Lectionary Reflection: John 3: 14-21: The Unforgiveable.

            What is the only unforgiveable sin?  Back in ancient history, when I was a teen and in my very early twenties, some friends and I used to debate this.  Mass-murder?  Mass-murder of the innocent?  Multiple rapes and murder?  Multiple rapes and murder of children?  Suicide?  The obvious answer eluded us, but only because we were thinking about sin the way most people think about it, that sin is something we do.

            Some years later, some other Biblical passages – the kind avoided in most sermons and Sunday School – began to make sense; like when Jesus said to have anger in the heart makes one guilty already.  Lust in the eye is still the sin of lust whether we actually do anything or not.  And I thought for some time, who can live up to this standard?  I understood Paul then, that we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.  Who is guilty?  All of us are guilty. 

            Every human on the planet has imagined murder, rape, theft, in that we have all been jealous, envious, hate-filled and angry at one time or another.  We have all fantasized of love and lust.  Thoughts of suicide are no stranger in an amazing number of lives.  The Scripture tells us the imagination of the heart is continually wicked.  Okay, I get it, but then I also get this:

            For God so loved the world…  The good news of the gospel is in Jesus Christ we are forgiven.  As far as the East is from the West; so far have our sins been taken from us.  We are washed clean in the blood of the lamb of God, and I thought, great!  So then I imagined that there was no “unforgiveable” sin.  The work of Christ could not have been only partially effective.  God can’t have missed a sin by accident.  Either our sins are all forgiven or the whole idea collapses.

            I was happy with that thinking for a long time.

            Of course, as I got older I began to come across more and more people who claimed Jesus but who made me wonder if they even knew who Jesus was.  These included many good, church-going people.  Clearly they were not interested in listening to Jesus or following his will and his ways.  Apart from an hour of church, many of these people were invested in living their sins, and could not be more invested if they just skipped that Sunday hour altogether.  Even the few who showed their supposed faith by good works, like feeding the hungry, housing the homeless and reaching out to all the needy in this world, showed in their off time that they were still mired in sin.  It reminded me of what Jesus said about the Pharisees, that they strove for outward perfection but inwardly were full of dead men’s bones.  How could this be?

            Then also I ran into plenty of people who scoffed at the whole idea of Jesus.  Curiously, many of these still believed they were headed for Heaven.  The thinking was, if God is really loving and merciful, God will accept me (or as often, God will accept “them”) on my own terms (or on “their” terms.  (How politically correct)).  And I thought, no.  God is not under any compulsion to accept any sin into Heaven or any person mired in sin.  He might say, go get rid of the sin first, and then come back.  It is not that God is not full of love and mercy, but those qualities are his terms to express to us in the way and manner he has chosen.  God showed us how much he loves us all when he willingly died the most excruciating, painful death for the forgiveness of our sins.  He showed his mercy by allowing this grace of forgiveness to come upon us – upon all who believe.

            Then I understood.  There is an unforgiveable sin.  It is not believing in Jesus, and I mean full acceptance, not just the claim and outward appearance.  It is acceptance that goes down deep, through the mind and heart to the very roots of the soul; because that is where sin is, so that is where Jesus must be.    It is acceptance that Jesus is the Lord of life.  Period.  Or as one gentleman put it:  “You may claim Jesus as your savior, but if Jesus is not your Lord in everything and every way, then he is not your savior.”

            This makes it hard for me.  I understand the ones who reject Jesus and want nothing whatsoever to do with God.  I have to let them go.  There is nothing I can do for them except pray.  But for the millions upon millions of claimants who haven’t got a clue… 

            So many claim Jesus but spend their whole lives keeping him at arm’s length.  They want to live in whatever the Hell way they feel like living.  They won’t let Jesus touch their mind or heart or soul.  They might do some good (outward) works if they feel inspired (or as often as not, guilty); but they really don’t want Jesus to get that close.  And I believe we do these people a disservice when we tell them how much God loves them and wants to be with them.  People are happy to have a ticket to Heaven as long as it doesn’t cost them anything or require them to change their lifestyle or chosen path in any way.

            I used to think such people were truly innocent, the result of bad teaching or an incomplete or incompetent theology.  Now I believe on the part of many it is willful ignorance, and I fear such people are condemned already because they have not really (deep down) believed in the name of God’s one and only son.

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2 thoughts on “Lectionary Reflection: John 3: 14-21: The Unforgiveable.

  1. Michael
    I find your view point interesting. Especially with regards to the complete, finished work of Christ. As we all know, it was in the death, burial and resurrection that the work was done, but it wasn’t until the Blood was offered up by the Eternal Spirit that it was finished.

    So when did Eternity begin?

    If the work of Christ is finished, ( and it is ) then why do we continually try and reapply the conditions of the law: thou shalt not…… Or do this, then God will do that – (conditional grace). And worse, we then judge those who fail so miserably to keep the conditions of a law that Jesus so perfectly met on our behalf.

    What if the reason those who confess Jesus as Lord and Savior struggle to act like He really is Lord and Savior, isn’t because they’ve tried and failed, but rather, they fail because they’ve entered into a relationship in word but not intimacy? What if all they know or understand is the legal aspect but have no knowledge that their salvation was really just a key that allowed them free access to the Fathe’s heart and intentions? What if they’ve come into a betrothel contract without ever understanding that they’ve missed the consumation?

    I have been in Church leadership and i’ve taught numerous classes on Kingdom. But it was not until Holy Spirit unveiled the heart of Father God behind the cross that i stepped out of my position as an employee of God, and into my rightful place as the Father’s adord child.

    The only work we can do that truly pleases the Father’s heart is to give Holy Spirit permission to convince us of how much we are really loved. Out of that paradigm we will begin to see the Kingdom. Jesus only did the works he saw his Father do, because he intentionally invested in the friendship that positioned him to so that he intimately knew and experienced what the Father was doing.

    You see, I think the only disservice we do people when we tell them God loves them is when we ourselves put conditions on what that love should look like. Jesus demonstrated encredible love with the woman who was caught in adultery, as well as with those who committed the adultery with her; he said, where are your accusers? When she replied that there weren’t any, he said, neither do I condemn you….go and sin no more.

    The law condemns…but love and grace empower to sin no more. By refusing to condemn her, Jesus released her from the guilt and shame of the law (according to Paul the law only made us sin more), which in turn freed her to experience what intimacy was truly about.

    The law is a barrier to intimacy, but grace is the gondola that opens the way.

    • You are right to say the work of Christ is finished and complete. But it is not static and the end of all things. It is the beginning, and our first work (and there is work to do) is to love the one who first loved us. (This is the first of the fruits the Holy Spirit seeks to grow in our lives: Love). This may be obvious to some, but it must be said because too many like the idea of God loving them but appear to have no interest in returning the same.

      We know the glory of Easter is through Jesus Christ when the barrier of law and sin that stood unbreakable between us and the Lord was torn down – even as the veil in the temple was torn in two. For the first time, all who believed had direct access to the very throne of God. This is the essence of the intimacy that is possible. For the first time we can experience the love of God directly and completely and understand that God made us to love.

      Yet you are right to say that many have entered into a relationship in word but not in intimacy. This concerns me deeply because apart from Christ there is no salvation. To refuse the person and work of the Holy Spirit is to refuse the grace freely offered. The door of the sheepfold, once opened, must allow for movement in both directions, God for us and us for Him.

      The Holy Spirit, given to us to reside in our innermost being, is the means by which God seeks to transform us from creatures of darkness to children of light. The Holy Spirit is the means by which God strengthens us to be over-comers, to go and sin no more, and empowers us to do the work of Christ, yes, “and greater works than these.” The Holy Spirit is the source of the faith by which we apprehend grace (and this faith is not of our making “lest anyone boast”). And the Holy spirit will show us what love looks like. It looks like Jesus Christ. Even Job understood way back then. When in considering his death, he prayed to the Lord, “I will rejoice when I awake bearing your likeness.”

      Since the beginning there have been those who have tried to reapply the law and thus make grace conditional. That is because they do not understand either law or grace. The law was not God’s design or intention to make-up things impossible for us to keep. And God has not thrown the law out since Jesus. Jesus was clear: He did not come to overturn the law and the prophets. They remain to this day. The law has not been overcome and tossed on the trash heap by grace.

      The reason is because the law and grace are not contrary, either-or positions. Instead, the law and grace are complimentary. Grace is the fulfillment of the law. How so? What is the summary of the law? That we should love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength, and love our neighbor as ourselves. When we were mired in sin, this was impossible. But now that we have been set free, by the power of the Holy Spirit within us, for the first time we are able to truly love God, intimately, and for the first time we can love our neighbors because we are able to love ourselves even as God loves us.

      You see? What sin denies, grace allows. Paul said we have faith hope and love, but the greatest is love because when all else is gone away, love remains.

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