Yesterday I wrote about atonement as forgiveness. I showed that there truly is a substitionary aspect of the atonement that must be grasped. This is because our sins actually require the paytment of a debt, or what has been called a ransom price. These elements are all clearly present in the ancient faith, both in the Old Testament system and in the New Testament Gospels and epistles. Debates about “how” this debt was paid, or “to whom” it was paid, generally tend to get us off track. Let me take this point a bit further.
I earlier referenced Matthew 18 and the payment that comes about through the canceling of the debt, or through forgiveness. But this debt theme in Matthew 18 seems to refer to money. The point of the story is clearly meant to take us beyond a monetary debt. Consider the sin of adultery as just one poignant and powerful example, especially since this particular sin demonstrates the whole aspect of violating and breaking a God-ordained covenant.
A person trusts their marriage partner deeply but they commit adultery. The one sinned against is profoundly wounded by this grave sin. I have counseled more than my share of grieving women whose husbands (it does, of course, sometimes occur that the woman is sexually unfaithful to her husband) have broken their marital vow about being faithful until death. So what does the woman, in this particular case, choose to do?
She can rightly divorce her husband. But let’s say that she wants to try to save the marriage. If she is serious about this choice then she must adopt the stance of forgiveness. Her husband genuinely asks her to forgive him. She now has a real choice. She can truly forgive him. If she does then she must adopt the hurt and pain of her husband’s sin and then learn to treat him as if nothing every happened. This is not only near impossible, to do this requires amazing, divine grace. Yet it does happen. A wife finds it within her heart to forgive and then treat her husband as if this breach never happened. She takes on the pain and offense of all that her mate brought about for the sake of restoring the relationship. Jim Danaher adds, “In fact, the relationship may be better than ever, at least to the extent that the guilty party realizes that the innocent one cherishes the relationship to the extent of being willing to pay dearly to preserve it” (Eyes That See, Ears That Hear, 99).
This situation for the innocent party in this context is very different from that of the party who has sinned. The person who forgives must genuinely calculate the desire to restore the relationship to its previous state and (also) whether or not it is worth the pain to make this choice they do not have to make. Danher rightly concludes, “When most of us make such a calculation, we are only willing to forgive if we judge the hurt to be something we can bear. If we think the offense is unbearable, we choose not to restore the relationship, and by so doing we equally chose not to forgive; that is, we do not forgive as God forgives” (Eyes That See, Ears That Hear, 100).
How can we communicate this awesome act of Christ’s death for our sin to the modern world? If you answer too quickly and easily I believe you’ve made a mistake. I will say more about this question next week but let me say again that we need to be absolutely certain that we are being truly faithful to the witness of Scripture and the good news of Jesus for all people everywhere. My concern is that we have substituted a view, or a human model for explaining what Christ did for us, in place of the death of Christ itself, which is truly the good news of God’s radical forgiveness for all who come to the dying and risen Lamb who delivers all who call upon him. Whoever you are, my dear reader, flee to the dying and risen Jesus alone. He will never reject you! God has made it plain that he forgives all who come to him through his Son.