Embrace Grace Bible Study: Embrace Forgiveness

24 Comments | Posted on 02/06/13 | Categories: Bible Study: Embrace Grace, Blog

Embrace Grace Bible Study | Liz Curtis Higgs

“I know God has forgiven me, but I can’t forgive myself.” Have you ever whispered those words? Written them in your journal? Confessed them to a friend?

However noble it sounds, “Thou must forgiveth thyself” is 1) not in the Bible, 2) not something God asks us to do, and 3) not possible.

Only Jesus has the power to forgive sins. And his forgiveness is enough. Enough to cleanse us, heart and soul. Enough to set us free.

Step with me into a scene from two thousand years ago. The Lord has just returned home to Capernaum, and the news has already spread: Jesus is “in the house” (Mark 2:1 ASV). Oh baby.

So many gathered that there was no room left, not even outside the door,… Mark 2:2

It was SRO at Peter’s place: “so full that there was no place to stand” (ERV). We can imagine the people of Jesus Town, “jamming the entrance so no one could get in or out” (MSG), stepping on each other’s toes, jabbing neighbors with their elbows, craning their heads to see.

Crowd of People

Whyever they’ve come and whatever they’re seeking, Jesus gives them what they need most.

…and he preached the word to them. Mark 2:2

Call it what you will—“speaking” (CEB), “preaching” (CJB), “teaching” (CEV), or “discussing” (AMP)—Jesus is “telling them God’s message” (WE).

The people of Galilee are straining to hear Jesus speak the truth in love. One man in particular is rather desperate to get closer. He doesn’t simply want to hear Jesus: he wants to be changed.

Some men came, bringing to him a paralytic, carried by four of them. Mark 2:3

We’re not told how many others surrounded this “paralyzed man” (NASB), but four guys in particular are carrying him, each bearing a quarter of his weight. What a perfect picture of how we’re to bear one another’s burdens! Notice it’s not just one person struggling beneath the weight, but four people sharing the task equally, with others nearby, ready to help.

Oh, Lord, if only our churches looked like this.

Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd,… Mark 2:4

No one makes room for this paralyzed man on a mat. No one gives up their place. Though I’d love to picture myself as one of those kind stretcher-bearers, I fear I’m more like the crowd in the house, unwilling to step aside, too worried about having my own needs met. Sigh.

… they made an opening in the roof above Jesus and, after digging through it,… Mark 2:4

Wait. What kind of roof is this? Matthew Henry sees it as a one-story house with a flat, tiled roof, easily dismantled. Others describe a roof made of rushes. Whether they “removed” (NASB), “stripped” (CJB), “uncovered” (KJV), or “made a hole” (NIRV), the men break through the ceiling.

Roof Tiles

They will not be denied. They will not go away, disappointed.

Just give me Jesus.

Summoning all their strength, they get this man where he needs to go.

…lowered the mat the paralyzed man was lying on. Mark 2:4

Some call it a “bed” (KJV), but it’s more like a “thickly padded quilt” (AMP), something flexible enough for the men to slip cords around, so they can lower their friend through the new opening in the roof.

We can feel their muscles straining, see their faces grimace beneath the weight, imagine the crowd looking up in astonishment as a man on a mat enters the room through a door of his own making.

Except he didn’t have a thing to do with creating that opening. He’s paralyzed. Can’t move. Can’t help.

This is how we come to God, beloved. It is not of our own doing. The Holy Spirit is our stretcher bearer, delivering us to the only One who can save us.

Stretcher Bearer

When Jesus sees these men, he doesn’t notice the color of their hair or eyes, the strength in their arms, or the sweat on their brows. He sees what matters most. He sees what brought them there.

When Jesus saw their faith,… Mark 2:5

Their faith, not just the paralytic man’s faith. It’s plural in every translation. All of them are demonstrating a huge measure of faith. Like the woman who stretched out her hand to touch the hem of Jesus’ garment, these men are reaching down, trusting.

Jesus “saw that they believed he would be healed” (WE). He saw their faith. Faith itself may be invisible, but the evidence of it is clear in their actions.

Faith is the only thing these men have to offer, and the only thing they need. However much pain our paralytic may be in, however stiff his limbs, however hopeless his situation may appear to the crowd, this man and his friends have come to the right place.

Jesus is “Impressed by their bold belief” (MSG), and so speaks directly to the man lying before him.

…he said to the paralytic, “Son…” Mark 2:5

So personal. So like Jesus. You are family. You are mine.

…“your sins are forgiven.” Mark 2:5

His sins? We thought the man was merely sick. Stricken with a malady. In need of a physician.

Jesus isn’t nearly so concerned with the state of the man’s body as the state of his soul. Like every other human being on the planet, this man on the mat is paralyzed with fear, with shame, with guilt.

Being able to walk again will only solve his problem for a season. Walking in newness of life, free from the burden of sin, will solve his problem forever.

Discarded Crutches

With a word from Jesus, the deed is done. Forgiveness is offered: “The penalty is remitted, the sense of guilt removed, and you are made upright and in right standing with God” (AMP). Hallelujah!

Of course, not everyone in the crowd is happy to hear this.

Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, Mark 2:6

The teachers of the Law of Moses—the “legal experts” (CEB), the “Torah-teachers” (CJB), the “religion scholars” (MSG)—are supposed to be the good guys. Yet this is their standard m.o. in the New Testament. Complaining. Judging. Criticizing.

Notice they’re only thinking, not speaking. Simply “turning these things over in their minds” (NET). But when Jesus is in the house, even our thoughts aren’t safe from his gentle probing.

“Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming!”… Mark 2:7

Quite a charge that. “He’s insulting God” (CEB), “dishonoring God” (GW), “not giving God respect!” (WE) Worst of all, “He is speaking as if He is God!” (NLV)

Despite all their mental whining, these scribes hit the nail on the head.

…“Who can forgive sins but God alone?” Mark 2:7

It’s a rhetorical question; they know the answer: “Only One can forgive sins and that is God!” (NLV) So, if no one can forgive sins except God, Jesus must be…

Right.

Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, “Why are you thinking these things?” Mark 2:8

We’ve talked in weeks past about confessing our sins. Here’s the best reason in the world to do that: Jesus knows everything we are doing and everything we are thinking. Nothing is hidden from him.

Even so, he loves us. Even so, he died for us.

He’s not belittling these teachers. He wants them to learn too. “Why do you question this” (NLT), he asks. “Why are you so skeptical?” (MSG) I’m smiling as I read, “Why do you raise such questions in your hearts?” (NRSVA), when Jesus is now the one asking questions!

“Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’?” Mark 2:9

Hmm. As far as the words themselves go, they’re equally easy to say. But what Jesus wants them to see is proof that the man’s sins have been forgiven. And that will take a miracle.

“But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins…” Mark 2:10

There it is, the point of this scene: to demonstrate that God alone has the power to forgive sins and that, since Jesus has that power, he too is God. “You will be able to see if I really have this power or not” (ERV) he tells the skeptical scribes—and everyone else in the crowded house, who are watching this unfold with bated breath.

Finally Jesus turns his attention to the man who came through the roof.

He said to the paralytic, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” Mark 2:10-11

The man arrived unable to do any of those things. He couldn’t stand, he couldn’t hold his mat, and he definitely couldn’t walk home. Whatever happens next will not be because of him, but because of Jesus.

He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. Mark 2:12

We can almost hear the crowd gasp. Paralyzed no more, he is fully obedient to Christ’s commands.

This is how it works for us as well. We are able to walk and move and act according to God’s plan because of Jesus. He sets us free. He gets us unstuck. He makes obedience possible. It isn’t our goodness. It’s God’s goodness.

Amazed People

This amazed everyone… Mark 2:12

We still stand in amazement, two thousand years later. Wow, Lord.

…and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!” Mark 2:12

Jesus isn’t showing off to earn their applause. He is simply proving what the teachers of the Law were thinking: Only God can forgive sins.

Exactly.

Waste no energy on trying to forgive yourself, beloved. God’s grace is sufficient. God’s forgiveness is enough.

Now, it’s your turn:

After the early chapters on embracing doubt and sin, it’s a relief to be moving toward grace, isn’t it? I’ll make my answers to this week’s questions brief, since your responses are the ones that matter most. Pick any one of the questions below, or simply share a discovery you’ve made while reading this week’s chapter.

  • What was your best Christmas present ever, and why was it so special? What makes the gift of grace even more precious to you?

As I describe in the book, my favorite gift was a spinning toy, shaped like a colorful tulip. Watching the petals unfold to reveal a dancing ballerina was what made the present so special. God’s gift of grace is infinitely more precious, of course, and never ceases to astound us. It is the key to joy and peace on earth, and to life everlasting in heaven.

  • Are you a wall builder, hoping to protect yourself? Or a ladder builder, trying to climb your way to heaven? What obstacles, if any, stand between you and the Lord?

Definitely a ladder builder. Sigh. Forgive me, Lord, for wanting to earn my way upward, when you alone make eternity possible.

  • In what area of your life is it time to let go of the adversary’s lies and receive God’s complete forgiveness?

I’ve never been entirely confident of my mothering, so the enemy of our souls has gone overboard on that score, repeatedly pointing out my many mistakes over the years. Now that our children are grown, I am humbled to see what fine adults they’ve become, despite my shortcomings. God has not only forgiven me, he has also overruled me—doing what I could not do, loving when I could not love, comforting our children when I was not there to comfort them. For those blessings, and ten thousand beside, thank you, thank you, thank you, Jesus.

Your sister, Liz

Here’s what’s coming next…

The Women of Easter with Liz Curtis Higgs

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    24 thoughts on “Embrace Grace Bible Study: Embrace Forgiveness

    1. Pingback: Wellness Wednesday – 1st Whole30 Update « Her Steps, Her Journey, His Grace.

    2. One sentence in the book really stood out to me. “His grace is enough”.
      I tried to be the wall builder in life, however, I’d find myself letting the wall down, and then out of fear becoming “the sprinter”. Running from places, people, and Jesus. It had become my life cycle, wall building, sprinting, wall building, sprinting. I wasn’t embracing Forgiveness, for myself from Jesus or for others from myself.
      “His grace is enough”. His forgiveness is so true, and so freeing.
      It can be a difficult journey to really accept His forgiveness, to accept it in full and not allow the guilt of the enemy to keep resurfacing and reopening healed wounds. To learn how to embrace His forgiveness and give to Him the guilt when it does resurface. I know I’m finally just beginning to really understand how to do that, and to accept the gift and joy of His forgiveness. Embracing Forgiveness is just Freedom, a Freedom I am in humble awe of.
      Thanks again for the study Liz.

    3. god i am struggling hard about to lose the only home i know and fighting with my ex husband trying to raise 3 kids reminders of my many mistakes trying to have faith but tear others down because of my fear and wrong decisions i live with daily god i need help to be who pleases god i need to surrendar

      • Oh, Kim, my heart aches to read of ALL you are dealing with right now. Challenge upon challenge. You have come to the right conclusion: surrender. Let God’s love for those three dear children flow through you. I am praying right now, and I am sure others have as well. You are loved, Kim. Always and forever.

    4. Forgiveness for me is as hard to give as it is to receive. I didn’t realize to what extent until getting ready to write my response. I want to forgive, and think it is genuine at the time, but if “the offender” offends again, the old hurt and feelings are right there. It hinders me from having the true peace that God wants for us in our lives. Unfortunately, I keep my offenses toward God and others that close too. The next time I trip and fall and am ashamed before God all the other “stuff” or times past come flooding back to where it seems too big to be forgiven for. This is totally wrong, I know, scripture tells us our sins will be removed as far as the east is from the west. Our confession before God for our transgressions frees us from them, guilt and all. I need to remind myself of this and know God’s Word is a promise, not just something He said. Embracing Forgiveness is on each child of God in order to be able to draw nearer to Him and receive the full blessing from our relationship with Him. Thank you for breaking this book down into steps to take, not a mountain to climb. As ever love the good work you do to encourage us, thanks Liz.

      • Tammy, I so get the challenge with believing something is true, yet behaving like it’s not. BEEN THERE. Some days, AM THERE. Here’s what I love about the promises of God: they are a finished work. My promises sound like, “I hope to do thus-and-so,” but when God says he will do it, it’s DONE! Blessings, sis.

    5. A new thought: we don’t have to forgive ourselves –Jesus did that — for all my sins.
      My purpose to give/show God’s love and forgiveness to others.

    6. I am totally enthralled with the realization that I do not have to forgive myself! Having God’s forgiveness is all I need. It is finished!!

    7. Ask and you will receive –powerful words but not so easy to believe–we ask ourselves —am I WORTHY ENOUGH –why should God listen to me? Because he does love us–like you said in this study–Jesus knows everything about us-our thoughts-our needs-wants-even before we ask him–we just have to humble ourselves before him and pray and seek the Lord and overcome every barrier and he will be there for us no matter what,

    8. The Holy Spirit is our stretcher bearer, what a wonderful way to view how he helps us. When we can not help ourself he will carry us to Jesus, to forgive us our sins and to heal our body. What more could we want?

      Thank you Liz for the time you are investing in so many lives by prepairing and giving us these great studies.

    9. Why is it that sometimes it is so hard to believe that we, as treasured daughters of Christ, find it so hard to believe that we are forgiven but find it so easy to believe in the lies that the enemy tells us day after day. I am a ‘repeat offender”. I know the joy, the peace, and liberty that having faith in my God brings, but I still am apt to believe in what satan tells me.

      One of the keys to my spiritual walk with God, is believing in God’s forgiveness even when I cannot see it. Holding on to my own assumptions about being forgiven is emotionally exhausting. But when I trust the Lord, I have perfect peace.

      While I am to live in faith and hope, my most important dwelling place is God’s love. Without making His love my ultimate dwelling place, I cannot live in faith and hope.
      I refuse to take another step or breathe without remaining keenly sensitive to my Father’s love and forgiveness.

      Thank you Liz for your beautiful writing – and thank you God for bringing you to us.

      • Ohhh, a “repeat offender.” I hear that loud and clear, Michelle. Very powerful truth. And yet, how good is God, not just to put up with us, but to genuinely love us. Faithful, faithful, faithful God.

    10. I am definitely a wall builder, but I also think now that I have a ladder inside that wall trying to earn my way up. Being isolated from pain and trying to hide from shame and
      guilt by trying to be that perfect Good Girl. The comments that spoke to me from the study of Mark was:
      “Jesus isn’t nearly so concerned with the state of the man’s body as the state of his soul. Like every other human being on the planet, this man on the mat is paralyzed with fear, with shame, with guilt.

      Being able to walk again will only solve his problem for a season. Walking in newness of life, free from the burden of sin, will solve his problem forever.” I spend alot of time trying to look good on the outside and forgetting that I need to be whole on the inside for freedom to take hold of my life. I have begun to take a closer look at the sin in my life and the issues of my life I have thought I have hidden behind my wall. I guess nearing 60 years old is still never too old to begin anew! What an amazing gift God has given you LIz to speak straight to our hearts. Thanks Liz!

    11. Hmmm, best Christmas gift – I thought -Easy bake oven. Than I remembered, I wanted one, I didn’t get one. Hehehe, but I did get God’s amazing grace and His forgiveness in my heart because I ask. I believed, and He so freely gave -forgiveness of my sins and a whole new life. Thank you Jesus! And thank you Liz, these Bible Study times are so rich. Bless you!

    12. The concept of receiving Christ’s grace (embracing it) is so simple, but I think we complicate it and block it (with crossed arms) with our own shame and attempts to self-fix. At least this is where I’ve often found myself. So I suppose I’m both a ladder-builder and a wall-builder (does that make me double-guilty? lol). I won’t be able to receive Jesus’s forgiveness OR healing until I uncross my stubborn arms and open my control-clenched fists. Forgive me, Lord – sometimes this is a daily exercise. In some ways I hope I’m the only one who struggles with this, but in many ways I realize I’m not. I’m so thankful that regardless of the posture of my arms or my heart, He is always open-handed toward me. His forgiving grace is astonishing, and I’m grateful. So thankful for your encouraging words, too, Lizzie. This was good Bread for me today.

    13. Embracing grace means embracing His love. Once you get that rooted deep in your soul, well the flood gates are open! I was just in the hospital and rehab for 13 days. The women streamed into my room, one by one, each shift and we talked about God, not settling for less than they deserve, their future, their dreams, their children…it was wonderful. And why me, why my room? Jesus, they felt Jesus. One lady who had been a teacher in Africa but now was a nurses aide here, told me about her legacy in life, “My children believe,” she said as she pointed up to Heaven and smiled. And the last morning at breakfast we all realized we were Believer’s and would meet again in Heaven. Despite the pain and the trials it was the best gift ever, boxed and wrapped with a satin bow. God is so good!

      • Yeah!! As someone in the healthcare profession, I am so encouraged by your words! We never know what kind of impact they will have on others!

    14. Favorite gift? It has to be when my big brother, who was working as a waiter, gave me his large glass jug that was filled with the change from the tips he made. He had been emptying his pockets and saving his change for who knows how long! He didn’t try to count it first, just gave it to me not knowing how much, but that it was a substantial amount! I had a ball counting it and putting it in wrappers…if memory serves me correctly, it was at least $80! Pretty steep for a waiter to be spending on his kid sister. I felt loved! Jesus’ gift of grace was even more costly; instead of counting the cost, he focused on the “joy set before him(of God’s glory and having His friends join Him), endured the cross…” Heb. 12:2

    15. Liz, what an eye opener this was for me to learn that God’s grace was enough… and that we didn’t have to forgive ourselves as God’s grace covered that too! The more I thought about how all this worked, honestly though, the more confused I became. Even with God’s forgiveness & His grace, the hurt of what we did can still remain. I asked others their thoughts on this and had it explained to me in this way. Basically, once we tell God we are sorry, we need to accept God’s love and His forgiveness. Then humble ourself, accept the reality of who we are (yes I did this – I’m a sinner), AND accept our acceptance in Him! Despite our mistakes, God forgives us and loves us any ways!! His grace is enough! What love!
      Thank you Liz for your insight and for causing me to dig deeper!

      place where I can accept the reality of who I am

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