In the new year maybe a good topic to think about is forgiveness. My wife and I have been going through a bible study called Re|engage. This past two weeks the topics were ‘forgiveness’ and ‘forgiveness in action’. It has been interesting and good thinking more deeply about forgiveness, but I believe we miss the point many times. Christians, Christian literature, faith-based podcasts and churches commonly talk about forgiving in order to release yourself from the chains of unforgiveness. The saying goes that ‘unforgiveness is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die’. It hurts you more than them, and until you release them from your unforgiveness, you are living in the mire yourself. But I really don’t think that is biblical. Yes, harboring unforgiveness leads to problems for yourself, but the motive behind that is still selfish.
True forgiveness should be like Jesus. He didn’t need to forgive us to satisfy Himself. He did it out of love. Because he IS love, it is indeed much ‘easier’ for Him than us. Yet we are called to forgive in response to what we ourselves have been given…unmerited forgiveness. The more we understand our own debt that has been paid, the more we can forgive the debt of others. In Matthew 18:21-35 the parable of the king forgiving the incredible debt of a servant who then demanded the small repayment from another reveals our need to forgive others because of our own cancelled debt.
This does two things. First, it puts forgiveness outside the need to get a response from the other person before or after we forgive. Second, it reflects Jesus and points to Him and His gift in our lives…and takes away the focus on us ‘getting rid of the poison’ to benefit ourselves. The impact is far deeper, greater, and wider. However, it is only through the Holy Spirit that we can truly forgive. There is still hurt, memories, and sometimes no signs of change from the guilty party. Forgiveness is much harder when there is no evidence of repentance. I think that even though early on forgiving someone in words feels less authentic when the pain, hurt and doubt are still there, it is still necessary to grant forgiveness (verbally if possible). Most know the principle of ‘where your treasure is, there your heart will be also’ (Matthew 6:21). Sometimes we must put our treasure (forgiveness in this instance) out there, and over time our heart will begin to follow. If instead we wait until we ‘feel’ like forgiving, then not only is that unbiblical, it may never truly or fully happen. My wife and I are learning the need to say “I forgive you” more often and in a way that reflects our inner faith in Christ. Externally I am saying the words even if they don’t feel ‘all-in’ or authentic at times, but internally I’m acknowledging my own immense debt has been paid by Jesus and I am called to forgive the comparably small debt of others. In this, I am trusting my heart will follow and understanding that forgiveness does not erase the reality of the hurt I have or condone the offense against me. However, it begins the process in my own heart, points me back to Jesus, reminds me of how blessed I am, and allows the other person the opportunity to experience God’s grace in a tangible way.
FORGIVENESS. It is hard to do well! It can many times be a process and not a one-time event that’s done and we move on. It is commonly more like ‘forgiveness sanctification’…being committed to doing it over and over regardless of how we feel, inching forward with both setbacks and victories, and consistently refocusing the eye on the cross.
Is there someone you need to start this process of forgiveness sanctification with this new year? If we have trouble forgiving someone, then first we must ask ourselves if we truly believe WE are forgiven in Christ. It starts with understanding the magnitude of our own debt forgiveness….Psalm 103:12 “as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” and Romans 5:8 “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us”. Our forgiveness is complete, unconditional, and unfathomable. Praise Him! Now let us all pay it forward in response.