Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” And they divided His garments and cast lots. (Luke 23:34, NKJV)
God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). Question: Did God forgive the murderers of Jesus in their unbelief? No, for without faith in Jesus as the Son of God, they would die in their sins (John 8:24). Did God forgive the murderers of Jesus in their ignorance? No, they killed Jesus “in ignorance,” and their failure to know the truth prevented their salvation (Acts 3:17). You don’t have to know everything to be forgiven, but you do have to know some things. When did not forgive the murderers of Jesus? The answer is in Acts 2:36-41, where about 3,000 believed the gospel message “that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” (v. 36). The murderers asked, “Brethren, what shall we do?” (v. 37), and were told to “Repent, and let everyone of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (v. 38). The sinners who received his word were baptized and added together to form the church (v. 41, 47). God’s desire to forgive sinners combines with repentant faith that is baptized. Then, sins are forgiven. If not, when were the murderers of Jesus forgiven?
15 Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ 17 And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector. (Matthew 18:15–17, NKJV)
Matthew 18:15-17 does not address how to deal with the public sins of Christians. Galatians 2:11-14 and 1 Corinthians 5 give us examples of such public sins, and how to handle them, as we attempt to save the lost and protect the saved. We misapply Matthew 18:15-17 when we demand following its procedure when such public sins occur. This passage is the Lord’s prescription for saving souls when personal, private sin takes place. The Lord’s teaching is not about getting rid of some one, but about saving the soul of the one who has gone astray (Galatians 6:1-2). When we are approached about sinning against a brother or sister in Christ, may we humbly hear the evidence, and repent of every transgression. And, if we are sinned against, may we follow the Lord’s instructions given here, to save one who has gone astray.
And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector. (Matthew 18:17, NKJV)
In Matthew 18:15-17, the Lord teaches a deliberate approach to resolving sinful conflict between His disciples. Each step is designed to seek and save the lost (Matthew 18:10-14). At this point, previous attempts have failed to bring the sinning brother to repentance concerning his sin against a brother. Now, it is time to inform the church of the Christian’s lack of repentance, so the church can get involved in trying to rescue the sinner (James 5:19-20). Each member of the church is to reach out to the erring Christian, attempting to bring him or her back to the Lord’s salvation. By taking a united action of trying to save the sinner, the church is being careful not to put a stumbling block before Christ’s little one (remember the broader context of this passage, Matthew 18:6-14). Now is the time for each Christian to work to bring the sinner to repentance. That is why a private sin now must be made public to the church. A soul is in danger!
9 Then those who went before and those who followed cried out, saying: “Hosanna! ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’ 10 Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (Mark 11:9–10, NKJV)
How could shouts of Hosanna (“save, we pray” or “save now”) turn so quickly to shouts of “Crucify him!” (Mk. 15:31)? Because Jesus did not meet their expectation of salvation, of a king and of the kingdom. They expected a king who would save them from Rome (like David saved Israel from their enemies), and a kingdom wielding earthly power over men. But, Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world” (Jno. 18:36). He withdrew Himself from forcible attempts to make Him king; His kingdom is “within” (Jno. 6:15; Lk. 17:20-21). And so, they killed Jesus. Even to this day, when Jesus does not fit people’s expectation of salvation, their shouts of hosanna turn to scornful contempt. For example, Jesus could not be more plain, that one must believe and be baptized to be saved (Mk. 16:16). Yet, people ridicule His way of salvation as “water salvation.” They clamor for “faith only” salvation (which will never save the lost, see Jas. 2:14-26). When one shouts, “Save me, Lord,” he must be willing to be saved Christ’s way. There is no other way (Jno. 14:6; Acts 4:12).
19 Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, 20 let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins. (James 5:19–20, NKJV)
This Bible passage enjoins upon faithful Christians the task of rescuing a struggling, sinning Christian from spiritual death. It forever exposes and opposes the false teaching of “once saved, always saved.” Here, the soul that needs saving is a Christian who: (1) Has wandered from the truth. We must walk in the truth to be secure in our salvation (Jno. 10:27); (2) Needs turning back. The person is headed in the wrong, spiritual direction; His present way is “error.” You see, there really is only one way that leads to life (Jno. 14:6); (3) Has sinned. The person is “a sinner,” “in error” and in “death.” He/she is lost. You see, doctrine (teaching) affects salvation. False doctrine is error; a wandering from the truth. Wandering from the truth into error is a real danger. When it happens, the spiritually strong must become first responders, trying to save a soul from death (Gal. 6:1). In what more worthy endeavor can you participate? “He who wins souls is wise” (Prov. 11:30).
7 Though I walk in the midst of trouble, You will revive me; You will stretch out Your hand against the wrath of my enemies, and Your right hand will save me. 8 The Lord will perfect that which concerns me; Your mercy, O Lord, endures forever; Do not forsake the works of Your hands. (Psalm 138:7–8, NKJV)
When the psalmist cried out to the Lord in the past, his cry was answered according to God’s lovingkindness and truth (Psa. 138:3). Now, the psalmist summarizes his continued reliance upon God in the midst of trouble; God “will” act on his behalf! Like the psalmist, God’s power saves and enlivens us, even as He delivers His wrath upon the enemies of the righteous. All is not lost when you must travel the road of trouble; the Lord is not finished with you. God is able to perfect or complete you by means of your present trials (1 Pet. 1:6-9). His mercy is endless, therefore, He will not abandon you. Be strengthened in your faith, and never abandon Him.
22 … “The Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day.” 23 Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. 24 For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.” (Luke 9:22–24, NKJV)
Being a Christian is not a pain-free zone. Jesus Christ, whose name we wear, suffered enormously to secure our redemption. He suffered injustice, ridicule, humiliation, mental anguish and physical torture unto death, despised as a criminal and rejected by men. Yet still, some Christians find it a burden to deny themselves the simplest comfort in order to serve Christ. Let us be clear: We cannot follow Jesus without taking up our cross daily. That means sacrifice. Self-denial. Total faith and complete obedience. To try to follow Jesus without complete self-denial will cause you to lose your life. Only when you lose yourself for His sake, will your life be saved.