That’s the question we all ask ourselves, eventually, when we feel there is something acting as a wedge between ourselves and God.
At my place of worship we have some people who are unhappy with the changes we are making; we are fine-tuning our mission statement, reevaluating what we are about, and trying to grow. Lately some of the more “spiritual” people feel there is something preventing us from experiencing the fullness of God’s spirit during our worship.
Someone suggested it may be unrepentance, and that could be true- I don’t doubt that sin in someone’s life from which they do not repent would definitely be a barrier in their relationship with God. Because we are all parts of the body of Messiah, sin within our ranks could prevent the congregation from experiencing the fullness of God’s spirit in our corporate worship.
But if there is sin that has occurred, I don’t think unrepentance is as damaging as unforgiveness. After all, God designed an entire process for repentance- wholly burned sacrifice, thanksgiving sacrifice, sin, guilt, communal and individual sacrifices- all designed to allow us to demonstrate our repentance and, thereby, receive forgiveness.
But when it comes down to it, do you recall anywhere in the bible where God commands us to be repentant? It seems to me repentance is more of an assumed attitude- God has told us how to repent, in which manner for which particular type of sin, and what we must do to receive the forgiveness it is assumed we want.
But, again I ask, do you recall anywhere God commands us to be repentant? He tells us how to repent, but does He ever say, “You are commanded to repent!”
The Prophets do tell us we need to repent, very often, and they do speak God’s word, but (again) I say this is not a commandment, it is a warning. It is a request, albeit a really stern one, to change our ways to prevent the inevitable consequences of our actions. God is asking us to repent, He is telling us, through His prophets, that we need to repent to avoid His righteous punishment. We must repent to be forgiven, but it is not a command.
Forgiveness, on the other hand, is something we are commanded to do. In the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-16) we are told that the way to pray includes that we must request to be forgiven as we forgive others, which means if we don’t forgive, we will not be forgiven. In fact, in verse 15 of that prayer Yeshua tells us that if we do not forgive, we will not be forgiven. That sounds to me more like a commandment than a warning.
The Tanakh tells us to love our neighbors, to treat foreigners well, and Yeshua further defines that to say we should not judge our brothers (and sisters) unless we have judged ourselves first. He also said that when we hate in our hearts we have committed murder, and in Matthew 18:21 when Kefa (Peter) asks how many times must he forgive someone who asks for forgiveness, Yeshua says (essentially) every time the person asks.
Notice that Kefa doesn’t ask how many times should he seek forgiveness, but how many times should he forgive? The emphasis, the action, is not repentance but forgiveness! Kefa knew that Yeshua wanted what the Father wants, which is forgiveness first. Yes, we should be repentant- David tells us (in Psalm 51) that God will not reject a broken spirit and a contrite heart, i.e. a repentant person, yet Yeshua tells us God will reject an unforgiving person!
Repentance is absolutely necessary to attain forgiveness because, if for no other reason, as willing as God is to forgive our sins and as easy as it is to receive forgiveness (thanks to Yeshua), we will not have it until we ask for it. And, since God isn’t stupid or able to be fooled, we will receive forgiveness when we ask for it, for real.
Repentance is necessary for forgiveness, and forgiveness is necessary for salvation.
Salvation starts with repentance, no doubt, but it is achieved with forgiveness- God will forgive us when we are repentant and ask for it, but if we are unwilling to forgive others we can throw away the salvation God has given to us.
Read Matthew 18:23-35, which is the parable about the man who owed much and was forgiven his debt, then refused to forgive the much smaller debt someone else owed to him. What happened when the Master heard about the unforgiveness of the servant? He remanded his forgiveness and had the servant thrown in jail until all his debt was paid. The man who had been forgiven, but refused to forgive, caused his forgiveness to be reversed. His sin of unforgiveness destroyed his salvation.
Salvation is something God will not take back, but it is something that we can throw away by purposefully continuing to lead a sinful life, and when it comes to sin, unforgiveness is a BIG one!
The Senior Pastor, myself (I am also on the Board) and those who we met with last week to discuss these changes will all be fasting and praying from Tuesday night until Wednesday night, when we will meet at the house of one of these people to break fast together. I pray that God will lead us to the answer why people feel spiritually “stymied”, and I am hoping that it is not unforgiveness in the hearts of some of the people, but something simpler to overcome.
Yeshua said that before we tell our brother about the splinter in his eye we should first remove the log in our own eye (Luke 6:42), so I ask that you look deeply into your own heart, pray that God will open your eyes and remove whatever plank there may be in it, and determine whether or not your forgiveness of others is equal to the forgiveness you have received.
Repentance is the first step to attaining salvation, but it’s your forgiveness of others that will secure it.