PLEASE READ: Matthew 6:14-15
Until Christ came, forgiveness was something only God could truly grant. Although people forgave, the Law required reciprocity when it came to sin and civil grievances. The infamous “eye for an eye; tooth for a tooth” is something with which most of us are familiar. The forgiveness of sin was known as “mercy”, hence the Mercy Seat upon the Ark of the Covenant within the Holy of Holies. This was where the blood was sprinkled and the annual atonement for sin was made. God taught people to love mercy, but there was little motivation to grant it when wronged. And although the mercy of man was commanded by God and was sought with civility, we had no power to actually forgive sin. The only way sin was atoned for was by sacrifice. When that sacrifice was received by Him, He granted mercy (forgiveness). Therefore, the power to forgive lied solely with God. Mercy among men kept peace and civility. But did it actually remove sin? Sadly, the answer would be no.
Christ teaches something different. What the Law was powerless to do among men, we see Christ empowering. He again raises the proverbial bar. Not only do we have the power to forgive, but the obligation to forgive. And remember the reciprocity the Law required? Jesus Christ puts a whole new spin on it. It’s no longer an eye for an eye, or a tooth for a tooth. What is that reciprocity now? If we do not forgive, we will not be forgiven. Welcome to the age of grace.
Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you. And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost: Whosoever sins ye remit, they are remitted; and whosoever sins ye retain, they are retained,” (John 20:21-23, KJV).
What only God was able to do, Christ now empowers every believer to perform. This miraculous power to forgive comes only from God.
Suddenly, the reciprocity changes, and we are forced to reckon with ourselves. The motivation to forgive comes with dire consequences that exact God’s judgment not only for the offending individual, but for the victim of that offense.
We are forced to reckon with our own sin even as we are affected by the sins of others. That levels the playing field considerably. None of us are without sin. And we are all desperate for God’s forgiveness. The greatest parable Christ taught on the reciprocity of forgiveness was in the story of a king and his servants:
Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants. And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents. But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made. The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt. But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellowservants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest. And his fellowservant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt. So when his fellowservants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done. Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee? And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him. So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses,” (Matthew 18:23-35, KJV).
We will never be able to pay the debt God required for our salvation. Only Jesus Christ could ransom us. May we never withhold forgiveness from those who wrong us — regardless of their offense, or whether or not they are sorry, or whether or not they can make restitution. May we always understand the cost of God’s mercy required to redeem us. When we withhold that from others we belittle His gift — and we condemn ourselves.
Forgiveness and Justice
If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men. Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore, if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good,” (Romans 12:18-21, KJV).
One of the greatest hindrances to our being able to forgive is our innate need for justice, which is often exacted by vengeance. Vengeance is based upon the reciprocity found in the Law. Our nature desires justice when we are wronged. And to want justice is not wrong. But how we go about obtaining it is much different than what we would expect.
Forgiveness seems to glide past the element of justice in an affront that further offends the victim. When we’re hurt, wronged, maimed, grieved and damaged beyond repair by the sins of others — and we’re told to forgive — it can sting.
Truth be told, we’re not interested in forgiveness at that point. We’re interested in justice, which only God can truly grant. To forgive in that moment seems offensive and unfair. It seems unjust. Choosing forgiveness in a moment of tragedy, pain, and trauma is to play spiritual hardball. It’s not easy. When we lose loved ones because of murder, have lost our dignity due to rape, when our reputations are maligned and we have suffered irreparable loss because of lies and deceit, we can feel we’re in a position that needs healing and justice. The motivation to forgive is often missing. The forgiveness being asked of us is just too much, and quite honestly, it seems unjust.
But does forgiveness forego justice? Does it negate it? Absolutely not. Forgiveness releases God’s ability to enact justice on our behalf, when we release an individual to Him. Forgiveness does not mean we surrender our need for justice. It means we seek reparations from God. Forgiveness unlocks the door for God to step in and act on our behalf — and on behalf of those who offended or wronged us.
Christ’s command to forgive, and the consequences surrounding that command, have very strict contingencies. Again, there is a spiritual reciprocity with which we are forced to reckon, demanding us to forgive as we would want to be forgiven.
Forgiveness and Healing
And when he saw their faith he said unto him, Man thy sins are forgiven thee. And the scribes and the Pharisees began to reason, saying, Who is this which speaketh blasphemies? Who can forgive sins, but God alone? But when Jesus perceived their thoughts, he answering said unto them, What reason ye in your hearts? Whether is easier, to say Thy sins be forgiven thee; for to say, Rise up and walk? But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power upon earth to forgive sins, (he said unto the sick of the palsy,) I say unto thee, Arise, and take up thy couch, and go into thine house. And immediately he rose up before them, and took up that whereon he lay, and departed to his own house, glorifying God,” (Luke 5:20-25, KJV).
When we are victims of others sins against us, we need healing. When we fail to forgive those who have wronged us, we trap ourselves in our own sin, pain, and defeat; tying God’s hands.
Because we all have sin, we cannot afford to remain trapped in the sins of those against us, nor those of our own. Sin brings death — both the sins committed against us, as well as those we commit ourselves. Forgiveness is what unlocks the door to God’s healing and redemption. Forgiveness is a powerful gift from God. When we choose to forgive we cover the sins of others with God’s grace, removing the spiritual power of darkness that sin operates in against us. When we forgive, that sin is removed. It no longer has the power to bring death. Remaining in pain and hurt will lead us down a path of anger, bitterness, and resentment — all which bring destruction and death.
Through forgiveness, healing is able to come not only to us, but it is also released to our offender. God is able to bring them to a place of repentance for their sin, offering them the healing and redemption they so desperately need themselves.
Forgiveness and Redemption
Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do,” (Luke 23:34, KJV).
The LORD modeled forgiveness for us on many accounts. We learn that forgiveness, therefore, is very undeserved. It has nothing to do with our being worthy. It has everything to do with our condition and our desperate need. The forgiveness He offered was motivated by love and compassion. I discuss this at length in my Stepping Stones bible study, Effectual Repentance: Where the Guilt Trip Ends and Freedom Begins.
The forgiveness of sin that Jesus Christ brought was something the world had never before seen. It offended the religious leaders, precisely because it was not earned. Christ offered forgiveness to those who did not ask — and to those who did not even know they had committed sin.
We often take for granted the forgiveness the Gospel offers. For us, it is the norm. We treat forgiveness lightly. But what we need to understand is how truly extravagant that gift is, and what it cost God to extend it.
Never before had forgiveness been so lavishly demonstrated as it was through Christ. Never before did someone have the power to forgive sin. Forgiveness was not something anyone could grant. Only God could do that — and it required the proper ritual sacrifices of the Law. Because Christ was God, and because He fulfilled the Law, He demonstrated a power to forgive, and with His forgiveness brought redemption to all mankind.
When we choose to forgive, we choose His redemption for ourselves, as well as those who wronged us.
And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins,” (1 Peter 4:8, KJV).
How to Forgive
Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven,” (Matthew 18:22, KJV).
What is forgiveness? How do we forgive as Christ commands? Do we have to feel the compassion Christ demonstrated Himself? Or can we still be suffering and choose to forgive? Will God honor that choice despite our most vehement emotions?
Although compassion is the goal, it is not required. Forgiveness is not about your feelings or emotions. Your ability to forgive is an act of your free will. It is a deliberate choosing apart from anything you may feel or think.
When you forgive, and you’re bleeding emotionally, you may not be able to feel any compassion for your offender. But thank God He created us as free will agents in the earth. When He gifted us with the ability to choose, He set us free from all that would hinder or bind us from making appropriate and Godly choices and decisions. Using your will to align with God’s will requires a deliberate decision. It’s not likely one that you are going to feel — at least not initially. But it is one that God will honor, which will open the door for His healing and redemption to take place in your life.
Forgiveness, if we practice it as Christ did, is wholly undeserved. Although apologies soften the grievance, they are not required. God commands us to forgive all offenses committed against us if we are to be forgiven of Him as well.
Those who neglect this amazing gift, and the power inherent within it, trap themselves needlessly in their pain and grief. They will spiritually destruct. The power of that sin committed against them will bring death emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. And in their own sin, they will also remain. That is a recipe for condemnation.
We are able to escape all that through God’s gift of forgiveness.
When you choose to forgive, you are choosing life. When you choose to forgive, you are acting on behalf of Christ Jesus toward the individual who wronged you. You are ultimately set free from the power of their sin against you.
Give it time, feelings will come, and God will bring the healing you need once you open the door with forgiveness.
The power of sin is always death, but thanks be to God for the gift of eternal life in Jesus Christ. That gift comes to us as “forgiveness”.
When we choose not to forgive, we are walking in the power of sin — the sin committed against us, as well as our own. That sin will always bring death.
When we choose to forgive, we choose life — we walk in victory over the power of sin — those committed against us, as well as our own. When we chose to forgive, we choose mercy, justice, healing, and redemption. All which is afforded to us by the grace of God.
That is something the Law was powerless to do.
Cheers & Shalom,