Last month we began to explore the four essential steps that we must take each day to renew our minds, so our lives can be transformed (Romans 12:2).
We said that these four steps are critical to do each time we recognize that we have quenched God's Spirit in us - i.e., each time we sin. This is our "readiness to revenge all disobedience" that 2 Corinthians 10:6 talks about.
We also mentioned that these were the same steps that the priests of Solomon's Temple went through in the Inner Court in order to deal with their sin and be reconciled to God.
The first step of the Inner Court Ritual, which we talked about last month, is to recognize and acknowledge our negative thoughts and emotions (our self life) so we'll know exactly what we must give to God. We said it's very important not to vent how we feel nor push down our real feelings. We simply must ask God to expose what is really going on inside us, so we can confess it and repent of it properly. It's imperative that we see and "own" our mistakes, our failures and our sin, so we know what we are dealing with and what to give to God.
Confess and Repent
(Lavers of Bronze)
The second step of the Inner Court Ritual, then, is to confess and repent of all that the Holy Spirit has shown us. And, in addition, by faith, we must unconditionally forgive anyone who has wronged us.
To confess simply means to acknowledge that what we have done is wrong. It has quenched God's Spirit in us and has blocked His Life from coming forth through us.
To repent simply means to turn around from following that ungodly thought, emotion or desire. It means to change our mind about holding on to it, and choose to go in the opposite direction.
Now, if we have caught the original negative thought when it first came in and we have not entertained it or mulled it over in our minds, then we can skip this step of confession and repentance because there is no sin or disobedience involved. We have caught the thought before it has quenched God's Spirit. (Remember, the first original bad thought is not sin, it's what we choose to do with it, that makes it sin or not.)
Once we give that negative thought to God and unconditionally forgive the other person involved, we can, once again, walk by faith.
However, if we know that we have held on to some self-centered thought or emotion for awhile, mulled it over and entertained it, then we do need to confess it as sin. It has already quenched God's Spirit in us and separated us from Him and we need to repent of it (i.e., change our mind about holding onto it), and choose to give it to God.
This step of confession and repentance is our own responsibility. As 1 John 1:9 says, "If we confess our sins, [then] He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."
We must acknowledge that what we have done (either ignorantly or knowingly) has quenched God's Spirit in us. We need to confess "ownership" of our negative thoughts and emotions and then simply choose to "turn around" from following them.
An Example: "I Confess I Am Depressed"
For example, if we are depressed (and I am assuming that this depression is emotionally or mentally caused, and not physiologically caused), and we have been following this emotional way of thinking for some time, we can't simply say to God, "Help me with my depression," and expect Him to automatically take our sad and brooding thoughts away.
We must say, "Father, I confess I am depressed (I "own" these thoughts and emotions). I confess I have chosen to entertain and follow these morose feelings over what You would have me do (i.e., give them to You), and it has quenched Your Spirit in me. I've sinned. I now choose to turn around (repent) from following what these things are telling me and I choose instead, by faith, to follow what You want."
How many times in the past, I've given my feelings of depression to God and asked Him to please take them away. But nothing ever happened. At the time, it made me feel even more depressed, because it reinforced that God didn't seem to care. Now I realize I was leaving out the most important step of all, confessing my own responsibility in it and, by faith, choosing to turn around from following that way of thinking.
Remember, we are not responsible for changing our own feelings. We can't do that. We're only responsible to put in charge the Person who can change our feelings, and that's God. And, we do that by confessing we "own" the negative feelings, by repenting of them and giving them to God. After that, it's His responsibility to change our feelings by aligning them with our faith choices. And, He will be faithful to do so!
Listen to what a precious, young girl wrote me, "I was never taught how to handle conflict in Christ. I was taught to fall apart and cry myself to sleep, etc. I was always missing step #2. I would take every thought captive and then put on the Mind of Christ. But, I would forget the most important step of all, putting off all the junk. And," she says, "there was a lot of junk in there!"
And it's true. Most of us often do forget this critically important step - confessing and repenting of our sins - which is our own responsibility.
Now, a part of this second step of confessing and repenting of our own sins is that we must now unconditionally forgive others of their sins. God is often hindered from working in us, and also in the other person involved, until we have released them. And we release them by unconditionally forgiving them, whether or not they have asked for forgiveness.
An Example: Joseph
It's interesting to note the story of Joseph in the Old Testament as an example of unconditional forgiveness. It's a wonderful story and a perfect example for us.
As you recall, Joseph's older brothers hated him because of a dream he received from God, and also because he was their father's favorite. At the first chance they had, they threw Joseph into a pit, sold him to the Midianites who were traveling down to Egypt, and then told their father that he had died. These were mean dudes!
After 17 years in bondage and prison, if anyone was ever "justified by the world's standards" to hold on to bitterness, resentment and unforgiveness, Joseph certainly was. However, in Chapter 45 of Genesis it says that when Joseph finally saw his brothers again, he wept. This is not the normal reaction of someone full of bitterness and unforgiveness.
Then it says that Joseph told his brothers that it was okay because God had sent him before them to preserve life. Again, certainly not the thoughts of someone full of unforgiveness. It goes on to say that Joseph told them he would be happy to have them dwell in his land and that he wanted to be near them. Again, not the normal response of a bitter person. Finally, Joseph kissed his brothers and told them that he, himself, would nourish them.
Joseph said and did all of this before his brothers had ever repented or come to him and asked forgiveness. (That doesn't happen until Chapter 50.) Joseph is a perfect example for us, because somehow he had given his "justified" hatred and unforgiveness to God, and God had freed him to respond in His Love and forgiveness. Joseph unconditionally forgave his brothers, in spite of all they had done to him, and in spite of their unrepentant hearts.
What a great example for us!
There seems to be two parts to forgiveness: 1) our relationship to God; and, 2) our relationship to the other person.
The first reason we must unconditionally forgive, is because God commands it in Scripture. In Mark 11:25-26 (Ephesians 4:32 and many other passages), it says, "And when ye stand praying, forgive (it doesn't qualify this and say "if they repent," it just says forgive), if ye have anything against any: that your Father also, Who is in heaven, may forgive you your trespasses. But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father, Who is in heaven, forgive your trespasses."
The second reason we are to forgive, is obviously to be reconciled with that other person. When we choose to unconditionally forgive that person who has sinned against us, then we will be "clean" before the Lord. Our relationship with Him will be reconciled, and we will be able to experience His Love and forgiveness, just like Joseph did. Now, if that other person comes to us and asks forgiveness, then our relationship with him can also be healed and we can end up even better friends than we ever were before. If, however, that other person never comes to us and never repents or asks forgiveness, then only God's wise Agape Love can operate. Luke 6:24-28 tells us we still must love him, but it will be "wisely," again just like Joseph.
Jesus gives us His own example: In Luke 23:34, as they were crucifying Him, He said, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do...."
Sometimes, it's almost impossible to forgive what others have done to us, in our own strength and ability. But, this is just another place where we can trust God for His unconditional Love. Scripture tells us that we can extend this unconditional forgiveness through Jesus. 2 Corinthians 2:10 validates that the way we forgive is "...in the person of Jesus Christ."
Think of it like a triangle. If we truly love God (and totally give ourselves over to Him), He then will enable us, strengthen us, and give us the grace and the love to genuinely forgive others. And prayerfully, in God's timing and way, the relationship between us and the other person can be healed.
(Remember, our hurt feelings will only have a chance to heal after we have made the faith choice to unconditionally forgive that other person. Again, remember Joseph. If he can do it in his situation, we can also. We have the same awesome God!)
An Example: Wounds From Our "Friends"
Recently someone who is very dear and very precious to me believed an "evil report" about me and angrily told many other people. When I found out it was my beloved friend, I was absolutely crushed.
Now, this doesn't mean putting our heads in the sand and never "taking a stand" if someone we love is doing something out of line. But, if we do hear something bad about someone we love, or something that makes us angry at them, Scripture tells us clearly that we are to go to that person and ask them directly about it, "...speaking the truth in love...." (Ephesians 4:15).
My beloved friend never did that, nor did she confess and repent of her own error when she found out the truth. Therefore, I was left with a choice. I could choose by faith (not feelings, because I still "hurt" terribly over the issue) to unconditionally forgive her, thereby reconciling me to God and opening a way for Him to continue to heal me and work upon her; or, I could hold on to my "justified" unforgiveness, and not only create a breach between God and me, but also end up giving the enemy another handle (another hide-out) in me.
The Lord showed me that one of the reasons this recent incident was so very painful for me is that I still had a lot of buried debris (unforgiveness) over other Christian "friends" who gossiped about us and slandered us over our bankruptcy experience several years ago. This latest incident was just a "catalyst" that triggered much deeper hidden roots of bitterness within me.
Again, I thought I had dealt with these things many years ago, but God showed me that deep wounds like these often take a longer period of time to heal. (Now, the fact is that God takes the things we give Him the moment we release them to him, but often our feelings don't align with that choice right away. The deeper the wound, the longer it seems to take for us to "feel" our healing.)
This recent incident just brought up more debris in the corners of my hidden chambers that God wanted swept clean. I suppose if He brought up all our deep-seated hurts at once, we probably wouldn't be able to handle it. But our God is gentle and kind and His timing is always perfect. And I know in His perfect timing He will align my feelings with the faith choices that I have made and give me His Love for this person.
Our Lord's Example
What is true friendship? It's a relationship that doesn't require any explanations, and a relationship that has the assurance of always receiving the benefit of doubt. A friend should be one who is loyal and one who shuns any form of betrayal. Oh my goodness, do we ever need these kinds of "friends" in our Christian world.
As I travel and teach around the country, betrayal among Christian friends is so very often the reason for many broken hearts and gaping wounds. It hurts so much more, because it's our family.
"For it was not an enemy that reproached me; then I could have borne it: neither was it he that hated me that did magnify himself against me; then I would have hid myself from him; But it was thou, a man mine equal, my guide, and mine acquaintance. We took sweet counsel together, and walked unto the house of God in company." (Psalm 55:12-14)
It breaks my heart to see this betrayal happening everywhere in the Christian body - from Christian marriages to Christian church bodies. I ask, as many unbelievers ask me, where is the Love? If we are Christians, then where is the true repentance and the forgiveness that brings God's Love?
Matthew 24:12, I'm afraid, has the answer. In the end times, because iniquity (self-centeredness) will abound, "the Agape Love of many (that's us) will grow cold."
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Next month, we will conclude our series on Renewing our Minds, by exploring the last two steps of the Inner Court Ritual: Giving over to God all that He has shown us is "not of faith" and then, washing in the water of the Word.
This article has been excerpted from Chuck and Nan's book, Be Ye Transformed.
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with the gift of Freedom.
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