Evangelism Without Legalism
Forgiveness and unforgiveness are matters of the heart, they are not merely topics to address by way of intellect. Yet how many of us legalistically proclaim “forgiveness” from behind the bars of our spiritual prisons of secretly and not-so-secretly harbored cynicism, selfishness, sadness, emptiness, hatred, and anger?
Far too often and far too easily we talk of Truth and propriety with no intention of truly being proper in our ethic, except perhaps before those who would expect such decency. And we are proudly unrepentant of this, forgetting that there is freedom in being forgiven. For when we cease to forgive as we have been forgiven by Jesus Christ, a spirit of unforgiveness flourishes and births all manner of evil (2 Cor. 2:10-11).
So why do we fear men and their judgment rather than the One Who ultimately judges our heart? Do we know who we are? Do we know Whose we are? My heart aches to see so many of Jesus’ own “leaving their first love,” which is Jesus Himself (Rev. 2:4). Their former eagerness and fierceness in holding fast to Christ has faded and been exchanged for a holding fast to self, adopting a faint-hearted devotion to Jesus’ teaching while neglecting Him as Teacher, leading to faint-hearted prayers that seek only what God can give rather than worshiping Who He is.
Indeed, a darkness has crept into the Church Body that steals hope, breaks the human spirit, and wears down the soul to the point of despair. The world itself is broken, though Jesus offers comfort in His counsel that because lawlessness abounds, the love of many will grow cold; but he who endures to the end shall be saved (Matt. 24:12-13). And who can endure to the end? No one, save those who cling to Christ alone as Savior and Lord.
The enemy is sowing doubt, suffering, and despair as never before. In turn, the testing of Jesus’ followers (particularly in the West) will demand discipline and sacrifice as never before. Being that the prison of unforgiveness of self and others is the root of most people’s emotional and spiritual pain, it is our objective via Isaiah 61:1 and John 14:12 to work with Christ through relationships and revelation toward freeing those around us from such darkness.
Though we must ask ourselves, Have we been set free from bondage through the same? If not, then speaking of being unbound from any bondage will ring silent, for it is our living example of being liberated in Christ that fills the hollow of hearts in desperate need. Just as the Word became flesh and dwelt among men, so our words must become flesh that supplies substance to what we preach lest our counsel be barren.
Think of the adulteress who sought forgiveness at Jesus’ feet, and received it. She had been brought to Jesus by the Jewish “judge and jury” to be stoned according to the Law (Lev. 20:10; John 8:1-11), but Jesus fulfilled the Law by loving her and offering grace (Matt. 5:17). The infinite power of forgiveness was demonstrated as Jesus expressed His love for the woman by averting swift judgment and emboldening her to “sin no more.”
Surprisingly, there is also a commonly overlooked expression of mercy toward the woman’s accusers embedded within this incident. Upon being pressed concerning the stoning of the adulteress, Jesus began to write on the ground with His finger, then challenged that any among them without sin should cast the first stone. Of course, all standing in judgment of the woman encountered a conviction of conscience and so left with no stones pitched.
But what was Jesus writing on the ground? Jeremiah 17:13 provides revelation: “O LORD, the hope of Israel, all who forsake You shall be ashamed. Those who depart from Me shall be written in the earth, because they have forsaken the LORD, the fountain of living waters.”
The forgiven adulteress undoubtedly has her name written, not in the earth, but in the Lamb’s Book of Life (Rev. 21:27). The potency of forgiveness cannot be trivialized and should never be undervalued in the life of one who claims to follow Jesus.