Monday, June 16, 2014

Re-Post: "No Forgiveness Without Repentance?"

Is repentance necessary for either forgiveness or salvation? I watched a fantastic film about one child's struggle to find a consistent and life-giving spirituality amidst conflicting influences of traditional native american beliefs and the Roman Catholicism of his family, influences that were (apparently) broadly felt among the hispanic population of 1940s New Mexico. The film was BLESS ME ULTIMA, and I highly recommend it.

There was something Ultima said at one point, however, with which I think I disagree. She said that 'without penance, there can be no forgiveness.' Is this right? It seems to me that it is clearly in line with the Old Testament, but the New Testament abounds with reasons to believe that forgiveness can be given without being petitioned for. After all, Jesus forgave the paralytic of his sins without such forgiveness even being sought out, nor without any sign of repentance (Mark 2:1-11). He forgives the adulteress with the admonition to 'sin no more' but without her showing any clear signs of remorse (John 8). The prodigal son is also received with love by his father without his pre-planned confession and request for absolution. It seems to me that the entire New Testament is about forgiveness without penance.

And while we're on the subject of forgiveness, I wonder at how little most protestants pay attention to those passages, like Mark 2, that indicate that believers in Jesus Christ have the power to forgive sins as they see fit...that this is part of the spiritual authority Apostles have. That power is explicit in the promise that what we bind on earth is bound in heaven, and what is loosed on earth is loosed in heaven (Matthew 18). It is explicit in John 20:23. It is amazing how seriously evangelicals take the spiritual power bequeathed to those who believe, but reject what is to me the most significant power of all...the power to forgive the sins of others.

This power, bought by Jesus, is given to us in the Holy Spirit. The ultimate power has been given to those who believe, and indeed this is a gift of faith... the power to bring salvation to the world. We cleanse the world of its sins by our decision to forgive. And indeed, isn't that exactly what we should do: forgive the world? For, after all, it is we who have been given forgiveness by the blood of Jesus, by a cost almost too great to think about. Aren't we supposed to measure as we have been measured, and forgive as we have been forgiven? I, for one, forgive the world. Not because it deserves it, but because I didn't deserve what I have received.

Perhaps the real gift of faith is not an exclusive claim to salvation that we own, but an opportunity to bring salvation to the world. Maybe it is indeed true that OUR salvation could be bought only be faith, and that our forgiveness must be accepted to be received. But having so undeservedly received, we have the power, the fantastic incredible power, bequeathed by the Grace of God, to CHOOSE to give that gift to the world. And what else could we do? How could we claim to be followers of Christ if we did not so forgive?

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