Easy on Sin Means Hard on Forgiveness
Unintended consequences. That is what you call those events which, after certain choices, come like a bolt from the blue. You don’t expect them, because the consequence seems unrelated to the original action. Slap a Gorilla, and you will get torn into like a bag of Doritos. That is not an unintended consequence because you can basically see that coming. But if you get tired of your pet snake and throw it into the weeds, an unintended consequence is what the residents of the Florida wetlands have discovered. There are far less raccoons, bobcats or opossums now because anacondas have become a dominating invasive species with few to no predators. That is an unintended consequence.
I believe that an unintended consequence of the attractional model of church will be fractured families and fractured churches. Those are unintended consequences because if one does not have a biblical view, it is hard to see the connection between families breaking and being an attractional church. Attractional churches are wanting to grow and see happy families, so what connects that model of church to broken families and churches? The connection is this; churches and families need to be filled with people who are really good at forgiveness. Families and churches are inhabited by sinning people and the only way relationships can remain and thrive is if there is pervasive forgiveness.
So why won’t these churches see pervasive forgiveness? Because the foundation for having pervasive forgiveness is a deep and massive understanding of our sin before God. People are good forgivers to the degree that they are good theology students. And the particular point of theology needed is our sin in light of God’s holiness. First, our sin against God is unimaginably huge. We have broken all of God’s laws in spirit and/or in deed (Matthew 22:40). If we don’t sin in our commission, we sin in our omission (James 4:17). Or Our thought life is as culpable and blameworthy as our actions (1 Corinthians 4:5). And we daily break the greatest commandment when we don’t love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength (Matthew 22:36-37). Every careless word will be judged (Matthew 12:36). Every action not done in faith will be judged (Romans 14:23). This is a pile-on. Our sin is that bad and worse. There is no measuring it (Ps. 130:3). It is so bad, God had to kill his beloved Son to deal with it.
Now, understand that this is what the attractional church wants to undersell and touch lightly upon. Talking about sin is a downer. Who wants to hear about this? You don’t go to church to feel bad, you go to feel inspired. I don’t feel inspired when I feel like a wretch.
But it is the truth, and it needs to be hammered in so deeply and so consistently that it is always on our mind. Why? Because you won’t be a good forgiver if you don’t. You also won’t be a good worshipper or a humble learner, but let’s focus on forgiveness. Why won’t you be a good forgiver if you don’t see the depth of sin clearly? The answer is because only when I know how great a debt has been forgiven me by God will I be more inclined to forgive others who have offended me so lightly in comparison.
If my sin against God seems small and fairly manageable, then when I am deeply and grossly hurt by someone here on the horizontal level it will not seem congruent with what I have done to God on the vertical level. I will think that my sin against God is small fries compared to what you have done to me. Therefore, my wrath and fury will both feel and seem right and acceptable because of how deeply I have been hurt. But if I understand my sin against God not as small fries but multiple Mount Everests stacked upon each other, or multiple trillions in debt, and all of it has been graciously thrown into a bottomless sea, then when people sin against me, even sin of the horrendous type, that sin will always be minuscule by comparison and I can promise forgiveness within my heart.
And just so you know, this is the comparison that Jesus devotes a long and detail parable to in Matthew 18. In that parable, the king forgives a servant his debt of 10,000 talents, which is basically an incalculable number. That servant then goes out and strangles a fellow s servant for the few dollars he is owed. The king promptly throws the first servant into jail with the torturers to emphasis the point; that servant should have had at the front of his mind his massive debt and its forgiveness. Then that servant would have had instant and easy forgiveness of the few dollars because his unpayable debt of an incalculable amount was erased.
Attractional churches have so minimized our debt, and made church hip and fun that the unintended consequence is people are not going to be quick and easy forgivers when they are sinned against. They haven’t thought deeply and regularly about the depth of their sin, the glory of the cross and the majesty of mercy, and therefore they won’t have those forgiveness-enabling thoughts available to them when someone needs their forgiveness. Attractional churches who skip over sin will attract many people who will then not be attractive when they are unwilling to forgive. This will cause rifts in churches and splits in homes.
As Jesus told the Pharisees in Luke 7:36-50 after he forgave and highlighted the loving and joyful actions of the repentant sinful woman, “He who is forgiven little, loves little.” And I will add to that; he who is forgiven little, will himself also forgive little.