“If he repents seven times in one day, you must forgive him.” – Does this mean forgiveness is unconditional?
And he said to his disciples, “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin. Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”
Recently a lady wrote to me and asked if I could explain to her what the Lord meant by His words here in Luke 17, particularly in verses 3-4.
Last Sunday we took a long look at the error — the very serious error — of latching on to a passage of Scripture and turning it into a hard, fast, no-exceptions, merciless rule that applies to every situation. And we saw some very real and current situations in which this kind of error twists Scripture so that even when evil is known to be among us, a code of silence is still enforced to protect it.
The passage before us here in vss 3-4 is an example of a Scripture that is very commonly used (by people who distort it) to enable evil and oppress the innocent. So let’s spend some time this morning carefully looking at what the Lord meant.
Woe to Those Who Harm the Little Ones
I decided to also include verses 1-2 in our consideration this morning. This passage has very real and pertinent application for our day. Listen to it again —
Luke 17:1-4 And he said to his disciples, “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! (2) It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin.
I included these verses this morning because they are an excellent example of the things we have been learning in the Sunday School teaching time regarding the sovereignty of God. These verses also help us to properly understand the often misused verses 3-4 about forgiveness.
God allows and in fact even decreed that temptations to sin would come to us in this fallen world. And yet His decree does not remove guilt from the one through whom the temptation comes.
Listen to the same thing in a bit more detail from Matthew’s Gospel –
Matthew 18:1-10 At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.
“Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes!
And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire.
“See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.
Now notice some things very, very carefully. First, this:
Anyone seeking to be ‘greatest’ in the church is necessarily given to abusing little children and that abuse interferes with those children’s ability to follow Christ.
See it? It is true. It is one way or the other. To seek to be “greatest” necessarily means walking over others to get to the top. This also tells us that the “greatness-seeker” is always propelled and motivated by his or her lust for power. ALL forms of oppressing the little children and the weak and the sheep in Christ’s flock are always means to this evil end — seeking to be top dog in “God’s” kingdom.
Greatness-seekers using Christ’s name for their evil necessarily “tempt” the little ones. They lead people away from Christ and urge—or subtly coerce—them to worship a man instead. Then after the poor lambs are led astray and oppressed and cast aside, the ones who’ve been led astray often turn away from following Christ. After all (they think) “If this is Christianity, then who needs it?”
Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin.
Think carefully on this. EVERY person in the church who claims to be a Christian and who is seeking a name for himself IS causing the little ones to stumble. We could give example after example that is in the news today. RC Sproul Jr., is in the news once again (link). Here is a man, the son of a well-known Christian leader, a pastor, a theologian, an author, a college professor, who over and over again has exalted himself. He has been openly caught spiritually abusing his flock, for which he was defrocked as a pastor in a denomination. He has been caught going to the Ashley Madison adultery site. I know specifically of a situation in which he and his fellow greatness-seekers cornered a poor lady and grilled her for hours to force her back into a very evil abusive situation.
And now he hits the news having been arrested for felony drunk driving (operating a vehicle with alcohol concentration equivalent to .15 or more—that’s a very high reading!) and endangering a child. Ligonier in their announcement of his resignation continues to cover for him of course and in fact is just trying to do PR damage control for their own selves so as not to lose face or money.
Now, I ask you, what does the Lord Jesus say about such a man who has been TEACHING in a Christian college? TEACHING and mentoring young people all the while seeking greatness for himself? What does Jesus say? I can tell you:
What awaits you on the day of judgment is going to make you wish you could have tied a heavy rock around your neck and jumped in the ocean if it could be a way to escape My wrath.
Imagine if such a man never repents unto saving faith. On the day of judgement he will hear God saying to him something like this: “The punishment I am dealing out to you is so immense that it would have be better for you if your life had ended prematurely, e.g, by your being drowned, before you wilfully and defiantly entrenched yourself in all those abominable sins which are now on your record. The sentence I’m giving you for eternity is fitting for the heinousness of your sins. (see Barbara’s post Are all transgressions of the law equally heinous? )
We could go on and on with many other examples — such as the case of Tom Chantry which we discussed here.
CHRISTIANS MUST CEASE PERMITTING GREATNESS-SEEKERS TO BE EXALTED. WE MUST CEASE TO ALLOW THEM TO OBTAIN POSITION IN THE CHURCH. They are causing the little ones to stumble.
Listen to part of a very good article I found last week:
Do you know anyone whose faith has been turned upside down into cynicism because of hypocrisy or abuse within a church or a family?
I do. I’ve lost count of those I know personally, and I have read about far more who have walked away from the Christian faith or at least wandered to the outer fringe of fellowship.
I have been researching abuse and authority issues in families, churches, and religious movements for over seven years. In the process, I realized that an organization of churches (of which I was a longtime member) had some really grievous problems that were adversely affecting my family and many others. Toward the end of our time there, I felt like I was shriveling up spiritually. And mine was a mild case!
Since then, I’ve read books and blogs about various kinds of abuse, I’ve conversed with countless people who have been afflicted, and I’ve thought back on some of my own troubling experiences.
What have I seen?
- Legalism in its many forms
- Controlling and even cult-like behavior
- Arrogance, greed, and a lust for power
- Leaders who failed to take appropriate precautions to protect vulnerable people in their care, then failed to properly handle abusive situations after they happened
- Leaders who actively covered up evidence to protect abusers rather than victims
- Leaders who were the actual perpetrators of child molestation, adult sexual abuse, violence in the home, embezzlement, and every other manner of aberrant behavior.
Frankly, I am angry at these failures. If you haven’t given much thought to this issue, please don’t look away. Pause and let it sink in…. So I am angry at the hypocrisy and abuse. But I am also angry at the aftermath. As I have listened (or read) when abuse survivors have shared their stories, I find that so many are hurting beyond belief. And sometimes it really is beyond belief, because so many of them have either walked away from faith or are at least questioning everything they once held dear. Their faith has been turned upside down. (excerpt from When Abuse Leads to Cynicism)
THIS is precisely what Jesus is talking about. We MUST stop permitting these ladder-climbing, fame-seeking people to creep in among us and we must STOP praising and worshiping them! Else we participate in their evil.
Now, let’s move on to verses 3-4. Listen to them again and then we will do some more serious thinking —
Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.
As we have already noted, this passage has been and continues to be regularly perverted by people seeking to use it for evil ends. I can assure you for instance that there will be plenty of voices insisting that we all “forgive” poor RC Junior because Jesus commands us to do so.
But wait a minute. Hold on. We just got through looking at verses 1-2 and…unless I am mistaken…I don’t really see any “forgiveness” there. In fact, I believe we read something about a big rock and jumping into the ocean and drowning and facing the wrath of God, right?
So if that be the case, then Jesus here is necessarily NOT teaching some “unconditional no-matter-what” forgiveness of the wicked. Do you see the danger of just ripping verses out of context and applying them the way the Pharisees did?
GOD HIMSELF DOES NOT UNCONDITIONALLY AND UNIVERSALLY FORGIVE THE WICKED!
Pay Attention to Yourselves!
This is a hugely important command, and it is a command! Pay attention to yourselves. That does not merely mean to watch out for sin on our own part, but it means that we must look out for sin creeping into our midst in the church, in this case specifically in the form of “seekers of greatness.”
It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh who would force you to be circumcised, and only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. For even those who are circumcised do not themselves keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh. Galatians 6:12-13
By the way, do you know what “boasting in your flesh” means? I will give you an example. In an Independent Fundamental Baptist publication I used to see years ago, you would frequently see one of their big name preachers (Jack Hyles being one. If you want to read a classic example of a wicked seeker of greatness just Google him) in a picture posing by some young boy who had a crew cut, was holding a KJV bible, was dressed in slacks and a shirt and tie. Why? Because they were boasting that “here is one of our converts. Just look at him. He has short hair and is dressed just the way a Christian boy should dress. And he has memorized 50 verses from the KJV.”
That is the flesh, you see. They were boasting in the outward appearance of someone. And there was all kinds of promotion and advancement in their organization FOR THEM if they did a good job of it with enough children.
Pay attention to yourselves! IF YOUR BROTHER SINS, REBUKE HIM. Understand? The reason so many evil greatness-seekers continue to be exalted in churches and Christian organizations is because Christians are not obeying the Lord’s direct command. We are sitting idly by, letting these types get hold of more and more power and influence, causing the little ones to stumble and sin, when Jesus says that we are to REBUKE this when we see it.
At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying,
“Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
What was our Lord’s response to the disciples? He rebuked them! He warned them! He did not applaud them or encourage them in any efforts to be “great” in the kingdom. And he went on to warn them very severely of the consequences of seeking personal greatness and thereby leading the little ones away from Him.
Is the church, is the typical Christian of our day, are the pastors and elders of our churches obeying the Lord Jesus’ command to pay attention to themselves and rebuke anyone who gets onto the greatness-seeking track?
IF WE WILL NOT OBEY THIS COMMAND WE ARE GOING TO PARTICIPATE IN THE EVIL MAN’S ABUSE OF CHILDREN AND OTHERS IN THE CHURCH!!
This is exactly what happened in the association our church was a member of (ARBCA) and which has led to all the recent grievous sins and turmoil in that organization. Men seeking greatness and power and control, parading as eminent scholars and saints, were permitted to keep exalting themselves and being exalted and what happened? Others were walked on … and the police have now indicted a pastor for assaulting and molesting children. Any of the power-brokers there who have been confronted have refused to repent. They respond with counter-accusations and gnashing of teeth.
Are we to forgive them? Is that what Jesus says here? No! What He says is —
Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him,
IF! If he repents when rebuked. Is that not God’s pattern for His forgiveness? Repent and believe. Repent.
Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be eaten by the sword; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken. Isaiah 1:18-20
People who claim to be Christians very consistently pervert Jesus’ words and demand that EVERYONE must be forgiven no matter what.
The common teaching of the contemporary church is that “forgiveness and grace are required to be extended to everyone no matter what. The only “condition” to be forgiven is that you have sinned.” Whenever it suits them, they overlook the command to rebuke the offender, and they brush off the requirement that the offender repent. To require what Jesus requires —repentance — is seen to be legalistic, narrow, and judgmental. And they attempt to disparage, intimidate and de-voice the believers who are wanting the offender (e.g. the greatness-seeker) to be rebuked and disciplined and held accountable. In such a system, everyone is forgiven and everyone is (supposedly) headed for the pearly gates.
Just listen for it. Already you will have a lot of banter by the “grace-on-steroids” crowd that it is wrong for us to even put posts online about RC Jr’s sin. Just listen to the poor man — he says he is sorry. Jesus requires us to forgive him. Really? Pastor Sam Powell points us to the Heidelberg Catechism on this:
As the Heidelberg Catechism puts it:
Can they, then, not be saved who do not turn to God from their unthankful, unrepentant life? By no means, for, as Scripture says, no unchaste person, idolater, adulterer, thief, covetous man, drunkard, slanderer, robber, or the like shall inherit the kingdom of God.
Thus, God does not forgive the unrepentant and neither are we required to do so. Only where there is genuine repentance. GENUINE repentance, not the pseudo repentance that abusers, greatness-seekers and other hypocrites practice with the sleight of hand of masterly magicians.
Recently Verla and I were watching an episode of Doc Martin in which a wicked, conniving, scheming mother showed up uninvited. Her adult daughter caved a bit and let her mother watch her baby and it turns out the grandmother gave the baby some alcohol to quiet his crying! The child’s mother told her mother to get out and not come back, but the wicked woman immediately put on the manipulative fake repentance, victim act. Tears — the whole thing. The episode ends with the daughter caving again, accepting her mother’s “repentance,” and letting her stay. I hope a future episode will show that the woman has not changed at all.
ONLY when there is real repentance, and yes, when that repentance is real then the mercy and forgiveness of God is available. The Lord does not tell us “Ok, I will forgive you this time but remember, three strikes and you are out for good!” And that is a very good thing because none of us would make it. The gospel is based on God’s grace, not on our ability to only sin 3 or 7 times. But repentance IS required. That repentance is not a work, it is not some false gospel to require it.
And therefore we see that here in Luke 17, Jesus is in no way teaching that we are required to forgive unconditionally everyone who sins, even those who refuse to truly repent. To do so is to be guilty of rejecting Paul’s shocked rejection of the distortion that the gospel teaches us to sin so that grace might abound —
Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. Romans 5:20-21
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Romans 6:1-2
This post is based on a sermon Jeff Crippen is giving today. You may be able to listen to the sermon live — click here and scroll to the heading Live Webcast of the Weekly Worship Service for instructions.
But if the service is not webcast live, you can listen to the sermon tomorrow when it will be uploaded to sermon-audio here. On sermon-audio it will be titled Is Forgiveness Unconditional.