Well, good evening to you all. Thank you to Hazel for that ministry, that beautiful piece in song. Thank you to all of you for coming again - as has already been said, some of you have been out previous nights, and you're with us again. Some of you have been out every night. I have to be here every night, but you don't! And I can appreciate that, so thank you for coming - and the Lord, I trust, has been speaking to us and moving in our lives. Sunday night I spoke on 'Life Eternal', 'Life As God Intends For His People' is 'Life Eternal'. Monday night, 'Life As God Intends For His People' is 'Life Empowered By The Spirit', the Holy Spirit of God. On Tuesday night we look at a 'Life Of Grace Not Law', and last night we looked at a 'Life of Hearing God', how God speaks to us. Tonight and tomorrow night we're taking the one subject, and that is 'Life Free From The Enemy', and the life that God intends for His people is free from the enemy, the devil - and specifically tonight we're going to look at two areas: the area of demonic oppression and unforgiveness. Tomorrow evening we're going to look at two areas as well, but they're very closely connected: the areas of fear and anxiety, why the believer should be free from the enemy in these regards. Then on Sunday night we're going to look at how the life of God intends for His people is a 'Life Of Love' - and that's a good one to finish on on Sunday night.
So I want you to turn with me in your Bibles to a very familiar portion of Scripture, Matthew's gospel chapter 6. I have been exhorting you these evenings to take notes, I would encourage you to do that. Of course, if you forgot your pen and paper, there are recordings available of the series, all the meetings. There are little sheets on the table on the way out there at the back, that you can take and order the CDs of the meetings and go over them again - and also there will be available transcripts of the meetings, word-for-word transcript of the messages that you can have in hardcopy if you prefer those rather than the CDs. Those are made available through 'Preach The Word', which is the website with all my ministry on it - people didn't realise that, I should have said, and you can find out a little bit about that on the prayer letters at the back. All my ministry is on the Internet in audio form and in transcript word-for-word form, and Andrew Watkins is the brains behind that - I just do the preaching, and he puts it all on there free-of-charge for the benefit of God's people. You can order any of the CDs of all the series for free, and they can even be posted to you. Somebody from Stranocum has been getting some already, I don't know whether they're here or not tonight! But there you are, isn't that amazing?
So let's turn to Matthew chapter 6 verses 12 and 13, and you know it of course off by heart, this is the Lord's prayer. Probably better called 'the disciple's prayer', because He never had the pray this part of it, because He did no sin, knew no sin, and in Him was no sin - but in verse 12 He instructs the disciples to pray. "Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one".
Let us pray, and as we come before the Lord - as I have invited you each night - I want you to come to the Lord yourself now, and ask Him that if there is anything that He should reveal to you, that you might say with the Psalmist: 'Search me, O God, and try me, try my heart, and see if there be any wicked way in me, any anxious way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting'. We're looking at demonic oppression, why not come to the Lord and say: 'Lord, if there's anything in my life that is coming from the devil, I pray that You will show me'. Also the area of unforgiveness, 'If there's bitterness in my heart, Lord, if there is someone who I need to forgive, Lord, will You reveal that to me?'. Now, are you man enough and woman enough to ask the Lord something like that? Now let me just warn you before you ask Him: if He shows you, you are responsible to do something about it. So you're better not asking if you're not prepared to do anything - but I believe tonight God is going to reveal things, and He's going to really challenge you, and He could change lives here tonight, I believe that. I believe He could deliver and liberate people from bondage that they are in to the devil because of these two areas. It's exciting, isn't it? So let's pray.
Father, we thank You that the Lord Jesus is stronger than Satan, and Satan to Jesus must bow. We thank You, Lord, that You have put Him above all, far above all. Through the cross and through the blood of the Lamb, we can overcome the accuser, that old dragon can be cast down through the blood of the Lamb, and our testimony concerning that blood and what it has done. Lord, we invoke the precious blood tonight, and the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Oh, thank You that we can say: 'In the name of Jesus, in the name of Jesus, we have the victory'. Lord, we thank You that You've put all things beneath His feet, all kings and potentates, presidents, prime ministers, all rulers - but all heavenly beings, O God, principalities and powers. We thank You that even the cherubim and the seraphim, and all the angelic hosts are beneath His feet - He's far above them all, He's King of Kings, and Lord of Lords. We ask tonight that, by the Holy Spirit, that His Lordship would reign and rule in this gathering. He said that 'The Spirit of the Lord has anointed Me to heal the brokenhearted, and to set at liberty the captives'. Lord, I pray, that by the Holy Spirit, the risen Lord Jesus will do that tonight. In His glorious name we pray, give the power of the Holy Spirit that I need, Lord, that all of us need to engage with You tonight. Give grace for difficult decisions, for painful, Lord, convictions that may, upon people - give the grace for them to go through with God. For Christ's sake we ask it, Amen.
I want you to turn with me a few chapters to Matthew chapter 12. We're looking at 'Life As God Intends For His People', 'Life Free From The Enemy' - and tonight we're looking at freedom from oppression and unforgiveness. In verse 28 of Matthew 12, you remember that the Lord Jesus was being accused by the Jews - it's a real turning point in Jewish history, where they are accusing the Lord of doing His miracles and His various mighty signs through the power of the devil. In verse 28 the Lord Jesus says: 'And if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God', He's asserting that it's not by Beelzebub, but by the Spirit of God - if this is what I do, 'surely the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or how can one enter a strong man's house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house'. Down to verse 43: 'When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, he goes through dry places, seeking rest, and finds none. Then he says, 'I will return to my house from which I came'. And when he comes, he finds it empty, swept, and put in order. Then he goes and takes with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man is worse than the first. So shall it also be with this wicked generation'.
In verse 28, look at it again, Jesus said: 'If I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you'. When the Lord Jesus cast out demons, He went beyond the precedent of the Old Testament. As far as I'm aware, there are several examples in the Old Testament of miracles, but there is no record of any prophet or any patriarch who ever cast out a demon. It appears that this great act was reserved for the Lord Jesus, in order that it should be a unique demonstration that the kingdom of God had come upon the people of His day. In verse 29, the Lord Jesus says: 'How can one enter a strong man's house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house'. Jesus is the stronger Man, who has invaded the strong man, Satan's, house. He has bound him, He has overcome him, and He has taken his weapons and is now claiming his spoils. Hallelujah!
We often understand the cross and the Saviour's work in terms of the past: that He has shed His blood, and we are justified, and our sins are forgiven and washed away - but we fail to appropriate the victory of Calvary now, to have victory over sin, the flesh, and the devil in this present moment of our lives. Particularly tonight we're looking at victory over Satan. Do you know, whether you're a believer or not, do you know that the blood of Jesus Christ and the sacrifice of the cross of Calvary gives us victory over the devil? Paul says in Colossians chapter 2:15 that the Lord Jesus, at the cross, spoiled principalities and powers, and made a show of them openly, triumphing over them through the cross. We read in 1 John 3 and verse 8: 'For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the wicked one'. Hebrews chapter 2 verse 14 says that the Lord Jesus took upon Himself flesh and blood in order that He might die, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is: the devil.
Now in the last two verses I quoted from 1 John and Hebrews, the word 'destroy' is used. The Son of God is manifest to destroy the work of the devil. The word in the original Greek literally means 'loose'. Jesus came to loose us from the bondage that the devil has us in. It can also mean 'to dissolve', He wants to dissolve the hold that Satan has on us. It can also mean 'to sever', He wants to sever the ties that the devil might have on our lives. It can also mean 'demolish', He wants to demolish the devil's kingdom. The word is 'luo', it has the root meaning 'to come unstuck', or 'unplugged'. So, literally, what the Lord Jesus Christ did when He came in the flesh and walked among men, casting out demons, healing various diseases, preaching the Gospel of the kingdom, was: He was plucking apart the devil's kingdom at the seams. He was dismantling the kingdom of this world, whose god is the devil himself. He was coming in to release mankind from under the sway, and the rule and reign of Satan. Christ came to free us from evil and demonic influences. He came to unglue the devil's hold that he has upon us.
I want to ask you tonight - maybe you're not even a Christian here, or maybe you're a backslider, or maybe you're a struggling child of God - I want to ask you: are you sharing in the victory of the cross over the devil and over darkness? Because it is your right, through the blood of the Lord Jesus. Turn with me to Ephesians chapter 6, Paul - having expounded the real blessings that we have in heavenly places in Christ - he gets very practical into chapters 4, 5 and 6. At the end he starts to address these powers of darkness that believers have to struggle with. In verse 10 of Ephesians 6, he says: 'Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles', or the schemes, 'of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armour of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand'. Then he begins to describe the armour that God has given us, from the tip of the head to the toes of the feet, how He can cover us and protect us from the enemy - but here's the question that I want you to answer tonight as a Christian: why would Paul exhort this? Why would he tell these believers that they're not wrestling with flesh and blood, but they have an enemy, and they are under attack, and they need an armour, if there's no danger of Christians coming under the influence of the devil? Why would he do this? Well, of course, he wouldn't - it's obvious that there is some grave threat upon the Christian from the powers of darkness, and the devil and demons themselves. Yet we go along our merry evangelical way, and you'd think the devil couldn't touch us because we're saved.
Let me show you this again from another portion of Scripture, 2 Corinthians chapter 11 verse 1, Paul says: 'Oh, that you would bear with me in a little folly; and indeed you do bear with me. For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ'. Now look at verse 3: 'But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ'. Just like Eve in the Garden was deceived by the subtle serpent, who was the devil, he was afraid - Paul - that these Corinthian Christians would be deceived by the devil. So if it's not possible for believers to be deceived by the devil, why is Paul wasting his breath? Oh, it's very possible.
Let me show you again, lest you think that I'm making all this up. First Peter chapter 5 - I'm just establishing here this undergirding principle for tonight, that there is a threat to believers from the enemy - 1 Peter 5 verses 8 and 9: 'Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world'. You've got to resist the devil, because he's after you. He's a roaring lion - and I have to say this: to a large extent, he knows that he has people who are unconverted, he's already got them; so public enemy number one for Satan and demons is the child of God, the believer. So I think it is obvious that believers can come under the influence of demons.
Now, is that something that you concur with tonight? Maybe you're being cautious just now, and you're thinking: 'Well, where are you going with this? I hope you're not going to suggest that Christians can be demon-possessed?'. Well, let me say something to you: the term 'demon-possessed' is an unfortunate term in the English language that has come to translate a Greek term which doesn't carry the sense of possession. You see, when we talk about 'possession' in our English tongue, we think of ownership - and right away we know that a child of God is not owned by the devil, he is owned by God, and he's possessed. We saw on Sunday night, he's possessed by a new Spirit, and that is the Holy Spirit, the very life of God that comes into him when he is born-again. So we think, therefore, that 'Well, demons could never possess a Christian, because he is owned, or she is owned, by the Lord'. But often what that can bring is a false sense of security. Whilst we concur that a Christian cannot be owned by the devil or demons, what the word in the Greek language actually means - it's often, badly I would have to say, translated 'demon possession' - is 'demonisation', and that's a whole different thing. That simply means 'coming under the influence of a demonic spirit', coming under the sway, or sometimes under the control. Now that can happen to lesser or to greater extents. It can happen simply by a thought that a demon places into your head that you know didn't come from you, or it can go to the further extreme of actually pulling the strings of your behaviour and dictating your actions.
Can a Christian be demon-possessed? Not in the sense of ownership, of course not. But can they come under the influence of demonic spirits and demonic oppressions? I believe the Scripture teaches yes. Second Corinthians chapter 2 has a very interesting verse, verse 11 - verse 10 reads: 'Now whom you forgive anything, I also forgive. For if indeed I have forgiven anything, I have forgiven that one for your sakes in the presence of Christ', here's why Paul said he forgave this man, 'lest Satan should take advantage of us; for we are not ignorant of his devices'. Now that has been translated in Young's Literal Translation like this: 'that we may not be overreached by the adversary' - that's what the devil wants to do! He wants to overreach you and trip you up! Another verse is in Ephesians 4, you don't need to turn to it, I'll read it to you: 'Do not give occasion to the devil', or as Weymouth translates it, 'Do not leave room for the devil'. The NIV translates it: 'Do not give the devil a foothold' - that's a good translation. It is possible for a believer to give the devil - probably not the devil himself, because he's not omnipresent, he can only be in one place at the one time - but certainly demonic spirits, it's possible for the believer to give demonic spirits a foothold in their life.
Are these Scriptures not teaching this? The problem is this: when you give the devil a foothold, it very quickly becomes a stronghold, and there is an area of your life that is no longer controlled by you. It's not very long until that foothold, that has become a stronghold, becomes a stranglehold - and it squeezes the life and the vitality of your spiritual experience, every drop of it, out of you. In 2 Corinthians chapter 10, if you look at this, it speaks of strongholds, verse 3, Paul reiterates again: 'For though', these are Christians he's speaking to, 'though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal', not fleshly, 'but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ'. So we have been given weapons, as Christians, to pull down strongholds. Now listen carefully to what I'm saying, and let me be as practical as possible - and I believe I'm speaking to someone tonight, more than one perhaps: if you give Satan ground in your life, even as a Christian, especially as a Christian, if you give Satan ground he will claim that area of your life - and he, effectively, will camp upon that ground, and he will take up residence upon it in your life if you surrender it to him.
It could be that there is someone here tonight, and you're dabbling in darkness. There could be all sorts of causes of this, but you know exactly what I'm talking about. It could be some form of immorality, some form of secret sin. It could be some habit, some addiction. It could be some occultic practice of darkness - and I alluded to this last night. I'm not sure you believed me or not, I hope you did, but I alluded to you that Christians are actually going to mediums to get inside knowledge of the future, rather than going to God. I'll back that up: there is a medium goes round the country, they're probably in Ballymoney, maybe Ballymena more, into hotels. They're in Portadown I know once a year now, maybe even twice. They travel all around, and there are posters everywhere about this clairvoyant. I know of a gentleman who was giving out tracts outside Portadown Town Hall, and he saw Sunday School teachers from churches in the town going in for this session with the clairvoyant. There are Christians reading horoscopes, getting their palms read, going to people for hypnotism to overcome certain habits, delving into alternative therapies of medicine - all sorts of weird and wonderful things that have their sources in paganism, Chinese paganistic Daoism, and all sorts of New Age religion. You know there are Christians - and this is very much upon my heart, I didn't plan to say this - but they will go to the devil quicker to get healed than go to God! They say God can't heal, but they run to the devil.
Now I want you to understand, believer: you're not immune. Ananias and Sapphira, in Acts chapter 5, sold a portion of their land and gave the proceeds to the new church in Jerusalem. Of course, you know what the big lie of that was - they made out that they gave all the proceeds to the church, but they actually held back some for themselves. Now there wasn't anything wrong with making a bit of money out of that deal, but they made out that they gave everything when they kept some back. In Acts chapter 5, this is what Peter said to them: 'Ananias', listen now, 'Why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself?'. 'Why has Satan filled your heart?', and he fell down dead, and they carried him out of that church. Now, was the sole lesson in this incident: 'Thou shalt not steal'? I don't think so, surely it was more to do with the battle over the inner territory of Ananias and Sapphira's heart? It was more to do with that than the piece of land. The problem was - and this is the problem, and this could be your problem tonight - Ananias and Sapphira, this couple, married couple, believed that they could be 95% obedient to God, but remain safely disobedient in one small area. This was a patch big enough for Satan to gain a stronghold, and Satan filled their hearts by it - it was greed.
Now I hope you know I'm proving all of this from Scripture. Can you see that? Neutrality in this universe is not an option. You're either for Christ, or you're against Him - there is no in between. In this spiritual war that has been raged through the ages, you're either for the Lord Jesus or you're against Him. Look at Matthew 12 again please, Jesus said this in verse 30, we didn't read it - it's in this context of this spiritual warfare: 'He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters abroad'. Then He goes on, and we read the latter verses, verses 43 to 45, and He tells them: 'Beware of an empty life!'. He talks about a house that had demons in it, and they were cast out, going through dry places seeking rest and finding none, and they returned to the house from which they were cast out and they found it empty, swept, and put in order - and they went and got seven other spirits more wicked than themselves, and took up habitation in that house again. The house was a man, a human being, and Jesus says that the end result of that man was worse than his first state. Now, what is Jesus teaching? You cannot have an empty life. You cannot have an empty life! Young people especially, maybe you don't want to get all tied up, as you think, with religion too early in your life. You think you can live free - well, you're finding out very quickly, if you're honest, that there is no such a thing as complete and absolute freedom. You're either a slave to the devil, or you're a slave to God - which are you? Believer, you're either fully submissive to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, or there is some part of your life that the devil has control of - and through it he is oppressing you. You need to be very careful, because the devil sees emptiness, or neutrality in a particular area, as an open invitation to come and start work - even in the life of a believer. Satan is a legal expert: if you have given him ground, he has a right to retain it until you deal with it before God.
I want to ask you tonight: what ground have you given over to the devil? Right in the beginning, in the book of Genesis in the Garden of Eden, Adam was given jurisdiction by God in His sovereignty - He actually sort of devolved it to Adam to a certain extent. What Adam did in the Garden when the tempter came along, he relinquished it and give it over to the devil. That's why at the temptation of the Lord Jesus in Matthew chapter 4, Satan could say to the Lord: 'I'll give you all the kingdoms of the world if You do this', because they were his. Now listen, believer: if you relinquish any part of your life, any area, to the devil because of choices that you make against the will of God, you can effectively be giving a right to the devil in that area of your life.
Now I know that this is shocking to some of you, but it ought to be - because you see as believers, we have got this wee evangelical hocus-pocus in our head, that because we have prayed: 'Lord Jesus, come into my heart', or whatever we prayed, that we are walking around immune from the devil. Ah, but here's where it gets tricky: we think we can dabble in all sorts of sins, and we just run and say 'Lord, sorry about that, will You forgive me?', without any consequence - and it's not true. I'm not saying you'll go to hell for it, but what I am saying is: you could experience hell for it, if you have given a right to the devil.
Now let me ask you now: have any of you, as believers, certainly as non-believers this is going to be the case, have any of you given rights to the devil in areas of your life, and he's hammering you with it? Let me be very specific: lust, Internet pornography is at epidemic proportions in the church of Jesus Christ, and nobody wants to talk about it. It's probably the biggest problem that is unseen, invisible, and unspoken, that we are wrestling with in spiritual warfare - but you're not allowed to name it from the pulpit. I have been criticised for talking about things like this in the pulpit - and yet the wee women that criticise me are sitting in seven nights a week watching 'Coronation Street'. If our children don't hear the truth from the pulpit, they're going to hear the lies in the playground. I'm not saying to talk inappropriately from the pulpit, I don't believe in that, I believe we need to reverence the pulpit - but we've got to preach the truth to counteract the lies of the devil. Man, and sadly woman, if you have given a right over to the devil by delving in pornography - do you know: pornography is wildly tempting, but it's extremely demonic. There are demons involved with pornography, and if you dabble in it, you're dabbling with demons that can get a hold of you.
Pride can also open the way to the devil. Do you remember a couple of nights ago I talked from Galatians 3 verse 1 about Paul saying, 'Who has bewitched you?' - and it was as if a spell had been cast on the Galatians, this legalism that had come in. I believe legalism comes from the devil, I do. Some Christians think they're really holy because they know all the dos and don'ts, and they have their own specific list of dos and don'ts - wait till I tell you: that not only robs your joy from you, but that can open you up to the devil and oppression. Sectarianism is a big one - boy, we could take a whole series on that one - sectarianism, I believe the devil has capitalised on it down through the years in our land, and I believe it's demonic. Bitterness, a root of bitterness can be capitalised on by the devil. Jealousy, envy, of course all the obvious ones like the occult itself, dabbling in dark arts, or idolatry. Idolatry is always connected in the Bible with demonism, behind every idol there is a demon, the word of God says. But wait till I tell you: your idol could be your Mercedes-Benz, or your three-storey. I'm not against people having three stories or Mercedes-Benz, as long as they don't become an idol.
How do you deal with oppression that comes from the devil? Would you claim deliverance through Jesus Christ? In John 14 verse 30, Jesus said: 'I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming, and he has nothing in Me'. Now if he had nothing in our Lord, and we are in Christ, he ought to have nothing in us! If he has anything in us, it's because we have given it to him. In Romans 6:16, Paul says: 'Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey'. The only way to deal with this type of oppression is: confess whatever it is that you have been involved in. Confess simply means to agree with God. Repent, that means change your mind and be willing to change your behaviour with the power of God. Renounce the works of the devil, whatever they are; cease doing them, but renounce your involvement in them - even if you've been taking oaths, and some have taken blood oaths, children of God who are meant to be in blood covenant with Jesus have gone into a blood covenant with somebody else - in secret, mind. They have brought a curse on themselves, and sometimes on their family. Renounce it, and then resist the devil. Submit yourself to God, resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
Time is running on, I want to move on to one of the biggest obstacles in the believers life that Satan can capitalise on, one of the biggest footholds that can become a stronghold and then a stranglehold - and that is the issue of unforgiveness. I don't want you to turn to it, but in Matthew 18 the Lord Jesus - well you can turn to it, we'll not read the parable, but we'll look at a couple of verses in Matthew 18. The Lord Jesus tells the parable of the servant who was forgiven a huge debt of, we would say, millions of pounds by the King. Then that servant refused to write off a wee tiny debt of a few pounds from his neighbour. You know the story, I hope: the King threw the servant into prison until he could repay the entire amount. This is what we read in verses 34 and 35: 'His master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him. So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses'.
Now what the Lord is warning there is that if unforgiveness is in your heart as a child of God, you will never know true freedom, you will never know life as God intends for His people. In fact, some believe here that the torturers here refers to being given over, as it were, to oppression and torture - just like Saul the King was, do you remember? He was tortured by a spirit that was allowed to come from God, why? Because of that bitterness that he had towards David, and his disobedience in various other ways. Do you remember what we read in Matthew chapter 6, the Lord's prayer? Keep your finger in 18 there for a moment, but do you remember: 'Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors' - this is a principle. We as believers don't like thinking about this one, this makes us uncomfortable. We like being told that everything is cleansed and forgiven, and we're off scot-free. We believe we're justified by faith, we spent a whole night on that, but we don't like this talk - there it is further down in verse 15, Jesus reiterates it: 'If you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses'.
What that means is: we are justified by faith alone but if we're going to enjoy this life of God flowing to us and through us, life as God intended, if there is unforgiveness or any sin between us and God the fellowship will not be there. We will not enjoy it. You see, our reaction to our offenders can do as much harm, if not more, than the original offence. Jesus says in Matthew 18 it can imprison us. Is there anyone here tonight in the prison of unforgiveness? Is there anyone here tonight tortured because of bitterness in their heart, and it's robbing you of the joy of the Lord? It's robbing you of life as God intended for His people! Later on in Matthew 18, if you go back there, in verses 21 and 22 Peter asks the Lord - the penny was dropping for Peter - and he says: 'Lord, how often do I need to forgive someone?'. He thinks he's being real overgenerous when he conjures up the figure seven: 'Lord, that would be something, wouldn't it Lord? Seven times, somebody does the same thing on you over and over again, seven times to forgive'. What does the Lord say? 'Peter, seventy times seven' - 490! But the Lord didn't mean on 491 that you hit them dig in the jaw - what He meant was: 'You just keep forgiving! Stop counting, Peter! Stop counting, and just keep on forgiving!'. Here's a law, here's a spiritual principle: if you want to know continual blessing from God, continual fellowship with the Lord, then you have to be continually forgiving others. That's it! Take it or leave it, but don't try and explain it away.
It's hard, I know. I find it hard - but maybe you're here tonight, and you know something in your mind and in your heart, a root of bitterness, an issue of unforgiveness, some unresolved incident or offence, and you know that that has come between you and God; not only between you and someone else, but between you and God. It's robbing you. But let me say that this is not just a consequence of conscious unforgiveness, something that is at the forefront of your mind at this moment, something you're constantly aware of, something that's a burden on your back and eating you from the inside out. This can be the consequence of subconscious unforgiveness. What I mean is: something that is unconscious to you at this moment, something that has been deeply hidden, something that has been suppressed in your past and buried so that you are maybe even unaware of it. You're oblivious to how it's affecting you!
Let me explain what I mean. Peter Horrobin wrote a marvellous book called, 'Forgiveness, God's Master Key'. In it he describes people, all of us, as being like big houses with many rooms. The rooms of the houses are memories that all of us have gleaned in our lives down here on earth. He says that a lot of the rooms, the memories, are wide open, the doors are wide open for us to come in and out of at our will and to enjoy - because they are pleasant experiences that we can retrace to and are comfortable with. But equally, he says, there are other rooms, and the doors are not wide open: they are shut tight closed - because behind those doors are painful memories, behind those doors are hurts, abuses. Some of those doors have the name 'trauma' written, 'rejection', 'betrayal', 'abuse', 'disloyalty', 'divorce', 'accidents', 'mistakes', 'sins' - and they're too painful to have opened. There are so many people who have so many closed rooms, that there are certain individuals who have very little living space left, and they're being crushed.
Then he goes on to describe that over time it's harder to hold the facade together that everything is all right. Eventually the mess that is behind those closed doors starts to seep from beneath the door, and others start to see it. It's like throwing a bit of cheese into the larder and closing the door, and leaving it there and never dealing with it - in a month's time it will visit you, the smell of it, isn't that right? Eventually the mess seeps from below the door. You go to open the door to deal with it, but you can't because the door is locked, and so often we throw away the key of these painful memories. This is what Peter Horrobin says: 'That is why the Lord Jesus has given us the master key of forgiveness, to go to those doors with Him; and to open the doors, and to go in and to deal with the mess, and no longer suppress, or hide, or bury those memories - but deal with them through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ'.
Remember I read from 2 Corinthians 2 a moment or two ago, verses 10 and 11, where Paul says: 'I'm going to forgive that man, that you forgive, so that Satan does not get an advantage over us'. Has Satan got an advantage over you because of unforgiveness, because of bitter memories, hurts, things that maybe weren't your fault? You've closed the door of that room, but you know all too well it was never sorted - and there are times in your life, and maybe this is the very moment, where the mess is starting to seep out and people are noticing.
You prayed, I think some of you did, at the beginning to bring to your mind people that you needed to forgive - has He? I think most of us, if we're honest, would have to make a list of people that we need to forgive. I think even if a name comes to your mind that you think, 'That couldn't be right', just write it down anyway, put on the list because God knows better than you, and you need to trust God. You need to go down your list - and I would encourage you, if God is bringing people to your mind now, put them down on a piece of paper. Take the key of forgiveness and release them, and release yourself.
Who's on your list? Most people make lists of family and friends and so on, but can I ask you: are you on the list? What do I mean? Well, a lot of Christians, and some people spoke to me about this last night, a lot of Christians - I'll illustrate it like this: I was with someone recently dealing with these issues one by one, and she was about to go down a list of people that she needed to forgive for various abuses in her life, and she couldn't get off with the first one. She couldn't deal with it, and then she confessed to me, she said: 'David, how can I forgive anyone else when I can't forgive myself?'. You see, there were things she had done in her life, and though she believed she was saved, and she was a Christian - a good evangelical sitting in the pew on a Sunday morning and a Sunday evening, and maybe once or twice during the week - there were things in her heart that she had never truly received the lavish grace of God for. She was still holding those things against herself. God was not holding them against her, she was holding them against herself. Is there someone here tonight, and you need to go on that list? You need to forgive yourself! Now I know it's only God forgives us, but in terminology what I mean is: just accept that He has forgiven you, and release yourself into the wonder of God's forgiveness.
I wonder is God on the list for some of you? God? Forgiving God? Well, we can't forgive God, for we have nothing to forgive Him for - but maybe you've got resentment toward God for something that has happened in your life, something He allowed, something that didn't happen that you felt should have happened. He didn't come through for you when you wanted Him to, your life has not turned out the way you wanted - and in your heart there is, though you wouldn't confess it in the prayer meeting, but there is a bitterness toward God and a resentment that is robbing you of the freedom of the relationship of life in Christ. Does God need to go on the list along with yourself?
What about parents? The reason why I say parents is because all of us are the fruit of our ancestors, aren't we? In the development during our infancy and adolescent years, our parents are the most important people in our lives, the greatest influences upon us - and they, of course, were influenced by their parents, so that affects how we were influenced by our parents. From the very moment of conception, our parents made choices that affected us. Now thank God, those of us who have good parents, but some of us didn't. Some of us had real bad ones - but can I tell you something? None of us had perfect ones, none of us. None of us are perfect parents, and we have made mistakes. We must thank God for the good that our parents give us, but we also need to forgive our parents, or other members of our family, for anything that was ever said or done that has had a negative impact on our life. It mightn't just be our parents - that would apply to spouses, and children, and close friends Because, and this is what I want you to see: people will object, and they'll say: 'Hold on a minute! You don't know what my Ma and Da did to me, you don't know how they warped my head, you don't know how they physically, or mentally, or whatever abused me! They don't deserve my forgiveness! Not only that, David, they still persist in that behaviour - they haven't stopped!'.
Maybe the person that is on your list, or the people, some of them are dead, and you think it's too late to forgive them. Please listen carefully to what I'm saying, what I'm talking about is forgiveness not primarily for the offender's sake, but for your sake! That's what I want you to understand: unforgiveness will have a hold over you that the devil will capitalise upon, to your spiritual detriment. You need to be free - until you're free, do you know what's really happening: effectively your abuser, whoever they are, is still abusing you. They still have a hold on you. It's as if you're still hooked to that memory behind the closed door. It's as if you're chained to your past, and you need to have those chains broken.
Now there are many misconceptions about forgiveness, and I want to try and clear some of them up quickly in the time that remains. Some of these thoughts I have gleaned from Neil Anderson in his 'Steps to Freedom in Christ'. The first thing I want to say is this: forgiveness doesn't mean forgetting. You know the saying: 'Forgive and forget' - that's a lot of bunkum. You can't forget, and I'll tell you something else - and I say this reverently - not even God can change the past for us. That's a hard statement, but it's maybe a statement that some of you need to face, because you're trying to suppress the past. Your struggle has been burying it and not facing it. Listen: God, when I say He doesn't change the past, He has chosen not, in our lives, to press rewind. He doesn't change the facts of history, what He chooses to do is heal the past and redeem the past - but we've got to face up to it, and we've got to face it with Him. Now I'm not asking you to forget what was done to you. I'm not asking you to forget, you can't forget. What I'm asking you to do is: face it and receive healing for it through the blood of the Lord Jesus.
Forgiveness is not forgetting. Here's a second thing: forgiveness is living with the consequences of another person's sin. Sometimes we want to run away - now I'm not talking about, I don't think anybody should tolerate the sin or abuse of another person, I'm not advocating that. We do not have to condone sin, even upon us - but we do have to live with the consequences of some of the things that have been done to us. As we would say, we have to take some things on the chin. You say, 'Well, that's not fair'. Well, it wasn't fair for the Lord Jesus to be pinned on the cross, was it? The Just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God - but, you see, it's not about fair, it's about grace. When the Lord Jesus was hanging on the cross, what did He say? 'Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do' - they do not know what they are doing. Now there's a myth goes around - and I know it's touching on a political sore point, but I'm beyond caring - that there must be repentance before there can be forgiveness. I'm not talking politics here, I'm talking theology, get your theology right first. Listen, the Gospel I find in the scriptures tells me this: that God, in Christ, has reconciled the world to Himself. That means the problem that God had with us as sinners has been done away with the cross, so that God - whose back was once toward us - is now facing us. Our problem is: our back is toward Him. He wants to lavish forgiveness on us, but we cannot enjoy that forgiveness until we repent - but He still offers it! He still offers it. Do you understand?
We are to do the same: we are to offer forgiveness toward those who have despitefully used us and abused us, and done all manner of things against us falsely. We are to love them and forgive them. If they don't receive it, they're not going to live in the good of it, but that's their problem. You say, 'Well, where is the justice there?'. Well, let me tell you where it is: it's with God, where it should be. We can't dispense justice - and that's, you see, part of our problem. We all want our pound of flesh, and I'm not minimising what has been done to you, dear person - I haven't a clue - but all I know is this: Jesus knows, and Jesus understands. It's not me who is asking you to do this, it's the Lord Jesus.
Romans chapter 12 says: 'Vengeance is mine', says the Lord, 'I will repay'. One translation put it like this: 'Do not repay anyone evil for evil', this, 'but leave room for God's wrath'. Leave room for God's wrath! There are certain things, like Jesus on the cross, that we have to take - and we read in 1 Peter 2 that this is how the Lord Jesus coped: 'When He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to God who judges righteously; who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree'. So what He did was, He said: 'Lord, I'm not going to take vengeance myself at this unjust act, I am offering it up to You, the Just Judge' - that's what we're meant to do.
Forgiveness is not forgetting, forgiveness is living with the consequences of another person's sin. Three: forgiveness is choosing not to hold someone's sin against them. It's letting them off your hook, it's a choice, and putting them onto God. It's not them getting off scot-free, but it means that you're not holding your right to judge them, but you're placing them onto God's hook.
Now maybe you're sitting here saying: 'I don't feel like forgiving them'. Well, here's the fourth misunderstanding: forgiveness cannot wait until you feel like it, it's a choice, it's a decision of your will. I want you to understand that if you wait until you feel like it, you'll never do it. You've got to choose to forgive - and here's how it works, I want you to understand: whenever we have held bitterness towards another, or in the matter of oppression wherever we have given a foothold to the devil, when we choose to confess it, or we choose to forgive someone, and we declare it - I believe we need to declare it audibly, because the devil can't read your mind, only God is all-knowing. I believe you need to declare it verbally. When you do that, Satan loses power over you in that area, and God will be able to come in and start to heal those damaged emotions - but you've got to choose it. If you sit around waiting until you feel like it, it will never happen. You must choose with the will to forgive.
Then fifthly and finally: forgiveness must come from the heart. What I mean by that is: it must touch the emotional core of your being. That means you mustn't suppress your emotions. When you come to the Lord and say: 'Lord, I confess I have bitterness in my heart towards', whoever it is, however long the list is - let the emotions, let the hurt, let all the scars come to the surface - because the problem you're in is because you've been pushing it down, and suppressing it. You need to let it all come out in the presence of Christ, the Healer and Redeemer, that He might touch you and restore you! You got to allow God to bring the painful memories to the surface - but, you see, we find this hard, particularly the men among us, because we don't want to lose it, especially in public. We don't want to start blurting or anything. Friends, we've got to get over this.
There's a lot of buried stuff, and you need to acknowledge how you feel towards those who have hurt you - and when that is done, when it really comes out of the heart, then the Lord can come in and really heal. He will change you from the inside out! In Acts chapter 19 we have exorcists, boys trying to exorcise demons who weren't even saved, and they were mimicking Paul, trying to do it the way Paul did. The demons cried out, and they said: 'Paul we know, but who are you? Who are you? Jesus we know, and Paul we know, but who are you?'. It says in my version - my own made up one! - the demons gave them a good hiding, that's what happened! The demons beat these men up. Fear came upon all the people in Ephesus when they saw this - do you know why? Because some of them were still dabbling, some of these Christians - and do you know what we read? Look at it quickly as we close, Acts chapter 19 verses 19 and 20, verse 18 says: 'Many who had believed', had believed, 'came confessing and telling their deeds'. So they had already believed, but they're now coming out with the things they had been dabbling in: 'Also, many of those who had practiced magic brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted up the value of them, and it totaled fifty thousand pieces of silver'. Now let me do a quick equation here: these were drachma, a drachma was more than likely a day's wage. The Internet tells me, I don't know how true it is, that a day's wage is 95 quid in the United Kingdom - that's a bit steep, I think, but anyway. If you multiply that day's wage by 50,000, do you know what you get? 4,750,000 pounds! That was the worth, in our equivalence today, of all these articles of the occult - but they burned them to get free. Look at verse 20, because of this: 'So the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed'.
There is a price to be paid, but what a result! Is there a price for you to pay to be free of the devil's oppression? Is it a profession, a career? Is it a relationship? Is it an addiction? You know, it's not going to be easy - but you know there's a price to pay for dealing with unforgiveness: pride. Are there any folk here tonight who will admit that they are not living life as God intended because of a foothold or stronghold that the devil has that you have given him, or because of unforgiveness in your heart toward another, toward yourself, resentment toward God? I don't know who it is, and I'm not minimising your pain, but what I am saying to you tonight is: you need to forgive if you want joy of the Lord.
Let us all pray. If any of you want to speak to me about this tonight, if this has touched any of your lives, do take time here to deal with it and get released. Even now, just where you are praying, do you know what you could say to the Lord, where you are - it would be better to do it audibly, maybe we will just do that now, do this audibly. All of us do it together, to help those who may have issues here, especially with forgiveness. Just say: 'Lord, I choose to forgive', and name the person - now obviously you don't want to shout it out, just take it on your lips, nobody need hear you roundabout but it is audible - but all of us together, say this together with me, all of you to help those here. 'Lord, I choose to forgive', and just take the person's name, or people's names, or yourself, 'for', and tell the Lord what they have done, whisper to the Lord, 'for', 'which made me feel', tell the Lord how you felt, 'which made me feel', and tell what the Lord brings to your mind. Maybe you are someone who has been resentful toward the Lord, well, say this, all of us together: 'Lord, I am sorry for blaming You', and tell Him what happened or what didn't happen, and repeat, 'I know You don't want to harm me. Please forgive me'.
Now repeat this prayer with me, a prayer of release from unforgiveness: 'Lord, I choose not to hold onto my resentment. I thank You for setting me free from the bondage of my bitterness. I let go of my right to seek revenge, and ask You to heal my damaged emotions. I now I ask You to bless', and name the person, 'I thank You that You love me and accept me, and I choose to accept Your forgiveness in Christ. In Jesus' name, Amen'.
Now if there is demonic oppression, let's pray one more prayer please, because I want people not to go out of here and not be free. I know we're taking up time, but this is important for people who are struggling. Let's say it together to help them: 'Lord, I confess I have dabbled in', and you name it before the Lord, take it on your lips quietly, 'I confess it is sin, I repent and forsake it. I renounce the devil and his works, and I plead the blood of Christ that this should have no hold on me. I ask You, in Jesus' name, to deliver me, and I ask You to fill me with Your Holy Spirit. Help me now to resist the devil, that he may flee from me. Amen'. Amen.
Don't miss part 6 of Life As God Intends For His People: “Life Free From The Enemy, Part 2: Fear and Anxiety”
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This sermon was delivered at Leaney Mission Hall in Ballymoney, Northern Ireland, by David Legge. It was transcribed from the fifth recording in his 'Life As God Intends For His People' series, entitled "Life Free From The Enemy, Part 1: Oppression and Unforgiveness" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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