Are there some people you think are just unsavable? People who are so beyond saving that there is no way God can forgive them? I was in a conversation with someone recently and the topic of forgiveness came up. During that discussion, we were talking about how difficult it would be to forgive certain people. The example came up of a habitual child molester. This truly is a despicable crime, and worthy of contempt, but is it unforgivable? Another recent example came up during all this controversy over homosexuality and same sex marriage. A preacher in North Carolina was on record as saying that he hates homosexuals so much that it would be perfectly okay to him if we could just gather up all the gays in one camp and all the lesbians in another camp and let them eventually die out of the population. In this preacher’s mind, the sin of homosexuality was unforgivable.
This attitude betrays an unforgiving spirit in our own hearts. It also has a low view of our own sin before a holy God. Is the sin of child molestation any worse in God’s eyes than the sin of my friend? Is the sin of homosexuality any worse than the sin of that preacher in North Carolina? The Bible calls on Christians to forgive others to the extent that we ourselves have been forgiven. God, in Christ, forgives us fully and completely, and that is how we are to forgive others — fully and completely. That means, in a very real sense, there are no sins that are unforgivable. If we ever get to the point where we can say, “I don’t know if I can forgive that sin,” then we’ve just placed our standard of forgiveness above that of God’s. Furthermore, we exhibit an attitude of self-righteousness. This attitude of self-righteousness was on full display by the Pharisees in Luke chapter 15.
Jesus tells three parables in Luke 15 all on the subject of forgiveness and repentance. These parables are prompted by the Pharisees who grumble at Jesus for hanging out with sinners. In each parable, you have three parties. In the first one of the lost sheep, you have the one lost sheep, the 99 remaining sheep, and the shepherd who seeks out the lost sheep. In the parable of the lost coin, you have the one lost coin, the nine remaining coins, and the woman who searches for the lost coin. Finally, in the famous parable of the prodigal son, you have the younger prodigal, the older son, and the father.
Each of these three parties represents the people Jesus is talking to: 1) Lost sinners; 2) the Pharisees; 3) God. The point is all of these stories is that God seeks and saves the lost, and in doing so, there is great joy in heaven when they repent and return. But as much as these stories are about forgiveness and repentance, they are also directed at the Pharisees. In the parable of the lost sheep, Jesus closes by saying there is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 who need no repentance. This is not meant to indicate that the Pharisees didn’t need to repent. Rather it was to point out their self-righteousness in that they thought they needed no repentance.
This is further illustrated in the parable of the prodigal son. The older brother is angry that not only did his father squander his inheritance, but that he also received the younger brother back into the family. He lashes out at the father for failing to recognize that he has been faithful and obedient all these years, and yet his younger brother gets the new robe and the fattened calf. Here we see that the older brother’s obedience was done solely for what it would give him. He had no love for the father anymore than the younger son when he left. This is a direct indictment of the Pharisees and their ‘obedience’ that was not done out love for God, but was done thinking they were earning merit with God; putting God in their debt.
Bottom Line: There is no joy or love in self-righteous people. There is no burden for lost and dying sinners in self-righteous people. All they’re concerned with is their own attempt at righteousness. Just like the older son in the parable, a self-righteous person gets angry when sinners are freed from the bondage of their sin and misery thanks to the forgiveness they have received in Christ. How could God forgive that, is the response of the self-righteous person. God delights in and is glorified by the salvation of sinners. The angels in heaven express joy and worship to God because of the salvation of sinners. How can people who have been forgiven much, like ourselves, also not express joy when lost sinners recognize their sin before a holy God and truly repent of their sin and humbly ask God for forgiveness? As Jesus said, “But he who is forgiven little, loves little” (Luke 7:47).
Soli Deo Gloria!