Forgive Them

Who is it that you are to forgive? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Forgiveness can be very hard. I remember several years ago when I was employed at Wal-Mart that a girl came up to me who worked there and said something along the lines of, “Nick. You seem like a really wise person. I’m struggling with forgiving someone. Can you tell me how to do it?” I immediately asked “What’s his name?”

“How did you know?”

“It’s always a guy.”

It was a safe bet that I made that turned out to be right. Forgiveness is hard, but it is really the way of Christ. We could say if it was easy, everyone would do it. It’s not. It’s extremely difficult. However, if we withhold forgiveness from someone, we are not really hurting them as much as we are hurting ourselves. If someone wrongs you, that reveals something about them. If you refuse to forgive, that reveals a lot more about you.

Now that doesn’t mean as I said that it will be easy. Sometimes, it will take work to forgive and you might have to do it again and again and again. I also want to stress that I am not saying to go to the other person and say “I forgive you.” Of course, in some cases, such as if the person is dead or it could be harmful to you to encounter the person, this is impossible. If at all possible, let them come to you. However, you should be in a position where you are in an attitude of forgiveness and ready to forgive.

Years ago, I wrote a post about “Will your murderer be in Heaven?” There are several great stories of forgiveness in there. I urge you to go there and check it out as there is no need for me to reinvent the wheel here. People have forgiven those who have done great wrong to them.

Yet you could be thinking, “Yes, but this person intentionally did something to me incredibly hurtful. How do I forgive them?” We do that by looking at our example of Jesus. Look at what happens on the cross. You hear Jesus saying “Father. Forgive them. They know not what they do.”

Now we know that they didn’t understand that Jesus was God’s Messiah and actually YHWH with skin on. However, what is understood? Whatever their reasons for doing it, they were intentionally doing it. They weren’t doing it in the sense of saying “This hurts me more than it hurts you.” This wasn’t done accidentally. This was done intentionally and with forethought to it. This was an evil act of malice.

Holding to the deity of Christ also doesn’t mean that you think He knew everything about everything in His incarnation, but being omniscient isn’t necessary to see that this was an act of evil. Christ knew that, and yet what did He do? He sought their forgiveness. He did not forgive them from the cross since they had not repented and forgiveness requires that, but He sought their forgiveness.

When He died on the cross, He died as much for them as He did for anyone else. (I realize many Calvinist readers will disagree with me. I am not interested in that debate, but if you hold to the L in the Tulip, consider that any that were Elect He died for just as much as any others.) He doesn’t love you or I any more than He loves them. That’s a love that’s hard for us to comprehend.

That’s the first point to consider, but then realize what you have done. Whatever someone else has done to you, you have done worse to Jesus Christ. You have rejected Him who has done so much for you. Years ago, a friend said something in reply to the idea that if you were the only one to save, Jesus would have come for you. He replied that if that were the case, you would have killed Him also.

I often tell people to do an exercise. Think of the person who has wronged you. Then think about standing before Jesus and telling Him what this other person has done to you. Oh wait. It’s not just that. Think about standing before Jesus on the cross and telling Him as He is being crucified what this other person has done to you.

Does that make it seem ridiculous to complain about that then? This is not to downplay what you have gone through, but to show that what you have done to Jesus is actually worse than that. This is the King of the universe here and sin is saying “I want to take your place.” We have all knowingly or unknowingly made a claim to want to be God. We have all done directly ourselves the sin that took place in the Garden.

Again, this does not mean it will be easy, but it is possible and not only that, required. Jesus says if we do not forgive others, we will not be forgiven, and as C.S. Lewis says, there’s no indication He doesn’t mean what He says. This could require a good therapist and/or pastor to work with you on this. That’s fine too. As long as you’re working on forgiving, I think Christ sees that.

There are evil people out there, and it’s easy to look at the evil in them. It’s far more beneficial to look at the evil in us. That’s the one evil that we can directly do something about.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

The Draw Of Sin

Why is it we get drawn into sinful things? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Yesterday, I was talking with a friend about matters and he started talking with me about some of my writings on the topic of pornography. He told me that he thinks I don’t mention that it’s normally a sin people fall into unintentionally. I can fully agree with this which leads to some thinking on the nature of sin and its draw.

When I was growing up, the D.A.R.E. program was the big thing. This was a program meant to keep kids off of drugs. I never attended a meeting or anything like that, but I was well aware of the organization. There were several commercials done in that age with kids talking about what they wanted to be when they grew up and one common line in them was “No one ever says, ‘I want to be a junkie when I grow up.’ ”

And this is how it is with most sins in our lives. Very few spouses will get up in the morning and say “You know, I think today would be a good day to have an affair.” Someone stopping at the bar for an evening won’t likely be thinking “I really want to be an alcoholic.” Someone who overeats on Thanksgiving too much is not likely thinking “I want to get addicted to food and become really overweight.”

With the last two, it’s not to say those automatically happen. A lot of people do overeat on Thanksgiving and manage to control themselves the rest of the year for the most part. Some people can go into a bar and get a drink and control their alcohol and be just fine. These can just be gateway points.

Here’s something to think about. When we are tempted with sin, we are in some way tempted with something that we think is good. This is not to say that the sin is good. No sin is. This is to say that this is our nature.

The porn addict has a desire to see a beautiful person of the opposite sex naked and has a desire to have sex. None of those are wrong desires. Most teenage boys growing up especially will have those desires and that’s normal for them. Having the desires is not a problem and is no sin. It’s what one does with the desires.

In this, C.S. Lewis gave a great piece of wisdom. Only good people understand temptation. Bad people do not. Bad people give in to it. Good people wrestle against it and can be grieved greatly by it. With her interest in saints in the Orthodox Church, I have told her that the saints are the ones who are most aware of their sin and struggle against it. Take the best saint you can think of in any tradition, and yes, we Protestants need to recognize there are some people who have led lives that we think are exceptionally holy, and realize that as they were dying, they still had sins they were struggling with.

This doesn’t mean that someone won’t want the sin. That is part of the struggle. You will not be tempted with something that is disgusting to you. Most of us will not be wrestling with the temptation to have sex with our mothers, for example. That seems absolutely repulsive to us even if we think our mothers are beautiful and wonderful women.

Some of you might be skeptical of the idea of temptations involving perceived good. What about murder? Usually, a crime is committed for one of three reasons. Money, sex, power. None of these are evil in themselves. It is how they are wanted and how they are used. A person wanting a murder could want justice. Justice isn’t a bad thing. It’s just the murderer wants to be judge, jury, and executioner.

Even the suicide wants something good. The suicide wants some peace from what is going on in their lives. Peace is a good thing. They just have a wrong way of wanting to get that peace.

In some cases, one does need to remove the object of temptation. It’s not in all cases, but some. If you have a problem with overeating, you can’t respond by removing all eating from your life. You’ll soon have another problem. It depends on the object of temptation entirely.

If one is tempted with porn, one should seek to cut things off entirely since porn in itself is a sin. It’s not wise to say that one needs a moderate amount of sin in their lives. In other cases, self-discipline is the idea. It also requires self-examination where you look into yourself and ask “What do I really want?” Don’t settle with a base answer like sex, power, justice, etc. Ask why one wants those things.

Suppose we go back to the guy tempted with porn. What does he want? On a basic level, he wants sex and he wants to see a naked woman, or in this case, women. Having a desire for the naked human female form is not wrong and having a desire for sex is not wrong. Yet we could ask what other things this guy wants. Perhaps he wants to feel like a man. That could be a root of the problem. Then we have to ask why this guy thinks he needs porn to feel like a man. He could ask what it really means to be a man. These are the productive questions.

Many an affair begins innocently. A woman starts talking with a man at the office and then they talk and talk and one day they go out together for lunch at the same time and just happen to go together and they just talk and talk and before too long, they’re in a hotel room together. At the start, she just wanted someone to talk to. That wasn’t wrong. What could we ask?

Why does she want this connection? What does it provide for her that she’s lacking? If she is already married, how is she viewing her marriage? Are there legitimate problems that need work? (And in every marriage, the answer is yes) What can she do to improve it?

Many times, dealing with the actions can be just like dealing with the symptoms of a disease without dealing with the disease itself. We Christians often talk about repentance so much, but that repentance which we rightly talk about is a process. It can be a long and hard and painful process. Repentance does not mean the temptation goes away or one no longer struggles. That we are struggling is really a sign of how seriously we are taking sin. People who don’t care don’t really talk about repentance. If you are feeling guilty for a sin and wrestling with it, even if there is a part of you that still wants it, as far as I’m concerned, you are in the process of repentance.

Finally, have some grace for yourself. Everyone is always struggling with some sin and for many of us, we’ve been struggling with the same kind of sin for years. Grace seems to be a concept we often think applies to everyone else instead of ourselves. Picture what you’re saying to yourself. If you wouldn’t say it to anyone else in the same situation, don’t say it to yourself. Grace is always there for people who are willing to struggle through the walk and God is always there with them even if one doesn’t feel like it.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Openness Unhindered. Further Thoughts Of An Unlikely Convert On Sexual Identity And Union With Christ

What do I think of Rosaria Butterfield’s book published by Crown & Covenant Publications? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We all know the story. A person lives their life struggling with sin and then, they come to Christ. They pour out their heart in repentance to Him and God forgives them and frees them from the shame of the past. No more are they hindered by the chains that kept them bound. They walk in newness of life free from the past temptations entirely.

Or…..maybe not.

In fact, a lot of people would wish that was the case. Sometimes some will be thinking that God betrayed them or lied to them. If we have become new creatures in Christ, why is it that the past is still an issue? Why do we not experience deliverance from all the struggles of the past? How can I be a new creature in Christ and still struggle mightily with a sin?

Rosaria Butterfield knows about this quite well. She had been a professor living in a lesbian relationship when a pastor gently responded to an article she wrote about the Promise Keepers. This pastor was a pushback to her, but also was not in her face. She, in fact, notes that the first time she visited him and his wife, they did not give her the Gospel or invite her to church. In fact, she appreciated that greatly.

She began studying the Bible on her own and in fact studying it as a postmodern. Romans 1 was quite a difficult passage for her, but one she could not escape. What if instead of gay pride, she was just really having pride? What if what she took pride in was in fact really a form of rebellion? The questions came at her fast and furious.

One day, she just reached her breaking point. She wound up admitting that God was God and becoming a Christian. From then on, she knew things had to change. Much of her book is about dealing with this. Indeed she did change. She is now the wife of a reformed pastor in North Carolina, but she has a heart for those who are struggling with many issues.

One of Butterfield’s key themes is identity. Our identity when we come to Christ and even before is not to be based on our sexual orientation, as the term is used. Our identity is greater than the people we are attracted to or share a bed with. One of her main points she wants to have raised is we should not use terms like “gay Christian” even when we speak of Christians who agree that homosexual activity is wrong and want to live a celibate life. Why take an adjective that describes a condition that the Bible refers to as sin and making it part of your identity just like Christian is in your identity? Taking it as an identity is in some way clinging to it and holding on to it, as if it’s something central to who you are.

She does realize that some Christians disagree with this and in fact, she has an example of that in the book. She talks about her friend Rebecca who still struggles with same-sex attraction. Butterfield makes an important point that for some people, sanctification does not necessarily mean being delivered from the sinful temptations. Heterosexuality is not the goal of sanctification, but holiness is and you can just as much be a sinner as a heterosexual as you can a homosexual. For some people, the sign of their sanctification could be living with these sinful desires and NOT giving in.

To the rest of us, she says part of the danger we have could be what she calls the gag reflex to homosexuality. We can describe homosexual acts as if to get the response of “ewww. Yucky.” What we end up doing can be saying “I’m so thankful I don’t do that!” or for those Christians who are struggling with same-sex attraction, putting thoughts in their heads. We can end up having a sort of superiority complex to the homosexuals who do this “shameful behavior.” Now I do believe the Bible describes it as shameful, but that is not because of something being gross. Our problems with a behavior should be with the moral status of the behavior and not the personal taste status of the behavior.

For an analogy, imagine a pastor at a church describing the evil of an affair. Rather than state that a sexual affair is an evil thing, he goes into great detail of a man meeting a woman at a hotel room and describing what goes on behind closed doors. Is he really helping anyone? No. We all know what goes on behind closed doors. If anything, most men in the audience are now suddenly having to deal with a temptation as they are having a fantasy play out in their minds.

Butterfield also stresses that for a Christian, life should be a life of repentance. We should be watching ourselves to see where we are falling short. Butterfield does write with the heart of a counselor. At times, sometimes the reformed aspect can shine through a bit brighter so if, like me, you don’t hold to a Calvinistic position, that can be difficult, but either way, those of us who don’t still do agree with repentance and we do still see God as sovereign even if we don’t understand how that works out.

She also stresses the importance of community. Community should be a way we come together and pray for one another and if anyone does struggle with unwanted attractions, they can find comfort in having people who will hear them. They might not be able to do anything beyond that, besides pray of course, but they can be listeners.

Butterfield’s book is a good one. If there was one area I would change, it’s that there is talk about dealing with unwanted sexual attractions and such, but at the same time, I always want to see that there is a positive message about sexuality. A true sexuality is something God gives us to enjoy and celebrate. It would have been good to have heard Butterfield’s thoughts on that.

Still, this is a book that will leave you thinking and hopefully get you more in tune with thinking about holiness. Repentance is a word much more on my mind since reading this. I also wouldn’t mind seeing more community as described by Butterfield and will definitely be watching to check for the gag reflex approach to homosexuality.

In Christ,
Nick Peters