One of our good friends, knowledgeable about evil and the wickedness of abuse, wrote the following excellent essay. It deals with this common business of people telling us that we need to endure suffering in order to save our oppressor. The scripture she examines is 2 Corinthians 5:21. Many thanks to her for her work:
So why do people have this mentality that when we forgive like Christ, we should just absorb the consequences and let the guilty person go free without any repercussions for their sin? As if that’s what Jesus did on the cross? No, that’s a superficial and distorted view of the cross.
What took place is much deeper than that.
“God made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” 2 Cor 5:21
First, only perfect justice can make forgiveness possible. God cannot and does not forgive at the expense of justice. It’s an abomination to Him to justify the wicked or to condemn the innocent. (Prove 17:15, Rom 3:23-26) God is a just God. Forgiveness is just.
Second, note, that while Jesus as an atonement for sin was indeed the sinless sacrificial lamb of God who propitiated God’s wrath, AT THE SAME TIME, He didn’t exactly die as an “innocent” person. He BECAME SIN. God MADE HIM, the sinless one who knew no sin, to become something He wasn’t. Jesus died as The Offender, except that it wasn’t His own offense.
What happened on the cross was something extremely unique that only God can do and can never be replicated. It was in Christ at the Cross that sin and innocence, wrath and love, justice and mercy were meshed together. Once and for all. None of us are able to repeat that, nor are we ever called to try.
There was an incredible and miraculous and supernatural and unspeakable exchange at the cross. My sin for His righteousness. Not only did Jesus die as an “offender” but I also live because I’m now considered righteous. I don’t go to hell because I’m no longer the offender. He TOOK my sin. My offense and guilt and sin has been placed on Another Person. Sin was imputed to Christ. Guilt was attributed to Christ. THAT is why God poured out His wrath on Him. God was punishing the “offender” and letting the “innocent” go free. It was not an “innocent” person who bore God’s wrath, but because guilt was imputed to Christ, God was punishing the “guilty”; because God is JUST.
There was an exchange between sinner and God that cannot be replicated between sinner and sinner. What Jesus did on the cross was UNIQUE and impossible in human relationships, humanly beyond comprehension and it’s something only God-made-flesh can do.
So what does the cross teach us about dealing with offenses? For one thing, justice must be done. Nobody is getting away with anything. Tolerating another person’s (unrepentant) sin is an abomination to God. (By the way, God “tolerates” only those He has set apart for destruction. He temporarily tolerates some people but will in the end give them justice in hell. You don’t want God to tolerate you). When God gives grace, God works REPENTANCE in the heart of the sinner and brings him in a right relationship with God. When God makes peace (forgives, pardons) with a sinner, He makes him a new creation with a new repentant heart that loves God back.
Then, it also teaches us that the onus for making things right is on the offender.
We as Christians are not called to be mini sacrifices for people. We are not little walking atonements for those who sin against us.
Jesus didn’t die on the cross for me so that I can then “die” for others’ sins against me. If someone sins against me I’m not called then to make an “exchange” between me and him, of his sin for my righteousness, his guilt for my innocence, my bearing of the consequences for his freedom. That would be quite absurd actually, and to apply the Cross that way in human relationships we would turn Christ’s sacrifice into something vulgar.
But the fact that Christ was willing to do that for us on our behalf, that is part of why the Cross of Christ is so EXTRAORDINARY, so other-worldly. In human relationships the offender and the innocent person must be kept separate and in human relationships the innocent person does not and should not take on the sin or guilt or the consequences of the offender.
So if someone sins against me, then Jesus dying on the cross does not mean that now I need to just suck it up and take it and let the other person go.
I am not an extension of the cross, and I don’t “get to” absorb someone else’s shame, guilt, loss, and punishment on the offender’s behalf. The offender takes the loss. The offender takes the punishment and consequences. But one thing the offender cannot ever do is take my pain away. That’s where forgiveness comes in.
The cross shows that it is in fact the offender who must make amends, take full responsibility for his guilt and sin, make restitution when needed, take on the cost of the damage he’s done. He is not to be let go free with impunity precisely because Jesus wasn’t “let go” when sin was placed on Him. I’m afraid too many times we get that backwards.
The guilty must be punished, the offender must repent, justice must be done, before forgiveness is extended.
If the wrath of God came down crashing on the Son of God to make forgiveness possible, how much more should we not insist that the offender repent at his own cost when seeking forgiveness? Forgiveness is not free, and it is not unjust.
Thank you so much for this article Pastor Crippen. It was very helpful and a great reminder of why enabling abusive people is not redemptive.
Trying to mimic the redemptive work of Christ for abusive people is not godly. It is offensive to God when we try to do this. It cheapens the lavish gift God gave us in Christ, if we try and do what he did for us. We can’t.
We are by nature sinful creatures, so any attempt to mimic God’s redemptive gift in our own lives is a perversion of the gospel. We cannot redeem others. We cannot change the hearts of those who abuse us. We have no righteousness on our own apart from Christ. So us trying to exchange our God-given righteousness for a wicked person’s sin is utter foolishness. It can’t be done.
The wicked person can only be made clean through Christ, not us. So why stay in relationships with unregenerate people and continue to inflict yourself with more unnecessary suffering and abuse? God calls his children to separate from the wicked. We are to put them out from the church. Not to associate or eat with such a person. It doesn’t matter if it’s your parents, your spouse, your children, your friends, or your church. Christ must be preeminent over all. Can that be a challenge? Absolutely. Following Christ faithfully will end up costing you something. Possibly everything. But in the end its worth it. This world and its trials are but light, momentary afflictions in light of eternity with Christ.
Trying to redeem others through enduring suffering from the hands of wicked people only brings more pain on the one behaving like that and emboldens the wicked. There is nothing you or I can do to cause the redemption of another person – especially an unrepentant abuser – if God does not regenerate that person’s heart and they demonstrate genuine repentance through their actions.
Yes we can and should pray for sinners to repent, but anything else beyond that is in God’s hands. No amount of suffering that you or I remain in at the hands of wicked people will cause the abuser to repent. If anything, by staying we validate the false beliefs these abusers have about themselves, furthering their own delusions and wicked behavior.
God alone makes the choice of who he will save and who he will grant perfect justice. No matter how many people may not like the idea, God did not and will not choose to save everyone. While He wants everyone to be saved and has offered salvation to everyone, he has not and will not regenerate everyone. He didn’t in the Bible and he doesn’t today. He created some as vessels of wrath and some as vessels of honor. The choice rests with him, not us. Humanity isn’t owed redemption. It is owed justice. It is a great mercy of God that he placed all the sin of his people onto Christ and inflicted all of the wrath the sin required in order to give his chosen people the chance to be made sons and daughters of God.
Regeneration is only possible from God. Humans are born dead in their sins. We do not seek for God on our own. We may delude ourselves that we do by trying to live moral lives, but that doesn’t save us. Only Christ saves. Not our own works. Christians get to participate in the sharing of the good news with others, but only God can regenerate a person’s heart. It’s his decision not ours.
God doesn’t extend forgiveness to unrepentant people. Neither should we. In order to do that, it’s imperative that we really understand what repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation are and how they work. Failure to do so will result in more abuse in your life. How do I know this? I’ve lived it. With family. With so-called Christian friends. With pastors. With co-workers and bosses.
On one hand, I am working through the process of healing from abusive family members and wolves parading as sheep and shepherds by surrendering my desire for vengeance to God, but I have not forgiven those who’ve harmed me and remain unrepentant. I will not let them off the hook for their wicked behavior. I continue to remind God of his promise to avenge me so that justice may be carried out for all the wickedness I’ve endured at the hands of mostly professing Christians. I have however, released all of the anger at my injustice to God and trust him to deal with my abusers. But that is not me forgiving the abusers in my life.
I can’t forgive my abusers because they haven’t repented and asked for my forgiveness. They remain under the delusion that their behavior wasn’t wicked and doesn’t require them to change their behavior and restore all that they have stolen and destroyed in my life.
My abusers are still dead in their sin and will remain cut off from me as a result of their wicked behavior. Can a leopard change its spots? Can a pig stop rolling in the mud? Will a dog stop returning to its vomit? Only if God regenerates them.
Even if my abusers were to miraculously come to genuine repentance, which I do not have any confidence in will ever take place, their betrayal, their decades of spiritual, emotional, financial, and psychological abuse shattered our relationship so badly that even if genuine repentance and full restitution were to miraculously appear, I would keep the no contact policy in place for my own safety and well-being. Genuine repentance doesn’t guarantee reconciliation. It doesn’t restore broken trust. There are some deeds that you just can’t reconcile in this life. Narcissistic abuse is one of them.
Remember words alone mean nothing with regards to repentance. Tears mean nothing when looking for repentance. It’s only when we see sustained changed behavior, genuine contrition, and voluntary restitution that we can start to consider one’s repentance genuine. That’s why abusers don’t genuinely repent. It’s too costly. Their pride can’t handle admitting they were wrong because they are mimicking their father the devil, who is a liar and a murderer. They have have bought into their own delusion and would rather hold onto the lie than admit they are wrong and admit the truth, repent, and be saved.
Justice will prevail. It may not come when we want it, how we want it, or as we expect it to, but it will come. It will be swift, perfect, and complete. In that I find comfort. It lets me let go of my own desires for revenge when I know that the promised justice that awaits those who’ve abused me is coming. God’s ways are so much higher than our ways. So I release that pain that the abusers caused me to him, reminding him of his promises to the wicked, and ask that he deliver me from the after effects of nearly 4 decades of chronic narcissistic abuse. While my spirit grows stronger, day by day, I still have battles with my body.
I’m still working on teaching my body how to feel safe after decades of feeling unsafe. I’m still working on how to better handle stress so that I’m not falling back in to unhealthy patterns. I do that each day, knowing God is with me. He is for me, and when I get to go home with Him, I will be fully free. I can’t wait for that day.
Truth!!! Thank you lynn.
Thank you Lynn! I learn SO much when you post – it informs, inspires and is so timely as I face such similar situations.
Thank you Pastor Crippen for your also timely post – Christmas is a time when this topic is front and center.
I’m glad it helps you be free. 😊
Writing out my thoughts is one of the ways I work through the issues I’m facing and apply what I know of scripture to my current challenges. It helps me process my emotions so they don’t stay bottled up inside of me.
When I write on this blog, I do so because feel compelled by the spirit to respond in the hopes that what I’m saying can help bring clarity, insight, and freedom to others. I know the pain of being stuck in abusive relationships yet being told that it is God’s will that I endure that abuse because their “family”. It’s not true. That’s not what scripture teaches. The more people who can get free from all of the bad theology floating around by false teachers, the better.
As I’m coming upon 3 years of freedom from my wicked family, I can say with certainty, leaving my abusive family is the best thing I’ve done for myself. It wasn’t easy, but it was the right decision. I am stronger. I am wiser. I will not go back into that bondage for anything. Christ offered me freedom in him and no one, not even family can take that away from me.
Be blessed and take heart. You aren’t alone. I’m glad my ramblings help encourage you. Let us continue to walk together in the light of Christ till we are called home to glory. Keep persevering and be free. Whom the son sets free is free indeed.
I was persecuted for a year and a half by another woman in my Ladies Aid class. She would not tell my why. She purposely insulted me to other women and let me know in many devious ways that she hated me. I went to my pastor and he called her in to his office. Then without letting me know anything, he excommunicated her. Five months later she was back. So apparently she repented to my pastor, but with me she acted like we should pretend it never happened. She has not spoken a word to me about all this but is back in our Ladies Aid like nothing ever happened. I don’t know if I should forgive her since my pastor did.
Lois, you don’t have to forgive her and treat her like a sister in Christ since she hasn’t demonstrated repentance, apologized to you, and made amends for her wicked behavior. It’s modeled in scripture that we are to forgive those who demonstrate real repentance and ask for it. Those who don’t do that are not genuine believers. If the person who caused the harm hasn’t repented, then you don’t have to forgive him or her.
This lady’s supposed repentance to your pastor doesn’t absolve her of the evil she’s done to you. I’d categorize it as false repentance. Your pastor may believe that he is free to forgive her and that solves it, but he wasn’t the one harmed. You were. His forgiveness doesn’t absolve her from her wicked behavior. It is foolishness on his part and a reflection of his own lack of discernment.
I hope this helps.