This week's Bible Study - December 13, 2015
Freed by God's Forgiveness
Quotes of the Week:
When you forgive, you in no way change the past - but you sure do change the future.
What does it mean to be freed? Freedom is such a great thing, but it is so hard for many people to handle. Some people would seem to rather have their entire lives governed by someone else. I have heard that there are some who have spent a lot of time in prison that find it harder to live on the outside than on the inside. Have you ever wondered why that is? In some ways, prison life may be what they have gotten comfortable with and have become accustomed to. Doesn't this describe many people today? They may never have set a foot inside of a prison, but they are enslaved to their past, a circumstance in their present or any of a number of things.
Another way that freedom can be problematic for some is for kids who are first out from under the control of their parents. Until that time, decisions were largely made for them. They may have had regular meals at home, a secure place to sleep, a curfew to help keep them from getting into too much trouble and so forth. However, when they are free of all of those "burdensome" constraints, there is a freedom that many do not quite know how to handle. Nobody is watching to see that they eat the right foods. Nobody is setting a curfew for them (unless it is at a college). Nobody questions their choices of friends. They are pretty much free to do as they want, as long as they can financially afford it. That's another area where freedom can be dangerous. What is it about credit card companies that want to give 'free' credit cards to kids graduating from high school? That is only asking for problems, as many can attest to.
Even with all the potential problems that come with freedom, I believe that most of us would choose to live freely, as opposed to being enslaved in a country or prison, or to an individual. The question that people need to answer, then, is how do we become freed from our past and the guilt and shame that may accompany it? Even many believers are still somehow tied to something that they did at some point in the past, and never quite seem to be able to get over it. This is where forgiveness comes into play. We all need forgiveness. We all have wronged someone else at some point in our life. Some people use forgiveness or lack thereof, as a weapon against others. They put some event in their back pocket, so that they can easily bring it back up and harm the other person. It's as if a friend of Superman keeps some Kryptonite in his back pocket, so that Superman 'knows' his place! Surely, you can think of a time when you've used 'kryptonite' on someone else (as if that would make you feel better) and you've had it used on you (and you know how rotten that feels)!
As much as we fail others, and others fail us, we all fail God more. Just think about it. He knows your every thought. What if your best friend or parent or child or boss or spouse knew your every thought? He knows your motives, your actions, your deeds and everything about you. Others only know what they can see (although many of us seem to think we can always understand others' motives and intentions!), but God truly knows every thought you have had. And, unlike other humans, who also fail, God is perfect and He is Holy. Even on our best day, we are far from holy. When we come to that realization, it is hard to imagine how God can ever forgive any of us (especially over and over), but He does.
On the other hand, we see others who have sinned 'big time'. There sin may have been high profile. It may have been in the papers and on TV, and known by many people. We often will look at that "high scoring" sin with disgust, because we know that our sins are minor in comparison. Have we forgotten that in God's eyes, sin is sin? Of course, some sin carries with it more earthly consequences, but a little sin and a big sin are both sin. Any sin is enough to create a chasm between any of us and God, if we were aiming for perfection. The long and short of it is that we all need forgiveness, and we need it on a continual basis, in order to have a vibrant relationship with God. And, in our daily lives around others, forgiveness (both given and received) is needed to for a relationship to exist and thrive.
This lesson will focus on the forgiveness offered by God, but as always, let God speak to you in your own life and ask yourself if you have a problem with forgiveness. How many of us are nursing wounds of our past (recent or distant) because of a lack of forgiveness? We are not called to accept the forgiveness that God gives, but withhold the same from others. If the Spirit speaks to you, make sure you listen.
Jesus, as He often did, appeared in the temple courts, teaching others. He was the greatest teacher that people had ever heard, and if He were here today, it would be the same. Sadly, many recognize Jesus as a great teacher, but nothing more. The people of His day were also aware of the many miracles that He had done and the power that He had over disease and demons. Jesus was certainly quite the draw. He intrigued many people, and they were amazed not only that He taught with authority, but that He sat down with the people and taught. Most of the teachers in the temple would stand in front of their students, showing an air of authority, while Jesus taught with authority in His teaching.
Among the crowd were teachers of the law and Pharisees who tended to follow Jesus, primarily looking for ways to trip him up. In some ways, they could be equivalent to that show TMZ, tracking celebrities in an attempt to paint them in a bad light. It is also indicative of the media of our day, looking for something said, in or out of context, to trip up a "would be" politician. These teachers of the law knew what the Scriptures said, but they excelled in a pick 'n choose fashion, using whatever they knew would to be to their advantage, while avoiding other passages. They thought that they knew enough to put Jesus into an impossible situation. They brought before Jesus, a woman caught in adultery. (You might have to wonder how they caught her). They knew that adultery was a sin punishable by death, and they knew that Jesus knew the Scriptures. I can't even begin to imagine the amount of shame that she felt. Can you imagine how you would feel if, when you had sinned, you were brought out in front of the crowd to be made as an example? Perhaps some of you know this feeling. It's not good, is it?
It was obvious that they cared little to none for this lady - she was only a pawn they used to make a point. Unfortunately, many Christians fall into the same trap, considering a cause more important than people. How many times do we take such a stand against something that we know is wrong, but in doing so, show that we care little, if at all for the people who are caught up in it? Again, we all will sin and none of us would want to be treated that way. In some respects, we can certainly understand why some people want nothing to do with believers, and by our actions, we may push people further and further from the kingdom of God. There will come times when we will need to take a stance and oppose what we need to oppose, but in doing so, we should not treat people as trash.
The teachers knew that the teaching of Moses was that anyone who was caught in adultery was to be stoned. They knew that they were in line with the Scripture and they saw this as a perfect opportunity to set a trap for Jesus. If Jesus agreed and let the woman be stoned, people would question His compassion. If Jesus said that the woman should be let go, He would not be in line with the words of the Scripture. It would seem that Jesus was between the proverbial rock and a hard place.
The Jewish leaders were anxious to convict the lady. They were unwilling to listen to any excuse from the lady, but were quick to use her as an example. Again, we are often like these leaders, aren't we? There are situations and circumstances in life where we don't understand everything or maybe hardly anything at all about what is going on, but we find ourselves quick to be judge and jury. Jesus, on the other hand, took another approach. He bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. We don't know what He wrote, but Jesus, being all knowing, knew all about these leaders. Jesus stood up and said "Let any of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her." Do you think that in His writing, perhaps He called them out by name, along with sin that was in their lives? We are not told, but something He wrote did convict them.
Jesus never denied the guilt of the woman. She had sinned and that much was well known. However, He was likely asking the accusers to ponder their own situation and their own sin. This is a key point for us to remember when those around us have sinned. Before we rush to judgment; before we go grab the stones to start throwing at them, we need to remember who we are. I've yet to meet a person who has achieved perfection and does not deal with sin anymore in their lives. On the other hand, we seldom find anybody that does not want to freely judge other people. How sad we can be.
Jesus stopped down and wrote some more, and slowly, one by one, the detractors went away. It was the older ones who left first, likely because they had lived a life and had come to know that we all fail. Often, we see the younger believers, full of passion, assured that they would never fall. I have seen some act as if they are welding an ax, swinging at anybody who would dare to sin in life. They are quick to point fingers when others fail, assuming that they would never ever have the same thing happen to them. They may be right, but over the course of life, there are many distractions that hit each of us personally, helping us to see that perhaps we are not as strong as we once thought we were. As they had all left, Jesus was left standing with the woman.
The woman had to wonder what was going to happen. She had sinned and it was obvious - she didn't even try to deny her sin. She had heard enough to know what the 'church answer' was supposed to be. According to the written Law of the Old Testament, she was supposed to die. However, Jesus showed tremendous mercy and love to this woman. In fact, throughout Scripture, only when Jesus turned the tables in the temple did Jesus deal harshly with someone directly. Certainly, He had His run-ins with the Pharisees, but even then, He was full of grace.
Jesus asked the woman where those who condemned her were. She said that none were there. The only valid accuser would be Jesus, but He didn't condemn her. At the same time, we see that Jesus didn't condone her behavior. Jesus said, "Neither do I condemn you - Go now and leave your life of sin". He forgave her when she didn't rightly deserve forgiveness and told her to leave her life of sin. He gave her another chance, which is what we all will need and have been given through Christ.
Even if we thought we were able to be perfect in our lives, we all will encounter those who sin. And, actually, we only need to look in the mirror to see a sinner.
How do you respond when someone has sinned? Do you avoid those people? Do you condemn those people? Do you gossip about those people? As stated before, we are often guilty of acting very ugly to those who have the most acute, present need of forgiveness. It occurs to me that we often try and sanitize our churches and give the perception that only perfect people show up each week. What a horrible testimony to give to a world that sincerely needs Jesus! That image is so far from the truth. Each Sunday, there are folks who are hurting and in need of forgiveness within the walls of our churches. Some of these are still ashamed of their past sins and don't feel worthy to even be in church, and then there are people who are actively engaged in intentional sin in some aspect of their life and think they have it well hidden and feel no remorse about their choices. A better picture of the church would be that of a hospital - where sick come for healing, rather than a hall of Olympic caliber athletes. We all are sinners and we should not be the ones casting stones because someone else sins differently than we do. How do you respond when you have sinned? Do take that sin before God and repent of it? Do you carry it with you as a weight that you will always be judged for? Or do you have a nonchalant attitude about your sin, but a very legalistic attitude about everyone else's? As Christians, we are all forgiven. Just like the woman caught in adultery, we should feel her shame as we stand before Christ. However, just like this woman, we have been forgiven through the blood of Christ. He has forgiven us and told us to go and sin no more. Unfortunately, we will find ourselves asking for forgiveness over and over and over again. We'd so like to get to that point where sin is no longer present in our lives, but it will never happen this side of eernity.
As believers, we know of and are thankful for the forgiveness that we have in Christ, but sometimes we find ourselves unwilling to forgive others of the sin(s) they have committed. The inability to forgive leads to a bitterness that can trip up any of us so it's something we should take very seriously. However, there are two sides to the coin of forgiveness. There is the act of forgiving and there is the hope of reconciliation with the one who hurt us. These two sides are not synonymous with each other. In other words, forgiveness can happen without reconciliation occurring. We often find situations where someone is telling another person that they aren't being 'forgiving' because they won't reconcile with them (or the one who sinned against you). So, who's right in this situation? Are you truly being 'unforgiving' if you won't offer reconciliation as well as forgiveness?
The answer is…..it depends (I know - you love that answer - right?) Let me reiterate. Forgiveness and reconciliation are not the same thing. I can forgive someone, but for very valid and healthy reasons, refuse to be reconciled to them. It doesn't mean I can't be in their presence, or that I can't be cordial when I am around them. However, it also doesn't mean that I have to allow them unfettered access to my life. In other instances, where crimes have been committed, it may be necessary for a person to never again be around the one who committed the crime; and yet, they can have forgiven that person. One act doesn't negate the other. Some people have a very difficult time understanding that these two circumstances can exist in agreement with biblical forgiveness.
Now, on the flip side. In some cases, one may not want to be around someone who sinned against them because they are withholding forgiveness from the other person and being around them reminds them of that and makes them uncomfortable. Or maybe they are still really mad and hurt and aren't at a place where they can truly forgive. I don't know you or your circumstances, but God does. So if somebody suggests that you have not offered forgiveness to a person, take it to God and ask Him to reveal the truth to you. If He confirms an unforgiving heart, then take the actions you need to take to make forgiveness possible. However, if He confirms that you have forgiven, but have set boundaries in place that preclude reconciliation - stick to your guns. If someone keeps insisting that you are withholding forgiveness when you know you aren't, then pray for that person to see the truth.
One last point on forgiveness and that is that it is not contingent upon the one who hurt us ever saying they are sorry. The act of forgiving is for us - not the other person. However, how much better might a situation be if the one who did wrong would apologize? It might make the possibility of reconciliation possible, but then again, maybe it won't. As a believer, we should be compelled to apologize if we know we have hurt someone else. When we know we've done wrong, and refuse to acknowledge it, we are lying by denying what we've done, and lying is a sin. Sin grieves the Holy Spirit and when we grieve the Spirit it interferes with our communion with God. So, if you know (and we don't always know we've hurt someone) but when you do know, and you ignore what you've done and the consequences of those actions on other people, don't delude yourself into believing that you are in a right relationship with God. In this case, all you've really done is numb yourself to the conviction of your soul in regards to that matter and you have just become Pharisee number one!
Regardless of your perceived need to forgive or find forgiveness from another person, you and I will always have a need for forgiveness from God. We have all failed God and we stand condemned. You and I are essentially the woman who committed adultery, although our sin may be much different. Jesus still stands by our side and freely offers forgiveness. Find the freedom that can only be found in Christ.
As I was writing this lesson, one of my favorite songs by once my favorite Christian singer, Rich Mullins, came to mind. "We are not as strong as we think we are".
Hopefully you enjoy listening to it. Click Here!