Christian forgiveness is so complete that in the Bible there are men and women with dark pasts who rise up to become premier role models and leaders. Paul writes to this effect in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11:
Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
Particular Role Models in the Faith and their Misdeeds, etc., prior to their Conversion to Faith in God or to their Calling
|Rahab||Prostitute||Josua 2:1; 6:17.25; Hebrews 11:31|
|Moses||Murderer||Exodus 2:11-15; comp. 18:4|
|Simon (Disciple of Jesus)||Zealot = Violent Revolutionary||Luke 6:15; Acts 1:13|
|Zacchaeus||White Collar Criminal||Luke 19:2-10|
|Paul||Murderer, Violent Fanatic||Acts 9:1; 8:3; Galatians 1:13-14|
Particular Role Models in the Faith and their Crimes, etc., prior to their Conversion to Faith in God or to their Calling
|Noah||Naked and Drunk||Genesis 9:21-24|
|Jacob||Deceiver, Legacy Hunter||Genesis 27:36+12; comp. Deu-teronomy 27:18|
|David||Murderer and Adulterer||2 Samuel 11:2-12:5; Psalm 51, in part. verse 2|
|Peter||Cuts off the Ear of an Official, denies Jesus by swearing that he does not know Him||John 18:10+26; Mark 14:66-72; Matthew 26:69-75; Luke 22:56-62; John 18:15-18+25-27|
Wrongdoings of other Members of God’s People, who are not necessarily to be considered Role Models
|Lot||Commits Incest while drunk||Genesis 19:30-38|
|Rebecca||Deceiver||Genesis 27:12; comp. Deuteronomy 27:18|
|Judah||Prostitution, Incest||Genesis 38|
|Gideon||Seducer, innumerable Affairs with Women||Judges 8:22-33; comp. his Son in Judges 9|
|Samson||Desecrator of a Corpse, Drunk-enness, Rape, Concubinage||Judges 13-16; Hebrews 11:32|
|Couple in Corinth||Incest (with Stepmother)||1 Corinthians 5:1-2 (comp. Le-viticus 18:18); 2 Corinthians 2:5-11|
What applies to severe sin in 1 Corinthians prior to conversion to faith in God even applies to severe sins which are committed by Christians. The best examples are the Christians in Corinth. They lived in incest (1 Corinthians 5:1-2) and prompted Paul, among other things, to write the first letter to the Corinthians so that they would be excluded and the second letter to the Corinthians so that they would be received again after repenting (2 Corinthians 2:5-11)! Paul confronts the church, which had just finally managed to draw conclusions and exclude the concerned individuals, with what had come to their mind, namely not to immediately accept those whom God has forgiven back into the church. Paul justifies the ‘forgiveness’ (verses 9-10) as follows: “I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him. . . . in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes“ (verses 8, 11)!
Do people in our churches have similar backgrounds about which they can speak openly, either from before the time they became Christians or since they have been Christians? Or is something still hanging on there? Are we not often stricter than God, who has long since forgiven them?
There are a lot of women who are active in the right to life movement who in the past had an abortion. Now, after having received God’s forgiveness, they willingly help others and indeed warn others. They perform an important and ‘effective’ service. And yet many report that they do not receive support from their churches at all and rather that listeners are uncomfortably affected when they hear about their pasts.
Several theses underscore this:
- Forgiveness is what defines the essence of Jesus‘ church. Even as forgiveness presupposes change of mind and deed, we have to forgive as Christ himself forgives. For this very reason the Lord’s Supper is a permanent mark of Jesus’ church.
- The Church is a home for the homeless, since many people who experience fundamental changes in their lives lose their old home forever and often find a new one in Jesus‘ church. When Paul became a Christian, he lost all his old friends but unfortunately had trouble finding a new home in the church. This is due to the fact that many doubted this sudden change in Paul.
- The special thing about the Christian faith is that an admission of guilt and forgiveness belong together. The admission of guilt does not lead to condemnation but rather to forgiveness. However, there is no forgiveness for concealing, trivializing, making excuses, blameshifting or sweeping things under the carpet, but rather for accepting responsibility and admitting one’s guilt. Forgiveness without confession is a cheap brushing aside, while confession without forgiveness is self-mutilation.
- Self-criticism belongs to the essence of being a Christian. Christians are not better but they have it better. According to Luther, being a Christian means one beggar telling another beggar where there is something to eat. For this reason Christians do not gloss over their pasts before and after they convert to Christianity. Rather, they point out that they are only what they are through the grace of God. For instance, Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:9-10: ´”For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.
No religion knows self-criticism like Old Testament Judaism and New Testament Christianity. It does not matter whether this has always shaped its history or not. The errors of their most important leaders have been laid bare and all too often God has called upon outsiders to bring his people back to their senses. “In contrast to the Holy Scriptures of Mohammed, the Hebrew Bible is not a book but rather a library. It is a colorful tapestry of accounts which an entire people wove together over millennia. No misdeed on the part of the children of Israel is left out of this incomparable convolution. No wrongdoing by its greatest king is concealed. Paul Badde comments that “up to the New Testament one can look at each book of the Bible as an objection, contradiction or a critical commentary of its own earlier history.’ The result of this historical frankness is that since that time self-criticism in the Judeo-Christian world has counted as a virtue: it is a sign of strength and not an admission of weakness. In Islam it is different: a critique of one’s own history? Unthinkable, a blasphemy! It would pull the foundation out from under revelation. It would be an insult to the prophet. Therefore, it is the case that up until today in countries shaped by Islam there is neither freedom of speech nor debate in freely elected parliaments“ (the Jewish author Hannes Stein). There is no religion where the adherents of their own religion come away so badly as in the Old and New Testaments. The teaching that Jews and Christians are sinners and are capable of the worst deeds is something that is shown quite plainly in the Bible. In the Old Testament it is not the pagan peoples, nor is it the Romans and Greeks in the New Testament whose atrocities and fallacious outlooks stand in the center of things. Rather, it is the alleged or actual people of God. The Bible does not dispense belief and unbelief according to races or nations. For that reason pagans and unbelieving Jews are designated with the same words in both the Old and the New Testaments. Christianity itself becomes a heinous religion if it denies the true power of God (2 Timothy 3:5: “. . . having a form of godliness but denying its power”) or places human laws and commandments in the place of divine revelation (Mark 7:1-13; Isaiah 28:13-14). The Jews are for instance criticized because in studying the Bible they overlook the essence, namely Jesus (John 5:39). They strive after God, but they do so without following him (Romans 10: 2-3) and because they call upon God and his word but actually do not live according to it (Romans 2).