What is the surest way to sniff out a religious person? A religious person is someone who does the church thing but cannot forgive his or her enemies.
This is where religion meets its limitation. We can attend all the events, we can control ourselves and avoid the blatant sins. We can even consider ourselves to be a loving person. But if you examine your heart, many of us would have to admit that there is absolutely no love for your enemies.
Our love is very selective. We all love people who love us. We love our friends. We love our family. But love for the enemy is impossible unless you have been forgiven by God. Love for the enemy is outside the bounds of religion.
We all have enemies. Esp. those who were once close to us, they have become enemies in our hearts. You know who they are.
Have you forgiven them? Maybe you tried on your own strength, but you just can’t. Maybe you keep trying and trying but this type of forgiveness of our enemies is outside of our human ability.
Perhaps this is an indication that you are still wearing the coat of religion. Because had you stripped down to the core, you would see that you were no better than that person who wronged you. That given the same exact circumstance and background and upbringing, it is conceivable that you would have committed the same wrongs or worse.
8But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
This kind of love for enemies is in the realm of the divine. Only God can love in this way. And for those of us who recognize that we are enemies of God who are loved and forgiven, only then can we love and forgive our enemies.
Examine your heart. Love for the enemy — that’s one very good litmus test whether or not we understand God’s love for us.
Growing up, to put it bluntly, I just didn’t get along with my dad. He is a professor. He is a genius and academics came so easily for him. I’m not as smart as him and I am sure he was frustrated that it took me longer to grasp concepts that seemed so elementary for him.
I was bitter because my dad was a professor, not only because he was a genius but because he was always home. It’s because he only had to go to school twice a week and teach for several hours. So from kindergarten through high school, I didn’t have to take ku-mon courses because I had Ray-mon. And it involved my dad saying, Ray-mon, it’s time to study. He’d always buy me workbooks that were several grade levels higher than where I was.
On top of this, my dad was a strict disciplinarian. Just a slight raising of my voice or showing even the slightest disrespect were grounds for punishment. And his punishments were long, painful, and at times, humiliating. Because he had a temper and sometimes he just couldn’t wait until we got home to punish me.
I remember some nights after I had just been punished being so angry and I actually dreamt about hurting my father. As a teenager, I was a black belt and I would envision one day, my dad would go too far and I’d just take him out to teach him never to mess with me again.
That’s why I traveled to the other side of the country for college. I wanted to get away and start a new life on my own. My plan was to mooch off my parents a few more years until I graduated and then I would cut my dad out of my life forever. I never planned to visit after I was working and on my own. This is how much my dad had become my enemy.
Then, God saved me as a college student and my first big prayer request was to forgive my dad. And for a long time, I just couldn’t. But after a few years, God began showing me how wicked my heart was — it was filled with rage and hatred and murderous thoughts. And I realized what a horrible, ungrateful son I had been.
More than that, this wicked heart of mine made me an enemy of God. And as I matured in my faith, I grew in my understanding of my sinfulness and I was overwhelmed that God could forgive a sinner like me.
And after I understood God’s forgiveness at a deeper level, I was able to forgive and love my own dad.
And God keeps reminding me of this pattern. That because I was first forgiven, I can forgive others.
A few years ago, I felt wronged by some Christian leaders in my life. And due to my unforgiving heart, I became stuck in my spiritual life. I knew I was a hypocrite because I was teaching others about the love of God and forgiveness while I harbored this unforgiveness.
This was a really dry period in my spiritual life. God’s love was distant and I became a religious person — I just showed up to things and went through the motions. Then about a year ago, God convicted me of my sin — I was so judgmental toward these people, I had slandered them behind their backs — and the Holy Spirit began to convict me of these sins. And I felt God prompting me to ask them to forgive me and reconcile with them. Yet, I dragged my feet and disobeyed until a few months ago when I finally followed through.
And I can testify that as soon as I did this, I felt this burden being lifted from my shoulders and God’s love filled my heart again.
I thought my dad was my enemy. I thought those Christian leaders were my enemies. But God showed me that I am the enemy. We can spend our entire lives pointing the finger and blaming everyone else who wrongs us. But if there is one thing I have learned in recent years, it is this — we can’t control what other people do to us, but we can control our own repentance.
Is there unforgiveness in your heart? Grudges you can’t seem to let go? Past experiences that still cause anger to well up inside when you are reminded of it?
I suggest that one possible reason for this unforgiving heart is because you are practicing religion. When we can’t forgive others, this is one sure sign that we have failed to relate to God properly and we have forgotten what grace we have been shown.
We are enemies of God and instead of God pouring out his wrath on us, He poured out every last drop of his wrath on Jesus and crushed him on that cross. And by this gracious substitution, God’s justice was satisfied and we, his enemies, were justified by the blood of Jesus.
God extends that invitation of reconciliation and he offers us unconditional love and forgiveness if we are ready to admit that we are enemies of God and surrender our lives to him.
Do you recognize that you are an enemy of God? Let’s take off the coat of religion. Let’s get right with him. Let’s confess our sins. Let’s thank him for forgiving us. And let’s remember that we were once enemies of God, but through the cross, we are now forgiven children of God. And having received this kind of tremendous pardon, let us cry out for divine assistance that we may in turn love and forgive our enemies.