Greetings to all who were present at SGF this past Lord’s Day for worship.
I want to clarify a comment that was made which was erroneous. When commenting on the story of the “Unforgiving Servant” from Mt. 18:23-35, I made mention that the small debt owed to the forgiven servant was around $10. I meant to say around $10,000. I forgot to mention a few zeroes behind it. That’s the last time I will teach my kids that zeroes mean nothing. 🙂
At the end of the day, 6 Billion to $10,000 might as well be like a buck that is owed in comparison.
Also, in regards to whether the original servant really was forgiven, because he is later summoned and thrown into prison after failing to show mercy, I would say that the forgiveness wasn’t complete. If the king truly forgave Him, He would have no grounds to throw him into prison afterwards. In some sense, the forgiveness of debt was conditional. So also, our future glorification is conditioned upon a persevering faith that evidences fruits of sanctification (though never perfect in this life).
If the original servant truly was forgiven of the debt, it would have been realized in his heart and would inevitably affect his actions towards others. The fact that his heart was unchanged shows that he viewed his forgiveness as nothing more than”get out of prison” card. He had no gratitude, failed to appreciate the King’s heart in the matter, and failed to apply the forgiveness received. He flunked. Because of his deficiency, the debt really wasn’t fully settled, but was reasserted after it became evident that this guy was using the “King” by crying out for mercy.
How does this look today?
Well, someone comes to Jesus, and from all appearances it appears that the contrition, repentance and faith are all genuine. As such, I would baptize such a person and declare to them that they are heirs of eternal life and that their sins have been washed away based on the signs of their repentance. I am not omniscient and only declare according to what is seen. This baptized professor goes out rejoicing that their debt is settled and uses it as a license for hatred towards brother, and all manner of unspeakable sin. When confronted with such sin, if the person fails to repent, they would then be “excommunicated”. This excommunication is intended to convey that they no longer have the rights and privileges to the Lord’s Table and Christian fellowship. Now, were they saved in the first place or not? Only time will tell. I think it dangerous to emphatically state that they indeed were saved and have now lost it. It is also dangerous to say that they never were saved, when in fact their season of disobedience might not nullify a very real faith within. All we can do is administer the “keys of the Kingdom” based on what we see externally. Some would protest that this sounds like salvation by works. We, however, are told to judge fruit and take into account the fruits of repentance. There would be no basis for Church discipline if we were to ignore the way people behave. Church discipline is not a system of salvation by works, but rather an act that protects the integrity of the Church, the doctrine of salvation and sanctification, and is intended to provoke the unrepentant to repentance.
If the one disciplined were to return to the Church, we wouldn’t rebaptize them or declare that they are getting saved over again. We would simply restore them to fellowship and rejoice that the prodigal has returned. Our concern is not to make infallible statements about the deep things of the heart, which God alone knows. If we committed the error of saying that they never were saved, then many would be reluctant to restore a fallen brother thinking that they are faking it again. This is the error of the Corinthian Church which wouldn’t restore the immoral brother. The other extreme is to so distort saving grace, that you refuse to discipline and actually boast of sin within the body (which the same Corinthian Church did before Paul told them to deal with the immoral brother).
These matters are intricate and need to be administered with a proper understanding of the boundaries and jurisdiction of the local Church.
Now back to the parable. This story is told from Jesus and the illustrations don’t fit perfectly our context. First of all, the King summons the servant back and throws him into prison. This illustrates eternal punishment. One needs to be careful with establishing doctrine from parables, however this action would constitute God’s holy and righteous judgment at the last judgment. It will be shown that this servant will pay dearly for his misappropriation of forgiveness. This story only makes sense if someone infallible is telling the story (Jesus) who is able to infallibly make pronouncements on what really was going on from God’s perspective (King). At the end of the day, the King did show grace and forgave him his debt with the assumption that the person would be changed. This person was not changed and therefore never really was forgiven…he was still bound by hatred, unforgiveness, and a vindictive spirit. He was still bound to the evil one and his own flesh. He was not transformed and produced no fruit. He would be like the seed that fell alongside the road that was eaten up.
Jesus said that we must abide in Him and that He would abide in us and that we would produce fruit. If we don’t produce fruit, then Jesus threatens judgment. This is the same language employed by the prophets to the Covenant community before Christ and it is the same language spoken to the New Covenant community. I see no inconsistency with how the Bible speaks to God’s people in warnings, pleadings, and threats…with the doctrine of “eternal security”. The doctrine of “eternal security” only makes sense in the eternal perspective on things for those whom are truly the elect of God. The “elect” cannot be lost in the grand scheme of things. The physical “elect” Church community, however, is filled with the decreetive “elect” (those who will persevere) as well as tares (those who gave minimal signs of faith to bring them to baptism and the Lord’s table, but whose heart is far from God and fail to seek God’s grace in sanctification). This “unforgiving servant” was admitted to the “Church” by the gracious actions of the King, but upon further review, he never made his calling and election a sure thing, but chose to walk in the “church” of Satan instead. His baptism and profession of faith are therefore now something to heighten the judgment on the last day instead of tokens of grace.
© 2010, Rick Hogaboam. All rights reserved.