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Commentary on "Relationships""



Day 4: Tuesday, January 18, 2011 - Forgiveness



Today’s lesson is an overview of “forgiveness”. It cites Ephesians 4:2 and asks how the reader is applying this truth in his/her life:

with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love,

The lesson then says the counseling profession has recently begun to “utilize the protective effects of a committed Christian viewpoint,” mentioning prayer, spiritual journaling, memorization of key biblical texts, and forgiveness as examples of “tools” sometimes used in therapy. The lesson then asks what Matthew 5:23-25 and Luke 17:3, 4, and 23:34 teach about forgiveness.

Matthew 5:23-25: So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison.

Luke 17:3, 4: Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”

Luke 23:24: And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments.

The lesson ends by asking how awareness of other’s problems can help us forgive them, and how we can learn to forgive those who are deliberately trying to hurt us.



First, this lesson on forgiveness (page 45 in the Teachers’ Quarterly) is within the framework of the teachers’ guide’s comments on pages 45-47. The author attempts to establish how humanity became out of unity with God. He states:

“The first sin broke that unity. We no longer knew God. We didn’t understand His motives. In fact, we were suspicious of Him, because we attributed our own selfishness to Him.

“At that point, it wasn’t too difficult to assume that other people were out to get us, as well; and they often were, because they really were just like us…

“Eventually, God revealed His law to Moses to remind us of where we had come from and how far we had strayed. It could be compared to a finger directing us toward the character of God, which was supposed to be the model for our relationships with one another and Him. But people became intensely fascinated with the loops and whorls and fine lines on the finger…

“Through Christ, God restored the unity with Him—and with one another—that we were meant to enjoy. We no longer had to be what we had been. God was in us, and we were in Him, one in the Spirit and at peace.”


False Foundation

This commentary makes a couple of grave assumptions that form the foundation of an unbiblical view of reality. First, the idea that sin led to our no longer knowing God or understanding His motives, that humanity became suspicious of Him and attributed human motives to God, is completely contrary to Scripture.

Sin cause spiritual death and separated us from God, to be sure. Scripture contains many statements of this fact with Ephesians 2:1-3 being one of the more direct statements of our natural condition:

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

Romans 1:18-23, however explains the effects of this separation on humanity:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

This passage is extremely clear that natural man suppresses the knowledge of God by its own wickedness, that God has clearly revealed His eternal power and divine nature, and all humans are without excuse. Moreover, verse 21 states explicitly that mankind “knew God”, but because they did not honor Him as God or give thanks to Him, this stubborn refusal to acknowledge and thank Him cause them to become futile and speculative and to have foolish, darkened hearts.

Sin did not cause man to misunderstand God’s motives, nor did it cause anyone to attribute to God human motives. All twisted perceptions of God have come about by human wickedness and the willful suppression of the knowledge of God.

In other words, God doesn’t depend upon us to reveal Him to others. He reveals Himself; He takes responsibility for showing His true nature to all mankind through what has been made. God is not obscure except to those who refuse to see.

The assumption that God’s character and motives have been misunderstood is a false belief that grows out of the Great Controversy model that casts Satan as Christ’s powerful foe who has blinded the eyes of man so they misunderstand God.

Wrong! The Bible states overtly that man’s lack of acknowledging God is his own responsibility. Satan has not blinded humanity. Humans are individually responsible before God for either accepting or suppressing the knowledge of Him through what Has been revealed.

Second, the Teacher’s Quarterly states that God gave the law to Moses and compares it to a finger pointing back to the character of God which was to be a model for our relationships with one another.

Wrong again. The Bible never compares the law to God’s character. Again, this belief grows out of the great controversy model that states humanity must reflect the character of Christ, and the law is the window or guide for people to know how to become like Him.

Rather, the Bible states clearly that the law was given for one purpose: to point out and to increase sin and to hold us in check until faith would come:

For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. (Romans 3:20 ESV)

For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression. (Romans 4:14-15 ESV)

What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead. I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. (Romans 7:7-11 ESV)

Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. (Galatians 3:23-26 ESV

The law came to awaken Israel to the fact of their sin, to articulate the curse of death for all those who broke any part of the law, and to foreshadow the Fulfillment that would come in the person of the Lord Jesus.

The character of God is never shown in Scripture to be a model for our relationships with one another; His character is never our example for how to become like Him. Rather, the law was given to us to reveal how depraved and hopeless we are.

Jesus came not to show us how to be like the Father but to pay for sin with His blood so we can be reunited with the Trinity. Jesus was not an example of how to become righteous. He IS our righteousness (Rom 3:21). He came as our Substitute; He became our sin so we could become the righteous of God in Christ (2 Cor 5:21); He became the curse of the law for us (Gal 3:13) so we can have life in Him.

Jesus did not come to show us how we can be. Our unity with God is not automatic; the Holy Spirit does not indwell everyone, nor does He indwell those who decide to live “right”.

The Holy Spirit only indwells those who place their faith in the Lord Jesus and accept His sacrifice for sin. Then, having believed, He seals us with the Holy Spirit of promise (Eph 1:13-14).



In the context of a biblical understanding of sin, depravity, and who we are based on who we are in Christ, forgiveness becomes a completely different “thing”. Forgiveness does not mean “forgive and forget”, going on without any concern for the past.

Forgiveness means remembering what was done to us in order to protect ourselves from further harm, but it means giving the responsibility for revenge and justice to God, because the load of having to carry anger and a desire to “right the wrongs” is a load only He is big enough to carry. That load would eventually kill us if we carry it.

As Christ-followers we are obligated to ask forgiveness when we hurt another, and we are to let go of our grudges and resentments. But we don’t just decide to live with injustice; we surrender our feelings to God and ask Him to show us how to love the other for His sake.

When Jesus said, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do,” He was not forgiving those soldiers crucifying Him. They were not asking His forgiveness, and we are not able to offer forgiveness to people who do not request it. But Jesus did surrender His “right” to hold their offense against them. Instead of forgiving them, He turned them over to God. Stephen did the same thing as he neared death from stoning. He turned His killers over to God, asking God not to lay a charge against them. Stephen did not deal directly with his murderers. He gave them to God.

Romans 12:17-19 says,

Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”

“Therapeutic forgiveness” is “cheap” and never actually deals with the reality of the weight of offenses done against one another. We cannot forgive people of transgressions they do to us if they do not ask for forgiveness. We are foolish to “forgive” them if there is no repentance, because we open ourselves to them for further transgressions. But we are instructed to pray for our enemies, and Jesus modeled the ultimate way a person who has been born again (and His modeling was never intended for non-born again people; His life was only an example to those who already have been saved and made alive) to release the weight of injustice.

When person refuses to repent and ask forgiveness, or when he or she dies without acknowledging his sin against another, the one wronged has no choice but to turn over that person’s consequences to God. We release to the our Father the weight of injustice, and we trust Him to deal justly with the other while not moving back into a destructive or dangerous relationship as if the slate has been wiped clean.

For example, if someone you know molested you as a child but never acknowledged the sin or asked for forgiveness, it would be morally wrong to allow that person to have access to your own child without close supervision. Even though you have turned over the sin against you to God and have trusted Him to deal justly with that person, you still must protect yourself and your children. Protection does not mean you carry anger or “unforgiveness” in your heart. It simply means that you acknowledge the objective reality that the other person is not safe, that you have admitted the sin and have asked God to intervene, both to heal you and to deal with the unrepentant one, and you are acting in His wisdom to protect against future transgressions against yourself of those for whom you are responsible.

For lesser sins, Matthew 18 gives us the model for how to deal with others who offend us.



  1. Forgiveness must be understood from a biblical worldview. If we believe that the law reveals God’s character as a model for how to be moral, and if we believe that we have come to misunderstand God’s “motives” and must have His character revealed by the law, we misunderstand Scripture.
  2. All men are without excuse, according to Romans 1. We have suppressed the knowledge of God with our wickedness. He has revealed Himself; we either choose to acknowledge Him as God and give thanks, or we refuse to do so.
  3. Forgiveness does not mean “forgive and forget”. It means remembering so we won’t be hurt further and giving to God our right to get even.
  4. We cannot forgive unless we trust God to care for us, heal our wounds, and deal justly with the offender.
  5. Because Jesus died for our sin, we are forgiven when we accept His blood on our behalf. Only then can we offer forgiveness and react in a biblical way to those who offend us.




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