Because God is holy and good, we might imagine that it must be hard for God to forgive our faults. Since we are sinful and have made many mistakes, being merciful toward others for their misdeeds should be easy. According to scripture and experience, neither is true.

God is surprisingly forgiving. He is rich in mercy (Eph. 2:4), like the father of the prodigal son who eagerly receives him back without a hint of resentment (Luke 15:11-32), and the king who generously dismisses the massive debt of his servant though forgiveness was not even being requested (Matt. 18:23-27). Forgiveness appears to come easily to God. He seems eager to forgive us! On the other hand, we have trouble forgiving others for the same mistakes we ourselves make and for which we desire forgiveness.

Our lack of forgiveness, which makes no sense given our own failures, comes from our emotional captivity to offenses and wounds. We struggle to forgive because of the hurt, disappointment, or affront that we experience when others act or say certain things. Even though we are guilty of the same things, that is not reason enough for us to be able to forgive. The injured self is hurting too much.

How does God forgive so easily? One might assume that God forgives freely because God is unable to be hurt by our misdeeds. Such a stoic and emotionless God could not experience our woundedness, and perhaps would not find it hard to forgive. However, that notion is contradicted by the revelation that we grieve the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:30). Somehow, God feels deeply the hurt of our misdeeds, but joyfully forgives!

More likely, God’s selfless love does not leave room for God to dwell on how God’s self has been mistreated and injured. The love of God keeps no record of wrongs (1 Cor 13:5), though God has been wronged many times over. Perhaps, we can think of God being too busy loving us selflessly to focus on how awful we have been to him and nurse a grudge!

If this is the case, then God’s forgiveness shows us how to address our own struggle to forgive. We must seek, by grace, to cultivate a generous and selfless love, which will express itself in mercy and forgiveness. Our forgiveness will increase as we grow in godly love.

Many times I’ve heard people say, “I need to forgive if I want to be forgiven.” I know the Bible verses they are thinking of, though I doubt the relationship, concerning forgiving and being forgiven, is strict dependence of God’s on ours. Instead, should not our forgiveness be like God’s? Is God forgiving so He can be forgiven? Did Jesus forgive from the cross to make sure he would be forgiven by his Father? Surely not!

Fear-motivated forgiveness is neither an imitation of Christ nor likely to take us far. Forgiveness needs to flow from a heart that is loving, generous, merciful, and compassionate because it has been shaped by the Spirit. Unforgiveness enslaves us to sin, to continuing in its hurtful effects, and inflicting others and ourselves with it again.

Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom (2 Cor. 3:17), and freedom begets freedom (Matt. 10:8). One aspect of that freedom is being able to release in forgiveness all harm and offense done against us. God is free to forgive, but we are often bound by our injuries, and must come into the freedom of the Spirit to let go of wrongs done to us. This healing of the Spirit of God we must seek earnestly through prayer.

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In the accounts of Jesus’ ministry, the gospel is described as “the gospel of the Kingdom” (Matt. 4:23), “of Jesus Christ ” (Mark 1:1), and “of God” (Mark 1:14). Elsewhere, it is “the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24), “of Christ” (Rom. 15:19), “of the glory of Christ” (2 Cor. 4:4), “of your salvation” (Eph. 1:13), and “of peace” (Eph. 6:5).

These eight ways in which the good news is said to be “of” something, show the gospel to be the announcement of the glory of what God does as He reigns, bestowing grace, through Jesus Christ, to grant humanity salvation and peace. The action is completely one-sided. While this proclamation of God’s work deserves a response from us, the gospel itself is all about God’s benevolent gifts.

Long ago, I would speak sparingly about the gospel but would go on at great length about the church. From listening to my emphasis back then, a person could have easily thought the gospel was about the church. Getting things “right” in the church overshadowed God’s gracious reign in the world and the transformation He is bringing. I was caught up in “being the church” in ways that obscured the proclamation which actually calls the church into existence.

The church is like a shadow cast by the light of the gospel; like leaves moving in the wind of the Spirit. The church is the ripples from where God stirs the waters of the world. The church exists as a Spirit-birthed response to the incredible news of what God does.

Though exceedingly significant because the gospel initiates it, the church, and matters pertaining to it, are never to take center stage. Without a focus on the gospel, an organization in religious garb may exist, but the church ceases to be.

For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. Mark 8:35

Spiritual progress occurs as we lose ourselves, that is, our self-determined ideas of how to live and who we are, for what is given by Christ and proclaimed in the gospel. Just as we must die to ourselves, so the church must die to itself or it will lose its life. This is continual and not a one-time death! The church, all of us together who believe, dies to itself when it stays fixated not on its own existence, but the gospel.

I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it. 1 Corinthians 9:23.

Paul is clearly a man transfixed by the gospel, finding his own true self within the world-altering announcement of God’s reign. He sees himself as living out the meaning of God’s gracious work, as described in the gospel, in everything he does. Likewise, when we are people of the gospel, then we are, in a proper way, the church.

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Angel to God the Father: Where is He going?

God the Father: To earth in order to become a human just like all those whom I create and love.

A: Why would He do that? Doesn’t the Son want to stay here?

F: Yes, but this is my will . . . our will. We love our creation but my children have lost their way . . . their knowledge of me. He is going so they can know me again . . . up close.

A: I’ve seen what goes on down there! Won’t the Son have a hard time?

F: Certainly! He will have to experience everything my children face. He is taking up their life in it’s entirety, but doing so in obedience and faithfulness, to make humanity holy again . . . just as they were created to be. He is going to become the First Human, a new Adam, to bring my creation back to what I intended from the beginning.

A: You have called many men and women from the beginning to teach your ways, and pardon me saying this, but it hasn’t always gone so well.

F: All that has been done was leading to this. My Son’s life as a mortal human is the final and full expression of my love that will change everything for eternity.

A: He’s becoming mortal? That means he will die!

F: Yes, he must die. The Son will change humanity by taking on himself the whole of the human experience . . . even death. The Rebellious One has taken my children captive through sin and death. The Son will defeat sin and death by going through it, for the whole world’s sake.

A: How will he die?

F: The very ones he gives saving knowledge of me . . . they will kill him by nailing him to a cross, prompted by the Rebellious One. That is how badly they have lost their way. They will not even recognize I Am among them. They love darkness rather than light.

A: Why don’t you prevent them from killing the Son?

F: Always I have given myself to my creation in love. I and the Son are one in this – to give ourselves up in love. We will do this together, to save our beloved children.

A: What do you mean, “give yourself up”?

F: From the beginning of time my children have tried to give offerings to me, sacrifices, to win my favor, even though I did need those in order to love or forgive them. Now I am making an offering for their sakes, for them . . . my sacrifice to show my eternal love, mercy, and forgiveness. I am doing what they thought they had to do, and this is my free and gracious gift to all.

A:  How will they recognize what you are doing . . . that You are Love?

F: When the Son forgives them from the cross they will see how Love dies with a blessing on His lips. He will have taken all their sin and given back forgiveness, as I have done from the beginning.

A: And then what?

F: Love is life, and always overcomes death. I will raise the Son back to life because the grave is not victorious. His living and dying will become the new, full life of all who trust in him. He will be in them, and they in Him, as He and I are One. The way they live on earth will be like they are in heaven, for they will have passed from death to life.

A: Is that the end?

F: No, simply the beginning of a new heavens and earth within the old – a new age in which my Spirit is poured out on all. I am bringing everything in heaven and earth together in the Son. Life beyond life . . . no one can imagine what else I have in store!

A: I had no idea . . .

F: This is our eternal plan. We’re calling it Good News!

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Justice is about doing what is inherently right. Injustice is doing what is wrong. As the apostle John makes clear, God forgives sin because he is just.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9

Forgiving is the right thing to do, and so God forgives. God has mercy upon us because it is right to be merciful. As the point is made over and over in scripture, this is not something we earn or merit, but instead God’s act of grace. Justice necessitates being gracious. It is the right way to treat others.

Too often justice is thought of as retribution, as punishment. Sometimes we think that if God does what is just, he will condemn everyone because all sin. This idea of justice is a deficient one, equated solely with legal consequences. An “eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth” is not the justice of God which is revealed in Christ. God’s justice does what is right to heal and restore. In fact, long before Christ, justice was equated with mercy.

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.  Micah 6:8

To act justly and love mercy are not opposites! Mercy is not about forgiving and justice about dealing out punishment. The just person will be merciful because showing mercy is what is true, right, and good. To withhold mercy would be an injustice.

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.  Romans 13:8

According to St. Paul, we have a debt to love one another. To not love would be an injustice, denying others what they should rightly receive. In Christ we discover that the true meaning of upholding the law means loving others. This is not about what anyone should receive because they have earned it through their actions, but simply because they are. Human beings are to be loved, for this is just. God does what is right and just, loving the whole world no matter what we do.

Some would assert that Jesus had to die on the cross to meet the requirements of justice, as if justice is a monster that demands death and must be fed. They have it completely wrong. What happened to Jesus was not just, nor did the Father need the Son to die to satisfy his sense of justice. Jesus’ execution was a horrible injustice because he was innocent.

The aspect of the death of Jesus which shows justice is how the love and mercy of God for humanity are displayed. For God himself to die at human hands and forgive rather than retaliate, reveals God’s just character. God acts justly even when we do not, loving in the face of our hatred. God’s justice is mercy, love, forgiveness, and grace which are given because that is what is inherently right and just, even though none deserve it.

If we act justly and love mercy, graciously treating others as they should be treated, we are walking humbly with God.



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Generally, freedom is understood as the unrestrained ability to do whatever one wants. It is the individual liberty to pursue one’s own desires. Any imposition or restriction that keeps a person from what he or she wants is seen as a loss of freedom.

In the Christian tradition, that sort of so-called freedom is viewed as slavery to oneself. The person who seems to have such great freedom is actually bound to their personal longings, and is driven by his or her own wants. They cannot refuse their own desires. Though they think of themselves as free, they are in bondage to themselves.

When Jesus says we will find our life if we are willing to die to ourselves (Luke 9:23-24) he is referring to being free from a selfish and self-defined life. When one’s master is one’s own impulses and wants, we live in competitiveness and strife with one another because the desires of others conflict with our own.

At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. (Titus 3:2)

True freedom, in Christ, means to be released from having to satisfy our own desires and appetites. We become free to love our neighbors and seek their good. We are able to not do what we want, but to live as God wills, and to say “no” to what is inconsistent with God’s own self.

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age. (Titus 2:11-12)

This is becoming truly free from the limiting nature of our own wishes, and finding the joy of not pleasing ourselves, but God. Regarding teachers who claimed to be spiritually enlightened but encouraged their disciples to indulge selfish desires, Peter remarked,

They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved. (2 Peter 2:19)

Our selfish desires are a corruption of the true nature which God created, so that the sort of self-serving “freedom” we insist on is a slavery to what ruins us. We cannot become wise, mature, spiritually strong people while enslaved to our own desires. This is why Paul talks about true freedom releasing us from bondage to corruption (Romans 8:21). Paul says that the whole creation is waiting for the children of God to be freed from corruption. This occurs when, no longer forced to follow our own wants, we are able to deny ourselves and do the will of God.

Those who lose their life will find it. We could say it this way, that those who give up so-called individual freedom for the freedom of a life guided by godliness, will find true life. That true life will reflect the love, joy, peace, and so on, of having become free from ourselves. We are then, as portrayed in baptism, dead to sin (self) and alive to God (Romans 6:11).


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Many equate judgment with condemnation, and so are terrified of anything to do with God’s judgment. Indeed, sometimes judgment is synonymous with condemnation, such as when Jesus says that he was not sent to judge the world (John 3:17). James uses it that way when he says that with God “mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13). Mercy wins over condemnation with God, and it should be this way with us too.

In other passages, God’s judgment is clearly not the same as condemnation. Instead, it is a cause for rejoicing.

Let all creation rejoice before the Lord, for he comes,
he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness
and the peoples in his faithfulness. (Psalm 96:13)

Isaiah foresees the good that will come from God’s judgment.

He will judge between the nations
and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war anymore. (Isaiah 2:4)

When your judgments come upon the earth,                                                                         the people of the world learn righteousness. (Isaiah 26:9)

God’s judgment is not intrinsically about condemning people, but restoring all creation. How can we see our foolishness and corruptness, which ruins everything, except through some clarifying judgment? Jesus points to the same need when he says that the Spirit convicts the world of sin and righteousness (John 16:8). The Spirit does not convict in order to condemn, but in order to enlighten us unto salvation.

According to Paul, Jesus came to condemn sin (Romans 8:3). Judgment as condemnation is directed against ungodliness, the behaviors and thinking that are destroying us. The Greek word Paul used is a compound one, meaning “to judge against.” Only by “judging against” our wickedness and unrighteousness, so that we may see it for what it is, will we ultimately be able to be cleansed of sin. The intent of God’s judgment is God telling us the truth, condemning the sins in us, rather than being a condemnation of us. Sometimes the truth hurts, and it is not pleasant to find out where we have done wrong.

This is judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light. (John 3:19)

Jesus is alluding to himself as that Light, but his coming is not a condemnation of humanity. Instead, the incarnation of God constitutes the salvation of humanity and the condemnation of sin. Exposed, we stand self-indicted by our love of darkness rather than light. However, that judgment, having to realize that I do love darkness, can become the very means of my repentance and salvation. The cure for my sickness begins with the identification of the disease in me.

The judgments of God are on-going and necessary for salvation, and we need a full and final telling, knowing the mercy of God which will accompany it. Only by discovering the truth about ourselves are we able to come into eternal life. Without humbling self-knowledge, eternal life, which is knowing God (John 17:3), is impossible. We cannot know God without also knowing ourselves.

Confident that God’s mercy is sufficient to forgive all in us which deserves condemning, like the psalmist, we invite the judgment of God, knowing by it we enter eternal life.

Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting. (Psalm 139:23-24)

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The sacred writings recognized by the Church are trustworthy accounts of how others have encountered God, replete with honest admission of failures and missteps. Through the long story told by all these smaller ones, the glory and truth of God becomes clearer while human misconceptions of the divine nature are exposed. Scripture testifies to the history of God’s revelation of himself to mankind. As Paul says, scripture is inspired (full of God’s breath) and spiritually formative (2 Timothy 3:16). It demonstrates again and again the spiritual journey from estrangement to fellowship with God.

When received by faith, that is, with the willingness to seek and trust in God, who may yet be unknown to the one seeking, God’s Spirit enlightens us through scripture’s witness. Maybe we can capture Paul’s meaning by saying faith grows from initial longing to real substantive depth by hearing the word of Christ (Romans 10:17). We begin to recognize a resonance between these stories and our own experiences. We also glimpse a further path.

As full as scripture is with the revelation of God, Jesus points out the mistaken approach which is as common today as it was in his time:

You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.  (John 5:39-40)

We may easily think, as many do, that scripture is what God intended to give us, rather than how God gives us what he wants to impart. God desires to share his life with us, in other words, to save us. That life is in Christ, to whom scripture points. God’s eternal plan was not to give us scripture, but to give himself to us in Christ.

What Paul says of the law is true of all scripture, that it is mentoring us toward Christ (Galatians 3:24). Scripture is not a set of precepts, if, when followed, can give life. Jesus is not a prize we receive for carefully following scripture. The sacred writings humbly give way to their only true subject, God in union with humanity in Jesus Christ.

Jesus claimed that scripture was revealing himself, the one who is life. Because of Jesus’ own statement, we now read even the scriptures written before Christ to search for Christ. The true meaning of the texts, as diverse as they are, is to reveal Jesus as the image (full manifestation) of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15). Sometimes that revelation comes by contrast.

The varied landscape of scripture chronicles the human spiritual journey to realizing we are known by, and then to know, God. When viewed poorly, scripture itself can keep us from life in Christ. The final destination is within the fully human Christ, who is God.


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