“Gospel Culture: Forgiveness” (Series: Grace for the Weak)
Scripture: 2 Corinthians 2:5-11
In our secular society, forgiveness is increasingly being questioned as a noble virtue. Some even believe it’s dangerous and that it stands as an enemy to justice. But forgiveness is one of the central tenets of Christianity, both as an ethic – “you must forgive” – and as a doctrine – “God has forgiven your sins through Jesus Christ.” When believers really embrace the doctrine, the ethic should naturally follow. You forgive others because you’ve been forgiven by God. When this happens in a church, a gospel culture is formed where forgiveness is extended and embraced.
This does not mean that sins and offenses should be overlooked or dismissed. Accountability is necessary. True love for a person means they should be disciplined. But this is because discipline should lead to repentance and repentance to forgiveness and comfort. Restoration, not excessive sorrow, is the goal of discipline. The church of Corinth at first needed to be told to pursue discipline over matters of sin. Later they needed to be corrected that upon repentance, forgiveness should be offered. This is what a gospel culture of forgiveness should look like.
When Apostle Paul talks about forgiveness, the word he uses has the nuance of something given graciously and freely (it’s the same word used in Romans 8:32 and 1 Corinthians 2:12). This is a very different approach than those outlined by Tim Keller in his book “Forgive.” He lists out the following competing models: Cheap Grace: nonconditional-forgiveness model (forgive as long as it’s good for you). Little grace: transactional-forgiveness model (forgive when they’ve earned it from you). No grace: no-forgiveness model (don’t forgive).
The biblical model of forgiveness, however, is based on costly grace. The gospel introduces the vertical dimension that says sinners have received forgiveness from God graciously and freely. This empowers the horizontal dimension of forgiving others. The gospel is the good news of two realities. First, God is so holy and just that he took your sin seriously and punished it. Second, God is so gracious and merciful that he sent Jesus to take that punishment for you on the cross. Through Jesus, we are forgiven. A gospel culture takes root in a church as we understand first what it means to be forgiven before we understand what it means to forgive. Forgiven people are empowered to forgive people.
- A gospel-culture of forgiveness doesn’t just happen, it needs to be cultivated in the church (we need to work for it)
- A gospel-culture of forgiveness is cultivated not by how much we talk about forgiveness but by how well we practice it (we need to live it out)
- A gospel-culture of forgiveness is practiced not by our power but by the power of Christ’s forgiveness at work in us (we need to receive it first)
Suggested Group Discussion Questions
- What’s been your sense of the state of forgiveness in the culture at large? Have you seen evidence of the three models/approaches Tim Keller mentions? Do you think this has an effect on you or the Church? Is it good or bad? Discuss.
- Have you ever been to a church or part of a community where there was a culture of forgiveness? Can you share about that experience? Or perhaps you’ve been a part of a church/community where the culture was harsh judgment and no forgiveness. Can you share about that experience?
- What are some healthy and redemptive things that we can begin to do to cultivate a gospel culture of forgiveness? Are there things we’re already doing that is helping? Are there things that are getting in the way?
- Doxology: Express how this sermon helps you understand, appreciate, and worship Jesus more. In what ways has the gospel become more alive to you having read this passage and heard this sermon?
- Response: Formulate a one-sentence prayer that’s informed by the passage and the sermon. This prayer should articulate what you desire to walk away with and how you want God to apply it in your life. Have a few people share.