Radical Forgiveness at the Heart of the Gospel

At the heart of the gospel is radical forgiveness. God has forgiven us in Jesus Christ. Forgiveness removes the wall that separates us from God and one another. In the Roman Empire nothing could be further removed from religion and everyday life than forgiveness.

I recently watched several historical series on Rome and the Empire. This viewing was connected to my interest in all things Roman after personally seeing some of the more impressive ruins of the ancient Empire in March. I am struck by the absence of forgiveness in Roman practice and Roman religion. The teaching of Jesus and Paul challenged the very heart of the Empire regarding what was most basic to faith and life: forgiveness.

47 Modern Christian scholar Miroslav Volf has written: "Forgiveness places us on a boundary between enmity and friendship, between exclusion and embrace. It tears down the wall of hostility that wrongdoing erects, but it doesn't take us into the territory of friendship. Often, that's all we can muster the strength to do, and all that offenders will allow us” (Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace).

 

We cannot always establish a friendship with some people but we can forgive them. Some will not even allow this forgiveness to flow freely but we can still stand in the place of forgiveness by offering ourselves to them in the humble spirit of forgiveness that we’ve come to know in Jesus. In a culture stripped almost entirely of grace we can give forgiveness and receive it where it is given.

Writing about the power and place of humility Rich Mouw, the president of Fuller Theological Seminary, adds, "Humility is a spirit of self-examination. It's a hermeneutic of suspicion toward yourself and charity toward people you disagree with."

I love that. Humility examines self, not the other. If we disagree I remain suspicious of myself, not of you. If I disagree with you love itself requires me to be suspicious of me before I am remotely suspicious about you. This is what love is according to the apostle in 1 Corinthians 13:7, “[Love] always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

So far as I can tell we are never urged to examine others! (This is why the oft used phrase that we are called to be “fruit inspectors” is hollow to me.) We are clearly told to examine ourselves. The church (corporate) must judge, and even reject, false teaching and false teachers. But this is not the same as me passing judgment on you, or me examining your actions, words or motives according to how I hear, understand or receive them. Indeed, the Scripture seems fairly clear about not passing judgment in most of the ways that we do it inside the church in our time.