Too Much of a Good Thing
Faith is a wonderful thing. We have been saved by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8). By faith we have become children of God (John 1:12). With faith, it is possible to please God (Heb. 11:6). When we believe God, impossible things become possible.
But can we believe too much? “Certainly not!” you may say. But to really answer that question, we have to consider what and in Whom we are believing. Too often, we as Christians believe in the wrong things, and we are quick to believe in them, too!
For example, sometimes we’re quick to believe in gossip about co-workers (2 Cor. 12:20). We may believe the latest rumors about celebrities. We might believe misinformation and slander about politicians. Bosses could believe a bad report about employees. By doing these things, we can hurt others by believing (and sometimes acting on) something about them that is not true. We misjudge them, and we make it worse by telling others the half-truths and lies we’ve believed.
Sometimes we hurt ourselves more directly by believing whatever teaching we hear. Or we may believe a smooth talking con artist who is utilizing the latest financial scheme.
How can we protect ourselves and keep from hurting others? There are a number of things we can do. One thing is to not believe just one side of a story that is told about someone. We need to hear both sides of a story, then we can understand the situation better (Prov. 18:17).
In addition, we can protect ourselves from false doctrine by comparing what we hear to the whole counsel of the Bible (Acts 17:10-12; Eph. 4:14). We should test everything with the Bible and the guidance of the Spirit (1 John 4:1; 1 Th. 5:21).
Let us resolve to not hurt ourselves or others by believing in things that we shouldn’t. Let us ask the Lord to give us discernment about what is true and wisdom about what is right. Jesus Himself once said to His disciples, “be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matt. 10:16). James wrote, “If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you” (James 1:5).
Yes, faith is a wonderful thing! But let’s not have too much of a good thing. Let’s keep God and His truth as the focus of our faith. When we do that, we will be a brighter light to the world around us (Mat. 5:14). And as God helps us to grow in these areas, we will become more like our wonderful Lord and Savior Jesus! We will be more conformed to image of God’s Son (Rom. 8:29). Thank God that His love is everlasting towards us as we continue to grow in Him.
Much of our confusion and misery in life is due to our underestimating (or ignoring altogether) the enemy of our souls. Some of us rarely think of Satan and his demons, and if we do, we often downplay their power and influence. Surely, we could overestimate Satan (and many do), but in our day, especially in the West, it seems like he gets less attention and resistance than he deserves.
While the devil is already defeated and his end is sure, he is still “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31), and he still leads “the cosmic powers over this present darkness” and “the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). And he rules and corrupts through deception. “There is no truth in him,” Jesus warns. “When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). So, the apostle Paul warns, we must be careful lest we “be outwitted by Satan” or be found “ignorant of his designs” (2 Corinthians 2:11).
What may surprise us is what, in particular, prevents us from being outwitted by Satan. Paul writes, “What I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ, so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs” (2 Corinthians 2:10–11). Do you want to know what Satan’s schemes are? He wants you to hold a grudge. He wants you to believe vengeance is yours, and not God’s. Forgiveness outwits Satan, and forgiveness subverts his wickedness.
Why Is Forgiveness Hard?
Forgiveness may be the hardest thing many of us do in our lifetimes. I say may, because many suffer and wrestle in horrible ways. But even then, how much of our suffering is owing to someone else’s sins or failures? Because none of us is without sin, forgiveness is simply a given if we want to love and be loved in this life.
“God disarmed Satan and all his armies with costly forgiveness — your forgiveness.”
Forgiveness can be hard because it fights against all the impulses of our flesh: “Did you see how he hurt me? Why would I make myself vulnerable again?” “The pain still feels so fresh and deep — how could I possibly pretend to be okay with her?” “This is the dozenth time he has done this to me. Haven’t I forgiven him enough?” “I’ll never be able to trust her again — how could I possibly forgive her?” What voices keep you from forgiving?
And because forgiveness can be hard, God gives us great reasons to forgive. We forgive because he first forgave us: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32). We forgive because God crushed his Son for our forgiveness. He canceled “the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:14).
And through that cross (we should not be surprised) “He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him” (Colossians 2:15). God disarmed Satan and all his armies with costly forgiveness — your forgiveness. Knowing who Satan was and what he wants and how he works, God chose to fight instead with a broken body and spilled blood. God chose to forgive. And so we too forgive “so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs.”
If We Withhold Forgiveness
That means to withhold forgiveness is to play into Satan’s hands, to reinforce his war, to join his cause. To withhold forgiveness is an attempted suicide of the soul.
“Maybe the most effective way to wage spiritual warfare today would be for us to more quickly and freely forgive.”
Jesus warns, “If you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14–15). Do you hear the suicide in forgivelessness? If we are too proud or bitter to hold out the hands of forgiveness, God will withdraw his. If we refuse to forgive, he will hold our every sin against us, until we can pay for them all (Matthew 18:35) — and we will never pay for them all. To withhold forgiveness is not only to join Satan in his wickedness, but it is to be left with Satan and his wickedness — miserable, unforgiven, cast into outer darkness.
And Jesus calls us to forgive not just once, but tirelessly. “Pay attention to yourselves!” he warns. “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him” (Luke 17:3–4). In the previous verse, he threatens awful judgment for any who refuse: “It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea” (Luke 17:2). Withholding forgiveness, even after having already forgiven someone six times in a day, is a wicked offense to God. So, the wise flee judgment and run to forgive.
Comfort Your Offender
When Paul calls the church in Corinth to forgive, he is likely calling them to forgive a false teacher who rose up to oppose him (2 Corinthians 2:5). This is personal, and likely painful, for him. “Turn to forgive and comfort him,” he says, “or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow” (2 Corinthians 2:7). Can you see Satan wincing? Not only does Paul forgive his offender, but he campaigns for forgiveness, and even beyond forgiveness, for comfort and love: “I beg you to reaffirm your love for him” (2 Corinthians 2:8).
A previous letter of his had evidently led the rebellion to repentance (2 Corinthians 7:9), but some of the people still felt betrayed and ready to punish their leaders (2 Corinthians 2:6). The apostle, however, saw what Satan wanted. With every reason to harbor resentment and hold a grudge, he denied himself, picked up his cross, and forgave. While Satan iced the waters with bitterness and division, Paul warmed them with surprising, compassionate, forgiving love.
He could comfort those who had hurt him because he had been comforted, again and again, by “the Father of mercies and God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:3–4). Have you experienced that comfort? Have you been willing to extend it to those who have hurt you?
Maybe the most effective way to wage spiritual warfare today would be for us to more quickly and freely forgive. Counselor Ed Welch writes,
Remember, (1) the flesh has a sinful bent toward self-interest. It is committed to the question, “What’s in it for me?” (2) Satan is a liar and divider. Notice that the most explicit biblical teaching on spiritual warfare (Ephesians 6) is found in the book that emphasizes unity. Satan’s most prominent strategy is to fracture and divide. And (3) the world tries to institutionalize these tendencies. (When People Are Big and God Is Small, 196)
“We do not wrestle against flesh and blood” (Ephesians 6:12). Instead, we rush to forgive flesh and blood. And we wrestle “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). The rulers and authorities of darkness trade in angry grudges. The spiritual forces of evil breed bitterness and dissension. But we, those forgiven by God, defy and defeat them by wielding the precious and dangerous weapon of forgiveness.
“Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, to Philemon our beloved brother and fellow worker.” – Philemon 1:1 NASB
Some believers have a more social type of faith. Others approach Christianity like a religion with rituals and rules. But others are like Paul – sold out, with a total commitment to Jesus.
We see that commitment in the first words in his letter to Philemon. He was a “prisoner of Christ Jesus.” Then a few verses later, he repeated this positioning. In both cases, he used a Greek word suggesting that He was a captive.
He approached his life as someone surrendered to Jesus. For Paul, this wasn’t an imposition or a burden. It brought him joy and gave his life meaning and fulfillment. He went where Jesus was leading. He did what he felt called to do.
Paul was providing a model he hoped Philemon and other believers would apply. He was teaching the importance of having a life surrendered to Jesus. He wasn’t sitting on the fence but following Him absolutely.
What would Paul say about Christians today? About you?
He would remind us that following Jesus should be a total life commitment. It doesn’t mean just listening to a sermon, going to church, speaking a few polite prayers, or reading a few Bible verses. As Paul learned, this should be the most important thing in our lives. Our highest priority, the focus of our energies.
Seek to make this commitment. Make sure Jesus is your Lord. Seek to be sold out for the Gospel, a willing prisoner.
The true position of assurance
By: Charles Spurgeon
‘In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise.’ Ephesians 1:13
Suggested Further Reading: 1 John 3:14–24
We know that God is true because we have proved him. Sometimes this comes through the hearing of the Word—as we listen our faith is confirmed. But there is doubtless besides this, a special and supernatural work of the Holy Spirit, whereby men are assured that they are born of God. You will observe in one place the apostle says that the Spirit ‘beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God;’ so that there are two witnesses—first, our spirit bears witness, that is, by evidences: I look at my faith, and see myself depending upon Christ, and then I know, because I love the brethren, and for other reasons, that I am born of God. Then there comes over and above the witness of evidence, faith and feeling, the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit. Have you not felt it? I cannot describe this to you, but you who have felt it know it. Did you not the other day feel a heavenly calm as you meditated upon your state and condition in Christ? You wondered where it came from. It was not the result of protracted devotion, but it stole over you, you knew not how it was, you were bathed in it as in sunlight, and you rejoiced exceedingly. You rejoiced in Christ—that was the basis of confidence, but that confidence came through the Spirit bearing witness with your spirit. And this has occurred sometimes in the midst of sharp conflicts just when dark despair seemed ready to overwhelm you. You may have enjoyed this comfort under peculiar trials, and losses of friends, and you may expect to have it when you come to die. Then, if ever in your life, you should be able to say, ‘I will fear no evil: for thou art with me.’
For meditation: We must not regard the Holy Spirit as a loose cannon giving us feelings, experiences and revelations which are nothing to do with the Scriptures. But he can confirm personally in our hearts what God has said in his Word and done in our lives (Romans 8:14–16; Galatians 4:6; 1 John 3:24; 4:13).