Unconditional Love and it's Relationship to Forgiveness
27 Sep 2003, Denis Jenkins
(Denis is a member of Thornleigh church)
Unconditional Love And it's Relationship to Forgiveness
It is so easy to confuse unconditional love with the concept of forgiveness. So often we believe that forgiveness must automatically flow on from unconditional love that is the trade mark of Christian Grace. It is often assumed that if we love someone unconditionally that we will naturally forgive them for whatever they do. Is this really the way God treats us? Is this really showing Christian virtue? As Christians are we really expected to be the doormats for the world? We are told if they smack you on one cheek, turn the other. Do good to those who despitefully use you. Does this mean that we have to go back and back to be punished over and over and because we are Christians, we have to take it with a smile, we must forgive and forget?
Story Of Prodigal Son
The story of the prodigal son is a story that illustrates the relationship of God's unconditional love with His steps of forgiving His son. Let us read Luke 15: 11 to 31.
While the father allowed the son to take his portion of the family wealth did he forgive him for interrupting the family business? Was the father duty bound to forgive the son and go out to find him in case he might have fallen into need?
While the father loved his son unconditionally and sat at the gate longing for his return, he was not able to forgive him unless the son asked to be forgiven. The father did not take off after the son forgiving him for his actions endeavoring to protect him from the consequences of his deeds. If the father had done that, he would be indulging the son in his wrong doing. While he loved his son dearly, he could not go to rescue him from his willful acts.
Christ Comes searching
You might well ask, what about the parable of the lost coin in Luke 15: 8-10 or the parable of the lost sheep in Luke15: 1-7. Didn't this illustrate that Christ demonstrating His unconditional love came searching for those who are lost? You see neither the sheep nor the coin made a decision to stray. Their being lost was not a decision to sin but a state of sin. The sheep unintentionally strayed while feeding on the good pasture. We can often become so engrossed even in doing the good things in life that we forget to keep our eye on the guidance of the shepherd to lead us so that we may avoid the hardships that we could walk right into unawares. The pasture can represent the nourishment that we gain feeding on the word of God. Even feeding on His word, we can stray if we loose sight of the leading of the shepherd. Christ desires to shepherd each one of us in His word through the Holy Spirit. Without the shepherding of the spirit we can not even begin to understand the mind of God and so Christ comes looking for us through the spirit as we stray in the very study of his word when we forget to include the Holy Spirit as our guide. He rescues us from the delusions of our humanity. How often can we be lost when we do not know that we are until we run into the briars of faulty human thinking?
The coin was not conscious at any time that it was lost. There are many in this world who are born into sin. They are in a state of sin not even knowing what sin is. The good shepherd through the spirit goes searching for those who don't know they are lost and speaks to their minds until through their decision to respond to God they are found.
The Prodigal Son was Different
However, the prodigal son was different. He chose to take a sinful path. As the scripture says, in Hebrews 10: 26, "If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of Truth there is no more forgiveness of sin." Therefore, since the son had turned away from the truth of his father, the father could not run after him and seek him for all the father would do is to indulge his son in his sin. The father had to wait for the son to repent and turn back to his him seeking a change in his life, before his father could forgive him.
Fathers Who Went Wrong
There are examples where fathers of the Bible endeavored to forgive their sons in the pretext of unconditional love without repentance and without being asked for forgiveness. Eli continually turned a blind eye to the wrong doing of his sons. He loved them so much that he thought that by forgiving them of their wrong deeds and allowing them to stay working in the temple that they maybe eventually persuaded to follow God. However, Eli's longsuffering, loving and forgiving spirit did no more than to make his sons secure in their wrong doing. King David also through his unconditional love confused love for indulgence when he forgave his sons for their wrong doing without requiring them to turn from their evil ways. These father's were right to love their sons unconditionally but they were wrong when they forgave them or pardoned them in their wrong doing. Instead, these father's needed to show their sons that they had fallen from grace and needed to show them that the consequences of their wrong doing was to separate them from their father.
Applying Unconditional Love to our Families
So it is with each of us, we should follow the model of Christ. For those of our children, spouses and church members who rebelliously depart from that which they know is right, we must maintain unconditional love but we must not indulge them by forgiving them in their wrong doing. Wrong doing must always bring separation either mentally or physically so that the wrong doer is made conscious of the need to change and return to the former relationship that they chose to leave.
The conditions of forgiveness
The conditions of forgiveness are made clear in the following verses that we shall read together.
Let us turn to 1 John 1:9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. As we read forgiveness has a condition. The wrong doer must first confess. As God cannot forgive us unless we confess neither can we forgive others unless the wrong doer confesses and is prepared to repent or turn away from the wrong doing. Here is where our conceptual problem begins. If I can't forgive then that means I will dislike or even hate the person. This is in our human terms where we fail. This is where we need the power of the Holy Spirit to separate unconditional love from our process of forgiveness.
Defining Unconditional Love = worth
Unconditional love is the worth we maintain in our mind about the wrong doer. When we see worth we will not hate the person. We will long for the return of the person to right doing just as the father waited and looked down the road for the return of his son.
Forgiveness is to do with Relationship
But forgiveness is the capacity to reunite the person's close association with one in terms of trust and a sharing and entrusting of ourselves with that person once again. Forgiveness is the ability to respect the person once more and restore him or her to their former position of trust just as if they had not wronged you. This condition my brothers and sisters can only occur when the wrong doer has made up his or her mind that there will be a turning away from the wrong. With the commitment to turn away from wrong, you can trust the wrong doer and restore him or her to the former position in the relationship. Forgiveness or the inability to forgive has nothing to do with love and hate. Forgiveness or lack of forgiveness is to do with separating one's self from the wrong doer so that the wrong doer is not being indulged in the wrong doing. The wrong doer has a sense of loss until being prepared to turn the behavior around. Forgiveness is an acknowledgement of change between two people. It is a contract of relationship.
Unconditional love is the worth that we place on people even though we may not be able to accept him or her into a close relationship nor are we able to emotionally support the individual in their wrong doing. To forgive is to remove blame once the person has turned away from wrong doing. But if the person does not turn around the behaviour the individual must be held responsible for the behavior. Forgiveness is separate from unconditional love. It is our confusing the concept of unconditional love and forgiveness that leads us in our human relationships to indulge one another in wrong doing. Unconditional love does not bring upon us the responsibility to be used as doormats for the evil of the wrong doer. Unconditional love will lead us to do very hard things that is needed for the good of the wrong doer but may bring sorrow and hurt making the wrong doer to see the enormity and consequences of their wrong doing. Unconditional love is the reason we always hope and look for restoration as the father did but unconditional love is also the reason we do not try to make that relationship restoration unless the wrong doer turn from wrong doing otherwise they will be made comfortable in their wrong doing.
Colossians 3:12, 13 shows the work of unconditional love and forgiveness.
Unconditional love is: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.
Forgiveness it says is to be carried out in the same way as the Lord forgives us. The Lord requires of us confession and recognition of wrong doing and a will to turn away from wrong doing before forgiveness can be given. If this condition is not met we are practicing indulgence not forgiveness.
How many times do we forgive?
In God's forgiveness does he only give us one chance? Does he say that if you fall away into wrong doing there is no more chance? No Jesus said that we are to give forgiveness every time someone turns from wrong doing no matter how many times they fail. 1 John 2: 1 explains why. Not one of us is able to turn totally from wrong doing while on this earth. In chapter 1:10 it says if we say we are without sin we lie. For this reason Jesus says in Luke 17: 3,4. How easy it is to let wrong doing pass by without confronting it. The will to rebuke shows the level of worth that one individual has for another. The individual is of such worth that they are worth fighting for. This is a part of unconditional love. God says he rebukes those whom he loves. But in our rebuking is a warning in 2 Cor 2: 5-7.
When Forgiveness Fails
Jesus told us however that in his dealings with us if we speak against Jesus we will be forgiven but if we speak against the Holy Spirit we will not be forgiven Luke 12: 9.
Let us not grieve the Holy Spirit so that we maybe in the centre of God's forgiveness but let us understand the difference between unconditional love and indulgence so that we will provoke one another to good works through the spirit.
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