But They Are Sinners!

Yes, God has forgiven all people, for all time (and you can read that post here if you missed it).

I know this may sound different than what you have heard from preachers and church people in the past, but the forgiveness and embrace of God is so much deeper and so much wider than any of our finite minds can even comprehend. And there are many people who struggle to understand a God who unconditionally and preemptively forgives everyone, even when they don’t ask for forgiveness.

But that is who this God is.

Too many times, the religious try to create God in their own image. And this little god ends up being as stingy and conditional in doling out grace and mercy and forgiveness and love as those who created it. This little god ends up being a sad projection of their own disunion with God.

In his second letter to the church in Corinth, the Apostle Paul makes an appeal to this church by telling them that the motivating force that compels them is the love of the Christ. And it is this singular force that has, not only changed them, but has changed how they view everyone in the world.

Again, the motivation for those in the Christ is love and it changes how we live and how we see others.

He says that since the Christ died, all have died. And since Christ was raised from the dead, we should all be raised to a new brand new life.

Therefore, in light of this new reality, we no longer view anyone from a worldly point of view. We no longer hold a single trespass against anyone. We no longer have enmity or hostility toward others. Because the old ways have gone and new ways have come. All things have been made new. This restoration has already started. And we are all invited into that reality as we are.

God’s peace has already been given to all. Past tense.
God’s forgiveness has already been given to all. Past tense.

And all we can do is receive it, be immersed in it, be restored to God in light of it, and be transformed through it.

To the religious, the major obstacle to God’s unconditional, preemptive forgiveness is their belief that sin can only be forgiven when a person is repentant, or when one confesses their sins. But it is this misunderstanding of sin by the religious which has created an incredibly finicky god who has the audacity to tell us to unconditionally and preemptively forgive everyone, including our enemies, but who can’t quite live up to that standard himself.

I find that god inconsistent and unbelievable. So there must be more to the story.

Interestingly, close to eighty-percent of the time the word sin is used in the New Testament, it is used as a noun.

This is interesting because we typically hear people talk about sin as a verb.

They describe all of the bad things we do that make God angry at us. And inevitably, when people focus on sin primarily as a verb, they get obsessed with saying this sin is worse than that sin, this sin can be overlooked but that one can’t, and this sin is unforgivable but that sin is okay (since we are all doing it).

But the original Greek word for sin, as a noun, is hamartano and it means to be without a share in, or to miss the mark, or to stray.

Sin is a position in which we find ourselves. It is a position out of alignment with God, or in disunion with God. And in that place of disunion, we are the opposite of shalom, the opposite of wholeness, completeness, and harmony in all things. It is the road that leads to destruction.

And this begins to open our eyes to the central issue.

It’s not that we are horrible wretches for committing all of these terrible sins every day. It is that we are in a position of disunion with the Divine. And when we live out of this disunion, out of this broken relationship, it very naturally begins to look to unwhole, incomplete, and inharmonious. It is the natural consequence of us living out of shalom.

That is why God’s intention has always been to get rid of sin, or to remove the relational barrier between us, because we were always meant to be in union with God, to be in relationship with God. We were always meant for wholeness, completeness, and harmony with God and with all things, because that is where life to the fullest is found.

That’s why the wisdom of Paul ought to be so eye-opening to each one of us today, because he echoes this exact point when he says that we all fall short of God’s glory. We are all in the same position, equally. We are all in a position of disunion from God, equally. There is not one single person who has a position that is any better or any worse than another. We are all in a position of disunion and have missed the mark of the Divine. And in this position, we are not presently sharing in this shalom. That is sin, as a noun.

So when religious people begin creating these crazy hierarchies of sin and telling us that certain people or groups are worse than others, telling us who’s in and who’s out, all it does is alienate and devalue people. It sends a message that the religious are good and righteous and all the rest of us sinners are bad and unworthy. And all that does is create more judgment and condemnation and anger and hostility. All it does is build up more walls of division between us all.

The point is that when the religious view sin primarily, or exclusively, as a verb, they fall back into that old way of labeling, categorizing, ranking, and then dividing. And it completely misses the big picture that we are all in the same position and that the heart of God has always been an invitation back into relational union with every single one of us equally.

Every. Single. One. Of. Us. Equally.

So when we begin to see sin correctly, as a place of disunion, we more accurately understand that we all stand in the exact same place together and there can be no hierarchy of sin or worthiness. We are all disconnected from the Source of Life, and we are in that place together.

Hard stop.

And once we begin to understand this simple truth, it is the place where humility and grace can begin to come to life and shine. It is the place where everyone is welcome to the table of invitation together without exclusion. It is the place of remarkable beauty and breakthrough. It is the place where all the broken pieces of the world can begin to come back together as one.

It’s possible that all this talk of everyone being forgiven is giving you heartburn, because you keep thinking of Acts 2:38-39, which specifically states that God’s forgiveness is conditional and is only given when a person is repentant and baptized. I get it. But I want to share something very eye opening with you about that passage.

On the day of Pentecost, Peter is preaching to the crowd and says, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.”

From the outside looking in, it sounds like Peter is telling the people that in order to be forgiven, they must first repent and be baptized and then, and only then, will they be forgiven by God.

And that is the way countless numbers of Church leaders and Christians have taken that verse over the centuries. It is viewed as a conditional transaction between God and a person. In essence, the forgiveness of God will only be given when you say the right words, have a repentant heart, and are baptized in the water.

But here is the crazy part.

In that verse spoken by Peter, the word translated as for is the Greek word eis.

Eis means a motion into, penetration, union.

So what many have always read as this conditional transaction between people and God is actually a movement we make into something that is already there, something that has already been given, something that already surrounds us. And our acts of repentance and baptism are the faithful movements we make that penetrate into, and find union with, a forgiveness that had been given long ago.

God’s forgiveness is not being withheld like a stingy miser. Nor is it dependent upon you being good or perfect, or going through the right steps. God’s forgiveness is already here. It has already been extended to all. It is right in front of you. The invitation into shalom was sent long ago. All you have to do is enter into it.

If this truth has been withheld from you, or if you have received something very different than this message of radical invitation and inclusion, please let me tell you that the grace and love of God has always been surrounding you, even in your disunion, even when you have felt disconnected, and has always been inviting you back, as you are, into loving union with the Source of Life.

But there may be some of you, maybe a lot of you, who are reading these words and still carrying around so much pain and so many wounds from past church experiences or past dealings with religious people.

I am sorry and I understand.

But.

No matter what you may have been told.

No matter how badly you may have been treated.

No matter the judgments and accusations that may have been thrown at you.

No matter if you may have been told that you are not worthy or not redeemable.

No matter if you may have been told that God will never forgive you.

Let me tell you emphatically, once and for all, that you are loved and you are already forgiven, as you are.

Every one of you.

Past tense.

Done deal.

God loves you and has always been inviting you, as you are, into shalom. Inviting you, as you are, out of the wreckage and into a new beginning of life and love and beauty and wholeness and completeness and harmony. Inviting you, as you are, into the full immersion of an entirely different present reality. And God is speaking your name to let you know that you have always been loved as you are, that you have always been worthy as you are, and that in this embrace of the Divine you are being made whole.

I rarely say this, but when I do you know I mean it. Praise God!

Brandon

8 thoughts on “But They Are Sinners!

  1. Hi Brandon!

    I get the concept of forgiveness being a present reality, and something we simply enter into, but help me to understand the qualitative difference between “Repent and you will then be forgiven” vs. “Repent, and you will enter into the forgiveness God has already provided?”

    If the “faithful movements we make that penetrate into… a forgiveness that had been given long ago” are really just repentance and faith in Jesus, how does this substantially change our message? Is this really “better news” for a sinner?

    Might this not confuse some into thinking that they are fine (forgiven) just as they are, and that no “movement” (repentance) on their part is necessary to come into alignment with God? Essentially, “Don’t worry about it (your sinful ways) because God has already forgiven you.”

    Thanks!

    Don

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    1. Thanks Don for your keen eye and your insightful questions.

      This distinction is absolutely essential for so many reasons:

      1. People, by the droves, are leaving churches (and faith by proxy) for many reasons, but one in particular, they can not reconcile the god portrayed by many Christians with the Jesus we see in the Gospels, or that Paul writes about in his letters. It is time to set the record straight that God is not a blood-thirsty, angry tyrant who has to be satiated or else he will send everyone to hell. That is not who this God is. This argument alone should be sufficient, but I will go further.

      2. Discussing what forgiveness actually is, rather than what we have been told, reengages those who have walked away and then helps change the landscape for future generations upon which we build. I would rather set the record straight and have people believe that God is more generous in grace and forgiveness than they have ever believed, than maintain the status quo of people being disengaged because of their misunderstanding of God’s grace and forgiveness. Setting the record straight is essential, because people are able to see God anew, maybe for the first time in their lives.

      3. And lastly, it matters because Christians extend what they believe they have been given themselves. And as long as Christians believe that God has not forgiven unconditionally and preemptively, they will do the same in their lives. And this really matters for how many Christians see, and treat, others. The next blog post will dig into all of three of the points I have made, but especially #3. If my sister did something wrong and my dad already forgave her, what right would I have to continue finger pointing, accusing, and holding that against my sister? Since the father has forgiven, it ought to change how I see my sister (as forgiven) and there should no longer be accusations, condemnation, or hostility coming from me to her. But is that what we see from Christians in relation to their special “sin groups?” This distinction matters so much right now.

      I hope that helped Don. I appreciate you.

      Brandon

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  2. Thanks, Brandon. I look forward to some additional clarification. I love the thought of announcing to a broken person, “God loves you and He has already forgiven you” but I’m just not sure how to square that with the message of Jesus that puts so much emphasis on repentance as necessary for reconciliation – “Woe to you, Chorazin… Woe to you, Capernaum” etc. At this point I can’t just dismiss all that predicated on Paul’s greater revelation(?) of no longer considering anyone from an earthly point of view. But I’m open to it. 🙂 Thanks for responding!

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    1. This sentiment surely does not negate repentance (metanoia- changing one’s mind leading to inner transformation). The essential difference is metanoia (changing one’s mind) because of the fear/compulsion of God or because of the kindness of God. And we know that the “kindness of God leads to repentance.” It is always the love and kindness and forgiveness and mercy of God that predicates a change in one’s mind that leads to a reconciliation (a uniting with God) which causes transformation. If the message/motive is anything less than love and kindness and forgiveness and mercy, repentance is only birthed out of fear and obligation and a transactional receiving.

      Liked by 1 person

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