Santa Claus Theology – Matthew 18:21-22

“Then Peter came to him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times? No, not seven times, Jesus replied, but seventy times seven!” (Matthew 18:21-22, NLT)

In a series of stories and parables Jesus explained how His followers should get along with one another.

So Peter asked Jesus how many times he should forgive someone who sins against him.

Peter probably supposed with his suggestion of seven times he was being magnanimous. But Jesus’s recommendation of seventy times seven was astounding!

It was the same as saying always forgive someone who sins against you!

While it is quite ordinary behavior not to allow someone to mistreat you repeatedly, but it is most extraordinary behavior to forgive them if they do!

And Jesus constantly encouraged such radical behavior from those who followed Him.

But this radical behavior can’t be formulated into a list of do’s and dont’s. It’s a matter of the heart, a lifestyle!

Jesus’s intention was not to create good people out of His disciples, but to establish God’s righteousness in their hearts.

And forgiveness was a matter of the heart, a lifestyle, not a one-time, or seven-time, or seventy-time, or even seventy-times-seven behavior.

C.S. Lewis once said that improvement is not redemption. He said that being Jesus’s disciple was more than a matter of being a nice person, or even an extremely nice person!

Jesus is preparing us for eternity and so the real issue is not how many times your were nice to somebody but how your heart is. Not what your are, but what you are becoming!

Unfortunately, our understanding of what Jesus was teaching us about God’s righteousness is sometimes based on a sort of Santa Claus theology: “He sees you when you’re sleeping. He knows when you’re awake. He knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake!”

And then we become like Peter in this story.

We perceive God as being up in heaven keeping a list of how many times we have been naughty or nice. And, if at the end of our lives we have more good behavior than bad behavior, then we make it into heaven.

But God is not keeping score to determine your eternal outcome.

And you couldn’t be good enough, even if He was. God knows that. That’s why He sent His Son, Jesus, to conquer sin and death for us!

Eternity starts now and how you choose to spend your eternal life is not a matter of being naughty or nice. It’s a matter of a transformed heart and a redeemed life, which occurs when God imputes His righteousness into your life by your faith in Jesus, God’s Son.

“If we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us,”(1 John 4:12, NLT

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