I think we human beings have a hard time with forgiveness. Not so much with extending it to others. More like in the acceptance of having it extended to us. It feels all squishy and prickly and mooshy and touchy-feely all at once. It makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.
Having someone forgive us—especially when we didn’t even ask for it—just feels . . . wrong. We get suspicious and skeptical; like there’s got to be some ulterior motive involved. Certainly it can’t be that easy; that cut-and-dried. What is it now that I have to do for them?
And don’t even get me started on grace. Granting someone a special favor, an act of kindness, or an exemption to their behavior, vices or sins seems unheard of in this day and age, especially if the person hasn’t done the courtesy of “gracing” us first. I mean, c’mon! Have you seen those people?? There’s some real . . . sinners out there!
How much harder therefore is it to even imagine having forgiveness and grace extended to us by an Omniscient, Omnipotent Heavenly Father? I mean, all you have to do is ask??? It can’t be that easy. Certainly there is something we can–nay must–do to gain the favor of God? I mean, he’s GOD!
How many times have we read Biblical passages like Matthew 7:7-8 (“Ask and it will be given…”), Mark 12:28-29 (The Greatest Commandment), or Acts 16:30-34 (“What must I do to be saved?”) Yet it’s never sunk into us that Jesus boiled faith and the saving grace of our Lord to its barest essence; and that people (many God-fearing, well intentioned individuals, with a few arrogant, self-centered profiteers thrown in to boot) have seemingly gone out of their way to make it much more difficult than it needs to be?
One of the most controversial statements that Jesus makes in the Bible, John 14:6 (“I am the way, the truth and the life…”), addresses this issue head on. Unfortunately, we get so wrapped up in the so-called “exclusivity” of that statement that we often fail to see the circumstances, claims and promises surrounding it.
The circumstances? Look no further than what Thomas asks just prior, prompting Jesus’ response:
John 14: 4 (Jesus speaking) And you know the way to where I am going.” 5 “No, we don’t know, Lord,” Thomas said. “We have no idea where you are going, so how can we know the way?”
Thomas was still looking for that ‘something’ to do. Jesus reply is, in essence, saying, “Thomas, I have already done it. You don’t need to know the way. I AM the way, what I have told and shown you IS truth, and through me you will HAVE everlasting life; as long as you know and believe in me.”
But Philip still wants proof:
John 14: 8 Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.”
Jesus answer? (I’m roughly paraphrasing here) “Really Philip? I mean . . . really??!! After all this time, you still have no idea who I am, or where, and from whom, I come from?” concluding in verse 11 with a plea which begins, “Just believe…”
John 14: 11 Just believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me. Or at least believe because of the work you have seen me do. 12 “I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father. “
Aahh, there it is! You might say. There’s the ‘works’ part of the deal. I knew there was something we had to do!
Well, okay, granted. But look at the order of Jesus words:
At least believe…
Anyone who believes will do the same works…
Or even greater.
When do the works come?
After the belief. After the acceptance of who Christ is and what he has done. After the understanding of Christ’s works, so that then, and only then, can you go forth and do “the same works I have done, and even greater works.”
Religion in general and many Christ-followers in particular have done a fine job in screwing up the simple, straight-forward message of the Gospel, the Mission of Christ and the intended Mission of His followers.
It really is this simple:
- Believe Christ is who he says he is (as the Son of the Living God) and did what he said he was going to do (as the sacrificial Lamb). This also includes, at no extra cost, turning from the direction you were going (also called ‘repentance’) and confessing that you may not in fact know it all and possibly, just maybe, sorta, kinda gotten some things wrong. Which then leads to . . .
- Loving God. As “Abba, Father”. Which leads to . . .
- Loving others. Which eventually gives you the ability and invitation to . . .
- Share the Gospel. After which you may have the joyous opportunity to…
- Baptize. Which will allow you and others to then . . .
- Do even greater works with the help of the Advocate.
John 14: 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. 17 He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth.
So stop running on the same pointless hamster wheel of trying to “do” in order to “receive”.
Quit trying to follow a religion.
Try following Christ instead.
It’s. Not. That. Hard!