the motivation for his being beaten and punished for the bad, then why is he saying, "NOT MY WILL be done, but yours"? In fact, Jesus was NOT desiring to be beaten and mocked and tortured for the sins of others. Nor was his pleading in the garden some strange fear of his Father somehow turning away from him, because then you have the Son not trusting in his Father's faithful love.
The point in the above paragraph is only the lesser point. The greater point is what difference does the desire of the son have to do with whether the dad acts justly or not? Even if the good son wanted, for some truly strange reason, to be beaten for the sins of his bad brother, would the dad be just by beating the good son for the bad?
No, he would not.
And if you say, 'but the good son loved the bad son and wanted the bad son to be blessed', then you are giving the son a greater heart of love than the dad, since the dad did not present that option. Even the scripture says that an innocent person will not be punished for the sins of another.
"Yet you say, 'Why should the son not bear the punishment for the father's iniquity?' When the son has practiced justice and righteousness and has observed all My statutes and done them, he shall surely live. "The person who sins will die. The son will not bear the punishment for the father's iniquity, nor will the father bear the punishment for the son's iniquity; the righteousness of the righteous will be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked will be upon himself. (Ezekiel 18:19-20)
And so, I hope the reader can see the contradictions both within the strange doctrines of propitiary, vicarious atonement; as well as the contradiction with the Ezekiel passage. God does NOT punish the innocent for the guilty. The Father did NOT demand his innocent and faithful Son's blood in order to grant forgiveness to the guilty rebellious sons, for that would be wrong and barbaric, and any rationally thinking person would agree. The Son has made clear that the Father has always desired mercy/compassion be shown to others, and NOT VAIN RELIGIOUS RITUAL SACRIFICE. But then, when did placing one's faith in the religious dogma of men have to do with rational thinking?
The Son's simple message - his good news - which he gave during his first visit was this:
And what did he say?
This is the good news of Jesus of Nazareth. Please notice the emphasized nouns. Jesus is the Way, not doctrine about him, nor 'church' participation, nor bible knowledge, nor moral living, nor adherence to a christian religion's rituals, nor living according to the bible. All of those things are NOT the Way to the Father. In fact, all but one (moral living) will hinder one's attempts to find the narrow Way to the Father. Moral living might or might not hinder one's way along the Way. Followers of Jesus do try to live moral lives, but that is NOT faith. If a christian seeks to live a moral life while not having true faith, then their efforts at morality will be for nothing, and in fact will generally lead to a self-righteousness which will push them even further from God.
The christian gospel of "Jesus came to die for your sins if you just believe in him (really what is meant is 'believe these things about him)" is a deceitful half-truth. Jesus did say that he would give his life as a ransom for many, and so, in that sense he died to pay for something. However, it is not Jesus' act of dying that saves a person. That is only one part of what Jesus did to show his love for his friends, and to show us the Way Home. What saves a person is faith in Jesus and his Father, which faith leads to obedience to Jesus. Jesus did not come to earth to act as a sacrificial substitute to pay for people's sins. Rather, he came to earth to be and show us the Way Home, part of which included paying a ransom to set those free who would receive him. If a person repents of their sin/unbelief after hearing Jesus' Words; and looks to God the Father with true faith to forgive them; then they are forgiven! A child could understand that gospel, and that is the good news that Jesus of Nazareth brought.
The christian leaders then start to pervert things and snow people with their doctrines of propitiary, vicarious atonement. By twisting the truth, they then start to lead people away from the Good shepherd and instead towards themselves. They then set about building their little religious kingdoms of power.
Dear reader, what do YOU believe? If you have eyes to see and ears to hear, you will see a clear difference between the two ways...the way of christianity's mental beliefs about their christ versus a child-like faith in the living God and His Son as the Son himself reveals his Father and himself.
I ask the reader to please turn away from christianity in all its forms, and instead seek to make Jesus your only Way and DO what he says:
"He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal. (John 12:25)
So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple. (Luke 14:33)
"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. "By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:34-35)
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