Quit Forgiving

Many seem to think that God was unable to forgive us until the murder of Jesus. Indeed, this is how many understand words like “holiness,” “righteousness,” and “justice” that we find in the scriptures – that forgiveness requires blood. They might be thinking of Hebrews 9:22 – “Indeed, under the Law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.”

Notice, however, that this holds only “under the Law.” Consider also that God has never been under the Law.

If we say God couldn’t forgive people until Jesus paid for their sins with blood, we limit him by something outside himself. If we say he could but didn’t, he’s less forgiving than he has commanded us to be.

Jesus opposed the prevailing understanding of limited forgiveness and taught to forgive always, no strings attached (Matthew 18:21-22). This is in contrast to the Law, which taught punishment and revenge, “an eye for an eye.” If God had to punish before being able to forgive, he would be the worst at forgiving. Further, if God will remain eternally unforgiving of people, as some christians believe, then perhaps he is the most unforgiving of all! Some people are concerned for the people who will remain eternally unforgiven, but since unforgiveness hurts most the one who is unforgiving, I would be concerned about the well-being of such an unforgiving God!

Perhaps the christian conception of redemption is confused.

I propose that God is not in the forgiveness business.

Forgiveness is good, but there is something better than forgiveness, and that is choosing to never be offended in the first place.

The reason the scriptures use the language of “forgiveness” so often is not because God was offended by us and then forgave us, but because that was the paradigm of God held by people during that time (especially the Jews with their elaborate sacrificial system). It was a tool to help people understand that God’s not angry and in fact is in a very good mood.

So.

I encourage you to quit forgiving.

More precisely, I encourage you to stop holding things against people so that the need to forgive disappears completely.

Unforgiveness is choosing to entertain thoughts about a wrongdoing someone has done against you. The moment you decide that someone else’s action has created a need for you to forgive them, you have created unforgiveness inside yourself. Again, unforgiveness, even having something that you can forgive, hurts you the most.

Of course, if you are harboring unforgiveness toward someone, forgive! But we would do well to follow God’s example and remember people’s sin no more (Hebrews 8:12).

No more sin remembering -> no more unforgiveness -> no more forgiving necessary

*****

Also see:

Does Forgiveness Require Blood?
http://hearhim.net/wordpress/2013/08/13/does-forgiveness-require-blood/

Unoffendability and the Relativity of Sin (Part 3)

WARNING! This post may offend you. I will not take responsibility for your offense. Read at your own discretion.

Read Part 1 and Part 2.

I’d like to make a public announcement: I give up trying to not offend you.

By “offend” I mean make you angry, not cause you to stumble. The latter I am determined to not do.

In the past, I’ve been conscious of things like being seen drinking alcohol (because I drink), smoking (because if someone offers me something, sometimes I’ll enjoy it), using words that some people consider to be bad (because I intentionally “cuss”), showing affection for the opposite sex verbally and physically (which is often looked down upon in Japan and within christian communities), getting a tattoo (because I’d like to get one), downloading music, movies, etc. off the internet (because I have no guilt in doing so), doing drugs (which, although I have no experience with, I have no problem with in moderation), and whatever else that might incite judgment against me.

All because I knew there were plenty of people out there who would be offended by those kinds of things, and I thought it was my responsibility to keep them from being offended. 

It took me a while to see that it’s not.

Since being offended is a choice, it’s not my responsibility to keep people unoffended. In fact, that’s impossible; I can’t control anyone and make choices for them – only they can.

It’s not like I’m proud of these things, nor am I trying to tout, “look how free I am!”, nor am I saying everyone should do the things I do, feel the way I do about them, or believe the things I do about them. But I’m not ashamed of these things either because I’ve worked it out with Jesus. They are just things I enjoy.

If I get drunk, lose control of myself, and hurt people, that’s a problem. If I smoke my lungs out and get cancer, that’s not good. If I attack people by cussing them out, I’m not acting in love. But none of these are the case. But no, I’m not an alcoholic. No, I’m not addicted to smoking. No, I don’t cuss to hurt people, nor do I have a problem controlling my tongue. Etc.

Paul wrote to the Corinthians concerning eating meat sacrificed to idols, “everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial” – the “controversial” things I do are beneficial. And if you’d like to know why I think they are, I’d love to talk with you about it. In essence I try to find common ground with everyone so I can communicate the good news about Jesus to them, and these things often allow me to connect with people more easily. Plus I enjoy it all (read Ecclesiastes).

So I’ve decided to “come out of the closet.”

I want to have deep relationships with everyone I come into contact with. I want to be fully honest. I want to be myself around everyone. And I want these things even if it means that sometimes people will reject me because of it. I’d rather take that risk than have people sustain a relationship with a “me” that’s not really who I am.

In many churches I’ve witnessed the practice of hiding things in people’s own lives so that they don’t accidentally offend someone, especially in Japan. But if people are offended by things like this, they have a bigger problem, a heart issue. And I’d rather expose the problem in the hopes of them being healed than cease to be myself around them so that there can be “peace” between us. I’m not interested in that kind of false peace anymore, and although I don’t really want conflict, I’m not afraid of it either, and it often is necessary to bring depth in a relationship. I am not ashamed of what I believe and how I live, so, unless it will cause someone to stumble, I will not hide any part of it.

It’s not that I want to offend people, as if I have some distorted pleasure in seeing people get angry at me. I’m just enjoying my freedom in Christ without burdening myself with the responsibility to make everyone around me feel good about who I am, what I do, or what I believe. Like Paul, I just don’t care about my reputation anymore. It takes a lot of work that I’m not willing to do to keep it up.

Most of you who know me personally know that I’m not saying these things in a spirit of anger and it’s not that I don’t care about people.

It’s just that I realized that the only reason that I’ve suppressed myself was for the sake of my reputation. Even if I had thought that I was doing it for others, really I wasn’t doing anyone any favors.

Don’t use me or anyone else as a standard for what you can or can’t do. Work it out with Jesus. And don’t go telling people what they can or can’t do.

This doesn’t mean I don’t call people out when they are in sin. I’m not afraid to call it for what it is. But I recognize that there are many things that are not universal and objective but personal and subjective.

If you think something I am doing is a sin and you can demonstrate that to me from negative fruit that results from it in my life, then please do. I have no problem receiving correction and in fact welcome it. If I realize that I’m doing something stupid because someone tells me and helps me to see it, then everyone benefits, including myself.

But if you merely have a personal opinion about some matter that is different than mine, then don’t try to push your ideals on me. Our consciences are not the same. And apparently God is okay with that.

As my buddy Dave Crabb put it, not being offended by sin doesn’t imply our accepting it. It simply means a having a non-judgmental attitude toward people who may be sinning.

For those of you who are offended by this post or by me, I hope you can look past whatever offends you and that we can have an awesome relationship. I have no beef with you, and I don’t want to see us split over matters of personal conscience.

Jesus offended tons of people. Unashamedly. And after his ascension the good news about him continued to offend people. Paul called the gospel “a stumbling block to Jews” and Peter identified Jesus as the object of Isaiah’s prophecy: “A stone of stumbling and a rock of offense.” Jesus was not being a bad boy when he offended his contemporaries. So we know that actions that cause offense are not necessarily bad. When Jesus offended people, it wasn’t that his words were offensive in and of themselves. He simply spoke truth. Rather, it was something in the people who heard them that was offended.

So the question is, who had the problem? Was it the one doing the offending, or the ones being offended?

Jesus said, “blessed is he who does not take offense at Me” (Matthew 11:6). I say that those who are not offended in general are blessed too. There is nothing blessed about being offended (blessed simply means happy, by the way).

So I encourage you to not be offended at all, ever again.

Happy offenseless living!

Unoffendability and the Relativity of Sin (Part 2)

Read Part 1.

As time has passed I have witnessed the pendulum swing to the other side. I don’t get offended anymore, but I have discovered that some people are offended by me (or would be if they knew me better).

This got me thinking. How can I act most lovingly when others are offended, and even before I might offend them?

So I began to look at how Paul dealt with offense in general and how it relates to sin. Before getting into that, let’s first take a look at some historical background of Paul’s time.

The churches in Rome and Corinth were made up of both Jews and Gentiles. Those two groups of people grew up in very different circumstances, and thus their consciences disagreed on certain issues as to whether something was sinful or not. Specifically, many Jews felt it was wrong to eat food sacrificed to idols (because it was outlawed in the Old Covenant) while most Gentiles had no problem doing so (because they grew up eating such food).

So the question is, who was right, the Jews or the Gentiles? Was it wrong to eat food sacrificed to idols, or was it okay?

Paul addresses this matter in Romans 14 (and in 1 Corinthians 10 as well, which, although I won’t address it here, has a similar message).

His answer: It depends on the person.

Paul first declares that there’s actually nothing wrong with eating food sacrificed to idols. “I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself” (v. 14). This concept has a wider application than the immediate context, as is illustrated by Titus 1:15 – “To the pure, all things are pure; but to those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure, but both their mind and their conscience are defiled.”

Back to Paul, he then clarifies that people can make it wrong for themselves by deciding that it is wrong. Paul continues, “but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean.” (v. 14).

In essence Paul says that this is a personal matter. “Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind” (v. 5). “The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God” (v. 22).

In other words, something that is a sin for you is not necessarily a sin for me, and vice versa. I was always taught that sin is black and white, objective, and universal. If something is a sin for one person, then it’s a sin for every person. But according to Paul, sin is not objective but relative. 

But just because something isn’t sin doesn’t mean you should do it. There’s plenty of things that aren’t sin but are plain stupid things to do. Paul addresses this issue too.

Specifically, he points out a situation when you shouldn’t eat meat sacrificed idols even if you are personally convinced that it is not a sin for you to do so. “All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense. It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles” (v. 20-21).

Some people take this to mean that if someone thinks something is a sin, then they cannot do that something because it might offend them. This is absurd, since half the things you do in life would be ruled out (no more eating meat, watching movies, reading bibles that are not KJV, etc. LOL).

Offending people (in the sense of causing them to feel upset, annoyed, or resentful) isn’t the problem. Check out the Greek. The word translated “offense” in verse 20 is proskomma. According to Strong’s Concordance it means:

1) a stumbling block
a) an obstacle in the way which if one strikes his foot against he stumbles or falls
b) that over which a soul stumbles i.e. by which is caused to sin

Paul’s real concern is that we don’t embolden the conscience’s of the weak to do what they think is sin by doing that thing that they think is sin (which also points to the fact that, actually, the “weak in conscience” simply have misunderstandings concerning what is and isn’t sinful, as with the case of eating meat sacrificed to idols).

“For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died” (v. 15).

There’s a difference between causing someone to stumble (causing sin by doing something they think is sin and thereby encouraging them to do so even though it is sin to them) and offending someone because they think that what is sin for them is sin for everyone.

Paul says we shouldn’t do the former. What does he have to say about the latter?

“But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God…So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God. Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this—not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way”  (v. 10,12-13).

The point is not that we don’t offend anyone but that our actions don’t encourage a brother or sister to sin. It they are offended (i.e. judge that we are sinning), that’s their problem. They shouldn’t be judging in the first place.

My advice regarding sin: personally work stuff out with Jesus. Then when people try to condemn you saying, “you are sinning by doing this,” you can gently yet confidently respond knowing that you don’t need to bow to their imposition of rules on you.

Some people are not going to like the previous claim I made because they know we’ll begin to see people say that certain obviously sinful things (for example, Paul writes that those who indulge in sexual sin, idol worship, stealing, greediness, drunkenness, abuse, etc., won’t inherit the Kingdom of God) are okay for them “because Jesus told me so.” That’s totally fine with me, actually. Some people will use grace as a license to sin, but the negative fruit that will result in their life will make it clear that they are not walking with Jesus. Life will suck for them because ultimately sin is no fun, and although I won’t condemn them I will remind them of their true identity and that they are not acting like who they really are in Christ.

We don’t discern good and bad by an objective rule book anymore like people did under the Old Covenant (contrary to popular opinion and how bibles are often misused for this purpose). In this New Covenant we discern by Holy Spirit who lives in us. We eat from the tree of life, not from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Personally, I have decided to give up trying to figure out what’s right and what’s wrong. I’m just gonna do whatever brings life – the way God originally intended us to function.

Some of you might be wondering if the real reason I am saying all of this is to make an excuse for the sins I secretly want to do. Honestly, I have zero interest in sin. Zilch. Nada. Jesus cut away my sinful nature, and now all I want to do is love. Really. I’m a love addict. I’m still learning how to love better, and sometimes I make mistakes. But that doesn’t change the fact my only desire is love; sin has no part in it.

In Part 3 of this series, I will “come out of the closet” 😉

*****

Also check out pages 53-61 of http://frankviola.org/rethinkingthewill.pdf

Unoffendability and the Relativity of Sin (Part 1)

One of the things that I really enjoy about my life in Christ is my unoffendability.

I didn’t always think this way. In fact, I used to be very easily offended. One of the things that offended me the most was being around other people’s sin. I would lose touch with my social abilities and become quiet, contemplating judgmental thoughts of what I assumed the other person’s heart was like. I thought that was how God thought, so I thought like that too, thinking of how awesome it was that I was thinking like God. I thought God couldn’t stand to be in the presence of sin, so I thought I should have the same attitude.

Funny how I totally missed how Jesus hung out with sinners to the point where he himself was called a drunkard and a glutton.

The idea that God can’t look on sin comes from misunderstood Old Testament passages. One commonly cited text is Habakkuk 1:13, which says,

“Your eyes are too pure to approve evil, And You cannot look on wickedness with favor. Why do You look with favor on those who deal treacherously? Why are You silent when the wicked swallow up those more righteous than they?”

Here, Habakkuk is dealing with his own misconception about God. He thinks God is too pure to even look at wickedness. In fact, Habakkuk interprets God’s lack of activity (according to his perception) as approval of the evil being done. But God doesn’t approve of evil, nor is he restricted by his own “holiness” so that he can’t look at wickedness. God has no problem hanging around people with sin because God’s already dealt with the whole sin problem in Jesus before the foundation of the world.

Sin blinds us to God, not God to us. Sin doesn’t harm God, it harms us. 

It took me a while to see that in all my judgmentalism, the person I was hurting the most by being offended was myself.

Sin isn’t about offending God. Rather, sin is the choices we make that harm ourselves and others; the reason God hates sin is because it hurts his children, whom he loves. Since whether an action is good or bad for a person depends on the person, sin is relative (for a biblical argument of this idea, see Part 2).

Unfortunately, those who call themselves christians are some of the most easily offended people on the planet, and the world around them know it.

“Christians get offended more easily than non-Christians…You are usually offended when you are thinking the worst about someone’s motives and thinking that they were wishing you ill. In other words, you are judging the intents of their heart. Something a believer ought never do.” – Frank Viola

offenseThis can change, however.

Being offended is a choice you make. It doesn’t just happen to you when someone else does something offensive, because you are not controlled by other people or your circumstances (unless you let them, by choice).

As for myself, I have decided to not take offense at anything or anyone. I will not be offended.

Life is happier, easier, and funner this way.

If you ever plan on hanging out with people who don’t know Jesus and loving them well, you’re going to have to get used to not being offended. There’s plenty out there to get offended by, but the choice is yours.

In Part 2, I’ll take a look at the other side of the equation – others being offended by you.

Also see:
http://frankviola.org/2009/10/12/living-without-offense-rick-warren-is-supporting-our-twitter-conference-tomorrow/