The issue of forgiveness and continuity of relationship is utterly central to the Christian faith. Obviously, since we live on planet earth among humans, our practical understanding of these things is constantly being challenged. Forgiveness is powerful because it is so needful.
We had a conversation a while back with a woman who had divorced her husband because he was verbally abusive and had also cheated on her. She knew that we were some kind of “grace” people so she started saying that she was working on forgiving him. She explained that he had had a tough childhood, had had career difficulties, that she had not always been a perfect wife, and that he had other excuses for his atrocious behavior. This was what she understood “grace” to be.
This kind of excuse making is the enemy of forgiveness. She was trying to explain away her conscience’s need for justice. It just doesn’t work. The way forward is to be honest about how harmful and evil the sin of the person really is. If you can’t own and bring forward your true hurt, you can’t forgive. The other person will somehow, even subconsciously, know that their offense still lies at the heart of the relationship, festering and active. If her litany of excuses for him were really true, he wouldn’t need forgiveness at all. The fact is, she knows and he knows that he really had chosen evil, and it hurt everyone who loved him. If you can’t let this stand, you can’t start to enter into the process of forgiveness. Outside factors may well have led him to behave horribly, but his worst problem is that he also chose evil. If that isn’t up front and square, there will be no healing or resolution.
In a way, crossless Christianity is writing this same erroneous notion into God’s script. If you say that promising to change and do better is the path to God’s acceptance, you are not putting the true evil of your history into proper focus. You are asking God to “forgive” you because you promise no longer to offend — but this isn’t really forgiveness is it? It is acceptance based on not offending. That means your sin remains unresolved, and that you have no assurance that future offenses will not end your favor and kindness with Him. God wants a greater severity in focusing on the unholy evil you have chosen heretofore, because He wants to truly forgive you and free your conscience from the reality of your guilt. You don’t get that by redefining your attractions and behaviors as excusable. You get that by putting the depth of your evil into stark relief, and by acknowledging your need of the impossible miracle of forgiveness. God will not be put off by focusing on excuses; He wants to resolve your worst problem, which is your guilt. When a person avoids this, they have no assurance, because they are still in their sins. Why do you think “salvation” is such a huge issue in Christian doctrine? If you haven’t faced the depth of your predicament, if you haven’t realized that you are asking God to let you get away with evil, you haven’t entered the joy of your salvation.
If that describes you, stop all the promises and excuses and put every ounce of guilt you can find at the foot of the cross. Enter into real forgiveness and assurance and freedom.
In the community of grace, we have the toolset in Christ to present our real offenses to each other — to actually confess. We can do this because through His blood we can offer true substantive costly forgiveness. We could never pay that cost for ourselves, but through faith in His propitiation we can accept and love and persist with one another despite our sins against one another.
6 If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; 7 but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.
1 John 1:6-10 (NASB)
7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9 By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
1 John 4:7-11 (NASB)