(These brief thoughts are adaptations of the information that has been given in the four volume series on understanding the Bible: The Prodigal Paradigm, Acceptable to God without being Saved?, The Grand Spiritual Assumption, and Freedom through the Cross)
To my knowledge the small town in Alabama where I grew up didn’t have any all-you-could-eat buffets. I didn’t come across such a thing until I was dating the gal who later became my wife. Maybe her folks thought that was the only way to fill me up. I have been known to eat ten pieces of fried chicken at a single buffet (which was sorta like Superman and the tall building thing that he was known for).
But along with your main entre, you could pick and choose all sorts of side dishes like pork, fish, hamburger steaks, (I hadn’t had any shrimp, crawfish, or oysters yet ‘cause we were landlocked and two states away from Louisiana). I think they had vegetables and salads on those buffets, but I couldn’t swear to it. I loved to eat then, and I love to eat now. Some things don’t change.
The tragedy was, of course, that sometimes they ran out of what you really wanted to eat. I had never eaten pasta (except for the noodles in Chicken noodle soup and Spaghetti) as a main dish in my life, and until the world runs out of meat, I won’t be starting!
I’d like to compare forgiveness to a buffet. In forgiveness, each person goes to the table to get exactly what he wants and nothing else. What most of us want is a forgiveness that grants us a secure and guaranteed place in heaven. That is what we look for; that is what we feast upon; that is what we are thankful for. And we really don’t have an appreciation for any other spiritual entre (i.e., truth) or side dish (i.e., relationship).
We are in a little bit of a shock when we find out that Jesus never offered forgiveness to the person who believed in Him. Wait! That can’t be true, can it? All we’ve ever heard was forgiveness guarantees to the forgiven person a place in heaven. Even the suggestion that forgiveness doesn’t guarantee anyone an eternal destiny leaves us a little empty, right?
But more than empty, it leaves us anxious. We can feel our blood pressure rising as we discuss this shocking possibility. Now we are getting more than a little fearful, right?
It is like the feeling one has after he has finished the meal at the buffet table. We wonder why the crab didn’t taste like what we expected it to taste like. So, we call the waiter over to our table, and ask him about the funny taste of the crab. He then explains us that it was imitation crab. He says that they have never offered real crab on their buffet from the day they opened.
And we start thinking, “What did we just eat? Exactly what is imitation crab?” Yuck!
The only forgiveness that the Bible discusses has to do with this life. That forgiveness is from God; it removes our sins so that we can walk with Him in close fellowship. Isaiah explained it this way in Isa. 59:1-2:
“Behold, the Lord’s hand is not so short that it cannot save; neither is His ear so dull that it cannot hear. But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear.”
And in Ps. 103:10-12, David said,
“He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him. As far as the east is from the west, so has He removed our transgressions from us. Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him. For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust.”
In the NT the same message comes across. So Jesus taught His disciples and the multitude that had gathered on the side of the mountain overlooking the Sea of Galilee these words:
“And forgive us our debts (or trespasses), as we also have forgiven our debtors. . . . For if you forgiven men for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.” (Matt. 6:12, 14-15)
Neither Jesus’ death nor the forgiveness that God grants has anything to do with heaven or hell. That may not set right with many; it may not taste like the real thing. But it only tastes like imitation forgiveness because all we’ve ever known was an imitation that has been served as the real thing. And once our palate got use to the imitation, the real thing just doesn’t thrill our senses as the imitation had come to do.
If forgiveness, that makes fellowship with God again possible, is not to your liking, if it is not really what you want, know this: there is no other kind! When we stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ for judgment, we will be judged according to our works alone. Our faith in Jesus Christ will not shield us from God’s judgment that comes upon a life lived in self-centeredness. We will give an account for not living up to the revelation that God has given us.
Are you treating forgiveness like a buffet? Do you want what you want and only what you want when you want it? Or are you convicted of your sins of living in rebellion or indifference to God and want to return to His loving arms? Jesus’ death paved the way for your return. God is ready to forgive you. He has never stopped loving you with an infinite love. You just couldn’t experience it while you have lived separated from Him. His hand can still save. His ear can still hear the prayer of an honest heart that desires to return to Him. What decision will you make? Will you develop a taste for the real thing? Or will you cling to the imitation forgiveness that will not deliver you in the day of Judgment?
Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email