One of my favorite things about being a parent is that I get to read a myriad of different books to my children. But one of their books I love to read in particular. It’s an excellent children’s book that is not only short, but packs a good gospel punch: Suzanne Bloom’s book, A Splendid Friend, Indeed. When I first read it to my oldest son, years ago, I couldn’t help but try to choke back the tears at the end. The story is not merely ‘touching’, but gets at a gospel truth: unconditional love, no matter what our actions are towards the lover.
The story goes something like this (yes, spoiler alert):
Listen to the fifth sermon in Ray Ortlund’s series, “Gospel Doctrine, Gospel Culture.”
What the Gospel Creates That Wasn’t Here Before:
How is a relationship between two people with wounded hearts, relentless insecurities, and haunting fears sustained in the darkness? It shouldn’t survive. It’s not logical. It’s not smart. And it’s certainly not safe. But neither is grace. And grace is what sustains it.
Forgiveness is a funny thing. It doesn’t take away pain. It doesn’t exchange mourning for happiness. It doesn’t deny wrongs done. It doesn’t make anything easier. But it does bring freedom. Forgiveness, like repentance, must be done continuously, and that’s something that I’ve been learning a lot lately. Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus’ shocking reply is, “Every time” (cf. Matt 18:22). How can forgiveness know no bounds? We can forgive because someone else has paid our debt, and we are free (cf Matt 18:33). We don’t owe anything anymore.
I have been wrestling with what forgiveness is on a human level—what it means, what it does. I want forgiveness to be a one-time deal; I want it to tangibly soothe the pain and clear the slate for good. I want the forgiveness I grant never to grow stale and rancid, but it does. God’s forgiveness is the only kind without an expiration date. My forgiving is only possible when I realize that someone else has paid my debt and that I don’t owe anything. I’ve been radically and completely forgiven. It’s scandalous, and it’s unfair. But it is where the heartbeat of life is found.
I’ve been learning that forgiveness means releasing someone from the obligation of owing you anything. The flesh screams, “I deserve to be repaid!” The Spirit whispers, “Jesus is enough.” The gospel tells me that Jesus is all that I need and that his finished work has secured for me everything that I could never obtain for myself. Forgiveness is only possible if everything needed is already possessed. In Christ, not only are our debts canceled, but we are given all of his riches. We have everything we need. I have everything I need. But unbelief creeps in every day. And the whole of the Christian life is, “I believe; help my unbelief!” As Jesus helps my faith grow–even a little bit–that much more is my forgiving others possible.
Compassion spurs on forgiveness when I am tempted to build up resentment. There are times when the hurt still wells up and I’d like to tell the other person what it feels like. But my hurt is not theirs to bear. And they have their own. There is only One who can bear that weight—and He has borne it totally. When I feel that way, I try to imagine what it would be like to be my offender. To be both the victim of affliction and the culprit of infliction is the vicious bite of the curse. And we are all both. And so when I try to imagine, I feel the tension in my clenched fists begin to fade. I see brokenness, which is no stranger to anyone. I see familiar fear. I see myself. I see an equal need for grace. And I pray: Lord, have mercy on both of us.
Listen to the fourth sermon in Ray Ortlund’s series, “Gospel Doctrine, Gospel Culture.”
What Does the Gospel Create That Wasn’t There Before?
“Finally, it’s getting a little lighter,” I think as I take the first sip from my beloved coffee and stare out the kitchen window that faces today’s pink-hued glowing mountains. I love daylight savings time – and the hope that the longer days bring – but the darker mornings make time management a challenge when I only have a few hours to run before the kids wake up and our busy day begins. On the fridge next to my marathon training program – the one that’s almost entirely highlighted pink now as I start on my 15th week of an 18 week program – is a circa-1977 picture of my Nana and Grampy. Although I glance at this picture dozens of times every day, this morning the picture somehow looks different.
Listen to the third sermon in Ray Ortlund’s series, “Gospel Doctrine, Gospel Culture.”
The Gospel and Everything:
A while back, I was reading Black Beauty to my boys at nap-time. While it was a favorite of mine growing up, I was struck (read: shocked) by the repeated emphasis on right action and the dichotomy between good humans and bad humans – which seems solely to be based on action. I questioned how I even loved this story as a child; why in the world did I shed so many tears every time I read it? The story seems so full of judgment.
Listen to the second sermon in Ray Ortlund’s series, “Gospel Doctrine, Gospel Culture.”
The Gospel and the Church:
“My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9).
God’s wisdom is hard to see. What makes it so hard to see is that we often approach the Bible with our preconceived notions of what we think it says, rather than what it actually says. We like to skim through the “what God did” part to get to the “what we should do” part.