It has been said that “Love is the essence of the divine reality, the basic source from which all of God’s attributes arise. This means that the assertion that God is love incorporates all there is to say about God” (The Open View of God by Clarke Pinnock and others, p. 21). We are all familiar, undoubtedly, with the Apostle John’s famous statement in his first letter: “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know love, because God is love” (I John 4:7-8).
Another apostle, Paul, said of love: “Love…keeps no record of wrongs…It always protects” (I Corinthians 13:4-7 excerpts).
In Proverbs we read: “Hatred stirs up dissension, but love covers over all wrongs” (Proverbs 10:12).
Peter, also an apostle of Jesus, wrote, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins” (I Peter 4:8).
Those of us who claim to love God ought to learn to love as God loves. When God forgives, he removes our sins “as far as the east is from the west” (Psalm 103:12). What was once scarlet with “blood guiltiness” is now white as snow (Isaiah 1:18; Psalm 51:7). God, unlike man, does not bear grudges. Once we have repented and asked forgiveness, God grants it, and that’s the end of it as far as He is concerned.
It isn’t however, the end of it as far as human beings are concerned. Unlike God who forgives and forgets, the carnal person assumes the role of Satan, the “accuser of the brethren” (Revelation 12:10). Satan never misses an opportunity to accuse or to expose our sins. Remember the story of Job? Satan functioned as accuser of Job. Love keeps no record of sins, as we read above, but Satan keeps an endlessly open and ever growing record. He “builds a case” against us throughout our lifetimes.
Those who delight in trafficking in knowledge of the sins of others are like their Father, the devil. Gossip about other people’s sins is destructive, especially if those people have long ago repented of those sins, and had them covered by the blood of Christ. Once a fellow believer has repented of a sin, no matter how grievous, that person should be forgiven, and it should never be mentioned again. As one television preacher put it, “If you’ve really forgiven someone; you act as though it never happened.”
Spiritual Grave Digging
Dredging up the sins of other people is a form of spiritual grave-digging. Personally, I don’t want to hear about any other Christian’s past sins, any more than I want to hear about my own. We all have skeletons in our spiritual closets. If we declared open season on them, the rattling and banging of them emptying out would go on forever. Here’s an image some of you older people might appreciate: It would be like Fibber Magee’s closet times a zillion. If you understand that, you can explain it to the younger folk.
Sadly, exposing other people’s past sins is a form of social currency within the Churches of God Pod. It gets one attention. It gives one momentary power. The more “juicy details” one knows, the more transient acclaim they get. It makes the “best” gossip the focus of lunch time conversation. It gives one the power to discredit the validity of someone else’s present, fruitful, life.
I don’t know about you, but for the past 25 years, I’ve been exposed over the years to an endless cataloguing of the Armstrong’s sexual sins [Herbert and Ted Armstrong, former leaders, now dead, of the Worldwide Church of God]. I’m fed up with it; sick of hearing it, weary of talking about it. Both of them are long gone. God knows whether they repented or not, and God alone is their Judge. The same goes for the rest of us, living or dead. All of us have sinned. The only difference is perhaps in the kind, frequency and amount of sins. None of us has a pristine closet. We all have something to be ashamed of in our pasts. If it has been repented of, it is best left where it was – in the closet of the past.
Washed, Sanctified, Justified
In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul catalogued the kinds of sins, without naming names or citing instances, of some congregation members: “…Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters, no adulterers nor male prostitutes, nor homosexual offenders, nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But now you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (I Corinthians 6:9-11).
Once we are washed, sanctified and justified, then no other Christian ought ever again to make mention of our sins. We now move ahead, striving to overcome, clean and blameless because of what God in Christ has done in our lives. We no longer drag our past with us wherever we go. The love of God has covered our sins; there is no longer any good reason to mention them. We are free from the bondage they imposed in our lives. We no longer find ourselves housed in a cell on God’s Death Row.
The Devil’s Workers
Those who are of the Accuser, however, will continue to remind us of our sins at every opportunity. They will seek to grind the noses of the people of God in the guilt of their past failures. To accuse someone of sin who has been forgiven of it is a form of slander. We just read above that “slanderers” will not be among those who will inherit the divine kingdom. You might find it interesting to know that the Greek word diabolos, usually translated “devil,” means “slanderer” (see Bauer’s Lexicon).
God’s people – if indeed they are God’s people – do not accuse, tear down, remind of, and constantly traffic in, each other’s past sins; rather, they build up, edify, encourage, forgive and cover the indiscretions of the past – as does God himself. The Church should not be a place of judgment (Matthew 7:1-5) but a place of forgiveness and healing (Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:13). Christ came to “set the captives free,” not to bring us into endless bondage to our past sins. We could all echo Paul — if we had truly come to the end of ourselves – who wrote, “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst” (I Timothy 1:15).
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want anyone to come out a loser in the Judgment that we shall all inevitably face – me included. I believe in the old saying that when you point the accusing finger at another, you’ve got three others pointing back at yourself. When it comes to purity, none of us has anything to crow about.
This is an exhortative, and somewhat corrective, article. I felt it needed to be written. I’m writing it as much to myself as to anyone. When we come together socially from now on, let’s avoid any cataloguing of the Armstrong’s sins, or of each other’s. All of our sins, from the worst to the most minor, are hidden, covered, in Christ. It is as though they never happened. If we insist on bringing them up, dusting them off, examining them, analyzing them, and otherwise discussing them, we are assuming the role of the diabolos – the Slanderer. If we try to inflict “guilt trips” on others as a means of humiliating them, and keeping them one down to us, we may find it backfiring on us. Remember when Jesus was confronted by those who had caught a woman in the “very act” of adultery? He began writing in the ground, apparently listing some of the sins of which they had apparently not repented. Then he said to the woman’s accusers: “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7).
Godly people act like God. They forgive and they forget. They do not seek to inflict destructive guilt trips on those who have long ago repented of their sins. They do not dredge up and catalogue the sins of other Christians. Nor do they keep tabs on the sins of the deceased. Once those sins are buried, they are buried forever, without recovery. Those who insist on spiritual grave-digging are of the Slanderer, not of God.
We have all done our share of gossiping, myself included. Can we please get over it? Can we not move ahead and up to higher ground? The past no longer exists. While the effects of our sins may linger on, the guilt itself is expunged, assuming we have repented. The damage we have done is often punishment enough. The murderer, the thief, the drunkard, and the perjurer may have to pay a penalty to satisfy the law, but if he has repented, he will be saved and he will have a place in the world to come. We may have to live with the results of our sins – divorces, alienated children, financial ruin, broken relationships, lost jobs, illness, injury, and emotional scars. These are painful reminders that we once stepped over the line. Study the life of king David of Israel. He lived all of his life with the human penalties of his sins. He petitioned God: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me” (Psalm 51:1-3).
God heard David’s prayer and forgave him; yet David lived the rest of his 70 years paying prices for things he’d done in his youth. Still, he taught sinners God’s way, and contributed major sections to the Hebrew Bible (cf. Psalm 51:13). He even became a type of the Messiah.
It would lift a great burden from the Churches of God Pod if all of its people could learn to forgive and forget. We’ve all heard enough about the sins of the Armstrongs, and of the ministry in general, and of the Church’s more notorious lay members. Personally, I don’t want to hear any more of it. I want to move ahead, not backwards. The Armstrongs are sleeping that long sleep that precedes the resurrection. In due time, God will have a desire to the work of his hands. I hope they, and all of us, fare well in the coming Judgment. One thing is certain: we ourselves will fare better if we would learn to forgive and forget.
None of us needs any further condemnation; we all need a lot of encouragement.
Some of us, perhaps because of the depth of our repentance, or the terrible effects of our sins, live on an endless guilt trip. In some cases, we have simply habituated guilt. It has become a part of our emotional or psychological makeup. Guilt over something or another is a constant, deleterious companion.
Guilt is deadly. It can destroy you. It can render you self-destructive. Remember what it did to Judas Iscariot?
If you have repented of your sins before God, then you should know that they are forgiven, and that you no longer have to carry guilt about them. It’s over. If you insist on feeling guilty, then you are, in effect, questioning the efficacy of Christ’s sacrifice. You’re saying, “It’s not good enough. It wasn’t sufficient. My sins are bigger than what Jesus did on the cross. Nothing can eliminate my guilt.”
If anything, that is a mentality born in the darkest depths of Hell. Furthermore, it is a monumental ego trip. It’s like saying, “Even God can’t save me!” When you look at it that way, is it not ridiculous?
Look, making restitution is one thing, carrying perpetual guilt is quite another. We should all seek if possible to undo or make restitution for the damage we’ve done through our sins. But there’s a limit. There are unforgiving souls in this world who will manipulate you through your guilt – if you let them. Those who are the victims of your sins will stand at the head of the list. They will blackmail you through guilt. They will milk it for all its worth, but only if you allow it. If you’ve expressed repentance, done your best to make restitution, then move on without guilt.
If anyone tries to manipulate you through guilt, they themselves become guilty of having an unforgiving spirit. They seek the same kind of power over you that Satan himself tries to exercise. It’s a deadly game.
Some people wear guilt like a badge of dishonor. It’s like saying, “Look at me! I can sin anyone under the table.” How absurd! Get over it man. So you’re a sinner. We all are. It’s a given. It’s part of the human condition; but God has called us out of the standard human condition to another plane of being – to a guilt-free zone. Perhaps the Church needs to hang a sign on the door: “You are now entering a guilt-free zone. Step away from your past sins. Prepare to be encouraged.”