14What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? 15Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? 17In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
18But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds."
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.
19You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.
20You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless[d]? 21Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23And the scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,"[e] and he was called God's friend. 24You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.
25In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? 26As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead. James 2:14-26 NIV
Now that you have read the above scripture I hope you won't mind my using it to take you in a little different direction. If there is one passion, or burning desire, that I know God has placed within me it is to see the body of Christ coming into full maturity. Although it is true that we have made great strides and seen much more unity, we still have a long way to go. In this article I would like to give us a greater revelation of forgiveness. Now, that I shared that word, many of you will not read any further and I can tell you why. You believe that you have been there, done that and pretty much worn out the T-shirt, but I hope that you will humor me just a little bit longer and read on.
It seems we already have an understanding of God's forgiveness toward us. In fact, we have proof of His unending love and forgiveness toward us because Jesus willingly made the greatest sacrifice He could in going to the Cross, don't we? But I believe one reason that God allows the trials and tribulations in our lives is because He wants to see the proof that we are truly taking up our cross and following Him daily. We know from the parable of the unmerciful servant in Matthew 18 that we are forgiven much. Sadly, there are those who are somehow able to go out knowing full well they have received God's grace and mercy and, yet, the condition of their heart is so hard that they are not willing to show the same grace and mercy toward others. Jesus summed it up by saying;
32"Then the master called the servant in. 'You wicked servant,' he said, 'I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?' 34In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.
35"This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart." Matthew 18:32-35 NIV
He goes even further in Luke because He knows that we will be tempted to put limitations on not only who we forgive, but also on how many times we choose to forgive someone.
3So watch yourselves. "If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. 4If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, 'I repent,' forgive him." Luke 17:3-4 NIV
MAKING IT CLEAR...
If I take James 2:18 and change just a few words I believe it is still very scriptural and, even though it reveals a little different picture, it is clearly one that is imperative not only to see growth and maturity in the body of Christ but, Leaders, I believe have an even greater responsibility before God and I will give a few examples below through the life of Christ and also the life of Joseph.
A twist on James 2:18... "You have forgiveness; I have restoration." Show me your forgiveness without restoration, and I will show you my forgiveness by the restoration visibly noticeable in my life.
We often say we forgive and many actually believe they have. We go through all the motions, the tears, and the prayer asking God to help us forgive those who hurt us and all seems fine 'UNTIL' that person is on our door again, attending the same church we do or visiting our friends or family. What about those we once shared a great relationship with, who somehow disappointed us and, even though they may have sent us e-mails (sometimes with an apology) and/or gifts (as the bible tell us to do), we choose to ignore them all together? It doesn't take much to see who is walking in maturity and who isn't when we are unwilling to love those who have hurt us.
Maybe it's time we asked ourselves this question; "If I am a Leader in the body of Christ and I am not walking in true forgiveness with signs following (meaning restored relationships), what kind of example am I really being to those God has placed in my life who will learn from me?" Aren’t we supposed to be living epistles read of all men? Shouldn't those in positions of Leadership be held to even higher standards of integrity and character than those who are yet in seasons of growth and training?
THE LORD SPEAKS THROUGH COFFEE POTS...
If God can speak through a donkey, He can speak through anything. I will never forget something that happened a little while back. I was up early one morning preparing for our time with the Lord. My husband wasn't in the kitchen/dining area yet so I took a few minutes to check e-mail. To my surprise there was an e-mail from someone we had not heard from in a good two years. When they left our ministry we were very hurt and yet at this time in our lives we already had an understanding of what God allows to happen in our lives so that we will grow more and more into the image of Christ. We went through all the motions. the tears, the prayer and we truly believed we had forgiven them. However, I found after reading his letter that I had somehow lost my joy. I walked over to our coffee pot to make a pot for the morning and my husband came out and sat down. While I was pouring the water in the pot and putting coffee in the filter I was talking to my husband about the letter we received. I knew something was wrong inside me, but I couldn't put my finger on it. He was blessed by receiving it and I was bothered somehow. I hit the button to start the coffee and nothing happened. No light came on, and no water dripped down through the filter and coffee grounds. My coffee pot would not go on. That was odd; it worked fine all the days before. Now I was even more frustrated. Not only was I dealing with this inward feeling after receiving this letter, but I couldn't even have a cup of coffee to mull it over. I barely got away from the coffee pot when I heard His still small voice inside which said; "You can't go on in this bitterness." Have any of you ever heard someone say; "Wow, that is a bitter cup of coffee?" Well, I knew immediately what He was trying to tell me. He was showing me my own heart. He was telling me that the feeling I got upon reading that letter was bitterness and the sad truth of it was revealed through the words 'go on'. Wait a minute. Hadn't I forgiven them? Hadn't I cried and prayed and done everything I knew to do to make sure my heart would be right? Yes, I had, but there had been no test. They were no longer in our lives so I could 'go on' not realizing bitterness was setting in because there was no proof that I had truly forgiven them. Oh, how I thank the Lord for these times when He speaks so gently and, yet firmly, reveals the wickedness that tries to hide in our hearts so that we can repent and make adjustments.
By now you might be wondering what the outcome was. My husband and I had a wonderful time in prayer that morning. We both repented for anything that might have been hidden in our hearts. We thanked the Lord for this letter and this precious couple and I chose to walk out of bitterness and into true forgiveness from the heart. I later sat down at the computer and together we composed a wonderful letter back to he and his wife telling them how much their letter meant to us, how much we loved them and we even apologized to them for anything we might have done all that time ago that lead to their departure. We received a wonderful response from them a few days later and I just have to say that you will never have true 'freedom' in Christ until you learn the great lesson that is revealed through Jesus's restoration with Peter and Joseph's forgiveness and restoration with his brothers.
OUR GOD IS A GOD OF RESTORATION...
1BRETHREN, IF any person is overtaken in misconduct or sin of any sort, you who are spiritual [who are responsive to and controlled by the Spirit] should set him right and restore and reinstate him, without any sense of superiority and with all gentleness, keeping an attentive eye on yourself, lest you should be tempted also. Galatians 6:1 AMP
I am not sure exactly why many seem to miss the heart of God in this area, but I have noticed that many of the different translations of the bible that we use for study don't even use the word 'restore'. The reference I am using above is out of the Amplified Bible. The word 'restore' is also used in both the King James Version and the Message Bible as well. What does the word 'restore' mean?. It is pretty self explanatory through the above version, but let me share with you what the word 'restore' in Galatians 6:1 means in the Strong’s Concordance.
The Greek word is katartizo, which means to complete thoroughly, i.e. repair (lit. or fig.) or adjust:--fit, frame, mend, (make) perfect (--ly join together), prepare, restore.
What an awesome word the Lord is giving us here. When He chose to use this word He was saying repair, adjust, mend, and join together. Now what happens if we change just a few words and turn Galatians 6:1 around to its opposite meaning? Wouldn't He be saying; "Brethren, if any person is overtaken in misconduct or sin of any sort, you must not be very spiritual (responsive or controlled by the Spirit) if you are not willing to set him right and restore and REINSTATE him, without any sense of superiority and with all gentleness, keeping an attentive eye on yourself, because you may very well be tempted in the same way one day yourself?" Ouch!! So then it is actually through forgiveness and restoration that we show we are spiritual. The proof is not just in our words, but it is in our deeds. Words mean nothing without action. True spiritual fruit should be seen in our lives, not only because we are walking in love and appear to be walking in forgiveness, but because it is truly seen when we are walking in humility toward others which reveals that we have God's heart for restoration.
TWO GREAT EXAMPLES OF RESTORATION...
The first and most obvious is the relationship between Jesus and the apostle Peter. In the Gospels we find very similar stories of how Peter denied the Lord 3 times. Today, we read it and it is almost just text on a page, or is it? Have you ever felt betrayed? Have people left you or your ministry and then later gossiped about you, tore you down or denied they ever knew you? If you are called to any position in Leadership friends, it will happen. Why? Because God cannot make us Christ like without taking us through some of the things Christ went through. It is only through these trials and testings that God can show us our hearts, and once He does and we ask Him to continue to do a work in us then we give Him freedom by His Spirit to refine us like silver or mold us like clay. Later however, we find Jesus reinstating Peter. You might say 'Wait a minute here. Didn't he cut off the ear of another man? Didn't he abandon Jesus, curse and deny Him?" Yes he did, but He also foreknew that Peter was going to fall way. Yet, He chose Peter to be an apostle anyway. Not only did Jesus reinstate Peter to relationship with Him, but He went even further than that. Jesus restored Peter to his calling and ministry as well (see John 21:15-19).
The second example is Joseph and what an awesome example of forgiveness and restoration he was. Betrayed, thrown into a pit, abandoned and sold by his own brothers, then sold into slavery only to walk uprightly before the Lord. Then to have Potiphar's wife lie about him which got him thrown into prison for a crime he didn't even commit and, then, having to keep believing God even in that horrible trial, Joseph finally gets an opportunity to use his gifting. Doesn't the bible say our gift will make room for us and bring us before great men? Yes, but in Joseph's case even after interpreting the dreams of the butler and the baker he was still in prison for another 2 years. I don't think we can possibly see a more beautiful picture of restoration than in the life of Joseph. After Pharaoh makes him ruler over Egypt those awful brothers who originally sold him down the river come to him needing help. Joseph does put them through a series of tests. He wants to know about the family and especially his brother Benjamin, but most of all I believe he wanted to know if they had changed or grown at all. Would they still to this day do to Benjamin what they did to him so many years ago? Through many months, and several tests, Joseph finally sees that their hearts have changed and he reveals himself to his brothers.
5But now, do not be distressed and disheartened or vexed and angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me ahead of you to preserve life. Genesis 45:5 AMP
And what about Jacob? He was devastated at the loss of Joseph, his pride and joy, but let's take a good look at the heart of a true father.
'This is what you are to say to Joseph: I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.' Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father." When their message came to him, Joseph wept. Genesis 50:17
Jacob actually called his sons, who had devastated him and hurt Joseph so badly, 'servants of the God of your father'. What a statement to us today. Are we not all brothers and sisters in Christ? Are we not all servants of the God of our Father in Heaven? The answer is YES, but the proof of our spirituality is not shown in words, but in deed.
BRINGING IT TO A CLOSE...
In these last days when the bible tells us that hearts are going to grow cold, we must even more so guard against the things that try to become stumbling blocks in our daily walk. By our own choices, we can take the things that come as stumbling blocks or we can turn them into stepping stones. It will only happen by forgiving others for the things that are done, or even said, daily that pull us into offence and attempt to bind us up in bitterness. It is my hope that this article, in some way, helps you to see that God is looking for fruit that remains. Part of the fruit that remains is proof that we not only walk in love and forgiveness but, I truly believe, that He is calling us to go even further, friends. With everything in me, I know God is looking deep into our hearts and that He is asking us to, not only show our love and forgiveness with a prayer or the few words we say (lip service), but we prove ourselves by our willingness to restore those who have previously hurt, or offended us, back into a relationship with us again.
If you need prayer in this area friend, please feel free to contact me. God has given me a passion to teach forgiveness and restoration. I know how very difficult it is, but it is the only way to FREEDOM.