(Photo: Brad Johnson)
A Pastor fell from grace many years ago. His behavior was dark and despicable. Deservedly, he lost everything. After a long season away from the Lord, just like the Prodigal son, he repented. He received forgiveness from God and eventually experienced restoration from Christian leaders and Christian counselors.
His is a story of God's grace and the hope of a fresh start with God through Christ. This man is once again serving his Savior in a church. It's a 'win' for the kingdom.
Recently, this Pastor approached a minister he believed to be a friend – a minister who said he had forgiven this Pastor – and the Pastor asked the man if he might accept an invitation to be a guest speaker at the Pastor's church. What the fellow minister said next was as surprising as it was devastating.
He replied, "I don't think it's best to do that because the association with you might hurt my reputation." The Pastor left that conversation saddened and confused, wondering what this man meant when he said he had forgiven?
Forgiveness was God's greatest desire and Christ's greatest accomplishment. The central message of the Christian faith is the relationship we enjoy with God through Christ made possible through that forgiveness.
When the Apostle Paul reflected on this and felt the urging of the Holy Spirit to write about it, he had in mind exactly how God through Christ had forgiven us.
Few Christians would disagree over the thoroughness of God's forgiveness. His sacrifice covered all of our sin; no aspect of our broken lives was left untouched or uncovered by Christ's blood.
We would likely all agree that such lavish grace was undeserved. We didn't have any capacity to earn such amazing forgiveness.
And the relationship with God that resulted from forgiveness, began immediately. God did not forgive and then withdraw, until we proved further trustworthiness. God did not forgive and then declare that we were not welcome to be with Him or His family.
God didn't forgive and shun, forgive and hesitate, or forgive and walk away.
From God's perspective, forgiveness was the starting line for a relationship, which could grow and develop and deepen through the years.
That is exactly what Paul was thinking when he turned his pen and his attention to unkind, hard-hearted, unforgiving Christians. It's the reason he was compelled by the Spirit to write, "Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, JUST AS (identical to, exactly like) God through Christ has forgiven you." Ephesians 4:32
Christians hungrily accept the thorough, undeserved forgiveness of Christ and the immediate relationship that begins. Then, tragically, we turn toward others and offer half-hearted, punitive, counterfeit forgiveness that says: We forgive you, but want nothing to do with you; we forgive you, but will not have a relationship with you; we forgive you, but won't associate with you, lest it hurt our reputation.
Is it any wonder Christians are disillusioned by this discrepancy and the world is repulsed by this contradiction, and all the while, counterfeit forgivers live oblivious to this reality.
Brad Johnson is the author of "The Four Laws of Forgiveness: How to Forgive Yourself and Others." He is the pastor of California Community Church in Agoura Hills, Calif. He writes: From my own experience of redemption and a fresh start with God, I now counsel hundreds finding their way to God. You can find Pastor Johnson on Twitter: @brad_s_johnson.