Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Path To Reconciliation

Excerpt from "Trends & Faith", The Great Commission Sept 2007. By Dr Leong Tien Fock

"Most Christians take for granted that when Christ died on the cross, He bore our sins. That means He substituted for us and suffered on our behalf. This is clearly taught in Scripture. But this teaching is becoming unpopular, especially among some younger christians. It has even been labelled "cosmic child abuse". This is not the place for a comprehensive response to this rising trend. We will consider one issue.

The charge of "cosmic child abuse" is based on the assumption that the teaching that Christ died on our behalf means He was punished as an innocent third party by His Father. This is not true. We need to look at the nature of forgiveness. In the process we will also see why forgiveness is difficult and why in some cases reconciliation is even more difficult. This helps to explain why there is often an impasse in resolving personal conflicts.

To forgive is to cancel a debt. In the Lord's Prayer we read, "Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors." (Matt 6:12) In human relationships this idea is more clearly seen when we forgive someone whose offense against us involves material loss. If I spread lies about you and cause you to lose a well-paying job, I owe you a debt. You can actually sue me for damages. To forgive me means you cancel that debt by absorbing all the loss yourself. Even if the lies did not result in material loss, you could still have sued me for the emotional pain you suffered. To forgive me means you willingly endure the pain and let me go scot-free.

So to forgive others we must be willing to bear the consequences of their wrong against us, whatever the consequences may be. What makes forgiveness difficult is that only the offended party can forgive. If I offend you, neither your pastor nor your father can forgive me on your behalf. But if you are the one who is offended, the last thing on your mind is to forgive me. You may even scream, "How can I let him go scot-free for what he did to me!?"

When we sin, we sin against God. So only God can forgive sin. And to forgive sin, God Himself must bear the consequences of sin, which is death. That means God must die. But God cannot die. So God had to become man to bear the consequence of sin. As John Stott puts it, it was "God in Christ" who died on our behalf. Hence Christ was not "punished as an innocent third party". He was the offended party. When He hung on the cross, He willingly bore the consequence of our sins so that we could be forgiven."

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