31 December 2011

The Ministry of Reconciliation: Forgiveness and Repentance

The heart of God the Father is to reconcile the world to Himself, therefore, we have received this ministry of reconcilation.  In Luke chapter 17 Jesus told His disciples that it is inevitable, offenses will come.  In other words, people are going to sin against you, and you need to know how to minister reconciliation.  In verses 3&4  Jesus says, "Be on your guard.  If your brother sins, rebuke him (show him his fault); and if he repents, forgive him.  And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, 'I repent,' forgive him."  In Acts 3:19 we read, "...repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord:"  We are called to repentance as part of reconciliation in our relationship with the Lord.

Repentance automatically comes with confession.  To confess is to acknowledge.  One must first acknowledge sin before he can choose righteousness.  This is why 1 Jn 1:9 says, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us of all unrighteousness."

While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.  Forgiveness was available to us long before we accepted it.  When did it become effective in our lives? When did reconciliation happen?  When we repented.  When we began to think differently, we came to Jesus, confessed our sin and decided to go with Him.  Repentance is the decision to go the other way, but, it doesn't end there.

John the Baptist came preaching repentance (Mt 3:2) and in Matthew 3:8 he told the religious leaders, who had come in repentance, for baptism, that they needed to bear fruit in keeping with repentance.  Apostle Paul declared everywhere he went that people should "repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance."  (Acts 26:20)  So, we see that repentance doesn't end with thinking differently, while that is vital, it is necessary to do deeds that reflect the change in our heart, and no one is exempt.

Now let's put this all together.  Your brother sins against you.  You show him his fault.  He repents.  You forgive him.  Now he is required to do deeds appropriate to that repentance.  Is the relationship restored now?  Has reconciliation taken place, or do you wait to restore the relationship (remove the hinderance produced by the sin), until you see the fruit of repentance?  Like Jesus, we must have a heart of forgiveness before we go to our brother and show him his fault, so that, when he repents, that forgiveness can be put into effect and he will then be able to do the works of repentance.  Jesus doesn't wait to restore relationship until He sees our fruit.  Our forgiveness is in effect (the relationship is restored without hinderance) from the moment we say, "I repent".  Because of that, we have the grace to do the deeds of repentance. We don't realize forgiveness prior to repentance, because until that time, the hinderance in the relationship, caused by the sin, is still there.

As we relate to one another in the Body of Christ, it is important that we forgive freely, whether the offending person ever acknowledges their sin or not.  Like Jesus, we must forgive while they are yet sinning.  Forgiveness is the wiping away of sin so that it no longer hinders relationship.  The offended person is the only one who can wipe the slate clean.  The offending person does not have the ability to remove their own sin.  They can only accept the forgiveness and reconciliation offered to them.  Therefore, when they do come to us and say, "I repent", we must put that forgiveness into effect, giving them the grace necessary to bear the fruit of repentance.  

The offending person, must be quick to receive a rebuke and to repent.  It's a must to begin doing deeds in accordance with that repentance.  The thief, must not only give back what he stole (confess his sin), but he must "work with his hands so that he will have something to give to the poor"  It's more than just making restitution, it is doing the opposite of what was done before.  The gossip, the backbiter and the slanderer, must go back to those spoken to, and often to the one spoken of, confess sin, and  begin speaking only that which is edifying to the hearer. 

Just as the offended person must extend grace for loves' sake, so the offending person must be quick to repent and begin bearing the fruit of repentance regardless of the offended person's response.  Matthew 5:23 & 24 tells us if you know your brother has something against you, you have the responsibility to go and be reconciled to your brother.  None of us are exempt from love, in any situation.  We have all been given the ministry of reconciliation.

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