FORGIVENESS




She was bedraggled, half naked and scared to death. Dragged from her bed, and down the street to the jeers and catcalls of onlookers, she now crouched cowering against a wall, while her tormentors planned her fate. They stood in a huddle, discussing the matter with a man whom many called a rabbi or teacher, and who had a reputation as a healer. The men told of the woman’s crimes and her need for punishment, death by stoning, and the accepted punishment for her crime.
The teacher listened and then replied with only a single sentence:
“Let those without sin, cast the first stone.” He said.
Then He simply knelt down and began writing something in the dirt. She watched, apprehensive, but with growing wonder, as the men one by one, looked down on the teacher’s scribbling and, with subdued faces, shuffled away from the crowd. Soon there was just the woman and the teacher. He reached down, took her by the hand to lift her to her feet, and asked her the most amazing question,
“Woman, where are they? Is there no one to condemn you?” He asked.
“They have all left,” she replied in amazement. “Then neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.” Jesus told her.


We have to assume that the woman took this most valuable lesson to heart and from that point on was a changed person. We can imagine that she became one of Christ’s most devoted followers, and that is a great possibility. We simply don’t know what happened to this fortunate woman, because she is never mentioned again in scripture. But the story of her rescue is an important one. It is a story of forgiveness and mercy.

The contrast of the story of the adulterous woman is the difference of her accuser’s judgment and of Christ’s judgment of her sins. The crowd had no mercy no compassion, no room for forgiveness. They quickly interpreted the law as they saw fit and demanded that the penalty be carried out to their standards. They wanted justice, for the law to be carried out in full and immediately. They simply saw someone who was in the wrong, and in their eyes, that someone needed to be eliminated because of their sin. A door to repentance was never opened; the sinner was never offered a chance to make amends and to change her sinful ways.

This is a problem with sin that many still have today. We see people in obvious sinful habits and lifestyles and condemn them on the spot. We decide that they are never going to change their ways, and therefore not worth the effort. That is a tragic mistake to make. By judging people in this way, we are playing God. It is not our right or authority to condemn people. It is not our right and authority to decide whether or not they are worth being forgiven. It is not our right or authority to decide whether or not they are capable of changing their sinful habits. The only being in the universe who has that right is God. Period. If God saw fit to forgive us, then He can and does see fit to forgive anyone who asks Him for it.

There are far too many examples of people whose lives were transformed because God forgave them. David, Moses, Paul and others in scripture prove that. In more modern times, there are countless of former drunks, thieves, homosexuals, murderers, and more that found peace and hope in the grace of God’s forgiveness their lives were never ever the same again. Anyone who knew them could see the change, and most were amazed by the difference. Some even discovered their need for forgiveness because of the examples of those men and women. God forgave and transformed the lives of St. Francis of Assisi, Galileo, of people like Martin Luther King, and you and me.

Matthew 18:21-22 states
Then Peter came to him and asked, "Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?" "No!" Jesus replied, "Seventy times seven! (NLT)
490 times Jesus told us to forgive. Or to put it more in perspective, as many times as it takes. Lets look at this from this direction. How many times do you want God to forgive you? How many times do you want others to forgive you? If forgiveness is only a one shot deal, then we are in a heap of trouble. Even if we have been forgiven, repented and have accepted Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we will still sin, and need to ask God to help us yet again. Yes we are saved. That is a one- time forever event. But we must remember that sin separates us from God. Where there is sin, there is division. Where there is sin there is pain and destruction, something God doesn’t want us to suffer. Therefore He urges us to run to Him for forgiveness again and again. Each time we are cleansed, and learn a little from our mistakes. As time goes on, we finally begin to “get it” and sin less and less. God’s mercy and grace are endless and steeped in His most powerful love. God is delighted when we are willing to repent and to turn from our rotten choices and towards His love. We want Him to rescue us over and over and over again. So why do we have such a hard time believing that the same is available to others?

We tend to categorize sins according to our reckoning of severity. We put things like murder at the top of the scale and profanity, or “white” lies at the bottom. That seems to give us the right to show nothing but contempt and hatred to those sinners at the top of our sin list, and pretty much ignore those sins and their committers at the bottom of our list. God’s standards are different. To God sin is sin. There is only one level of severity. Sin is harmful to the sinner, others around the sinner and often to the sinner’s environment. Most of all, sin, any sin of any type, separates us from God. It doesn’t matter if you used a curse word, cheated a bit on your expense account, got drunk last Friday night, led a flamboyant homosexual lifestyle, had a major role in a drug ring, was simply a illegal drug user, or committed war crimes on a grand scale. To God, you sinned, and unless you repent and ask Him to forgive you, your result will be the same. Death. Eternal condemnation. Hell.

If God is so very willing to forgive us, for whatever things we have done, whenever we need it, doesn’t it make sense that we too should be willing to do the same thing? God is in the healing business. He heals our bodies at times, but most of all He heals our hearts and souls. If we are His children, and followers of His word, then we should be falling all over ourselves to forgive others, no matter what they did to us or to others. But unfortunately we often do the opposite. We tell ourselves, that “Well, God can forgive them, but I’m sure not going to.” Or we pray and wish that God would strike down that person with a horrible disease or maybe have an extremely close encounter with a Greyhound bus. That attitude is also a sin. We, by having that attitude, attempt to take upon ourselves the mantle of judgment that is only God’s to wear. True, we should be able to judge between right and wrong and to tell if someone is making a sinful choice. But it is the sin we are to judge, not the sinner. We have the ability to be able to tell the difference, in order that we don’t make those mistakes ourselves and even better to help that sinner to see their mistake and then turn to Christ for forgiveness and redemption.

In John 10:27 Jesus said:
And he answered and said, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF." (NLT, writer's emphasis)

Romans 13:8-10 shows that loving your neighbor is fulfilling God’s law:
Pay all your debts, except the debt of love for others. You can never finish paying that! If you love your neighbor, you will fulfill all the requirements of God's law. For the commandments against adultery and murder and stealing and coveting-and any other commandment-are all summed up in this one commandment: "Love your neighbor as yourself." Love does no wrong to anyone, so love satisfies all of God's requirements. (NLT)

James 4:11-12 sums the whole matter up for us. It reads:
Don't speak evil against each other, my dear brothers and sisters. If you criticize each other and condemn each other, then you are criticizing and condemning God's law. But you are not a judge who can decide whether the law is right or wrong. Your job is to obey it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy; but who are you who judge your neighbor? (NLT)

There is nowhere that can be found where God has passed that job one to us. He is extremely qualified to hold that position as only He can see the truth of our hearts without bias. His basis is love, and as His children so should ours be. Let us then be reflections of that love and forgive each other. Let us break down the barriers that un-forgiveness leaves; barriers of anger, resentment, bitterness and self-righteousness. Let us break those barriers down with the tools of love, mercy, truth and forgiveness. Those same tools that broke down the barriers in our own heart when Christ used them on our behalf.
Sylvie Galloway
2003

(We would like to welcome Sylvie to our family of contributing writers)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sylvie Galloway lives in the beautiful mountains of Western North Carolina. She is married with three children and two cats. Sylvie works as a hairdresser. A former member of the Worldwide Church of God, Sylvie now attends a local Southern Baptist congregation with her family, where she acts as church pianist and Choir director. Sylvie discovered writing 4 years ago, and has written many free-lance articles for a local newspaper. For the past year Sylvie has written a regular Christian themed column, called Catch the Joy, for the same newspaper.

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