Did I commit the unforgivable sin?

I’ve been asked many times what Jesus meant when he spoke of an unforgivable sin.

“And so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven” (Matthew 12:31).

It’s interesting that the people who approach me with concern about committing the unpardonable sin focus so much on the second part of the verse and miss the amazing promise Jesus gave in the first part. Think about it. “And so I tell you (or “therefore I say to you”) every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men.”

Amazing! EVERY sin and blasphemy…

This is a great promise! There are many different sins and blasphemies. The only exception Jesus admits to this extensive promise is “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.”

Many teachers believe that this particular act could only occur under the public ministry of Jesus. It’s viewed as a direct rejection of the ministry of Jesus by ascribing His work to Satan.

Whatever else this involved, it included an ultimate hardening of one’s heart against the person and ministry of Jesus. I assure people that a clear sign you have not committed this sin is a deep concern that you may have committed it. This means that those who have come to me deeply troubled by even a possibility of having blasphemed against the Holy Spirit are not the kind of people who blaspheme against the Spirit. 

Now we return to the opening promise: “Every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven…” Do you understand why the apostle John wrote, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9)?

Remind yourself often of our forgiving God

    • “If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness.” (Psalm 131:3-4)
    • “The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him” (Daniel 9:9).
    • “I, even I, am the one who wipes out your transgressions for my own sake; and I will not remember your sins” (Isaiah 43:25).
    • “I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jeremiah 31:34).
    • “He delights in unchanging love. He will again have compassion on us; He will tread our iniquities under foot. Yes, You will cast all their sins into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:18-19).
    • Jesus said, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28).
    • “… through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins” (Acts 10:43).
    • “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace” (Ephesians 1:7)

Steve Cornell

Therapeutic vs. True Gospel

 

The word gospel refers to good news about what God has done for us through Jesus Christ. But when the gospel is shaped by a therapeutic emphasis, it turns out to be so much less than the true gospel. The therapeutic gospel emphasizes a Jesus who meets my felt needs in a way that keeps me at the center of life? It’s a kind of Jesus who is there to serve you. I wrote about this in my previous post.

 

The true gospel will not reach us until we see the “me at the center” life as our effort to take the place that belongs to God. I must acknowledge how I want the glory that belongs to God when I focus on myself — on my feelings and desires as the most important issues of life. 

Jesus Christ died for my sin and the most vivid expression of my sin is my willful preoccupation with myself. A gospel message that invites me to stay at the center is not the true gospel.

Listen closely to the emphasis when you hear someone invite people to follow Jesus. If the emphasis is on a Jesus who gives you peace and meaning; who gives you better relationships and takes away your feelings of guilt, you’re hearing a distortion of the gospel. Worse yet, you’re hearing a sales pitch rather than the true gospel.

But doesn’t Jesus give peace, meaning and forgiveness? Doesn’t Scripture emphasize God’s love for us? “Yes” to both questions. These however are the benefits of the gospel not the gospel. God’s love is so amazing because it’s demonstrated toward sinners. “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). He died for undeserving, self-centered people like you and me.

“The emphasis of scripture is on the godless self-centeredness of sin. Every sin is a breach of what Jesus called ‘the first and great commandment,’ not just by failing to love God with all our being, but by actively refusing to acknowledge and obey him as our Creator and Lord. We have rejected the position of dependence which our createdness inevitably involves, and made a bid for independence. Worse still, we have dared to proclaim our self-dependence, or autonomy, which is to claim the position occupied by God alone. Sin is not a regrettable lapse from conventional standards; its essence is hostility to God (Rom. 8:7), issuing in active rebellion against him” (John R.W. Stott, The Cross of Christ, p. 90).

If I don’t accept the verdict of Scripture about my sin and the judgment it deserves, I cannot hope to experience benefits of the gospel such as peace, meaning and forgiveness. 

If the bad news is muted or left out, the good news of the gospel is also removed. For the gospel to be good news, I must fully acknowledge the following verdicts:

  1. I stand condemned before God – guilty of sin and deserving God’s judgment (Romans 3:10,23:6:23a; James 2:10)
  2. I cannot by any effort of my own improve my standing before God (Romans 4:5; 5:6;Galatians 2:16, 21; Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5).
  3. Apart from the mercy and grace of God, I remain forever under God’s just condemnation (Titus 3:5-7).
  4. What I cannot do, God did for me when Jesus Christ bore the judgment my sin deserved (Galatians 3:13;Romans 5:8; 8:3-4;II Corinthians 5:17,18,21).
  5. There is no condemnation to those who are in Christ (Romans 8:1, 32-39;John 1:12;3:16-18,36; 10:27-28).

The only grounds for acceptance with God is faith in Christ alone.

Centuries ago, Thomas Aquinas exposed the error behind the therapeutic gospel. 

“We confuse two similar yet different human actions. We see people searching desperately for peace of mind, relief from guilt, meaning, and purpose to their lives, and loving acceptance. We know that ultimately these things can only be found in God. Therefore, we conclude that since people are seeking these things they must be seeking after God. People do not seek God. They seek after the benefits that only God can give them. The sin of fallen man is this: Man seeks the benefits of God while at the same time fleeing from God himself. We are, by nature, fugitives.”

People do not seek God unless His Spirit works in their hearts and Jesus revealed the kind of work the Spirit would accomplish. Jesus said that when the Holy Spirit came, he would convict the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment (see: John 16:8).

All of this emphasis fits with the way Jesus repeatedly called people to deny themselves to follow him. “Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me'” (Matthew 16:24).

Steve Cornell

Discouragement – a “dis” on courage

Discouragement is a “dis” on courage! Have you ever thought about it that way? It’s a loss of courage, confidence or hope. Discouragement includes some degree of fear. 

The word “courage” is part of the word “discourage.” It’s like the word disheartened (a “dis” on heart or a loss of heart). Don’t let life “dis” on your courage or heart! 

Why do our words need prefixes and suffixes?

When we rebelled against God’s good plan for us, our existence required prefixes and suffixes to negate otherwise good words. Dis -courage, dis-obedience, dis -able, dis -agree, dis -advantage… Faith-less, hope-less, etc…

We must come to see sin as something that not only disobeys God’s will but also spoils the good and corrupts worthy virtues. Discouragement assaults and spoils courage.

This is why we need exhortations like the one to “….. stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (I Corinthians 15:58).

Like Joshua, we need to hear God saying, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).

Sometimes, (with sensitivity), discouraged people need gentle but firm admonishment about a loss of perspective that leads to a loss of courage.

Discouragement is more than a feeling. It involves a loss of wider life perspective. It narrows life down by discounting things that count. Courage is necessary for life in a fallen world. It helps us see things more honestly and positively. It fortifies us to tackle the work of everyday living.

“Despondency has a way of selectively focusing on certain aspects of life and conveniently overlooking others. Despair is always colorblind; it can only see the dark tints” (David A. Hubbard).

Discouragement wants to blind me to all the encouraging little things in life. I need to be admonished to, ““Stop being unamazed by the strange glory of ordinary things” (Clyde Kilby).

And sometimes I allow discouragement to derail my prayers so that I focus prayer so much on obstacles and challenges that I fail to give thanks for many great little ways God is working.

The way out of the dark tunnel of despair is not always a change of circumstance but a change of perspective. The humble worship of repentance (over my ingratitude) leads me to the worship of gratitude and frees me from the feelings of hopelessness and anxiety that so often accompany discouragement.

It’s easy to be misunderstood when you need to discourage the discouraged. People will sometimes accuse you of causing them more discouragement. But we cannot adequately encourage those who have lost perspective without discouraging them from a frame of mind that binds them to their discouragement. (Read it again).

Sometimes we can’t shake our discouragement because we don’t feel God is caring for us as we believe He should. When we feel down we often lock ourselves more deeply into our feelings with wrong ways of thinking. We bury ourselves more deeply into discouragement by listening to ourselves instead of speaking truth to ourselves. Part of the cure is to begin to think differently based on God’s truth and hope-filled promises (see: Spiritual Depression).

The primary New Testament Greek word translated “encourage” is “parakaleo” and means to call alongside. The word was used in a military context to call for reinforcements. Encouragement (like an encourager) functions as a reinforcement for life — a boost to our courage!

Offering encouragement is a means of giving courage, hope and confidence to others. It’s usually in the form of verbal affirmation, comfort, and exhortation. We need encouragement as part of the cure for discouragement. But sometimes our need is not merely to hear words of positive reinforcement. 

Getting out of the fog of despondency often requires a little loving admonishment. Caring friends will cross this line with love and sensitivity when they sense we need a better perspective. But we must allow people with mature perspective to have this kind of access to us. (For building larger perspective: Counseling the whole person).

Steve Cornell

Inexplicable mercy

The word “gratuitous” means uncalled for; lacking good reason; unwarranted. It can also be something given or done free of charge.

Gratuitous is often used of evil that seems to lack any greater purpose for accomplishing a greater good. Gratuitous evils are of a kind that people say, “What possible reasons could there be for this?” They’re evils that make no sense to us. The painfully perplexing question that lingers over such evils is “Why?”

When directed toward God, the question is how God could have any adequate justifying reason for permitting seemingly inexplicable evil. My aim here is not to resolve this perplexing matter. I’ve addressed this in an earlier post here.

My present interest is “gratuitous mercy.” John Calvin wrote that man can only be “regarded as righteous before God on the footing of gratuitous mercy; because God, without any respect to works, freely adopts him in Christ, by imputing the righteousness of Christ to him, as if it were his own” (The Necessity of Reforming the Church).

This is inexplicable mercy! How could we begin to account for such mercy? It is unexplainable!

How could God have any adequate justifying reason for offering mercy to sinners like me? I cry out “God be merciful to me the sinner” but I know that there is nothing in me that deserves mercy. When I receive divine mercy, the perplexing question that lingers over it is “Why?”

“Who am I that such great mercy would be shown to me?” I cannot get my mind around it. It doesn’t make sense. What possible greater purpose could be served by showing mercy to a wretch like me?

With the apostle Paul, I acknowledge that, “because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions —it is by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:4-5, emphasis mine). “When the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy” (Titus 3:4-5).

While we were still

“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6-8)

“The only haven of safety is the mercy of God, as manifested in Christ, in whom every part of our salvation is complete. As all mankind are, in the sight of God, lost sinners, we hold that Christ is their only righteousness, since, by His obedience, He has wiped off our transgressions, by His sacrifice appeased the divine anger, by His blood washed away our stains, by His cross borne our curse, and by His death made satisfaction for us. We maintain that in this way man is reconciled in Christ to God the Father, by no merit of his own, by no value of works, but by gratuitous mercy.” (John Calvin, A Reformation Debate)

Giving thanks for gratuitous mercy!

Steve Cornell

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Check out this song: Where mercy begins

 

8 Identity Markers

325928430_640To live on mission, we must personalize the identity markers that define who we are and why we’re here.

Review the following 8 identity markers often. Reflect deeply on the meaning and implications of each one. Define your life, sense of calling and purpose around them.  

These identity markers answer important questions: Who am I? Why am I here? What should I do?Who do I serve? How should I live?

  1. Salt of the earth (Matthew 5:13)
  2. Light of the world (Matthew 5:14-16)
  3. Disciple Makers (Matthew 28:18-20)
  4. Witnesses (Acts 1:8: I Peter 3:15-16)
  5. Ambassadors (II Corinthians 5:17-21)
  6. Imitators of God (Luke 6:35-36; Eph. 5:1-2, 25)
  7. Reflectors of God’s Glory (I Corinthians 10:31)
  8. Agents of Grace (Colossians 4:5-6)

Steve Cornell

10 goals in parenting

We desired (like most parents) to build positive character traits in our children. These were traits we knew to be necessary for both surviving and thriving in the world. But my extensive work with people (especially in counseling) taught me quickly about ways that positive traits could become negative. Life is so often a balancing act.

This led us to be more conscious about what I call trimming the positives to protect them from becoming negatives. Discuss with others the 10 contrasts below between positives and negatives. Your strategy as parents will likely have to change based on the personality and temperament of each child. But your example will be the most important factor in shaping their lives.

Positives without negatives

  1. Confident without being arrogant.
  2. Humble without being weak.
  3. Determined without being stubborn.
  4. Teachable without being gullible.
  5. Friendly without being naive.
  6. A servant without being an enabler.
  7. Merciful without being undiscerning.
  8. Discerning without being a critic.
  9. Capable without being overly self-reliant.
  10. Godly without being Pharisaic.

Steve Cornell

Forgiveness is an act of worship

Have you ever thought of forgiveness as an act of worship?

Jesus said, “When you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” (Mark 11:25).

Forgiveness is the choice not to hold things against another. Forgiveness is absent when one holds things against another. This is what we call resentment and it is a root cause behind many personal and societal problems. It’s the tendency to bear grudges and it often leads to revenge.

Holding against

Many people go through life collecting grievances (perceived or actual) and then storing them in their memory bank — specifically, in what I call their grudge account. Rather than forgiving an offender, they choose to nurse their anger; to lick their wounds and to sludge in their grudge.

This way of life is rarely traveled alone because misery enjoys company. It validates our resentment when we can find people to commiserate with us in our grievances by swapping grudge stories. Some throw pity parties to seek solidarity with others in their resentments.

Those who habitually collect perceived rather than actual grievances are in a different category. These people behave in narcissistic pathologically paranoid ways. They’re narcissistic because they think people think about them more than people do and pathologically paranoid because they imagine people are continually against them. They people who are self-destructively self-absorbed and must come to even deeper levels of repentance by embracing Jesus’ call to self-denial.

“Forgive him?!” “Not after what he did to me!”

But Jesus’ words “Forgive him” are hard to hear when you’ve been badly hurt. I recall more than once, people responding, “Forgive him?!” “Not after what he did to me!”

Does Jesus ask us to become morally neutral about the wrongful and damaging behavior of others? Is he asking us to pretend nothing happened and let our offender off the hook?

One thing is clear from Jesus’ words, whatever else forgiveness involves, it’s the opposite of “holding something against” someone. Forgiveness requires an act of “letting go” or “releasing”— a refusal to “hold against”.

Empty your grudge account

But this act of releasing is not a superficial or feigned act of erasing or ignoring the wrong committed against us. Letting go of an offense does not require moral neutrality about right and wrong. We’re not required to let the offense go into some imaginary zone of forgetfulness.

Forgiving is an act of worship that takes place in the presence of the God who is the righteous judge of all the earth. Forgiveness is an act of releasing the offense to the God who said, “Do not take revenge, …but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord” (Romans 12:19).

I am suggesting that forgiveness is first and foremost a matter between you and God, not you and your offender.

When someone hurts us, we tend only to see the horizontal significance of what occurred. “This is about me and the one who hurt me!” we insist. For those who worship God, however, life is primarily about God and secondarily about them. In the rest of Mark 11:25, Jesus reminded us that even our grievances must be dealt with in relation to God: “…if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”

Do we earn God’s forgiveness?

When Jesus related forgiving others to God forgiving our sins, was he suggesting some form of conditional or earned system of forgiveness? Is this a quid pro qo arrangement (favor for favor)? No! Our forgiveness from God is based on God’s undeserved favor received through Jesus Christ. It’s not that we earn God’s forgiveness by forgiving others, but that God expects His forgiven people to forgive. When forgiven people don’t forgive, God is not worshipped— He is dishonored (See: Matthew 18:21-35).

This is where worship connects with forgiveness. When we forgive, we “let go of” instead of “holding on to” or “holding against.”

Forgiveness is an act of releasing to God the hurtful actions and consequences of the wrong done to us. God has sole prerogative of vengeance (Romans 12:19). If the one who hurts us is to be punished, it is God’s right to punish him. When sinned against, turn to God and worship Him by acknowledging His authority as Judge. Acknowledge that any judgment against the one who wronged you is His right — not yours.

Forgiveness as worship is not surrendering or neutralizing our sense of morality and justice. This is not a cheap “letting off the hook” of the one who hurt us. It’s not a mental exercise in forgetting or a feigned effort to trivialize evil by saying, “O well, we’re all sinners.” It’s an act of worship before the final Judge.

On this view, forgiveness is not solely about me – what happened to me and who did it. It’s about God—who He is and His authority as Judge.

Worshipping God, not using Him

Forgiveness is an act of releasing to God what rightly belongs to him. Since God is “the Judge of all the earth who will do what is right,” releasing to God places the offence in the purest context of judgment. Forgiving is releasing the grievance and the offender to God’s all-knowing perspective and to the perfect balanced of justice and mercy. This honors God by placing matters into His hands and His timing.

But this approach to forgiveness must not be corrupted into a “God will get you” mentality. Worship is not an effort to use God; it’s an act of humbling yourself before Him.

When forgiveness becomes worship, the offended person humbles herself before God honoring and confessing Him as judge and trusting Him to uphold His judgment as He chooses and in His time.

Unexpected blessing

In this act of “letting go” or “releasing to God,” the one who forgives is also released and empowered to live out the radical prescription of Romans 12:20-21: “On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. …. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

Punishment of wrongdoers

Please don’t leave this subject with the final words from Romans 12. The connection with Romans 13 is important in any discussion of forgiveness. According to Romans 13:1-4, sometimes God executes His wrath (compare 12:19) and punishment of wrongdoers through the agency of human government (see esp. Romans 13:4). This strengthens the point that forgiveness is not a matter of moral neutrality.

When the one who wrongs you receives punishment from a God-ordained authority, it’s right to support and honor the role of government in punishing wrongdoers (see: I Peter 2:13). We honor this role of authority for the glory of God and the good of society. Yet endorsement of just-punishment must never be sought as a means for vindictive and vengeful intention. If tempted toward this response, turn to God is worship based on Romans 12:18-21.

When we’ve been wronged and the punishment of the wrong-doer becomes a matter for human government, we cannot sincerely support such punishment with the right spirit until we prayerfully apply the teaching of Romans 12:18-21.

An invitation

This is an invitation for those who bear grudges to worship God as the only rightful judge of evil. Turn your grudge over to the Judge! Recite His deep moral opposition to the evil committed against you and surrender every desire for revenge to His prerogative in punishing evil (Romans 12:19).

If God chooses to (or involves you in) mediating His judgment through ordained human authority, honor and support those authorities for fulfilling their divine role (see: Romans 13:1-4), but check your heart against seeking false and destructive satisfaction through personal revenge.

The connection between Romans 12 and 13 offers the important reminder that forgiveness does not require a surrender of our sense of right and wrong.

We need the grace of God to apply these truths with sincerity and humility.

Prayer

“God, please help me to worship you when I’ve been hurt by others. You have forgiven my sins and each day I remind myself that you have not dealt with me as my sins deserve. I release my grudge to the Judge and trust you with the outcome.

Steve Cornell

See: Moving From Forgiveness to Reconciliation