Forgiveness becomes a sort of GMO once it finds its way through religious frameworks. Forgiveness is often sold as a transaction between those who seek it and a God who might withhold it. Once we insert our superstitions and traditions, God is viewed as unsafe. Then we usually fall into three general categories of forgiveness:
- Those who see themselves as forgiven, (sometimes good sometimes bad)
- Those who don’t believe they are forgiven,
- Those that don’t care.
What if forgiveness isn’t a commodity traded by religion? What if every human soul that has ever lived is already forgiven? Is that even possible given what we’ve been taught? How does life change if people aren’t required to appease an angry God? Today we’ll examine John the Baptist and his message of forgiveness. Please note that John’s forgiveness comes before Jesus ministry and death, thus it doesn’t yet contain the ingredients the modern church has put into its message.
So how did we get here?
Forgiveness presupposes an offense. If no offense takes place, no forgiveness is required. In religion, sin is always the offense to God, not our humanity. Christianity is not the only religion talking about forgiveness. Judaism’s law and sacrificial system was an intricate behavior modification program to purify sins and remove our offenses to Yahweh. In Islam, Allah is not the friend of the sinner unless that person is truly remorseful for their sins and commits to live out the five pillars of Islam. In Hinduism and Buddhism, forgiveness isn’t as vital as Karma, which is viewed as God justly doling back what people give out.
Clearly, the default mode of humanity is to try and get on God’s good side….or else. Religion is the infrastructure invented to convince us that God will pick us on field day. It’s the “Star On Machine” in Dr. Seuss’s tale of the Sneetches. The key ingredient within all religion is the justice of God. We’ve mistakenly assumed that God thinks just like we do–based on retribution. Religion ratifies “an eye for an eye.”
The bible is constantly subverting religion’s agenda. It’s message is that forgiveness comes from God and not from religion. It never did. Never will. John the Baptist had Jewish parents who were both righteous before (forgiven) God (Luke 1:6). So apparently religious frameworks can function if people live in faith. So how do their ingredients compare with modern Christianity? Why was their son, John a different story?
John lived in the wilderness after he grew up (Luke 1:80). He didn’t live in the temple’s shadow, do ceremonies,or eat and dress like others. After twenty plus years in the wild, you tend to be a bit gamey and off the grid. At his birth, John’s dad prophesied over him that he would prepare the way for the Lord and give to people the knowledge that there sins were forgiven (Luke 1:76-77). It’s a similar prophesy given 500 years earlier in Malachi 3:1. Thus it was unimaginable to the religious minded that the forerunner of forgiveness did not emerge from their practice.
John wore camel skin and ate locusts with honey (Mark 1:6). How else do you eat a locust? After thirty years of incubation, the prophecy his dad put in him had germinated into a proclamation to anyone who would listen. Matt 3:5 says they came from surrounding regions.
Baptizing was a ritual of purification and thousands came not to do another ritual in hopes of forgiveness, but to see if the forgiveness was for real. Mark 1:4 says they came for a “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” or in other words they came to “rethink (metanoia–repentance) forgiveness for sins.” This is the first direct to consumer ad campaign where forgiveness came to everyone and by-passed the temple leadership. No animal sacrifice. No tithe. No offering. No high priest or even a low one for that matter. Just a caveman dunking people and proclaiming they are good with God.
Is that how your church spins it?
How did this happen? It’s not that everyone drip-dried their way home as forgiven people. The proclamation meant they came to the river already forgiven-many confessing as they came (Matt 3:6). Baptism symbolized getting “all-in” to the fact that God has finally fulfilled the promise of forgetting our sin (Jeremiah 31:34). This is what John meant by “Rethink, the Kingdom is at hand” (Matt 3:2). Jesus was also baptized by John. God afterward proclaimed in the biggest TWEET in history, that he was so pleased to offer this.
Note that this forgiveness wasn’t based on substitutionary atonement yet. Jesus hadn’t died yet. Forgiveness wasn’t based on temple laws or rituals. It wasn’t good deeds or alms. It was simply the mercy of God to all comers. John inaugurated a scandal. One that he and Jesus would not survive. It’s still a scandal! Try telling a devout Christian, Jew or Muslim that God forgives everyone and they don’t need to subscribe to a religion to get it. What do you think will happen?
The first response to forgiveness is disbelief, but it need not stay there.
HERE are three responses to forgiveness:
- The religious mind will continues in unbelief because it sees this as too easy-they call it cheap grace.
- Likewise the apathetic, or those who love wrongdoing also remain in disbelief because they are too asleep or distracted to hear their “Ollie ollie in come free!” I don’t think anyone dies unforgiven! We die throughout life because we can’t believe forgiveness is true for us.
- The last response to forgiveness is to really hope it’s true. These went out to see John for themselves and went home living in a new world–one where God isn’t evening a score, but healing the wound.
God’s justice is not based in retribution, but restoration. Religion makes righteousness the byproduct of a moral score card. (If you do everything right, you’ll obtain righteousness). Righteousness is actually the means of healing everything. (It heals the wound, closes the gap, makes things right) God isn’t mad, or distant, or giving us a stink-eye. God is all in! Through Jesus, God is baptized with us, in us, and through us. No religion, no transaction, no exclusions, nothing stands between any of us and God–NOTHING.
Do you believe this? If so, what changes for you? Nothing to buy, do, go or say. We are just forgiven!!!! Is your theological “wine skin” big enough? Do you see how this levels the playing field for everyone? Paul says in Rom 3:23 “No distinction…We have all fallen short.” Does your inner accuser think you are the exception?
John’s message prepared the way for Jesus’ message to the woman caught in sin-Where are you accusers? (John 8:10). So I ask you to check your soul. Are you able to accept forgiveness? John’s message is for us to rethink everything and then get “all-in” to our lives.
May John’s message become true for you.