The ‘vertical’ understanding and the Horizontal application
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As a teenager, I read the testimony of a woman who came to Christ after living a sordid, sexual existence. Although she did not go into detail, I was shocked that she wasn’t keeping it a secret. People, including her parents, would find out what she got up to; I was horrified! What I had yet to comprehend at that point in my life was the reality of Romans 8:1-2.
“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.”
These are some of the most liberating words in the bible; they are transformative and life changing. However, there remains a need for us, as Christians, to translate this ‘vertical’ understanding of God’s gift of forgiveness to me, into a ‘horizontal’ application of being able to offer my gift of forgiveness to others.
The ‘vertical’ understanding of God’s gift of forgiveness
Do you remember what it feels like to experience God’s forgiveness either at the point of salvation or after repenting of personal sin? Freedom! The enemy, Satan, cannot hold anything over us anymore. The picture presented to us in Revelation 12:10 of the accuser of the saints standing before God and accusing them day and night, comes to mind. “Accuse away” we cry, go ahead because I am free; there is now no condemnation!
God’s forgiveness offers a liberation that enables us to stand up straight and begin to walk forward with confidence. The irony is that the newfound liberation and confidence comes not through self-belief and certainly not through self-forgiveness. Our source of freedom has a name and sits beyond the reach of corruption and external influences. His name is Jesus. If we continue to read on in Romans 8 we will soon discover that no charge can be brought against those who know Christ’s forgiveness. Christ intercedes for us (v.34) and nothing will be, “able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (v.39)
Horizontal application – offering my gift of forgiveness to others
Knowing that I am forgiven is one thing. Being able to forgive is another. There may be times in our life when we feel angry at God, but one thing we will never need to do, is to forgive him. Regardless of how we feel about God at times, he has never let us down nor will he ever do anything wrong. But people will. People we don’t know and people we have loved, trusted and looked up to – will let us down or even cause unmeasurable pain. So where does that leave us? In the first instance, probably longing and crying out for justice!
During this season in our lives whether short or long, we must not be tempted or encouraged to wrongly grant forgiveness to an unrepentant offender. This is not an admirable thing to do. It is not a Christian witness. Those watching from the outside will wonder how this can be? How could you forgive them when they don’t even care? Where is the justice? There is none and as time goes on, this flawed application of forgiveness will begin to fester in the Christian’s heart.
Imagine a more powerful image instead, where the wounded person holds out a gift-wrapped present called forgiveness. It is precious and costly. It is available to the offender but only after an acknowledgement of their wrongdoing to the person they have hurt. They become sorrowful for their behaviour and its consequences. They ask for forgiveness. This genuine brokenness on the part of the offender means the gift should be offered by us, but the pain of this transaction must not be underestimated.
For us, there may be scars to bear, but we will have transacted forgiveness in the way our heavenly father modelled. When asked by others, “how could you have forgiven them?” we will actually have something to say, and a way to point them to Christ.
Pray with us today's prayer request:
In the Anglican Church in Brazil, their Theology Seminary is called Seminário Anglicano Teologico (SAT). There are around three hundred students studying there. All classes are currently online only. Thank God for this great training resource and pray for all the students to study and serve with excellence.
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