As I’ve been sharing my faith lately, I’ve noticed my conversations have been focused on the profound peace of an all-knowing, powerful God and the assuring hope of my future with Christ. That’s attractive truth in a culture where insecurity about one’s identity and fear of disaster weighs heavy. However, I’ve started to wonder if marketing Christianity as attractive to unbelievers can result in tickling ears rather than delivering truth (2 Tim. 4:1-5). Have I made the by-products of salvation the primary focus because it’s easier to explain than the theology of repentance and faith in Christ? Continue reading Thoughts on Salvation →
Though we just might think that the righteous win, if we keep the rules and we do not sin, the plain truth is that the best man died even though he prayed, he pleaded, and cried, “Father let this pass help me end this pain.” But the silence stayed and the curse remained. In the garden bound, by the high priest tried, he was kissed, betrayed, left alone, denied. Continue reading In the Stillness→
Thank you, Layton Friesen, for your May 2019 article “Without the Church, You’re on Your Own.” Many years ago I asked myself, “What is the church?” and the nagging question was, “Who is the church?” What is the church generally refers to a building, denomination or organization. Are we as individuals not the church, if we believe Jesus is the Son of God, died for us, forgiving our sins and rose back to life?
Last Spring I had the opportunity to be a table host for our church’s Alpha program. If you haven’t had the chance to watch the new (2016) Alpha videos, take the opportunity to go through them on YouTube. They are great resources for a Faith-Booster-Shot, even for those of us who have been followers of Christ for decades.
During the six-week program I was thrilled to discover that both a young man at my table and a friend of mine declared their commitment to follow Christ during the Alpha program. How exciting to be a part of that!
Personally, one of the influential table discussions was on the topic “How and Why Can I Have Faith?” Question 1 on my leader’s paper read: “Thinking of your friends, family or anything else—Who or what do you have faith in?”
Stumped by this question, the six people sitting at my table didn’t think they had faith in anything or anyone. Golly! This was a revelation to me. As the group continued to deliberate the idea, I began to list the things I had faith in as a new returnee to Canada:
When my boys walk to school I have faith that it will be open, teachers will be present and able to teach, and abuse isn’t tolerated.
If I’m in an accident, the medical system will take care of me to the best of their ability. An ambulance will come with functioning equipment and personnel properly trained to treat me. Competent doctors and nurses will be at the hospital with medication and equipment that is available and functioning. I’ll be treated no matter my financial situation.
Laws and authorities work to uphold a society based on rules that make sense and build community rather than tear it apart.
There is incredible relief that accompanies the release of sole responsibly for the health and well-being of myself and my children. I can experience this because I have faith in Canadian systems. I’ve lived for years outside Canada without faith in the systems that should be able to care for people effectively. It was always with the underlying fear that should I or my children be in an accident, we couldn’t trust what would happen to us. That sort of unrelenting unease is exhausting!
I marvel at the simple luxury of faith in human systems, fallible systems. Humans can fail. They function within worldviews that change over the course of time, that are built on limited and ever-changing understanding of the universe.
Even so, I know the emotional and mental freedom of being able to trust these things. The bigger revelation is that human systems are nothing in comparison to the faith and trust I can have in the One who created the universe and my body and who governs the authorities of the earth!
He tells me I can trust Him. This Word does not change as humankind gains increased knowledge of the universe, nor as our worldviews shift over time.
Editor’s Note With Permission: It will disappoint readers, but after serving since September 2012, Jocelyn has decided, while saddened, to step back for health reasons from serving as a columnist. She has “really enjoyed the opportunity for a writing outlet and for the many, many words of affirmation I have received from readers. I do think, however, that pruning back this work may help other areas to flourish.” She is learning to “embrace my limits” (Jeanne Flemming). Thank you, Jocelyn, for serving us, and may the Lord bless you.
This is the second part of a two part series. Part one can be found here.
by Hendrik van der Breggen
Contrary to atheist bus ads stating THERE’S PROBABLY NO GOD, we can set out a strong cumulative case for the Christian God based on science, history, and philosophy. Often these are intermingled. Earlier we made some preliminary clarifications: we know through intuition and reason. The evidence for our faith is strengthened by a collection of arguments. And we set out three arguments (the universe has an origin, is dependent, and reveals intelligent design). Let’s continue.
Success of Science
Intelligent design arguments can be strengthened by the success of science itself. The universe operates according to mathematical/rational principles. Our minds can understand many of these deep principles, a feat immensely beyond what’s needed for mere survival. These facts make good sense on the view that a rational Mind (Logos) created both the universe and us.
According to Einstein, “The only incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible.” Scientist-theologian John Polkinghorne adds: “Our ability to understand the physical world [e.g., the quantum realm] immensely exceeds anything that is required for the relatively banal purpose of survival.”
An objection might be that this can be explained by atheistic, unguided evolution. But this neglects the fact that unguided evolution merely secures mental capacities geared to foraging, fighting, fleeing, and reproduction, not discerning deep theoretical truths.
Objective Moral Values
Moral experience points to God. We know—intuit—real (objective) moral value. We know human beings have intrinsic value. Witness all the human rights declarations. We know sticking pins in babies’ eyes for fun is wrong. We know Joseph Fritzl was wrong. Fritzl locked his daughter in a basement bunker for 20 years, raped her repeatedly, bore children with her, and kept them in the bunker. This knowledge is well explained by the doctrine that people are made in God’s image, and evil well explained by the doctrine that people are prone to sin. This counts as evidence for God.
An objection is that this is mere subjective preference. In reply, we should ask firmly: Really? If so, then that you like chocolate and I like vanilla is equivalent to you like helping people and I like torturing them. Surely, this is false—and we know it.
Free Will and Consciousness
Our free will to make moral or immoral choices makes sense on the view that God gave us mental capacity to choose or reject the good. We are made in God’s image in the sense of being free and personal beings.
Objection: Freedom is an illusion. Reply: This just seems obviously false. Think about this the next time you decide to have dessert. We aren’t robots—we know this.
Also, consciousness is mysterious and difficult, if not impossible, to explain on a wholly physical account. But it makes sense if we’re creatures made in the likeness of a Conscious Being.
The existence of evil is often an objection to the Christian God. The idea is that evil logically precludes or renders improbable the existence of an all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-good God.
But this objection falters. First, it’s logically possible for God to create creatures with freedom to love God (the Good) or not. Second, while evil (suffering) is apparently pointless to us, we are not in a position to know God doesn’t have good reasons for it.
Moreover, evil actually confirms the existence of the biblical God. According to the Bible, there has been a Fall—humans have rejected God. Thus on the Christian God view, evil is expected or predicted and this prediction is confirmed in reality. Hence, evil counts in favour of the Christian God view.
Moreover, to judge that evil is real, as the critic does, makes good sense only if God—The Good—exists. Evil is parasitic on the notion of goodness. Evil is a corruption or absence of goodness. Evil is a violation of a design plan of what ought to be.
Miracle: Jesus’ Resurrection
Crucial evidence for the Christian God is Jesus’ bodily resurrection, which confirms His claims to be God. First, consider an important objection from philosopher David Hume.
Hume argues that miracle reports are never reasonable to believe. Why? Because miracles are highly improbable. Miracles allegedly violate a law of nature that dead men stay dead; the vast evidence of dead men staying dead counts against miracle reports to the contrary. Significantly, however, Hume begs the question: he assumes as established that which is at issue. The issue is this: Does a God who sometimes does miracles exist? Hume assumes the answer is no. But this is what only evidence can reveal. Miracles can’t be ruled out in advance.
Here is a “minimal facts” approach in which we look at some generally accepted historical evidence regarding Jesus’ resurrection. This comes in various forms from scholars Gary Habermas, Michael Licona, William Lane Craig, N. T. Wright, and popularized by Lee Strobel. The facts are:
Jesus died by crucifixion.
Shortly after Jesus’ death, the disciples had experiences that led them to believe and proclaim that Jesus had been resurrected.
People were transformed into bold witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection in the face of social ostracism, extreme physical hardship, and death.
James and Paul said Jesus appeared to them.
Jesus’ tomb was found to be empty.
Because of what we know about dead bodies, a resurrection, if it happened, would be best explained as supernaturally caused. This means that Jesus’ resurrection shouldn’t be ruled out prior to historical investigation. The result: Jesus’ miraculous—God-caused—resurrection is strongly suggested by the historical facts. It makes good sense.
Also, non-resurrection explanations have problems. That Jesus appeared to die and later was resuscitated (the swoon theory) is ruled out by the evidence for his death. Hallucinations would be required at various places and with different groups and individuals; these facts throw wrenches into the hallucination theory. Objections tend to beg the question, not look at the historical evidence.
Significantly, former atheist Antony Flew wrote a book, There is a God: How the world’s most notorious atheist changed his mind. It ended with an essay by respected New Testament scholar N.T. Wright who argues for Jesus’ resurrection. Even Flew, a hard-headed former atheist, is impressed with the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection!
We can know that the Christian God exists apart from evidence. How? By direct revelation—personal, subjective knowing—through the witness of the Holy Spirit.
Objection: How do you know this burning in your heart isn’t just heartburn? In reply, it might be heartburn. But that it’s sometimes heartburn doesn’t mean it’s always heartburn. Sometimes deluded doesn’t mean always deluded. Also, a life of prayer and answers to prayer suggest too many coincidences.
God Exists—and Jesus is Lord
In sum, we have a strong cumulative case for believing the Christian God exists. The positive reasons are strong and the objections weak.
At this point, one might object: So what? In reply, we can say this: The case allows us to take seriously as true Jesus’ claims about Himself as God and His good news that He loves us and has taken the punishment for our sins on the cross. In other words, we have good reasons to put our faith in Jesus and follow Him. He is God—and He exists!
Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, is associate professor of philosophy at Providence University College, Otterburne, Manitoba.
Paul Copan, Loving Wisdom
William Lane Craig, On Guard
William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith, 3rd ed.
Antony Flew, There is a God
Nabeel Qureshi, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus
J. Warner Wallace, Cold-Case Christianity
A few years ago, advertisements on buses in London, Toronto, and other major cities stated this: THERE’S PROBABLY NO GOD. NOW STOP WORRYING AND ENJOY YOUR LIFE. I respectfully disagree with the atheist view about God, not the bits about worry and enjoyment. In a two-part series I’ll set out why.
I’ll make some clarifications, then sketch a cumulative case for God based on science, history, and philosophy. Often these get intermingled.
Ways of Knowing
Through intuition—direct awareness—we know some truths without arguments. I simply know (intuit) that I exist, I’m not dreaming, and that my ordinary perceptions are connected to reality (there is a tree outside my window).
We also know by inference. We gather evidence and then use reason. By seeing the empty cookie jar on the counter and cookie crumbs on my son’s shirt, I infer it’s probably true that he ate the cookies! Sherlock Holmes and scientists do this much more carefully.
Special and General Revelation
The God described in the Bible makes Himself known by special revelation and general revelation.
Special revelation includes Scriptures, the Holy Spirit’s personal witness, and the fact of God stepping into physical-space-time history as a human being—Jesus. He confirmed His claims to be God by not staying dead after being killed.
General revelation consists of clues God leaves of Himself in His creation. These clues can be discerned by looking at the world’s awesomeness: gazing at a sunset, enjoying a flower, or using scientific instruments to examine living cells and distant stars.
Proof Versus Evidence
Proofs are limited to formal logic and mathematics. Here we’re concerned with evidence, as in a court of law. Evidence may not provide 100% proof, but can provide a powerful case—enough for reasonable belief.
Collections of Arguments
Cumulative case arguments are collections of arguments that individually may not provide decisive support for a conclusion, but together do. Think of legal arguments. One line of evidence isn’t enough to convict, but several lines can be enough because they accumulate and converge onto the conclusion: guilty! Just as prosecutors and defence lawyers argue for and against a verdict, cumulative case arguments consider pros and cons.
Our cumulative case argument attempts to discern the objective truth (reality) concerning God through evidence and our best ways of knowing. We’ll examine some objections along the way, and we’ll see how the positive reasons for our faith outweigh the objections.
At this point radical post-modernists might object: Reason is socially constructed, so cumulative case arguing is a dead end. My reply: The careful use of reason leads to knowledge of truth. Even critics of reason must assume it to reasonably persuade us of their view!
A Compelling Case
Our cumulative case argument for the existence of the Christian God consists of several arguments. Each argument isn’t 100% conclusive, though some are stronger than others. But, significantly, together they provide a compelling case. As mentioned, this is a sketch. For further investigation, check the recommended reading list.
A Transcendent Cause
This is known as the cosmological argument. Contemporary science (big bang cosmology) tells us the universe began to exist. All matter, energy, space, and time began a finite time ago. Philosophy tells us whatever begins to exist has a cause. It follows logically that the universe has a cause for its beginning.
This implies the cause of the universe is powerful. It caused the universe! It is nonphysical—it caused all physical matter and energy to come into being. And it’s eternal; it’s beyond time because it caused time to begin. Therefore the universe has a powerful, transcendent cause. This clue points, like a partial fingerprint, to God.
Stephen Hawking objects that laws of nature, not God, caused the beginning of the universe. But Hawking is mistaken. Laws of nature describe or base predictions on nature. So if there is no universe—no nature—there would be no laws. Laws can’t be a cause.
The Universe is Dependent
The contingency (dependency) argument goes like this: Everything in the universe is dependent. It can not-be. Infinite contingency isn’t possible. Otherwise there could be nothing. But out of nothing, nothing comes. Therefore something must-be: a ground of being. If this ground of being is personal, it would appropriately be called I AM. Yes, think of the burning bush and Moses.
Objection: This mistakenly thinks the property of a part transfers to the whole. From everything in the universe is contingent, it doesn’t follow the whole universe is contingent.
Reply: This error occurs in some cases, but not all. It depends on the property in question. “Seeing better” doesn’t transfer from one person standing up to better see the football game to all spectators standing up. This would be an error. But here the property of contingency is additive; it transfers from parts to whole. If each cubic centimeter of space in my gas tank is full of gas, then my whole tank is full of gas. If each part of the universe is dependent, then so is the universe.
The universe has features that point to an intelligent designer. The universe’s initial conditions are exquisitely fine-tuned for life. That’s true whether life emerges through some sort of evolutionary process or is subsequently created more directly. This fine-tuning suggests that the previously mentioned powerful and transcendent cause of the universe’s beginning is highly intelligent.
Also, living cells smack of intelligent causation because of their complex machinery. Also, life’s blueprint—DNA’s code—smacks of an intelligent cause. Bill Gates of Microsoft says, “DNA is like a computer program but far, far more advanced than any software we’ve ever created.” It’s of interest to note that the famous atheist Antony Flew came to believe that a creator God exists because of DNA.
Objection: Some people say there are a near-infinite number of universes, so by chance, not design, we ended up with one that looks designed. Roll the dice long enough, we’ll get by chance a series of, say, 100,000 pairs of sixes. The dice look weighted (designed to get the pairs), but in fact aren’t.
Reply: The multi-verse view hasn’t got much, if any, evidence for it. It also lacks simplicity. It’s simpler to suggest one designing mind than a gazillion universes that also would have intelligent minds.
To be continued. In the meantime, some of you might check out the recommended readings.
Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, is the associate professor of philosophy at Providence University College, Otterburne, Man.
Paul Copan, Loving Wisdom
William Lane Craig, On Guard
William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith, 3rd ed.
Antony Flew, There is a God
Nabeel Qureshi, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus
Warner Wallace, Cold-Case Christianity
Our children are among the most important things given to us in our lives. With this gift comes the responsibility of passing on faith. This can be a daunting task in a cultural climate that isn’t always friendly to followers of Jesus.
The Desire of our Hearts
Maeyken van Deventers expresses the desire of our hearts when she writes to her children, “I seek the salvation of your souls; believe me, and no one else, that you may come to me and live forever.” Maeyken wrote this from a Rotterdam prison in 1572. She was one of the female Anabaptist martyrs whose final letters are preserved for us in Martyr’s Mirror.
These letters, written by imprisoned wives and mothers facing impending death, show us what they thought was most important—a primary commitment to God which led them to desire their children’s salvation, urge them to fear the Lord, and bequeath them with the true treasure of a mother’s testimony and faithful death.
Family is Secondary
These women viewed their families and life together as secondary to their life with God; they would sooner leave their family than leave their faith. Adriaenken Jans reminded her husband that they had built their house on the rock of Christ, and martyrdom was the cost they would pay for their house.
This was not a cold-hearted stoicism; great affection and longing was also conveyed. Janneken Muntsdorp, writing to her infant daughter, expressed how well suited she and her husband were and that nothing could have separated them except a desire to do the Lord’s will. Soetgen van den Houte’s letter to her children is filled with tearful prayer, loving admonishment, and terms of tender affection.
Choosing the narrow way of primary allegiance to Christ was not always easy. Maeyken Wens admitted in a letter to her husband that she was struggling with being thankful for all that was happening to her, and that parting was harder than she had imagined. “Oh, how easy it is to be a Christian, so long as the flesh is not put to the trial, or nothing has to be relinquished; then it is an easy thing to be a Christian.”
Entrusting Children to God
Working through this struggle, the women came to a place of entrusting their children to God. They did not blame him for what was happening to them, but in trusting that their persecution was part of his foreordained plan, they also trusted that he would care for their children.
Soetken, whose husband had already been martyred, wrote to her soon-to-be orphaned children, “When I thought that for Christ’s sake we must separate from all that we love in this world I committed all to the will of the Lord.” Maeyken’s final letter to her son, written just before her death, informs him that her struggle has been met with God’s grace: “The Lord takes away all fear; I did not know what to do for joy, when I was sentenced. . . I cannot fully thank my God for the great grace which He has shown me.”
Encouraging a Death-Defying Commitment
Out of their own death-defying commitment to God, these mothers urged their children to a similar decision. In their concern for the children’s salvation, they encouraged them to learn to read and write, because in this way they would gain understanding and wisdom. The importance of this for the Anabaptists is evident in their Scripture-filled letters; in reading you can know the Scriptures for yourself and come to an understanding of salvation.
Six months before her death, Maeyken Wens urged her oldest son, Adriaen, to begin to fear the Lord, being old enough to perceive good and evil. She pressed him to join himself to those that fear the Lord, and to write her with his decision. She wanted a better letter than the last two!
The Fear of the Lord
The fear of the Lord is a predominant theme in these final letters. Whether writing to believing children, or to those “of the flesh”, the mothers commended the narrow way. Anna warned Isaiah that this way is found by few and walked by even fewer, since some regard it as too severe, even though they see it is the way to life. “Where you hear of the cross, there is Christ; from there do not depart.”
To fear the Lord is to follow the example of Christ and others who have suffered. Persecution is to be expected. Do not for this reason fail to join the fellowship of true believers.
To fear the Lord is to obey. The children were to obey those who took care of them now, as long as it was not contrary to God. Their mothers instructed them in the specifics of speech, diligence, prayer, simplicity and generosity, among others. With their own lives as examples, the women encouraged their children to forsake pleasures of this world for eternal reward. Soetgen wrote, “We are of such good cheer to offer up our sacrifice that I cannot express it. I could leap for joy when I think of the eternal riches which are promised to us as our inheritance.”
Testaments Our Inheritance
And so, they wrote their final testaments, viewing the testimony of their word and death as the true treasure they left with their children. Soetgen recognized this was not a memorial of silver, gold, or jewels, but something more lasting; if her children paid heed to this testament they would gain more treasure by it than if she had left them perishable riches.
The letters of these martyrs are also our inheritance. They offer us wisdom for ordering our lives and passing on our faith. We are left with questions of priority, vision, and urgency.
Is our first priority God and his kingdom? In our desire to give our children every opportunity in this life, are we in danger of neglecting this first priority? What are we communicating to our children?
What is our vision for our children or those we influence? Recently I took some time to think about this vision, to write it out, and to begin praying it. The next step is to share it with the ones I carry in my heart.
Do We Sense the Urgency?
Do we sense the urgency of these life choices? These women viewed every choice through the lens of eternity, as life and death matters. Do we shy away from this “narrow way” talk, desiring a less demanding portrayal of faith? In emphasizing the love of God, has our pendulum swung too far?
What is the narrow way? For these women, one expression of it was choosing adult believer’s baptism as a sign of their loyalty to Jesus, knowing that this baptism marked them for a baptism in blood. They did not shy away from expressing the cost to their children, but fearlessly called them to follow in the same path. In our lives, what are the “narrow way” choices we are making and calling our children to?
Recent research encourages us with the fact that the spiritual vitality of parents contributes to “sticky faith” in their children. Let these women’s examples embolden you to speak your faith and live it before your children as the richest inheritance you can leave to them.
“Fear God; this is the conclusion” – Janneken Muntsdorp, 1573.
Professor Arlene Friesen, BRS, MTS, teaches courses on Bible and Ministry and serves as registrar at Steinbach Bible College. She is a part of Morrow Gospel Church (EMMC), Winnipeg, Man.
Who Were These Women?
Anna of Rotterdam (d. 1539) has a 15-month-old son Isaiah whom she entrusts to a baker on the way to her execution, along with a letter.
Lijsken Dircks, Antwerp (d. 1552), writes to her husband Jerome Segers, also in prison.
Soetken van den Houte, Ghent (d. 1560), writes to her three children, David, Betgen, and Tanneken. Her husband had previously given his life for the truth. Her lengthy letter is full of Scripture references and quotes.
Adriaenken Jans, Dordrecht (d. 1572), writes to her husband.
Maeyken van Deventers, Rotterdam (d. 1572), writes to her four children “in the flesh” with a concern for their salvation.
Maeyken Wens, Antwerp (d. 1573), writes to her oldest son Adriaen, as well as to her husband, a minister.
Janneken Muntsdorp, Antwerp (d. 1573, at the same time as Maeyken Wens), writes to her one-month old daughter Janneken, who was born in prison and is now being cared for by relatives.
Their letters can be found in Martyr’s Mirror (453-4; 504, 515-22; 646-51; 926-9; 977-9; 981-3; 984-6).
Every once in a while the disciple Peter must have felt intense pangs of guilt. He was still living under a cloud; the denial of Jesus still echoed in his mind. “No, I’m not one of His disciples,” he had said (John 18:25). “No, that wasn’t me you saw in the garden with Him.” “No, I don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t even know Him” (John 18:26-27).
Immediately the rooster crowed. He had denied the very Son of God not only once, but three times! It was good to see Jesus again, but His appearance must have caused pain and shame to resurface.
Jesus knows Peter’s heart and wants to restore Peter’s confidence and joy in the Lord. After they finished eating breakfast, Jesus takes Peter aside and asks him a question, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” (John 21:15). The sense of the question probably is, “Peter, do you love me more than these disciples love me?”(Leon Morris).
After all, Peter had stressed in the most vehement terms that he was prepared to die for Jesus. He had boldly proclaimed, “Even though they all fall away, I will not. If I must die with you, I will not deny you” (Mark 14:29,31). Of course, Peter had badly overestimated his courage and oneness with Christ. His confidence had quickly wilted in the face of pressure.
Also, Peter’s strong objection to Jesus being crucified showed that Peter had not wanted a crucified Lord. He preferred a powerful ruler who would crush any who would challenge Him. But Jesus had in fact been crucified. How did Peter’s devotion now stand in the light of this? Was he ready to love Christ as He was, and not how Peter wished him to be? That was an important question, and Peter must answer it (Leon Morris).
Peter Appeals to Jesus’ Knowledge
Jesus’ question probes Peter to the depth of his being. “Peter, do you truly love me more than these?” Peter doesn’t answer the question in terms of comparing his love with that of the other disciples. What does he do? He appeals to the Lord’s intimate knowledge of him: “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you” (John 21:15).
Now that answer could be contested. Peter’s actions of late had been the opposite of love. His three-fold denial stood in blatant contradiction to his confession of love! How do you put the two together?
Yet he is appealing to Jesus’ full understanding of the situation. He is asking Jesus to look beyond his actions and into his heart. “Yes, you know I was wrong. I was weak. I denied you. But you know that deep in my heart I still love you!”
Haven’t we uttered that same plea of repentance? “Oh, Lord. You know I have failed you, disappointed you, sinned against you. But you know that deep inside I still love you.”
Jesus accepts Peter’s statement and then commissions him, “Feed my lambs” (John 21:15).
The question comes a second time, again using Peter’s formal name: “Simon son of John, do you truly love me?” Peter replies exactly as he did the first time, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you” (John 21:16). Jesus responds, “Take care of my sheep.”
Jesus asks the same question a third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” (John 21:17). Peter is hurt that Jesus asks him three times whether he loves him. But Jesus is not about to quickly gloss over this fundamental question. Just as Peter disowned Jesus three times, so Jesus requires this simple yet profound confession three times.
There is not an ounce of self-righteousness in Peter’s response. He can only appeal to the fact that Jesus knows everything and therefore knows his heart: “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you” (John 21:17) (D. A. Carson).
Lest there be any doubt that Peter is fully restored to future service, Jesus again commands, “Feed my sheep.” We notice that the sheep are Christ’s sheep, not Peter’s. He will be tending to and feeding Christ’s sheep (people), which means in the end Peter will be accountable to Christ as to how well he has carried out that work. In the same way, you and I are accountable to Jesus for the ministry that we do or don’t do.
On reflecting on these events, I’d like to highlight a few things. First, Jesus knew about the uncertainty and doubts that Peter and the disciples had towards Him. He is compassionate and caring and desires to strengthen their faith in Him.
I believe Jesus is concerned about our uncertainties and doubts as well. In various ways He works in our lives so that our faith in Him is strengthened. Sometimes He does it by enabling us to do a task that we could never have done without His help.
He helps us by answering our prayer requests. At times we are afraid and alone, and He quietly assures us of His presence. His desire is for us to put our trust in Him and to be at peace knowing He has our best in view.
Second, we see that many times the disciples should have been disqualified from the Lord’s service. At times they were selfish, wanting high positions of power and authority. When they encountered opposition, they suggested Jesus should call down fire from heaven to destroy the people. The disciples abandoned Jesus when He was facing trial and finally denied they ever knew Him. Jesus would have had every reason to kick them out of His band of followers.
We, too, have disappointed our Lord Jesus many times. We too, have been selfish, wanting the biggest and best for ourselves. At times we’ve been lax in our prayer life. We’ve said and done things that hurt other people. We’ve even denied that we know Jesus, by keeping quiet when we should have spoken out.
Peter was forgiven, reinstated as a disciple, and told to feed Jesus’ lambs. I’m glad that Jesus gives second chances even when we’ve failed him. Like He did Peter, He forgives us and reinstates us into service for Him.
Third, the one thing which Jesus questions Peter about is his love for Him. “Peter, do you truly love me?” It’s a probing question that Jesus asks of each one of us. Truly loving Jesus is the bottom line when it comes to being a Christian. And, it is the basic qualification for Christian service. Other qualities are desirable; having a true love for Jesus Christ is indispensable, absolutely necessary.
Thus, it is important that we humbly ask Jesus to fill us with His deep love that far surpasses our own. Then, having been reinstated into His service, filled with His love, we are ready to serve Him.
Jeff Plett, BRS, MDiv, is pastor of Hillside Christian Fellowship, Buffalo Head Prairie, near La Crete, Alta. He and his wife Laural Ann previously served for many years as the pastoral couple at the Evangelical Fellowship Church (Fort Frances, Ont.) and earlier served as part of a church planting team in Germany.
The Apostolic or Apostles’ Creed is a profound summary of the essence of the Christian faith. It is brief, concise but does not elaborate the meaning of the various statements.
This statement, “I believe in the forgiveness of sins,” is, in the estimate of the writer, the essential essence of the Christian faith. Without forgiveness, there is no gospel, no redemption, but only condemnation. Without forgiveness we would not be able to have a relationship with God.
The only way to bring humankind back into relationship with God is forgiveness. Similarly, in order for me to have a relationship with a fellow human who has hurt me I need to forgive that hurt whether that person repents or not though our relationship will not be restored unless the wrongdoer acknowledges his wrong and seeks forgiveness (Mk. 11:25).
What is Forgiveness?
Forgiveness is taking the wrongs done to you, absorbing the consequences, letting them go and not holding them against the perpetrator whether the person repents or not and thus removing my side of the barrier that hinders our relationship.
Jesus came to redeem us. The only way He could do that was by forgiving us. And to forgive us He had to take the consequences of our sins against Him, absorb them, and then let us go free. His death on the cross was His way of forgiving us. He had to experience the separation from God. On the cross He cried out, “My God, My God why have you forsaken me?” Those were the consequences of our sin against God and the cost of forgiveness.
In Ephesians 1:7 we read, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace which he lavished upon us.” And in Colossians 1:13-14 we read, “He has delivered us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
Much more could be said but here we have a concise definition of redemption: “the forgiveness of sins.” Jesus’ death on the cross was a voluntary death. He did it because that is the only way forgiveness was possible. All of us were dead in our trespasses and sins. So by His death Jesus wiped out death and brought forgiveness.
Let’s apply it to our life. If you forgive someone who has ruined your reputation, what happens? You accept the ruined reputation and let the one who has done it go free; you do not hold it against him nor do you seek justice. That briefly is what forgiveness is. It is substitutional; the one sinned against absorbs the hurt and pain of the evil done and does not hold it against the guilty party. This is what Jesus did.
The Bible says the soul that sins will die. He has brought forgiveness, but it doesn’t become yours until you accept it. To accept it means you acknowledge you have done wrong, are sorry for it and ask for forgiveness. And then Jesus is faithful and just to forgive us our sins. We are then free and in relationship with our Saviour.
What About Repentance?
That is very essential, but not for the forgiver. If the guilty one wishes to experience forgiveness than she or he will have to confess and repent of the wrong done and seek forgiveness. The hurt party forgives whether the guilty party repents or not.
But if the one who is guilty wants to experience forgiveness in his or her life, that person must repent. So the person repents, apologizes and asks forgiveness. The forgiver does what a friend of mine did to a repentant person. He said, “I have forgiven you a long time ago.” But you go on to say, “Yes I forgive you gladly. I forgave you already but I am happy you are seeking the forgiveness for yourself.”
At that point the final step in forgiveness can happen—reconciliation. The forgiver has already forgiven, but full reconciliation can only happen if the guilty party repents and seeks forgiveness.
What about Restoration?
For example, what happens to what was stolen? The forgiver forgives and does not demand repayment. If the guilty party offers restitution, the forgiver receives it not so much for himself but to help the guilty party find peace and freedom.
Forgiveness and Spiritual Healing
The hurt party forgives, for this is necessary to be healed. If one does not forgive, one will struggle with bitterness, anger, and avoid the wrongdoer. So forgiveness in this sense is therapeutic. It brings healing to your soul and will help one to love the wrongdoer.
The wrongdoer must repent and seek forgiveness to become free and move toward healed relationships. We will not forget some of the serious hurts we forgive, but when the memory comes we decide to not indulge in those memories but set them aside because we have forgiven them.
In forgiveness the wrongdoer and the forgiver each has or her his part. Each can only do his or her part. The forgiver forgives whether that is accepted or not. The sinner repents to experience that forgiveness. Forgiveness is complete when this happens. This is what is modeled by Christ forgiving the repentant sinner. Christ has died for all. Forgiveness is available for all but only those who respond to the offer of forgiveness experience that forgiveness.
Forgiveness is a Decision
You have to decide to forgive just as Jesus decided to forgive our sins and then took the consequences—death. But forgiveness becomes ours only as we acknowledge the wrong we have done, repent, and ask for forgiveness.
Forgiveness is my decision to absorb evil done to me and not hold it against the doer. This gives me peace in my soul. For the wrongdoer to experience that forgiveness, the wrongdoer must repent, confess and acknowledge the wrong and ask for forgiveness.
This forgiveness now makes it possible for reconciliation between the two. It may take time to move forward for the forgiver as well as it may take time for reconciliation to come to completion. But forgiveness makes that possible as one commits oneself to walk in forgiveness.
This is the will of God. Rejoice in the forgiveness of Jesus and, with the resurrection power that is yours because you have Jesus (Rom. 6; 2 Pet. 1:3), walk in continual forgiveness towards those who do you wrong.
We are to follow Jesus’ example. He forgave our sins through His death before we repented and we experience that forgiveness only if we repent and accept it. You and I are too always forgive the person who does wrong to us whether the other person repents or not. That is loving the other. The one who did the wrong needs to repent if he or she wants to experience forgiveness. When that happens, reconciliation and a renewed relationship become possible and should emerge.
Dr. Harvey Plett has served as president of Steinbach Bible College and as EMC moderator; he is a long-serving minister at Prairie Rose EMC. He continues to do some teaching, preaching,
counseling and writing. He and his wife Pearl live in Mitchell, Man., and celebrated 58 years of blessed marriage on August 22, 2016.
A publication of the Evangelical Mennonite Conference