I’m into my third decade as a pastor now. Over the years I have met people—good people who know the Lord—yet they have no problem telling me there is someone they know, someone with whom they have had a relationship in the past and now, because of something they did, they said, or they caused and now they cannot forgive them, ever.
There is a huge difference between what we know and how we feel, our responses to circumstances. What we know is what is reality. Does reality change? It certainly does. Yet the changes to reality are much slower and more deliberate. Interestingly, the root of “reality” is “real.”
So, does this mean that what we “feel” should be automatically discounted and disparaged? Not at all. Feelings are always a response; a response to people, to circumstances and even to thoughts—ours mostly. Unfortunately, feelings are ephemeral, they change, have no solidity (or reality) and how we “feel” often soon changes as soon as the pizza we have eaten is digested.
I am not surprised when those who do not have a relationship with God through Christ do not forgive. People who are lost or pagan have not been “recreated” as Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:17. They are acting according to their created order; they are not less than believers because believers were once just like them.
Yet believers in Christ are to look like Christ and act like Him! Paul makes it very clear that “those whom He [God] foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son” (Romans 8:29, ESV). What God foreknows and predestined is reality; it is what is real.
Of course, those who are more attentive and observant immediately realize there are many people who profess Christ as their Lord and yet they do not either “look” or “act” like Christ. How can this be if the reality is that God has made us to look like Christ?
The same God who made us to look like His Son also gave those He made this way true freedom and will. Those who do not forgive have made the choice to purposely disobey and to not forgive!
Paul in Colossians 3:13 commands, “as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive.” Paul informs the Ephesians in Ephesians 4:32 that forgiveness is a mark, is actually evidence that we are actually saved. “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
In Luke 6:37-38 is perhaps one of the most often misunderstood, misapplied and misquoted verses in all of the New Testament. There Jesus lays out three parallel concepts which make it crystal clear how God applies justice in this world: “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven…For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”
People who are judgmental will themselves face judgment. People who are constantly condemning, will themselves face condemnation. People who forgive will find forgiveness. The way we act and live will be the “measure,” the means by which our lives will be measured and judged by God.
Oh, and try not to oh-so-quickly state, “Hey, this has nothing to do with salvation!” You are correct; it does not. Yet this does apply to our eternal reward as believers! I know some people who tell me how much they love Jesus, how long they have been in church and all they do for people, yet they are often cranky, mean-spirited, angry and demonstrate very little of Jesus in their life. God will make sure they are rewarded accordingly.
There are people who have literally lost brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers and other family because of the actions of an individual. I’ve heard them tell me they “will never forgive that person.” The longer I know the Lord, the more I understand they are destroying their rewards and robbing themselves of blessings in the here and now.
Who do we think we are as believers when we make such statements? God’s One and Only Son paid for our sin, and then the Father because of that payment has forgiven us. Do we actually think we are “bigger” or more important than God? I’ve actually had people say, “God has blessed me the way I am.” Okay, but how much more could he have blessed you if you were obedient to Him?
In my life, Me, Myself and I are the most self-centered, often evil and selfish persons I know; I know them because I am them! As I age, and as I mature in my relationship with Christ, I am more and more amazed that God the Father has forgiven me and especially Jesus Christ has also forgiven me. Especially Jesus; as my Advocate, He knows all of my Issues whereas the Father only sees Jesus!
Praise God! Because I am forgiven, I can now forgive!
Wanting is an interesting concept. First, it’s emotionally driven; what I want today may be completely different from what I want tomorrow—or even in ten minutes. Out of control “wanting” is incredibly destructive. I remember back in the seventies, a company called Household Finance used to have a commercial that had a tag-line in it saying, “When you want something long enough, it can become a need.”
Uncontrolled “wants” can weaken our will. Yet a mature person has the ability to live a life which constantly strengthens their will. This means we must deny our wants: no piece of cake, no new car, not purchasing something which cannot be paid for this month, and on. It is the denial of our wants which strengthens our will.
For those of us who know Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, the most striking example of the “want vs. will” battle is found in theGospel of Luke 22:39-46. In this passage, we see Jesus Christ, the Son of God—who is God—struggling in the Garden of Gethsemane with His approaching death as He prayed to the Father.
Almost everyone who has ever attended church, Sunday School or even Vacation Bible School as a child is familiar with the events of this story. Jesus, who was fully man and yet also fully God, experienced the human condition to its fullest extent. “Sure, He experienced everything every human experiences!” No, that’s inaccurate.
Far too often, we are tempted with something (think a “want” here) and we fail and give in to the “want.” Jesus Christ, coming as the second Adam and being Virgin Born so He would be able to demonstrate what perfection really is (Adam and Eve were created perfect, yet because they sinned, we do not know what perfection is through the human condition), experiences every temptation just as every human does, yet He—Jesus—experiences temptation to the full and He defeats and overcomes it!
Who do you want to tell you what it’s like to run a marathon? The guy who starts and then quits half-way through the race (“You cannot believe how brutal a marathon is!”), or the guy who starts, finishes and wins the race (“Yeah, it was brutal, but the winning is incredible!”)?
So, Jesus Christ, in the Garden of Gethsemane, struggled with what He wanted and the will of God. No one who is sane would want to die the death of crucifixion at the hands of the Romans. There in the garden His prayers were so intense that Luke records, “And being in agony He prayed more earnestly; and His sweat became like great drops of blood falling to the ground” (Luke 22:44).
Now here, I must point out a not-so-minor peeve of mine. Jesus did not sweat drops of blood! I cannot count the number of teachers and pastors who claim He did. I have even heard long medical lectures about how if anyone ever does sweat drops of blood, then their death is immanent. First, Luke clearly stated “His sweat became like great drops of blood.” This is a simile, an extremely useful literary tool which enables the reader to have greater sensory appreciation for the event they are reading.
Second, and perhaps even more important, if He had sweat blood then His sacrificial death would have been unacceptable. The sacrifice had to be perfect in order to offer it to the Lord. Under the Levitical code, all sacrifices must be of the “firstfruits”—the best of the best and without any blemish.
If you’ve ever been Savannah, Georgia in the summer—or any other location where the heat and humidity are above ninety degrees and ninety percentile, our sweat is like we are sweating blood because of the increased salinity of our perspiration which in turn, increases the viscosity of our sweat. But I digress….
What we are witnessing in Christ’s struggle in the Garden is His struggle between His want and His will—and who alive has not struggled like this? There are times when even in our fallen selves we have, by God’s grace, overcome our desires and our wants and have exercised our will to not give in to the temptation we are facing.
Yet allow me to point something out for our further consideration: as God, Jesus could have exercised His will—yet he chose not to! Jesus Christ while asking for this “cup” of torment to be removed by the Heavenly Father, this suffering Jesus as God submitted Himself as a man to the Father’s will even though as God, He could have exercised His will as well and avoided the Cross.
The love God demonstrated on the Cross—the Father’s giving of His Son to die and the Son’s giving of His own life—was not a choice made at the last moment; this was a willful choice made in eternity past for Jesus to die in my place and in yours. Jesus did not want to die. Jesus, because of the love of the Father, Son and Spirit, made the choice in eternity past to demonstrate how much God loves us so we have the opportunity to live with Him forever.
If we desire the ability to exercise more “will” and less want, we too must make our choices now. Not in the moment of “want.”