Posts

Dead to sin, Alive to God. Part 6

Put off bitterness. Put on forgiveness.

James F. Borgwardt

Victor Hugo’s novel Les Miserables is a tale of how an act of grace dramatically changed a man from a selfish criminal to a fine gentleman and a leader in society. The main character Jean Valjean had been imprisoned for 5 years for stealing bread and served another 13 years for failed attempts at escape. When he was finally freed, he carried the label of an ex-con and received help from no one.

Finally a bishop had mercy on him and gave him lodging. A hardened Valjean, however, left his host’s home in the middle of the night and stole the man’s silverware. Caught by police, he was brought before the man from whom he had stolen. The ex-con expected a sharp rebuke and a return to prison.

The bishop rebuked his overnight guest, but not for stealing the silverware. He reproved him for forgetting to take the candlesticks too! He pressed no charges. He only told Valjean to use these gifts to make a good man of himself. The arresting officers were shocked but not as much as the ex-convict. Overwhelmed by this other man’s gracious forgiveness, Valjean was changed. He began to live a very different life.

FORGIVENESS AS GOOD SCIENCE

Such a change is not news to Christians, of course. But it’s fascinating to notice how the power of forgiveness is being promoted in other circles.

One of the most prolific authors on forgiveness is Dr. Robert D. Enright, professor and president of the International Forgiveness Institute at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. He has been leading a dramatic increase in the study of forgiveness among social scientists over the past two decades. Time magazine has called him “the forgiveness trailblazer.” I presume that means in scientific and academic circles. We know another forgiveness Trailblazer.

Reading any of his many books on forgiveness can prove helpful for people wanting to improve interpersonal relationships. In writing dozens of books and papers on forgiveness and its effects, he uses plenty of Christian references. It would be hard not to. But if he is a Christian, he doesn’t present himself that way.

After careful study, he observes that forgiveness clearly brings many personal benefits. Physiologically, it lowers the forgiver’s blood pressure. Emotionally, it releases the forgiver from anger and resentment. Socially, it improves the forgiver’s other relationships. Forgiveness betters the lives of individuals and even communities.

Recognize, however, that non-Christians come to this conclusion from a different perspective than Christians do. Following a postmodern mindset, their reasoning is simple: If it makes my life better, I’ll try it. Christians approach it the other way around. It’s true, therefore it must work.

HIS FORGIVENESS CHANGES US

It’s wonderful that social scientists and psychologists have discovered the many personal benefits to being a forgiver. But Christians have a higher motivation to forgive others than serving oneself. We want to glorify God, follow the example of Jesus, and serve others in the way we live. Knowing Jesus has saved us through his life, death, and resurrection, we become willing conduits of his grace to others. A forgiven heart is a forgiving heart, and we pray, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”

We’ve been considering the apostle Paul’s guidance for Christian living from Ephesians chapter 4. He first directed us to draw on the power of our baptism and our new identity in Christ: “Put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24).

He then tells us how putting off the old self and putting on the new self affects our behavior. This issue we consider putting off bitterness and putting on forgiveness: “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:31,32).

WHAT DOES FORGIVENESS LOOK LIKE?

God’s command for Christians to forgive is clear. Yet people don’t always understand what forgiveness is. It may be most helpful to remember what forgiveness isn’t. Forgiveness is not tolerating injustice. Christians can protect themselves from injustice, perhaps even press charges against a criminal. Sometimes justice comes. Sometimes it doesn’t. Either way, we still forgive the wrong that was done.

Forgiveness is not excusing. The forgiver doesn’t say, “No harm done.” There was harm done. The other person is to blame. To forgive is to recognize that the offense cost something. If a child hits a baseball through the living room window, there’s a real cost to replace the window. If the father forgives his son, he’s saying that he’ll absorb the cost. He’ll assume the debt.

Forgiveness is not necessarily reconciliation. God commands we show active kindness to the other person, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the forgiver has to restore the relationship to what it was before. While God commands us to love and forgive, he doesn’t command us to act as though nothing has happened. The sin is forgiven, but the relationship may never be the same again. It can be restored, but sometimes only over time.

Forgiveness is also not forgetting. At least not in the way we typically think of forgetting—the erasing of something from our memory. When the Bible says that God “remembers [your] sin no more” (Jeremiah 31:34), it’s not talking about him forgetting in the same way we do when we misplace our car keys. God is omniscient, after all. And when he remembers something, it doesn’t mean that it had somehow slipped his mind for a time. When Exodus chapter 2 says that God remembered the promises he made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob after their descendants spent four hundred years in Egypt, it means that he would now act upon his promises. In the same way, when the all-knowing God forgets something, he is simply choosing not to act upon it. So when he says, “[I] will remember their sins no more,” what he’s saying is, “I will act toward sinners as if they had never sinned.”

When we imitate God by “forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you,” we may still have the offense somewhere in our memory banks. But we’ve thrown away the tally sheet. Love “keeps no record of wrongs” (1 Corinthians 13:5).

The ultimate teacher of forgiveness is, of course, Jesus. The deeper we study his Word, soak up his grace, and contemplate the depth of our own forgiveness, the more we’ll reflect his forgiving heart and live our lives for God.

In this way we’ll carry out his will for Christian living, just as he prayed for us to his heavenly Father: “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17).

James Borgwardt is pastor at Redeemer, Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.

This is the final article in a six-part series on sanctification and good works.

 

SUBMIT YOUR STORY

Do you have a manuscript, idea, or story from your own life you’d like to share for use in Forward in Christ or on wels.net? Use our online form to share it to our editorial office for consideration.

SUBSCRIBE TO FORWARD IN CHRIST

Get inspirational stories, spiritual help, and synod news from  Forward in Christ every month. Print and digital subscriptions are available from Northwestern Publishing House.

 

Author: James F. Borgwardt
Volume 102, Number 11
Issue: November 2015

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2021
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

 

Dead to sin. Alive to God: Part 4

Instead of your old self rationalizing reasons not to give, let your new self give to God first, trusting that he’ll take care of you.

James F. Borgwardt

“God always pays for what he orders,” a generous member once told me. He was irritated when he’d hear couples limiting or delaying having children because of finances. He related a time much earlier in his life when money was tight and his wife was expecting yet another baby. They had continued to tithe their income, a discipline learned from his father. They trusted that God would provide. And God certainly did.

“They need my money more than I do.” The poorest woman I’ve ever known said this to me as she gave her money away. You’d be surprised at what little income she lived on. I occasionally ate a fast food lunch with her. More than once she left a $5 tip with a thank-you card for an elderly “busboy” cleaning the tables. Anyone would argue that she needed the cash more than the worker did. But even with her limited means she lived out Jesus’ words, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).

There’s no snappy quote from my parents about giving. Their giving lessons were caught more than taught. As a kid, I peeked a couple times at the number they wrote on their regular offering checks. I was astounded! How did my parents—a pastor and a part-time teacher—cover housing and food costs for a family of eight, pay for high school expenses and most of six college tuitions, and still have that much left to give to the Lord? Because they didn’t give to God what was left over. They gave generously to the Lord first—before mortgage, groceries, tuition, and everything else—and God provided the rest.

They knew well Jesus’ words, “Seek first [your heavenly Father’s] kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33). Jesus was true to his word. We lacked nothing growing up in the ’70s (except good fashion sense).

YOUR OLD SELF HAMPERS GIVING

I need these giving lessons from others, because trust, generosity, and priority aren’t part of my sinful nature. I was born selfish, and that old self still continues to express himself through multiple self-destructive personalities:

He’s a control-freak. He insists on running my life. He worries and frets about every little detail outside his control, showing his utter lack of trust that God will provide.

He’s a miser. He lives a delusion that I deserve all the financial blessings in my life. His tight-fisted grip on money squeezes generosity out of my life.

He’s a thief. He wants to rob God by grabbing the best for himself and leaving only the leftover scraps for work in God’s kingdom.

You have to call your sinful nature what it is: your old self. And your old self, like mine, will always remain an enemy of God that lives within.

But there’s a new self. God has given you freedom from your sin and your sinful nature by giving you his Son Jesus. In fact, the freedom Jesus gives from your old self is so complete, you can describe your salvation in the past, present, and future.

• Long ago, he saved you from the punishment of your sins when he transferred them to his Son who suffered the divine penalty for you.

• Daily, he saves you from the power of sin when you drown your old self in the waters of your baptism by repentance and gives you a new self.

• Ultimately, he will save you when your old self will be forever buried in the dirt of your grave.

It’s that second point that refers to your life of good works and how you intentionally live as one dead to sin and alive to God. Until your old self is buried for good, you have to daily turn from him and cling to God’s forgiveness in Christ. That’s how your new self asserts itself. Your new self is your true identity before God

YOUR NEW SELF REJOICES IN GENEROUS GIVING

Some complain that Christianity is all about giving. Go ahead and agree with them! Giving is the central message of the Bible: “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son” (John 3:16). “The gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32).

In our churches, you’ll always hear about God’s giving to you. Occasionally, you’ll even hear about your giving to him.

One message I hope you don’t hear is this popular excuse not to give: “Some people don’t have any money to give, but they can give their time instead.” That may be true for a few people in this world, but unless you’re reading this magazine from your cardboard box shelter in the woods, it’s not true of you. If Jesus applauded the faith of the widow who gave her last two coins (Mark 12:41-44), he rejoices in your giving too.

Instead of your old self rationalizing reasons not to give, let your new self take these words of the apostle Paul to heart: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (ESV). This passage is often quoted by athletes. But Paul’s not talking about playing basketball. Read all of Philippians chapter 4 and you’ll see he’s speaking of generous giving and contented living. So quote the passage if you must when you lace up your shoes. Far better, repeat it when you fill out your offering envelope: “I can give to God first and trust he’ll take care of me. I can give 10 percent or even more to God’s kingdom, because . . . ‘I can do all things through him who strengthens me.’ ”

Yes, Christian, you can, because of the promise that Paul shared next: “And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).

And as you raise your children to live their own life of good works, teach them the right way to give: first God’s kingdom, then your own. And then be ready for the lessons your kids will teach you.

One of my most memorable lessons on giving occurred in our family kitchen. It came from one of my young children at a time when our congregation was going through a stewardship appeal that focused on God’s giving grace to us. Our son knew the riches he has in Christ, and he wanted to respond. He was eager to be part of what the church does—bringing the gospel to more souls. So he asked us how he could express all this with the little money he had. His simple question reminded me that all this is done from a joyful heart.

“Can I give too?”

Funny. He was waiting on my answer, not realizing he was the one teaching the lesson.

James Borgwardt is pastor at Redeemer, Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.

This is the fourth article in a six-part series on sanctification and good works.

 

 

SUBMIT YOUR STORY

Do you have a manuscript, idea, or story from your own life you’d like to share for use in Forward in Christ or on wels.net? Use our online form to share it to our editorial office for consideration.

SUBSCRIBE TO FORWARD IN CHRIST

Get inspirational stories, spiritual help, and synod news from  Forward in Christ every month. Print and digital subscriptions are available from Northwestern Publishing House.

 

Author: James F. Borgwardt
Volume 102, Number 09
Issue: September 2015

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2021
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us