What's Out? Mind-Game Christianity
A: "Do you believe God forgives you through the blood of Jesus Christ?"
B: "Yes, I believe that." (Meaning, "I assent to its truth)."
A: "Good. You are thereby totally forgiven by God."
Is this accurate? Is it saying more than Jesus would say?
Is forgiveness a mental game played with God and his grace based on the work of Jesus Christ?
With an uneasy heart I say "I don't think so."
"Forgive us our debts/sins, as we also have forgiven our debtors/those who sin against us. ...For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins."
We like to think that forgiveness is a neat, clean transaction just between our mental agreement and God's Word (promise). Other people are actually peripheral or unnecessary. Not so, according to Jesus. There are very real social, relational connections between us and others and God and us. Nothing is private about forgiveness.
Less you think this is going astray, let me refer you once again to Jesus as recorded in Matthew:
Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?"
Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.
"Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.
"The servant fell on his knees before him. 'Be patient with me,' he begged, 'and I will pay back everything.' The servant's master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.
"But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. 'Pay back what you owe me!' he demanded.
"His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, 'Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.'
"But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened.
"Then the master called the servant in. 'You wicked servant,' he said, 'I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?' In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.
"This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart." --Matthew 18:21-35
Now if there is a relational dimension to something as fundamental as the forgiveness of our sins, I wonder if all of our alleged privatized doctrines ("between just me and God") are suspect. What if all our theology is valid only through the gateway of the entire Great Commandment which ends with "...and your neighbor as yourself." What if it is true that we don't really love the God we can't see because we don't love the very real human being we do see. John the Apostle suggested something to that effect.
What if all propositional theology is valid only if relationally lived. I don't think the simplistic bifurcation (dividing into two parts) of Paul's letters (e.g., Ephesians) is correctly understood. We tend to think that the lofty doctrines of Ephesians chapters 1-3 are a thing in themselves. They present "truths" we then "have to live out" (chapters 4-6). Not quite accurate. The changed lives and ethical newness of chapters 4-6 are the God-energized validation that the truths of chapters 1-3 have taken root in human lives.
Unless we incarnate what we say we believe, we're stone monuments, not living messages; museum pieces, not world-changers.