Rainer urges forgiveness in SBTS chapel

Communications Staff — January 13, 2007

Failure to forgive others may destroy churches and break a Christian’s fellowship with God, Thom Rainer said in chapel Nov. 8 at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Rainer, president of LifeWay Christian Resources and former dean of Southern Seminary’s Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth, speculated that a lack of forgiveness might be one cause of the decline in baptisms across the Southern Baptist Convention.

“As we look at the fact that hundreds of our churches are closing every week, I wonder if perhaps some of the problem may reside in the fact that in some of these churches there is a lack of forgiveness,” he said. “Perhaps God has withheld the blessings of His Spirit because there has been withheld the blessing of forgiveness.”

Preaching from Matthew 6:14-15, Rainer highlighted three principles related to forgiveness.

First, forgiveness begins with an understanding of the cross.

“Humanity’s greatest problem is sin, and our greatest need is forgiveness,” he said. “You know that sin separates men and women from God. But through the cross Christians have received judicial forgiveness. We’ve been declared not guilty by God, the judge.”

We can only comprehend forgiveness fully by looking at how God forgave sinful men at the cross, and our obligation is to extend the same type of forgiveness to those who wrong us, Rainer said.

“We look to the cross because it is our example of the perfect act of forgiveness,” he said. “And in that act of forgiveness we learned how to forgive others.”

Second, forgiveness has no conditions.

Rainer learned how to grant unconditional forgiveness himself when, as a young adult, he finally forgave a high school football coach who had mistreated him, he said. Forgiving brought a new freedom in Rainer’s life and even contributed to the beginning of a revival in the small church he pastored, he said.

“The sin of an unforgiving heart and a bitter spirit forfeits the blessings of God and invites God’s judgment,” Rainer said.

Third, forgiveness not given means fellowship with God forsaken.

Believers’ salvation is always secure, but fellowship with God can be broken when Christians have an unforgiving heart, he said, adding that every Christian should examine his heart to see if there is a refusal to forgive anyone.

“Is there anything … that hit home with you?” he said. “Are there any people for the smallest of reasons, by our standards, to the largest of reasons that we need to forgive?”

When Christians forgive others, it gives the world a testimony about our salvation and strengthens the church to carry out its mission more effectively, Rainer said.

“Even though the unsaved world cannot declare us
unsaved in God’s eyes, they have the right to look at us that way if we are not loving one another,” he said. “And perhaps in this passage, and perhaps even more powerfully in your lives, God is saying, ‘Forgive him, forgive her because I went to the cross to forgive you.’”

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