Saturday, December 22, 2007

Christmas Forgiveness

I have become convinced that the biggest problem in American Christianity is that people who believe the Bible do not believe the Bible. We tout our conservative credentials and the fact that we believe every word of God’s Word, but when it comes down to the way we live our lives, we are practical atheists. When the Bible says to love our enemies, we hold on to our grudges and continue to hate those who hurt us. When the Bible says to rejoice always, we continue to rejoice only when things go right and complain the rest of the time. When the Bible commands us to be holy as God is holy, we continue in carnal and worldly ways without conscience. We don’t believe what we believe.

And I am afraid that many who talk about the “Real Meaning of Christmas” live their lives in such a way as to give the lie to their words. As I said in the last post, the ultimate reality of Christmas is forgiveness of Jesus Christ given to us. That forgiveness given to us requires us to extend it to others.

We looked at the key verse. Ephesians 4:32 says, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another as God in Christ has forgiven you. In the same way God forgave us in Christ, we are to forgive others.

As we look at the Christmas story, we come to see some of the ways that God forgave us in Christ. This forgiveness serves as the model of our forgiveness. Today, let’s reflect on the Real “Real Meaning of Christmas.” Let’s think about how Christ forgave us and how we are to forgive others.

There are a lot of silly ideas about forgiveness. Some people talk about “forgiving and forgetting.” This is a ridiculous standard. True forgiveness comes when you cannot forget what a person has done to you, when what they have done to you is at the front of your brain every moment.

Others seem to think that forgiveness is an emotion. If you forgive someone, you are supposed to find a way to work up warm, fuzzy feelings about that person in spite of what he has done. That is also absurd. Forgiveness takes place in spite of your emotions. It is the action you take regardless of your emotions.

There is no single word in the Greek language that corresponds with our word forgiveness. There are several words that we translate that way. Two are primarily used in the New Testament. The first word, charidzomai, is based on the Greek word for grace. When God forgives us, He does not treat us as our sins deserve, but instead treats us with grace. When we forgive others, we do the same. The second word, aphiemi, refers to setting the guilty free. We are guilty of sin and deserving of death, but God in His grace sets us free from the penalty of our sin. When we forgive, we release others from the debt their sin has created, we set them free.

We will now examine the Christmas story and draw some principles about forgiveness from it. There are four specific truths I would like you to see from the story of the birth of Christ that illustrates principles of forgiveness.

1) God Took the First Step

God did not sit on His heavenly throne and wait for human beings to come to Him. He took the first step. He sent Christ into a dark world and shone the light of grace. There were no great prayer meetings calling forth the Messiah, no “Committee to Hasten the Messiah’s Coming” at work in Israel. God took the first step.

To forgive others “as God forgave us” we must be people who take the initiative, who take the first step. Who is responsible to take the first step in reconciling a broken relationship? Whoever wants to be obedient and live under the blessing of God. If I want that free flow of God’s grace, I must take the first step, as Christ did in Bethlehem.

2) God Gave Extravagantly

This one hurts a little after spending the day Christmas shopping with my family. But forgiveness is grace and grace is giving. It is expensive. God gave His grace extravagantly to a world in need, in spiritual darkness. He sent Jesus to people who did not deserve him, who would not appreciate him, who would abuse, even crucify him. But God gave His only son, the most extravagant gift in the history, without regard to how the world would receive that gift. To people that deserved death and hell, He gave.

Christmas cannot be celebrated cheaply. Forgiveness is never cheap. It cost the Father everything. When you forgive another person, it is a supreme act of sacrifice and love. It is extravagant and costly. It will never be easy to give the gift of grace to someone who has sinned against you, but as God forgave you in Christ, so you are to forgive others.

3) God Took the Pain

The only way God could forgive us is if His Son bore our sins. God experienced pain. Jesus experienced pain. The Manger, which led to the Cross, was a thing of great pain and hurt. But Jesus endured the pain of the cross for us.

If God’s forgiveness to us is painful, our forgiveness to others will also be painful. Jesus suffered for the forgiveness of my sins. Sometimes, I have to suffer for the sins of others. It is called redemptive suffering. For the spiritual good of another, I willingly endure pain and hurt. I accept the weight of the wrongs done to me so that this person who has sinned can experience the blessing of God.

Does it sound crazy? It is. But it is the way God forgave us in Christ, and so it is the way we must forgive others.

4) God Set Us Free

When we are forgiven, we are relieved of the debt created by our sin. When we forgive, we release the other of the debt they owe us. We give up attempts at revenge and do not demand repayment.

But there is a positive side to this. When we are forgiven, we are set free. We are made alive in Christ and given freedom. It is power of Christ’s forgiveness that changes our lives. There is nothing more powerful than the love of Christ for undeserving sinners.

When you forgive someone else, you release not only the person from the sin, you release the power of God in your life and in the life of the person you forgive. There is nothing more powerful on earth that forgiveness.

We moan that we do not see the power of God, that we do not experience more victory and power in our lives. Maybe if we would release His forgiveness through us into the lives of those around us, we would see more of the mighty power of God at work.

May the Spirit of Christmas move in your spirit to release every grudge that hinders your walk, to heal every broken relationship that dams the flow of His grace and blessing, and to release the power of God’s love and forgiveness in a world that is still darkened by sin.

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