I was reading an English essay on the subject of forgiveness by one of my students. He started writing about Jesus, and it was very rare that I have students cite Jesus in this English class at a secular community college.
You would think that I would be excited to see a student writing about the Love of my life, Jesus. But as I read, I was saddened–deeply saddened. This student is a graduate of a bible college of one of the largest evangelical denominations in the world. What saddened me was that he graduated without understanding the gospel.
In the essay, the student stated that Christianity teaches Jesus provides an ultimatum to people: unless you forgive you will not be forgiven and will not qualify for heaven (Matthew 6:15).
Then the student went on to write that this truth is also taught in the major religions. He also talked about the golden rule, doing unto others as you would have them do to you, which some refer to as karma.
I put a response to this student and, now, to anyone else Christian or not, who has never heard the gospel.
The gospel is not forgiveness, i.e. if you forgive, then God will forgive you. The gospel is forgiven-ness, i.e. God has already forgiven you in Christ, now that you are free you can extend that same forgiven-ness to others. Abba, Jesus and Holy Spirit have already forgiven everyone of everything, not based on anyone’s forgiveness, repentance, deeds, faith or anything else. They did this overflowing from Their graceful love. They did it out of who They are.
It may seem like a contradiction for Jesus to say, “But if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your heavenly father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6: 15) and then for Paul–a follower of Jesus–to say these statements:
“And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:13-14).
“Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (Colossians 3:13).
“and be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:32).
So which is it, karma (if you do this, you get that) or grace (God has done this for you already before you did that, whether it was good or bad)?
We must understand that Jesus was teaching the Jews up to the point of the complete fulfillment of the law on the cross. He was driving them to see the extreme that they would have to go to in order to full fill their karma driven do-it-yourself religion (see Mt. 5:21-48). He was showing their need for the Messiah, Saviour, Jesus.
Jesus fulfilled forgiveness on the cross for all of us, specifically when we were dead in our sins and trespasses. At that point, He said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).
I have talked with Christians of many different denominations that believe that the gospel is merely of forgiveness, i.e. if you forgive, then God will forgive you. Many of these same people have told me of their struggle to forgive others–sometimes doing it out of fear, “If I don’t forgive, I am going to hell!” The issue is their view of God. They believe God is withholding something from them, conditional on their actions. They become like full of contradictions. They perform to get something from God. And they become the image and likeness of their view of God and highest value, withholding forgiveness until others act in a forgiving or repentant manner.
This is Christians simply worshiping, the universal god of karma. All the world’s religions can boast a common golden rule, but also can boast the universal breaking of it. There is always an escape clause–these people, my enemies, are not forgiven by God because they do not forgive.
The gospel is not merely, forgiveness. The gospel is forgiven-ness. God has forgiven you and everyone else of everything, so how can you or anyone not extend it to everyone else.
The Christian God did not merely give forgiveness, He for-gave it. What does this mean, He for-gave it? He gave this be-FORe creation, in the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world (1 Peter 1:20, Revelation 13:8). God for-gave us before we were born. God forgave us, because that is who Abba, Jesus and Holy Spirit is, the Forgiver. God did, does and will do what/who He is–I Am who I Am, the Forgiver!
If this is your first time reading or hearing the gospel, simply give thanks to Abba Father, Jesus Christ and Holy Spirit for this gift of forgiven-ness. Then enjoy your forgiven-ness and others forgiven-ness with you.
All is forgiven all!