My heart is grieved and yet encouraged to receive a letter with these words:
At 43 years of age, having gone through a very ugly and costly divorce, being a single parent and trying to go to the next level of spirituality, there are a number of issues very important to me.
The letter writer expresses no self-pity, no self-righteousness, and no incriminations. He is not living in the past, but, having learned from it, humbly he is “trying to go to the next level of spirituality,” trying to “grow to adulthood” (Heb. 6:1, FHV).
Seeking Spiritual Growth
Clearly the word “spirituality” is included in Solomon’s words, “Respect and obey God! This is what life is all about” (Eccl. 12:13, CEV), and in Paul’s words, “they who live according to the Spirit focus their attention on spiritual things” (Rom. 8:5, FHV).
The letter writer asks, “If a Christian cannot/will not forgive, will grace cover his inability to forgive?” Jesus recognized no inability to forgive: “if you do not forgive men, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions” (Matt. 6:15, FHV; cf. 18:35). If grace covers and excuses one for a failure to forgive a wrong, would not that grace cover and excuse all other wrongs, all other sins? This extension of grace would lead to universal salvation, for Jesus “by the grace of God” died “for every one” (Heb. 2:9). The most gracious person who ever lived did not think that grace is a big blanket covering all sins, for he said that only a “few” people will go to heaven (Matt. 7:14).
Oh! How badly misused and perverted are the beautiful words “grace” and “love”! Sadly, many preachers “distort” (dolountes, 2 Cor. 4:2) those words! Sadly, not only do “the unlearned and unstable wrest” (streblousin, twist, wrench, torture) grace and love, but also scholarly men do the same! Actually, “the God of all grace” (1 Pet. 5:10) has no grace if he creates a person with an inability to forgive and then denies heaven to him because he does not forgive.
Next, the letter writer asks, “What is Biblical repentance?” The word “repent” is derived from the Latin word repoenitere, which means to be sorry again. The word “repent” is not an accurate translation of the Spirit’s word metanoeo, which means to think afterward, to have an afterthought, to change the mind.
Sorry and regret are prerequisites of metanoeo: “Godly sadness produces” a change of mind (2 Cor. 7:10). But a mind change, according to John the immerser, is not enough. A change of conduct must follow. One must “show proof” (Matt. 3:8, FHV) by actions that he has changed his mind. Therefore, biblical metanoeo includes (1) being sorry (the meaning of the English word “repent”) as a forerunner, as an inducer, and (2) an aftermath, a consequent, namely, a change of conduct. Without a change of conduct a change of mind stops short.
Repentance and Forgiveness of Sins
The letter writer continues:
Allow me to pose several questions and at the same time make several comments. For some reason, sins are categorized by degrees. Many place adultery, alcoholism, drug abuse, murder and theft as the “biggies.” Some minimize profanity, gossip, not giving as one has been prospered, etc. We quickly forgive the smaller sins and wrestle with the “biggies.” We allow a Brother or Sister to repeat the smaller sins, on a regular basis, but, question one’s repentance if he or she succumbs to sexual immorality. Did either party truly repent? Must there be time between sins, if the sin is the same old sin? Do you understand my question? It is my understanding from scripture that David did not repeat the same grievous sins. Some of us commit the same old sins month after month. Some of us still gossip, some of us still swear, some of us still … well, you get the picture.
Biblically, some sins are “greater” (Exod. 32:21; 2 Kings 17:21; John 19:11) than others, just as some commandments are greater than others (Matt. 22:35-40). Some sins are unintentional, done in ignorance (Lev. 5:15, 17; Psa. 19:12; 1 Tim. 1:13), while some are willful and presumptuous (“with a high hand,” Num. 15:30, ASV; Psa. 19:13; Heb. 10:26). There are sins of commission (1 John 3:4) and sins of omission (Jas. 4:17). “There is a sin not unto death” and “there is a sin unto death” (1 John 5:16-17). But no sin of any kind, great or small, can enter heaven (John 8:21; Rev. 21:27).
Every sin, great or small, is forgivable through Jesus’ blood (Eph. 1:7) and through the biblical change of mind (metanoeo, which we mistakenly call “repentance,” Luke 13:3). Forgiveness is possible for even those who blaspheme against the Holy Spirit, a sin unforgivable either “in this world” or “in the world to come,” that is, unless the blasphemer changes his mind. The people to whom Jesus spoke about that unforgivable sin had an opportunity to change their minds on the day of Pentecost when Peter commanded them to “repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38, KJV).
Similarly, after the day of Pentecost, Peter told a sinning Christian what to do that his post-baptismal sin might be “forgiven”: “repent … and pray” (Acts 8:22). Not one sin only, but “all unrighteousness” (which would include blasphemy against the Holy Spirit) is forgivable by the “faithful and just” Father if Christians “confess” their sins (1 John 1:9).
But it is possible for a Christian to stay so long in sin as to lose all sensitivity to the love of God. Then “it is impossible” for him to change his mind, to repent (Heb. 6:4-6). Though he is yet living in the flesh, spiritually he “is dead” (1 Tim. 5:6). One apparently in that condition refused to let the elders come into his home, saying, “I do not want to see you again.” It appears his sin was “unto death” (1 John 5:16), self-inflicted. For him, John did not recommend prayers (1 John 5:16).
But Hugo does not know when a backslider has completely apostatized, when he can no longer be appealed to either with “the love of Christ” or “the terror of the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:11, 14). In one case, after a backslider refused to come back to church, I finally stopped praying for him and removed his name from my card file. A year later I was shocked to see him at services and then to walk down the aisle and to ask for prayers! After that I decided that without divine guidance I had better not put anyone of the impossible list anymore.
I still know that if a backslider stays in willful sin there remains “no more sacrifice for” him, that is, Jesus died once for him, and his sacrificial death will not be repeated (Heb. 10:26). But my obligation to that willful sinner never ceases. If he opens his heart to a change of his mind “there will be joy in heaven … more than over ninety-nine righteous people who do not need to change their hearts” (Luke 15:7, FHV).
However, after the backslider has been restored, in the future “if he sins against” someone “seven times a day,” and “seven times” says, “I change my heart [repent],” that someone in love will “forgive him” even as does the Father (Luke 17:4). That someone’s love may be exhausted, but even after seven times a Christian’s love is taught to keep on loving and forgiving at “seventy times seven” occurrences (Matt. 18:22). The Father can do this, but is any human being spiritual enough to be “imitators of God, as beloved children” (Eph. 5:1, FHV) in repeated forgiveness? Is any human being capable of comprehending “the breadth and length and height and depth” of divine love “which surpasses knowledge” (Eph. 3:18-19, FHV)?