Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The response to our Sunday series, "Stories Jesus Told," has been very gratifying -- especially because people are being serious about LIVING out the lessons, not just filling their heads with more Bible knowledge.

One man responded to the Good Samaritan study by picking up a man walking by the highway with a gas can, assuming his car had run out of gas. Once in his car, the man explained that he had lost his driver's license and so was doing a lot of hitchhiking. He learned that people were more likely to pick him up if he carried a gas can. Creative!

I had a great email question about the conclusion to Jesus' story on forgiveness.

If we take Jesus' words very literally in Matthew 18:35 and Matthew 6:14, 15, we might conclude that a believer could lose God's forgiveness by an unwillingness to forgive. Because we believe that the Scriptures teach that those who are truly saved cannot ever be lost, we tend to look for another explanation. Here are a few alternatives:

1. Jesus' parabolic teaching was not meant to be a "systematic theology" in which every sentence was intended as propositional truth to be organized in categories that seem logical to our Western, enlightenment-influenced thinking.

2. All true Christians will eventually forgive. They may struggle with the sin of an unforgiving spirit temporarily, but if they are truly born again, they will come to forgiveness.

3. If a person refuses to forgive, at some point that becomes evidence that they have not truly been regenerated. An unforgiving heart is inconsistent with a regenerate heart.

4. If a believer refuses to forgive, he doesn't lose God's forgiveness at a salvation level, but does at some other level -- e.g. day-to-day fellowship including the joy, freedom, and peace that come from walking in obedience to God. Perhaps this could be illustrated in marriage where some "offences" affect the closeness of the relationship, but have no impact on its permanence.

5. Perhaps Matthew 18:35 was meant to be a "proverbial" statement, rather than a precise theological proposition. The book of Proverbs is that -- a collection of "proverbs," that is, a collection of pithy statements of wisdom, which are generally demonstrated to be so. It is not the book of "promises." For example, a truism which is repeated frequently in Proverbs in various forms is that "generous people prosper." It is not a guarantee that if I am generous, I will be rich. You might be able to find a generous person who doesn't always prosper. This doesn't mean that the book of Proverbs is false, has errors, or deceives us. It is the book of "proverbs." We need to read and interpret it for what it is, not what we might like it to be. I could be stretching it here, but maybe that's what Jesus' parabolic teaching was also.

What do you think?

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