Three thoughts on forgiveness and reconciliation in Luke 15

Note: I am re-posting a series of five Bible studies this week that I wrote last year. Every 2 PM post Monday to Friday this week will be a Bible study.

The Bible passage for this post – the last in the series of five – is in Luke 15.

Luke 15:1-10:

1 Now all the tax collectors and the sinners were coming near Him to listen to Him.

Both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”

So He told them this parable, saying,

“What man among you, if he has a hundred sheep and has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open pasture and go after the one which is lost until he finds it?

When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.

And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’

I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

“Or what woman, if she has ten silver coins and loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it?

When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin which I had lost!’

10 In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

And now we go to C.S. Lewis for this quote:

“It may be possible for each [person] to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbor. The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbor’s glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken. It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would strongly be tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another…. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal…. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously—no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.”

— C.S. Lewis “The Weight of Glory”

And then there is this from the biography of J. Warner Wallace:

J. Warner Wallace was an atheist for 35 years. He was passionate in his opposition to Christianity, and he enjoyed debating his Christian friends. In debating his friends, J. Warner seldom found them prepared to defend what they believed. He became a Police Officer and eventually advanced to Detective. Along the way, he developed a healthy respect for the role of evidence in discerning truth, and his profession gave him ample opportunity to press into action what he had learned about the nature and power of evidence. Throughout all of this, he remained an “angry atheist”, hostile to Christianity and largely dismissive of Christians.

When J. Warner took time to be honest with himself, he had to admit that he never took the time to examine the evidence for the Christian Worldview without the bias and presupposition of naturalism. He never gave the case for Christianity a fair shake. When he finally examined the evidence fairly, he found it difficult to deny, especially if he hoped to retain his respect for the way evidence is utilized to determine truth. J. Warner found the evidence for Christianity to be convincing.

J. Warner founded as a transparent resource that tracks his own spiritual journey. From angry atheist, to skeptic, to believer, to seminarian, to pastor, to author and podcaster, his journey has been assisted by his experience as a Detective. J. Warner wrote, “Cold-Case Christianity” with a desire to share those experiences with you, It’s J. Warner’s hope that his own efforts to detect and articulate the truth will help you to become a better Christian Case Maker.

In a recent podcast, I heard Wallace mention that he is now an adjunct professor in the apologetics program at Biola University. Adjunct professor.

And this from the biography of the fighting pastor, Pastor Matt Rawlings:

Matt Rawlings is a Teaching Pastor at Christ’s Community Church in Portsmouth, OH and State Director of Development for a Christian legal ministry.

Matt has been married since 1998 to Emily Bennington and they have a son, Jackson who was born in 2003.

Matt is a prodigal preacher’s kid who ran away from home at 15, ended up in Hollywood at 17 where, among other things, he directed music videos for Latin MTV. He returned to his home town of Portsmouth, OH in 1991 and after a wasted year of college, he entered politics (which is just Hollywood for ugly people). Matt worked for 2 Congressional campaigns and spent 2 years working on Capitol Hill as a legislative aide during the “Gingrich Years” of 1995-1997.

It was during this time that Matt was diagnosed with cancer and was saved. After graduating from Shawnee State University in 1998 with a B.A. in History, Matt studied New Testament Greek at Kentucky Christian University and then the Graduate School of Theology at Abilene Christian University where he earned a Master of Divinity.

Matt then graduated from Cornell Law School in 2004 while pastoring a small church in Ithaca, New York. After a few years working in a large corporate law firm in West Virginia while serving as an interim pastor for small churches, Matt became a Teaching Pastor at Christ’s Community Church in 2006. He then helped launch and lead Revolution, a Gen-X & Gen-Y ministry from 2008 to 2013.

Matt earned a certificate in apologetics from BIOLA University. He also launched Free Seminary to train lay Christians to become disciple makers. When Matt isn’t preaching or teaching, he is hanging out with his family or reading theology or detective novels, watching old movies or listening to really loud music.

Pastor Matt spent a period of time as an atheist, and he wrote about it candidly in several posts on his blog. But look at him now.

So here’s what I want to say about all this.

The first point I want to make is that it’s important to understand what human beings are in Christianity. We are not just lumps of meat who evolved by accident in an eternal, undesigned universe. Every single one of us is made in the image of God. We are embodied minds. When we die, our body stops working, but the mind/soul survives. God loves each of us equally and wants us all to come to know him and to have eternal life with him. Those who resist his loving but non-coercive drawing of us to him will spend eternity separated from him. Our lives do not end at the grave. Every single person you speak to was made to live on beyond the grave. And every moment you spend with them, (as a Christian operator, working as God’s ambassador), is leading them to one eternal destination or another. It’s part of God’s plan for your santification that you participate in leading other people to Christ, and building them up once they’ve been led to Christ.

The second point I want to make is that you can know precisely nothing about what a person can accomplish for God from their present state of rebellion against God. Wallace and Rawlings were bold and determined atheists. To every prim and proper church Christian looking on then, they must have looked as if they would never come to faith in Christ, and certainly that they would never make contributions to the Kingdom like the ones they have. It would have been exactly the wrong thing to do, at that time, to count them out and to refuse to engage them. I meet Christians all the time who are regular church-attenders and Bible-readers who I ask to engage with me to grow some of these lost-sheep or newly-found sheep, and I am so surprised to hear the pride in their voice as they dismiss these people as lost causes. Don’t do that! You are not in a position to know what these people are capable of. And I can guarantee you that God hasn’t given you so many people to mentor that you can just be cavalier about throwing some of them out that you deem to be unworthy of your time. Be careful about having your sins forgiven and then refusing to forgive someone else’s sins. If someone needs your mentoring, you better put in the same effort that God put into rescuing you. God uses people to save other people, and God help the “Christian” who makes excuses for not being faithful when they are called. This is not optional.

The third point I want to make is that in the real world, we have to understand what works in order to convince someone to become a Christian or to return to the faith. Christianity is a truth-centered faith. It has certain propositions that must be affirmed as true. In order for those propositions to be affirmed as true, they have to be demonstrated to be true. The way the founder of the religion did this is by providing miracles to authenticate his claims, (just read the gospel of John). Jesus offered these miracles to unbelievers as evidence for them to then freely choose to believe his statements about himself. Here in this time and place, it falls to us to use logical arguments and evidence from nature and history to prove out these same propositions to unbelievers. If you want to be the one who is able to leave the 99 found sheep and save the 1 lost sheep, then you study apologetics and invest in relationships with people. If you want to be the one who is able to leave the 9 silver coins and save the 1 lost silver coin, then you study apologetics and invest in relationships with people. Christianity is an evidential faith. If you want to share your faith with the lost, you have to study the evidence for it.

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