The conference speaker looked up in amazement and shock. He had issued an invitation as he usually did when speaking on a particular topic. He had asked those who believed they had never sinned, to stand. At every other conference people had smiled but no one had ever stood. That was his expectancy for this meeting as well. However to his surprise a man towards the front of the crowd stood up. There was an embarrassing silence. The speaker wasn’t sure what to do. He had hoped to show that everyone knew they were not perfect and needed to be forgiven, and so he did not expect anyone to stand.
Self Righteousness is Self Deception
The crowd looked at the “sinless” man with surprise. They looked at the speaker wondering what he would do now. After what seemed to be an interminable silence, something happened. The man’s wife who was sitting beside her husband began to laugh. She couldn’t stop. The crowd relaxed and began to laugh too. The man sat down red-faced. Wives know the truth about their husbands even when the latter are self-deceived!
Christians believe that the Bible shows that every person ever born on this earth needs forgiveness from God. (Except for Jesus whom the Bible describes as sinless). The apostle John wrote about humans in 1 John 1:8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. And in 1 John 1:10, If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
Those who believe they are perfect, are deceived. Everyone needs to be forgiven of their wrongdoing and sin. Shortly we will see the evidence for this conviction. But first we look at who needs to forgive.
Who Needs To Forgive?
The answer briefly is that everyone has someone or a number of people to forgive. Not only that but they need to forgive for their own spiritual and emotional well-being as Jesus taught.
In my last article I wrote about a woman named Robyn who had to forgive her husband for walking out on her and their two young sons. Then she had to forgive her ex-husband’s new wife for her part in splitting up the family. How they all later became friends is an astonishing story which shows the healing power of forgiveness in human relationships.
What sort of people need we to forgive? It ranges from those who brought pain into our lives when we were children, to those who hurt us in some way today. These may include those in family situations such as parents, siblings, and children as well as those in the wider family. My ministry to many people over the years has shown me that not all those in a “wider family” have the same values or moral code as those in the inner family. I have been astounded sometimes to hear just how horrific have been the situations in what appeared to be well-adjusted, respected families and “wider” families.
Not Everything is As It Appears To Be! Nor are people!
I think of a man who was seen as one of the most respected members of the local community, a “pillar of society”. But one granddaughter began to ask questions of her sisters and aunts and the discovery was made that he had sexually abused a number of them. The granddaughter’s willingness to raise the difficult questions led ultimately to a great deal of healing for the women involved and protection for the younger children. I say in all sincerity that things are not always as they appear to be, even in families.
Others who may need to be forgiven include other authority figures such as teachers or scout or guide leaders for inappropriate words or actions. Even some psychologists and psychiatrists may need to be forgiven for what was later seen as inappropriate or harmful counselling or treatment. There are perhaps many other authority figures in our lives who were less than perfect in their contact with us. Many had a very negative impact on our lives if we are willing to admit it.
Forgiving People And Organisations
Not only do we need to forgive individuals but we may need to forgive organisations or groups of people who brought harm into our lives. For example some have had to forgive hospital boards for hiring unskilled or unethical medical practitioners who caused them or their loved ones harm through inappropriate treatment. Others have had to forgive church or secular bodies which did not monitor placement of children for adoption or foster care.
There are many in today’s world who have found it necessary to forgive a church denomination for changing its doctrinal formulas. One of the sad stories I read was of an older Bible believing minister who had remained “orthodox” throughout his whole ministry but people with a different approach to the Bible had gotten into positions of responsibility in that denomination. They had eventually succeeded in changing the doctrine and practice of that denomination. He felt he no longer belonged to “his church”. His lament, “I haven’t changed. I still believe the things my denomination had always taught. But now the church has changed and I feel I am an outsider in my own church.”
There are literally thousands of ministers and lay people in denominations around the world who have had to leave denominations which are turning away from God’s revealed will in the Bible and adopting secular thinking such as political correctness. Even more seriously, some have had to forgive Christian denominations for condoning and even encouraging behaviour that they believe is repugnant to God. Forgiving never means condoning evil. But forgiving releases those who are bound up with disappointment, frustration and anger to be able to make rational choices about their future.
When you really think about it there are a lot of people to be forgiven around us, even as we need to be forgiven. The wonderful truth we will see in coming articles is that humans can forgive, and that there is a tremendous freedom that comes from doing so. We will be encouraged by the stories of those who learnt to forgive. We will be encouraged too by reading of the blessings and healings that came to them as a result.
Questions To Consider (Added May 2016)
1). In 1 John 1:8 John writes that to think of oneself as sinless is to be deceived. Why would some people consider themselves to be perfect? How can people become deceived about themselves?
2). John added in 1 John 1:10 that if we claim to be without sin we make God out to be a liar. Why is that so?
3). What is the antidote in the following verses to getting wrong ideas about ourselves? 1Jn 1:8 “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”
4). Why does John say that God is both “faithful” and “just” in forgiving sin? What is the importance of the word “just” in this context?
5). If God has made it possible for people to be cleansed from their sins, why do some folk still feel unclean even as believers? How can they be helped to come to a deeper sense of feeling clean?
Jim Holbeck. Blog No.2. Posted 06February 2011 (Revisited May 2016)
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