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Christian Living

Martin Luther Supported the Sacrament of Penance

But Luther believed the Pope had no power over purgatory

Martin Luther’s second group of ninety-five theses addressed the pope’s authority over purgatory, or to be more correct, the pope’s lack of authority. Martin asserted that the pope had no power when it came to remitting sins and their penalty in purgatory.

Though some accounts claim Luther found no biblical support for purgatory itself, as well as the Sacrament of Penance, his ninety-five theses don’t support this position.

He agreed that the Sacrament of Penance allows for forgiveness of sins to those who are truly sorry for their actions. He didn’t criticize penance. The difference between the Sacrament of Penance and the pope’s greatly expanded extension of the concept may not be immediately apparent, but the distinction is significant.

The essential aspects of penance reside in admitting mistakes and being remorseful for them. After meeting these conditions, the priest offers forgiveness for the confessed sins.

What the pope had approved, however, was far different. He removed the elements of confession and repentance. Then he replaced them with a monetary payment.

Next, the scope of forgiveness expanded to cover all sins, not specific ones. And last, instead of addressing forgiveness in this life, the pope authorized a future forgiveness in death.

Martin made his view clear: The pope had overreached. The papal indulgences didn’t, and couldn’t, remove guilt. These full indulgences fell short of being able to reconcile people with God, which comes solely from sincere repentance.

The extent of the pope’s actual authority was limited to what he imposed, not what God established. The pope didn’t have a stockpile of eternal credits. He couldn’t subjectively transfer salvation to others.

Even if one person could go beyond what God requires, they couldn’t save their excess to use later for someone else, as some people believed. Only Jesus can do that. And he did. He freely offered forgiveness to all who believe, without any involvement of the pope.

Martin Luther concluded that the pope had no real authority over purgatory. Click To Tweet

From this Martin concluded that the pope had no real authority over purgatory. Martin argued that if the pope truly did have power to release one person from purgatory that he should release all people. That out of love he could free everyone.

This would effectively abolish purgatory. And if the pope intentionally left people in purgatory merely to raise money, his actions accounted for nothing more than greed.

Martin did, however, identify one thing the pope could do in relation to purgatory. He could pray for the early release of the people there, an action any member of the clergy could exercise.

Prior to Martin, others had proclaimed salvation only through Jesus and questioned the pope’s authority over purgatory. They did this without being charged with heresy. Had Martin restricted the focus to these points, he might have escaped the firestorm of attacks that followed. But he took one more step.

Read more about Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation in Peter DeHaan’s book Martin Luther’s 95 Theses: Celebrating the Protestant Reformation in the 21st Century. Buy it today to discover more about Martin Luther and his history-changing 95 theses.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Bible Insights

Beware the Adulteress

The book of Proverbs contains the majority of the Bible’s mentions of the word “adulteress” (seven times in Proverbs compared to five times in the rest of the Bible).

It refers to a woman who commits adultery, that is, she has sex with someone other than her husband. In today’s language, that is referred to as “cheating.”

Solomon warns his son—and all men—to stay away from the adulteress.

The Law of Moses notes that both the adulterer (the male participant) and the adulteress (the female participant) should be put to death (Leviticus 20:10). That is how serious God views the breaking of marriage vows.

Although the majority of modern society takes a much more casual perspective on lifelong monogamy, God’s staunch opposition to adultery hasn’t changed. Fortunately, his response has.

In the Old Testament (as mentioned above), the prescribed response to adultery is judgment. However, in the New Testament, Jesus—God’s son—demonstrates a kinder, gentler response: mercy (John 8:1-11).

However, remember that even though Jesus will give both the adulterer and adulteress mercy and forgiveness, the offended spouse may not likely be so understanding.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Leviticus 19-21, and today’s post is on Leviticus 20:10.]

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Christian Living

The Most Dangerous Prayer in the Bible

Forgiveness Is a Serious Thing, and We’re Well Advised to Never Withhold It

You’re probably familiar with the Lord’s prayer, sometimes informally called by its opening line as the Our Father. It’s a well-known passage in the Bible and many Christian traditions recite it as part of their Sunday worship service.

Growing up in a church that prayed this prayer in unison every Sunday, I quickly memorized it and could mumble it by rote, without thinking about the words I said. I suspect I knew the Lord’s Prayer before I could count or say the alphabet.

Now, however, I seriously consider the words I say when I quote this prayer. One line alarms me. In fact, it fills me with fear. It’s dangerous, eternally so.

What is this dangerous line?

It says, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” (Matthew 6:12). Some translations of the Bible use the word sins, as in “forgive us our sins.” Others use the word trespasses or wrongs. But most say debts.

Forgive Us

In this prayer, we’re asking God to forgive us. What’s wrong with that?

Yes, this is true. In this common prayer, we ask God to forgive us. But we’re also asking him to place limits on the extent to which he can forgive us.

What?

Read it again. Read it carefully.

Check out how God’s Word Translation (GW) renders this line: “Forgive us as we forgive others.”

Don’t Withhold Forgiveness

We’re asking God to forgive us to the degree that we forgive others. This implies that if we withhold forgiveness from other people, we’re letting God know that he can withhold forgiveness from us. So, if we forgive other people 75 percent of the time, we’re asking God to forgive us 75 percent of the time too.

This thought makes me tremble. My spirit quakes in trepidation.

It also encourages me to forgive quickly and to forgive fully.

Though I want to believe that God won’t do what this prayer requests of him and thereby withhold forgiveness of us in proportion to our unforgiveness of others, I do wonder.

I strive to never hold grudges and to fully forgive people as quickly as possible. Click To Tweet

Forgive Seventy Times Seven

When Jesus tells Peter that we should forgive others, not just a generous seven times, but seventy times seven (literally 490 times), we get a sense that God’s forgiveness of us extends without limit.

But after Jesus tells Peter to not stop forgiving, Jesus launches into a parable about unforgiveness. In this story, the man who refuses to forgive his debtors is given over to torture until he can repay his debt.

Jesus ends this parable with a stern warning: if we don’t sincerely forgive others, God will punish us in the same way.

That’s why I strive to never hold grudges and to fully forgive people as quickly as possible.

If we don’t forgive others, our future might be at risk.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Bible Insights

Is God’s Forgiveness Conditional?

Jesus wants us to fully forgive others so that we may be fully forgiven

In asking the simple question, “Is God’s forgiveness conditional?” the answer seems obvious: “No! God’s forgiveness is unconditional.”

I was taught that if I followed Jesus, he would forgive me. It was a fact. Forgiveness was unconditional. It made sense, and it comforted me.

However, Jesus’s instruction in today’s passage seems to question this assumption.

Jesus teaches about prayer. He says that when we pray, if we think of someone holding something against us, we must forgive them “so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins” (Mark 11:25, NIV).

Does this mean that if we withhold forgiveness from others that God will withhold forgiveness from us?

I think so.

Recall the Lord’s Prayer. One phrase says, “Forgive us our debts, as we have also forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12, NIV). This phrase flows from our mouths with ease.

On the surface these words offer us assurance of forgiveness. But I don’t think that’s what Jesus means by this simple expression. He seems to be saying that to the degree we forgive others, God will then forgive us.

To the degree we forgive others, God will forgive us. Click To Tweet

Stated another way, the extent to which we withhold forgiveness, will be the extent to which God withholds our forgiveness.

What a terrifying thought.

Between what Jesus instructs us through the Lord’s Prayer and what he teaches in today’s text, we get the real feeling that the degree to which we can receive God’s forgiveness hinges on the degree to which we extend forgiveness to others.

This is a sobering thought.

May we always forgive fully, so that we may be fully forgiven.

[Read through the Bible this year. Today’s reading is Mark 11-13, and today’s post is on Mark 11:25.]

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Bible Insights

How Many Times Should We Forgive Someone?

Jesus shared a story (parable) about forgiving others.

Jesus’ illustration was prompted by Peter, who asked if forgiving someone seven times was enough; Peter thought seven times was generous. Jesus upped the figure considerably, saying seventy-seven times.

We don’t take this amount literally, instead understanding that Jesus really meant we need to forgive others “more times than we can count” or “without limit.”

Forgive others, as God forgives us. Click To Tweet

Jesus’ story, however, takes the idea of forgiveness to another level. A man, who owed a huge debt he could never repay, begged for mercy, for more time to make payment. But instead of receiving additional time, the debt was forgiven.

But then the man threatened someone who owed him a tiny bit of money. No mercy was given; no forgiveness was offered. He withheld from others what had been given to him.

Because of the man’s selfishness and not treating others as he was treated, his debt was reinstated and he was thrown into prison and tortured. Our fate will be no different if we don’t forgive others.

We, who have been forgiven much by God, need to likewise forgive others. The risk of withholding forgiveness is too great.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Matthew 17-19, and today’s post is on Matthew 18:21-35.]

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Bible Insights

What Does Jesus Want Us to Forgive?

In my post Be Careful What You Pray I mention a line in the Lord’s Prayer, “forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”

Different groups have different wording for this line. There are some I’ve run into:

Debts

“Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” The word debt, conjures up thoughts of loans and money. That limits what Jesus meant and isn’t helpful.

Forgive us for the wrongs we have done, as we have forgiven those who have wronged us. Click To Tweet

Trespasses

“Forgive our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” The word trespass evokes walking uninvited on someone6s property. That’s not helpful either. (However, the dictionary gives a broader understanding for both these words.)

Sins

“Forgive our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.” To me, sin is the word that conveys the full impact of this phrase, but I understand some people are put off by that word.

Wrongs

I recently heard a fourth version, which I like for its clarity:

“Forgive us for the wrongs we have done, as we have forgiven those who have wronged us.”

That connects with me. I hope one of these four versions connects with you. Now we just need to pray it—and do it.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Matthew 5-7, and today’s post is on Matthew 6:12.]

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Bible Insights

Are We Really Supposed to Always Forgive?

In the post on forgiveness, I cited the instructions of Jesus: when someone treats us wrongly we are to first confront (“rebuke”) them about the issue. If they apologize or acknowledge their error (“repent”), then we are to forgive them.

From this, we can infer a three-step process:

  1. We confront
  2. They apologize
  3. We forgive

Which evokes several questions:

  • Must apology proceed forgiveness?
  • If the offending person refuses to apologize are we still expected to forgive?
  • What about us and Jesus, do we need to apologize ( “confess” and “regret”) to him before he will forgive us?

Frankly, I don’t know the answers to these questions. Although this passage implies one set of answers, other verses in the Bible suggest the opposite.

Could the real answer to each question be “maybe?” Perhaps God wants to keep us from turning his words into a simple three-step procedure. Instead he gives us guidelines to study, interpret, and apply as appropriate.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Luke 16-18, and today’s post is on  Luke 17:3-4.]

Read more about the book of Luke in That You May Know: A 40-Day Devotional Exploring the Life of Jesus from the Gospel of Luke, now available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Bible Insights

What Did Jesus Have to Say About Forgiveness?

Once when teaching his disciples, Jesus addresses forgiveness.

He says when someone treats us wrongly we are to first confront (“rebuke”) them about the issue. If they apologize or acknowledge their error (“repent”), then we are to forgive them.

There is actually no limit to forgiveness. Click To Tweet

Although Jesus literally says we are to do this seven times, there is actually no limit to forgiveness.

What a great picture of God’s mercy towards us—endless, unconditional forgiveness!

[Luke 17:3-4Matthew 18:22]

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Bible Insights

Be Careful What You Pray

The Lord’s Prayer contains a curious phrase that gives me pause. Frankly, it makes me uncomfortable every time I say it.

The passage in question is “forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” We mean the first part, but do we really mean the second part?

When we ask this of God, are we implicitly requesting him to forgive us only to the degree we forgive others?

Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. Click To Tweet

If so, I want to make sure I’m not holding any grudges or have any unforgiveness in my heart towards others.

The consequences are too great for anything less.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Matthew 5-7, and today’s post is on  Matthew 6:12.]

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Bible Insights

God Forgives Sins and We Forgive Others

Jesus’ teaching on binding and loosing is a bit perplexing and worthy of careful contemplation. A parallel passage talks about forgiving sin and is even more disconcerting.

Jesus says that if we forgive someone’s sins, they will be forgiven; conversely, if we don’t forgive someone’s sins, they will not be forgiven.

That is an even heavier burden, realizing that our holding of a grudge—that is, not forgiving someone—will result in the withholding of forgiveness for their sins.

However, it is even more weighty than that.

Consider the “Lord’s Prayer” and the phrase “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” Through this prayer, we are actually asking God to only forgive us to the degree to which we forgive others.

Given the severity of the ramifications, we need to be most diligent in forgiving all others and not holding a grudge.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.