I read this bumper sticker phrase: “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven.” That cliché sounds clever but technically Christians are perfect, not sinless, but perfect in the sense of maturing in Christ. Christians are forgiven by God, but sin has its consequences. God can forgive someone who commits a crime, but that does not mean a judge will do the same.
That bumper sticker reminded me of this passage in Luke 7:36-50. Jesus was invited to dinner by Simon, a Pharisee. We do not know the motive behind his invitation, but the Pharisees despised the Savior, calling him a friend of publicans and sinners. Jesus never favored the poor and downtrodden but was open to anyone. Matthew, His disciple, was a publican. As they reclined to eat, a prostitute barged in, knelt behind Jesus, and anointed His feet with perfume, washing them with tears, and wiping them with her hair. This outraged Simon who thought only God could forgive sins. Jesus, reading his thoughts, told a story about two people who owed money to a lender but could not pay. One owed more than the other, but Jesus forgave them both. He asked Simon which person loved the lender the most. Simon correctly answered the person with the larger debt. Then Jesus contrasted the little love this Pharisee demonstrated compared to this sinful woman. Her faith saved her, and her love was evidence of her forgiveness. The point is that the more we recognize our lostness, the more we will love what Christ has done for us.
As I studied this story in Luke’s gospel, two realities appeared: Forgiveness and Thankfulness. My prayer is that God would inscribe them on the heart of every believer. Let us see how these truths appear in Jesus’ encounter with a Pharisee and a prostitute.
1. Forgiveness: The original language in Luke 7 reveals that Jesus’ words to this woman, that her numerous sins had been forgiven, is in the past tense, which means she was forgiven before she ever came to the dinner. In the Lord’s Prayer, we pray for the forgiveness of sins (Matt. 6:12). Christ told His disciples to proclaim forgiveness worldwide (Luke24:47). Forgiveness is not something that only God does. Our responsibility is to forgive one another. Eph. 4:26-27 NLT warns us not to let the sun go down on our anger, implying to forgive quickly, and verse thirty-one urges us to get rid of anger, harsh words, and be kind and forgiving to one another as God forgave us. I share two illustrations:
I know a pastor who was criticized by a member of his congregation who felt neglected. Eventually the pastor moved away. Years passed. One day he received a phone call from this faultfinder from former years. With garbled speech from throat cancer, the man begged for forgiveness. The pastor reassuringly replied that he had already asked God’s forgiveness for both he and this man while he was his pastor! What a Christ-like example of forgiveness!
School principals have a tough job. They must discipline unruly students and even worse,deal with difficult parents. One principal told me about a parent who constantly criticized the school’s policies. She was so loud – mouthed the only response from the principal was to ask her to leave. One Sunday, at a church communion service, this principal was startled when her critic came and sat beside her. She tearfully confessed that she was so ashamed of her conduct that she needed forgiveness before she could honestly take communion. After they prayed, both ladies bonded together into a relationship that became sweeter and more productive.
2. Thankfulness:This story is about the gratitude that forgiveness creates. This sinful woman had already been forgiven, and now, overcome with gratitude, she boldly approached the Savior. This expression of loveat Jesus’ feet was her way of saying thanks for His forgiveness.From this woman’s act of love, it is obvious that her sins were many. She was more like the man in Jesus’ parable that owed ten times more to his lender than the other man. Jesus contrasted her extravagant devotion to Simon’s skimpy hospitality. This proves the truth that someone who is forgiven much, loves much, and someone who is forgiven little, loves little. The Bible has much to say about gratitude: I Thess. 5:18 NKJV puts it plain and simple: “In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Col. 3:17 tells us to do everything in the name of Jesus out of a spirit of gratefulness. I Thess. 4:16-18 NLT adds not to worry about anything, pray about everything, tell God what you need, and thank Him for all He has done.
Here is a personal illustration:I remember two special Thanksgiving Day celebrations our family had years ago. In the first instance, after our meal and devotional, I asked everyone to share a testimony of their greatest blessing. When it came to my son-in-law, tearfully he expressed thankfulness for physical health since his physician reported that a large tumor- like substance in his body was not malignant. In the second instance, he shared his gratitude for his salvation and for his wife and children.
Luke’s story is not over yet. It is being played out in our own lives. We are who we are, sinners, like both this prostitute and Simon. We can, like this woman, either realize our sinfulness, repent, and rejoice with gratitude, or, like Simon, reject and try to excuse our own self-righteousness. The heart-breaking truth of the Gospel is that Jesus came to forgive sin, but that it is only good news to those who recognize their need and want it. Will you adopt Forgiveness and Gratitude as part of your Christian vocabulary and testimony?