Today we will be looking at the topic of forgiveness, and how a recognition of the depth of our forgiven state should motivate us to forgive others.
Colossians 3:13 – “Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.”
Paul is here reminding the Colossian believers of an obligation they have to forgive anyone who offends them.
The faults that Paul mentions here in this verse speak of those who have complaints or blame to assign to another. In my experience, there will always be blame to assign to someone, and there will always be complaints about others. The exhortation that Paul gives for overcoming this blame and complaining attitude of others is that those who are to forgive need only to recognize how much God forgave them.
If we are honest about this kind of thinking, we have been in this same condition before God; grumblers and complainers, assigning blame to others. Like our natural parents Adam and Eve, we have looked for excuses as to why we have not obeyed God, and we have been quick to assign blame to another:
Genesis 3:11-13 – “Have you eaten from the tree whose fruit I commanded you not to eat?” The man replied, “It was the woman you gave me who gave me the fruit, and I ate it.” Then Yahweh God asked the woman, “What have you done?” “The serpent deceived me,” she replied. “That’s why I ate it.”
In our natural state prior to coming to faith in Messiah, if you’ll pardon the expression, the apple hadn’t fallen far from the tree. And yet, even in our new relationship with God, as we seek to grow the “new man” within us, sometimes those old tendencies rear their head and cause us to stumble.
Now, at this point, many believers may agree with this challenge of being led astray by our old, sinful tendencies and be reminded of Paul’s monologue in Romans seven. This is where he describes the challenges of overcoming the flesh to be obedient to the word of God. It’s a long quote, but worth reviewing in the context of our current discussion:
Romans 7:14-23 – For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold as a slave to sin. For I do not understand what I am doing, because I do not practice what I want to do, but I do what I hate. Now if I do what I do not want to do, I agree with the law that it is good. So now I am no longer the one doing it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh. For the desire to do what is good is with me, but there is no ability to do it. For I do not do the good that I want to do, but I practice the evil that I do not want to do. Now if I do what I do not want, I am no longer the one that does it, but it is the sin that lives in me. So I discover this law: When I want to do what is good, evil is present with me. For in my inner self I delight in God’s law, but I see a different law in the parts of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and taking me prisoner to the law of sin in the parts of my body. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?
This passage has been used by many to justify the condition of sin in their lives, saying, “See, even the apostle Paul struggled with sin so much that he couldn’t always faithfully follow God’s law, even though he wanted to.”
Well, that is certainly how it appears by reading this passage in isolation. However, if we place it back into its context within the overall message of Romans, we may see that it is teaching something completely different. In a moment, we’ll take a look at what this passage looks like within the wider context of Paul’s letter to the Romans.
When we step back and take a wider view of Paul’s line of reasoning starting back in the beginning of chapter six of Romans, we can get a better perspective of where this line of reasoning goes, and how he illustrates various points along the way.
In the opening verses of chapter six, Paul writes, “What should we say then? Should we continue in sin so that grace may multiply? Absolutely not! How can we who died to sin still live in it?”
With this plain statement, we can already see how Paul is of the opinion that believers should not be continuing to struggle with sinful lifestyles. This is the opening salvo in the argument which follows, in which Paul attempts to show how believers are no longer subject to the sin they have become so used to.
In one of his first illustrations, he describes how the believer has in essence died with Messiah, and therefore should be living a new life.
Romans 6:11-12 – “So, you too consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Messiah Yeshua. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, so that you obey its desires.”
He then uses the example of slavery, and declares how believers have been set free from the slavery of sin.
Romans 6:22 – “But now, since you have been set free from sin and have become enslaved to God, you have your fruit, which results in sanctification – and the outcome is eternal life!”
In the beginning of chapter seven, he then uses an illustration from marriage, saying how death of one partner releases them from the bonds of marriage, and the survivor is free to marry another without committing adultery.
Romans 7:2 – “For example, a married woman is legally bound to her husband while he lives. But if her husband dies, she is released from the law regarding the husband.”
This is an illustration of moving from the letter of the law in Moses to the spirit of the law in Messiah.
He then even goes so far as to demonstrate how the very law of God itself, that which was intended for life, can produce death because of the sinful tendencies of the unregenerate human heart. That long passage in chapter seven which we have already reviewed is the continuation of that thought. It’s as if he is expressing the thoughts, not of a believer, but of an unregenerate Jew who is still attempting to hold to the law of God by their own merit, through their flesh.
But the culmination of all of these examples and illustrations comes in the triumphant exclamation of verses 24-25 of chapter seven: “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Messiah Yeshua our Lord!”
He comes to the conclusion that God, through belief in Messiah, has the ability to overcome all of these challenges. He raises believers to life, sets them free from sin and marries them to a new husband!
Then, it’s as if Paul, taking one final look over his shoulder at all of the illustrations he has just made, re-states the problem of the one who is not born from above:
Romans 7:25-8:5 – “So then, with my mind I myself am serving the law of God, but the flesh, the law of sin.”
As the narrative then moves into the next chapter, his line of reasoning then ascends to the beautiful reality of the regenerate believer, one who has become born again through a vibrant faith in the Messiah:
Romans 8:1-5 – “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those in Messiah Yeshua, because the law of the Spirit of life in Messiah Yeshua has set you free from the law of sin and death. What the law could not do since it was weakened by the flesh, God did. He condemned sin in the flesh by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh as a sin offering, in order that the law’s requirement would be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit have their minds set on the things of the Spirit.”
The answer to the problem of sin and the flesh, Paul says, is to live by the empowering of God’s Spirit. This should be the reality for the believer, not the see-saw of frustrated obedience in Romans chapter seven; no, that is the result of trying to serve God in the flesh and not through his indwelling Spirit.
This teaching on living by the Spirit actually dovetails perfectly with our current discussion regarding forgiveness of others, because when we are attempting to serve God in the flesh, we open ourselves to all of the negative connotations of worldly religion. Among other things, we can fall prey to a measure of hypocrisy, something hated by all and cautioned against by Messiah.
Matthew 6:14-15 – “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
When we refuse to forgive, it’s the flesh that is rising up because it has been offended by something that it does not approve of. That is the natural reaction of the natural person, the one who has not been regenerated by the Spirit of God. But it is hypocritical of us to be subject to the flesh and to remain unforgiving of others. Why? Because the admonition of Paul in Colossians 3:13 says because “the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.” A literal rendering of this instruction would be “in the same manner or to the same degree that God has forgiven you, you should do in like fashion to others.”
When we tie this admonition to the realization of the believer’s new and empowering life in the Spirit, we can see how this instruction can be observed and followed in our lives today. Our flesh may recoil at the idea of forgiving someone who may not seem to deserve it, but the Spirit living inside us can empower us to provide that forgiveness anyway. This is not only a suggestion but an urgent command: “you must forgive others.”
This is how believers can be witnesses to those around them that they have been regenerated by the Spirit of God. This is how the kingdom of God continues to grow: through our faithful obedience to the commands of God, and through extending the love and forgiveness of God that we have received to others.
We have to remember that we have been disobedient before God in any number of ways that only we know within ourselves, yet somehow God was willing to overlook these rebellious faults and still call us to himself. If his same Spirit resides in us, then is it not reasonable that he wants to extend that same forgiveness through us?
With what measure and how much has God forgiven you? When we realize the depth of that forgiveness, it should reveal our ability, and our obligation, to forgive others in a new light.
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