The Evangelical Fellowship of Ireland and the forgiveness of sins

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Some years ago I came across a commentary on the Old Testament book of Judges. I have good memories of it and the style of its author, Dr Dale Ralph Davis. This week I got to hear Dr Davis speak at the autumn conference of the Evangelical Fellowship of Ireland – my first time at an EFI event.

It was good to have the opportunity to listen to Dr Davis’ expositions of a couple of passages from the Elisha narratives in 2 Kings. He took a couple of episodes and worked through them with an eye to encouraging those in contemporary ministry.

Now for the bit about the forgiveness of sins.

Both sessions involved a time for questions. At the end of the first session, when Dr Davis had talked about the grace of God, someone in the front row asked a pastoral question that basically had to do with someone who was struggling to accept complete forgiveness.

It happens. There is one dark blot that won’t seem to go away. Someone knows the facts of the gospel, but they struggle to live in the freedom of that forgiveness.

Dr Davis deferred to the audience. Would anyone have any pastoral wisdom to offer?

There were plenty of what I would take to be serious gospel-centred people in the room.  Ministers and pastors and the like. You’d expect there would be plenty of good ideas, both practical and biblical.

But there was silence.

I have to say that that included me. I didn’t offer an answer. Neither did anyone else.

Perhaps some people in the room had a good answer, but didn’t want to appear clever in front of their peers. Perhaps more than one or two didn’t answer because they were hoping to get some help for themselves! Sometimes the ministers of the gospel need to preach it to themselves!

But no one spoke.

The guy’s pastoral question was left hanging.

And we all eventually adjourned for lunch.

But what about it? Why do some of us have a hard time believing that ‘the blood of Jesus cleanses from all sin’? Or is the problem that we struggle to forgive ourselves?

A few thoughts:

  1. When we talk about ‘forgiving ourselves’, let’s be cautious. The Bible doesn’t actually talk about that dimension of forgiveness at all! It talks about being forgiven by God (who else can forgive sin?) and about forgiving others and being forgiven by them. But it doesn’t say anything specifically about forgiving ourselves. Robert Jones has written a short pamphlet in which he puts his finger on some of the problems underlying ‘self-forgiveness’ talk.
  2. Failing to forgive myself may be a manifestation of self-loathing (‘I am a wretched worm and what I have done just proves it’), but – and this may be surprising – it may be a manifestation of pride, for to ‘forgive myself’ is to admit that I have fallen short of my own impeccable standards. Either way, the key voices are my own and those of the people with whom I have a reputation to polish!
  3. Sooner or later the issue needs to be reframed with reference to God. Whatever standards of my own I have betrayed, whoever I have let down (and there will be times when the forgiveness of others will need to be sought), I have sinned against God. But it is God who has the authority to forgive sins; and if he promises forgiveness through the blood of his Son, who am I to deny it – even to myself?
  4. This little anecdote comes from Roy Hession’s little book – Be Filled Now.

A lady missionary from East Africa told me how she was greeted once by one of the African Christian leaders who asked her, ‘Are you praising the Lord this morning, sister?’

‘If you want to know the truth I’m not,’ she replied, ‘not this morning.’

‘Why is that?’ he asked.

After a moment’s hesitation she replied softly, ‘I lost my temper in my bungalow this morning.’

All he answered was, ‘Has the Blood of Jesus lost its power?’

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