Sin and Forgiveness

How are we supposed to treat each other as brothers and sisters in Christ?  Luke 17:1-4 gives us two reminders.  First, we need to be careful not to cause others to stumble in their faith and sin.  One commentator suggests that this carries with it the idea of making someone lose their faith in Christ.  This would truly be an egregious sin!  One of my greatest fears as a pastor is that something I say (or don’t say) might cause someone to fall away from their faith.  God forbid!  As Christians, what we say and do carries with it such an awesome responsibility.  Jesus said, “…woe to anyone” who causes someone to sin or fall away from the faith (Luke 17:1, NIV).
The second exhortation has to do with forgiveness.  Warning: this is a hard teaching of Jesus!  If someone sins against you, Jesus says, we are to rebuke them to repentance and then forgive them.  Here’s the fun one:

Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them. – Luke 17:4 (NIV)

Surely Jesus doesn’t mean this, right?!?  You know the old saying, “Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me.”  If someone punches you in the face and then says, “I’m sorry” and then does it six more times and sincerely apologizes seven more times, I have to forgive them?  The number seven isn’t literal.  We shouldn’t count and then say, “Ha!  Eight times!  I don’t have to forgive you now!”  Rather, the number is a number of wholeness or completion.  We should completely forgive someone, even if they sin against us over and over.  But why?

Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. – Luke 6:36 (NIV)


Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. 38 Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.​ – Luke 6:37-38 (NIV)​

In other words, God forgives us over and over and over again.  We return to Him time and again with the words, “I’m sorry” on our lips.  We may even be truly remorseful and repentant.  How does God treat us?  He forgives us.  Every.  Single.  Time.  So don’t tell me that you cannot forgive the brother or sister that has sinned against you a few times.  I’m not saying it is easy.  But with the power of God’s Spirit and the knowledge of our own sinfulness against God, we need to be forgiving as we have been forgiven.

Luke 17:1-4 (NIV)

17 Jesus said to his disciples: “Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come. 2 It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble. 3 So watch yourselves.

“If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. 4 Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.”


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