Posts Tagged ‘bitterness’

The Root of Bitterness

May 6th, 2016

Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled. (Hebrews 12:14-15)

The inspired author warns us against presuming we are saved and all is right with our souls for the wrong reasons. Hebrews was written to explain the differences between the Old Covenant of the Law and the New Covenant of grace. But it also reveals what matters belong to both covenants, and here is a case in point.

In both covenants a person may assume to be safe spiritually due to such things as his family’s connections to the church, or his general knowledge of religion, or even his attendance and participation in religious rituals. He may have even served in the church (or in the temple) in some capacity, and even done mission work, but there was no faith in his own heart.

The danger of the bitterness of unforgiveness: We are very apt to misread this verse because of the use of the word “bitterness” and assume this means unforgiveness here. It actually means something different which we will examine also, but let’s take up the matter of unforgiveness as well. Anyone who does not forgive others brings a bitter spirit to the family of faith. The Bible says:

Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (Ephesians 4:31-32)

A little bit of unforgiveness in the body of Christ will go a long way toward corrupting and harming the church. If you study the subject of church fights and church splits, you will see that they usually start among a group of people who feel they are better than others, more spiritual, closer to God, more true to his Word, etc. And they call others to join them in praying for the “spiritual problem” in the church.

Of course, the problem is usually with them, that they are blinded by their own pride, that they have unforgiveness in their hearts. Their words sound good, but there is something fundamentally wrong with them and they are poisonous to the body of Christ. They will form a group to “pray for our church” or “pray for our pastor” or “pray for our leadership,” but their meetings quickly degenerate into gossip sessions. The “exciting things” they share in their meetings are tidbits of gossip, fault-finding, some new revelation of someone’s failure. They delight in tearing others down, not in building them up (1 Cor. 13:10).

The leaders of the group have often had unforgiveness and anger in their hearts for so long, that they cannot tell you where it began, what was the first seed of bitterness they held on to. Often they were raised by parents who did not forgive them of their own failures, so the problem becomes generational as it passes down family lines. It will only be broken when someone says, “I stand on the grace of God in Christ Jesus and on his grace alone.” (See Romans 5:1-2 and 8:1)

Unforgiveness toward others requires a humility of heart, wherein God reveals to us how flawed we are and how much we need his grace to stand and to serve. When God “takes us to school” to instruct us in these matters, then we can see clearly to forgive others and pray for them.

None of us is fit to serve God until we have seen our own sin, embraced his grace, and then seen others through the same lens of grace.

The bitter root: The Hebrews 12 passage, however, is not really about unforgiveness, rather it is about a person presuming on his salvation. It is a quotation from Deuteronomy 29:18, which is consistent with the theme of the book of Hebrews. The root of bitterness spoken of there is explained in the next verse. It is the man who “will boast, saying, ‘I have peace though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart'” (Deut. 29:19). He warns us to be sure of our salvation and to know where we stand spiritually with God. He warns us not to presume of our salvation just because we come from a “Christian family,” or a religious people.

The example in Hebrews 12 was that of Esau who took his inheritance lightly, and gave it away for a bowl of porridge. Though later he was sorry, it was too late. These verses call us to take seriously the grace of God found in the gospel of Jesus Christ, to understand where we stand, to believe in our hearts and not presume we are saved for unfounded reasons.

Two traits of true Christian conversion are mentioned here: a peaceful life – to have peace with all people – and holiness in our soul and in our lifestyle. Are we quick to judge others, quick to have conflicts with others? Is our life marked by constant fighting and unrest? Then there is something wrong in our souls. Either we have not matured in the Lord very much, or we were never saved to begin with. If we have received the Lord Jesus as our Savior, if we have allowed his Spirit to fill us and transform us, then we will find a new attitude toward others.

God repeatedly warns us in his Word, that a judgmental attitude toward others reveals a spiritual problem in us.

Therefore I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing. (1 Tim. 2:8)

Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment. (James 2:12)

Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:1-5)

And holiness in our hearts means a desire to grow in our faith, to put away unholy things, to draw near to God. A Christian will never be content in sin, or in unrighteousness. If we are truly saved we will begin to love and understand others, and we will desire holiness in our hearts and lives. Our thoughts will be cleaner, our choices will honor God, and our mouths will bless others.

How to know if you are saved: The emphasis of the Bible is on our faith today. We can know we are saved if we believe the gospel, if we admit we are sinners and believe Christ died for our sins.

This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:22-24)

We can know we are saved if we believe that Jesus rose from the grave and have confessed to others that Jesus Christ is Lord.

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. (Romans 10:9-10)

We can know we are saved if we have the assurance of his Spirit’s voice in our spirits.

The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. (Romans 8:16)

We can know we are saved if we have love for others and a renewed interest in the things of Christ and in the Word of God.

We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death. (1 John 3:14)

We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood. Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. (1 John 4:6-7)

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Forgiving Others

March 23rd, 2016

And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins. (Mark 11:25)

Those who receive mercy from God should have their hearts conformed to the nature of mercy, liberally sharing it with others. Christians are called to forgive others.

The teaching, in terms of ethics and morality, is clear enough; we who stand in the grace of Jesus Christ should forgive those who have sinned against us. This is the main emphasis of the teaching. Yet another question arises from the passage, namely, whether or not we must forgive others to be saved, or if an unforgiving heart would cause us to lose our salvation.

Salvation comes through faith: The biblical message is consistent, that only repentance from sin and faith in Jesus Christ are required for salvation, and they, repentance and faith, are “two sides of the same coin.” The Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:12, makes this abundantly clear in the tenses of the verbs used. “Forgive us our debts” is in the aorist tense, a snapshot concept in the Greek, meaning forgiveness of all sins for all time, our sins in our past, our present, and even our future. “As we forgive our debtors,” here it is an active and present tense, an ongoing action that grace calls us to fulfill.

The great evangelistic passages of the Bible consistently stress faith and repentance only: “That whoever believes” (John 3:16), “confess with your mouth … believe in your heart” (Rom. 10:9), “By grace are you saved through faith” (Eph. 2:8), “even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life” (Acts 11:18), “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved” (Acts 16:31), “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand” (Rom. 5:1-2).

True forgiveness of others is impossible without the strength of the Holy Spirit: We discover in our individual lives that to forgive the most serious and painful of offenses against us we must be aided by the Holy Spirit. It is, frankly, impossible to do in order to be saved, or prior to salvation. God never requires it of a lost person. It can only be demanded of a saved person, and can only be achieved through the inner workings of his Spirit within us.

In the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant, the servant was required to forgive the debts of others not in order to be forgiven his debt, but because he was forgiven. And the forgiveness must come from the heart, not just outwardly. “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart” (Matt. 18:35). In the parable Christ spoke of the unforgiving servant being placed in a prison, and unforgiveness is prison-like, chaining our souls to the past offense, preventing us from moving forward in the love and freedom of the Spirit.

The forgiveness by God that is spoken of here is not the forgiveness that determines our eternal salvation, but rather the forgiveness that enables us to walk in unimpeded fellowship with the Spirit. When we have any sin that we refuse to confess to God, any bad, evil habit that we pridefully and stubbornly hang on to, and we refuse to admit it, then the Lord is silent toward us. “If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us” (1 John 1:10). Notice it does not say that his Spirit is not in us, or that his Spirit has left us, rather it says that his “word” is not in us. The Spirit is still there but he becomes silent until we repent and confess the specific sin to him.

We may trust that the Spirit works within us to lead us to forgive others. We are commanded:

And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (Eph. 4:30-32)

If we would only allow the Spirit full authority and freedom in our hearts, we would find that to forgive our enemies would be a very normal thought. Unforgiveness toward others is a sign that the Spirit of God has been grieved in some way, that he has been held back by our own stubbornness and pride to prevent him from doing what he desires to do.

Full forgiveness of others is achieved over a period of time: There are moments of breakthrough and victory where the Lord leads us to release the anger and forgive the person. Yet we must also gain perspective, and that requires time. We find freedom in forgiving others as we walk with the Spirit in the journey of life.

I can think of a person who offended me years ago, when we were young. Someone who had bullied me, and I had forgiven him and virtually forgotten about it. Then years later the memory resurfaced, and some of the old pain with it, so I had to forgive the person afresh. But something else was attached to the memory – and I do not know why the Spirit took so long to bring me to this point – but as I remembered the pain he had caused me, I also recalled a time when I had acted the same way toward another person. The reminder of my own sin brought conviction and a new perspective on forgiveness. I literally forgave the person afresh because I realized that the Lord had also forgiven me, and reminded me that I had someone to apologize to, someone whom I had offended as well.

Forgiveness always has this time and growth dimension to it, that in later years the offense takes on a different shape – sometimes mitigating for it, and sometimes militating against it. Some things we must forgive others for will not occur to us that we were wronged until later on in life. This is particularly true of victims of childhood abuse, that they may have assumed their treatment was normal or deserved. Then as they grow and mature they realize more fully what was done to them. Forgiveness must grow as we grow. But as we learn to walk in the Spirit, he will guide us into a life of both receiving and sharing forgiveness.

Some practical steps to forgiving others:

First, make sure your sins are confessed up to date with God.

Secondly, ask the Lord to show you have you might have contributed to the offense against you. Perhaps you provoked in some way, whether large or small, the action of another to offend you.

Thirdly, let the Lord search you to see how you yourself might have done the same thing to others. Have you ever acted in the same way?

Fourthly, seek to consider how the other person who offended you was feeling or what they were experiencing. What extenuating factors influenced their actions toward you? Did they offend you out of their anger toward another, and you were merely a more convenient target?

Fifthly, take this person and their offense to the cross of Christ and lay them before Christ. Seek to envision the grace of God that covers your sins, also extending to their sins.

Sixthly, pray for their spiritual advancement, for their salvation, for God’s abundant and gracious blessings to be upon them. Christ said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Mat. 5:44).

Remember: Forgiveness does not always mean re-instatement. Forgiveness means not to hold anger against someone, to let go in your heart of the offense. But sometimes the offense is so serious that the person cannot be re-instated into the previous position in your life. A man who deserts his family, for example, and twenty years later tries to come back home. He cannot walk back into the family as if nothing had happened. He cannot become “Daddy” again. His children are then grown, and the hole left in their young lives cannot be filled in adulthood. They may forgive him, letting go of the anger and wishing him well, but it cannot be that he is fully re-instated.

An employee who steals from a Christian employer may be forgiven in the sense that the employer is not angry with him, and will pray for him. But he will still lose his job, nonetheless. We can sin away our day of opportunity, and it does not return. To forgive an abuser does not mean that we must let the abuse continue. We release the anger, giving the person to God, but we still have every right to remove ourselves from the abusive situation.

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