Friday, June 5, 2015

Forgiven Lovers: A Short Guide to Changing the World

"Therefore I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven; that’s why she loved much. But the one who is forgiven little, loves little." Then He said to her, "Your sins are forgiven." Those who were at the table with Him began to say among themselves, "Who is this man who even forgives sins?" And He said to the woman, "Your faith has saved you. Go in peace." {Luke 7:47-50}
I love this passage, it's one of my favorites from the New Testament. It's a beautiful reminder that love and forgiveness commingle in our lives to produce each other. Forgiveness drives us to love, love drives us to forgive.

This Bible story starts in the home of a Pharisee, a devoutly religious man. The Pharisees believed their good deeds made them holy, elevating them above those deemed sinners. They were the legalists of their day. This particular Pharisee had invited Jesus over for a meal.

At some point, a womana known sinner in the townshows up after hearing that Jesus is there. She weeps and her tears fall on Jesus' feet, which she then wipes with her hair. She anoints His feet with fragrant oil. The Pharisee misses what is happening because all he can think is, "This man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what kind of woman this is who is touching Him—she’s a sinner!"

There's more to this story, but let's stop here for a moment. When you read the Bible, you see that Jesus didn't turn a blind eye to the heart issues of the Pharisees (or anyone for that matter). He called them out on numerous occasions. (See multiple instances in Matthew 12.) You would think that since Pharisees were the keepers of religious knowledge, they would've understood what Jesus was about. But they missed it because they didn't realize they weren't any different than the sinners they looked down upon. (See Luke 5:29-32.)

The same thing happens today in churches and towns and on social media and in blog posts. Religious people have had a field day with anything deemed wrong or sinful since the beginning of recorded history, and probably before. Legalistic tendencies--the process of elevating oneself while condemning another--are nothing new. The only difference is that today there is the broader platform of the internet from which to broadcast rants, finger pointing and hurtful speech.

When people who claim to be followers of Christ engage in this behavior, they lose sight of what Jesus came here to do. Let's go back to the story.

After the Pharisee has his moment of shock and disdain, Jesus tells him a story. "A creditor had two debtors. One owed 500 denarii, and the other 50. Since they could not pay it back, he graciously forgave them both. So, which of them will love him more?" The Pharisee responds, "I suppose the one he forgave more."

Bingo. That's the key, that's what this is all about. Jesus affirms the Pharisee's answer, then points out the love the sinful woman is displaying. He says, "Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she, with her tears, has washed My feet and wiped them with her hair. You gave Me no kiss, but she hasn’t stopped kissing My feet since I came in. You didn’t anoint My head with olive oil, but she has anointed My feet with fragrant oil."

This woman knew she was a sinner. She didn't need anyone broadcasting it from the rooftops or blasting her on social media. She knew what she had done wrong, that her sins were in fact many, and that she needed something more. She desperately craved the forgiveness she could only receive from Jesus. That forgivenessinstantaneous, I believe, though also verbally given by Jesus laterfueled an outpouring of lavish love.

That's what forgiveness from Jesus does, it enables us to lovetruly, richly, lavishly. We can't get it until we admit we need it, and we can't give it until we receive it. And friends, receiving forgiveness means accepting it.

In my opinion, therein lies the problem with the Christian community at large. Some of us can't see our own need for Jesus' forgiveness. That even though we do so-called good deeds, they are no better than filthy rags. We earn nothing by our efforts and we are no better than those we scorn. We are the ones who need forgiveness. 

Then there are those who have asked and now need to accept Jesus' forgiveness. This is where I so often fall, and maybe that's why I can see it so easily in others. I can't tell you how many times I have felt guilty for one single offense. And over and over again, I keep asking Jesus to forgive me for the same exact thing. And that, friends, is wrong.

Asking for forgiveness involves believing that we will be forgiven, then receiving that forgiveness. If you don't accept forgiveness, you don't really believe you're forgiven, or that you're forgiveable. You're not trusting that Jesus will do what He says, that He will keep His word, that He will and does forgive you the first time, every time. 

If we don't believe Jesus' wordno matter what it iswe make Him out to be a liar, to be dishonest, to not be good. And we are no better off than those who have yet to ask for His forgiveness. Accepting Jesus' forgiveness means believing it, taking it in, letting it change you, letting love take the place of sin and pain, letting Jesus rule in your heart. And that, my friends, is the key. That's what this is all about. 

I want to challenge you, if you say you follow Jesus, to examine your heart. Do you need forgiveness, or do you need to accept forgiveness? Is anything standing in the way of you being able to truly love those who so desperately need it? Anger, finger pointing, name calling, and the like won't change hearts, won't call people to Jesus. Only love can do that.

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