In much the same way that worship is beneficial to the worshiper, forgiveness is beneficial to the forgiver. Worship is about Jesus and when we worship in spirit and truth we benefit. Likewise, forgiveness is about Jesus and when we choose to forgive we benefit.
Too often, however, we become the center of our worship and our forgiveness. We approach worship in in the same way we would approach a concert or sporting event. We critique the style of music, we rate the sermon, we evaluate who else is in the room, etc. Whenever we do this we find our souls left wanting. It is only when we let Jesus become the center of worship that we find life giving refreshment. Similarly, when we struggle with forgiveness it is most likely because we are holding hold onto partial truths that are self-centered, “The only one you are hurting when you don’t forgive is yourself.” Just as self-centered worship leaves our souls dry, self-centered forgiveness leaves us spiritually bankrupt as well.
The World's Currency
Sin breaks our relationship with God and sin breaks our relationship with other people. This is why we need forgiveness in the first place. Things are not as they should be, the world is broken. This brokenness causes people to act in selfish and hurtful ways.
The world sees this brokenness, which the Bible calls sin, and tries to make up for it in ways that are simply unfulfilling. For example, I buy my wife flowers fairly regularly. Multiple times I have approached the cashier and he or she has asked me what I have done to get in trouble. The worlds currency is fairly simple. If you make a mistake you must pay for the mistake. This is partially true, but is not sufficient enough to bring peace.
Difficulty With the World's Currency
There are two difficulties with world's currency when it comes to forgiveness. First, who measures the severity of the wrong doing and secondly, who measures and accepts restitution. Everyone is their own judge and everyone's scale is different. Typically, the wrongs we do are "not that big of deal" and the wrongs done to us are, "I can't believe that @#$%$% did that to me!!!"
To use the illustration of flowers from above. If I did buy my wife flowers because I was in trouble, who is to say that is enough? Because she is the one that was wronged would she be able to demand flowers as restitution. Are flowers enough? Perhaps she demands that I take her out to dinner as well. Does the person who makes the offense have any say or does the victim have the right to demand anything he or she wants. You can see the potential problems.
The bottom line: anytime there is an offense, there is a cost. Who is the one that pays for the offense. Un-forgiveness begins when somebody has hurt us, wronged us, sinned against us, and we desire them to pay. Often we will forgive a person to their face, but not let go in our hearts because we demand a different restitution than the one they were willing to offer. They offer words and we desire something else. We desire they feel the same way we feel. Or worse, they don't even know that they wronged us. How can you forgive someone who doesn't realize they have done anything wrong. Perhaps they have even apologized, but it doesn't seem like it is enough.
Again, sin breaks our relationship with God and with others. Ultimately, the restitution we owe to God is death. Sin demands death.
God is ultimately other than us. He is 100% love and 100% just. A God who is not 100% love cannot overlook injustice. Likewise, a God who is 100% just is by necessity 100% love. This is where Jesus and the cross meet. Jesus lived the perfect live, a holy life, a righteous life. The Bible tells us that Jesus was without sin. Jesus owed no restitution. So God, in his divine plan put forth Jesus to pay for our restitution. In the moment when Jesus was crucified God's demand for restitution of sin was satisfied. God remained 100% just in that the demand for sin, death, was accepted. God remained 100% love in that those who trust Jesus' sacrifice was sufficient are given credit for the life Jesus lived. In other words Jesus became my sin and in turn I became Jesus' righteousness. The Bible calls this grace.
The disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray. Certainly Jesus taught the disciples many things; however, this is the only recorded moment in which they specifically asked Jesus to teach them something. This is recorded in Matthew 6:5-15 as part of the Sermon on the Mount. I want to draw your attention to verse 12 which says, "and forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors." Jesus is makes a parallel between recognizing the what God has done for us and forgiving those around us. Jesus further emphasizes the significance of forgiveness in verses 14 and 15 following the prayer, "For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses."
Jesus' warning about un-forgiveness is sobering. If we don't forgive those who have wronged us then God will not forgive us.
This is because forgiveness is the core of the Christian life. Every transgression is ultimately a sin against God. In the Old Testament when King David commits adultery and has Bathsheba's husband killed he writes Psalm 51 in which he says, "For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me." David understood that his sin was a result of a brokenness that runs rampant through this world, this brokenness is sin which is rebellion against God.
Only when we believe the Gospel that we are able to truly forgive. Only when we recognized how much God has forgiven us that we are able to forgive those around us. If we don't recognize how much God has forgiven us do we really understand the Gospel? And if we don't really understand the Gospel can we be sure that we are truly saved?
How do I forgive the unforgivable?
Intellectually this all makes sense; however, practically this is difficult. Practical questions arise. Do I have to like someone I have forgiven? Does forgiveness mean forgetting? Does forgiveness me that you were wrong or right? How do we manage our emotions, because whenever we think of the situation our anxiety rises. The answer to these questions are found in the Gospel and the Spirit working in our hearts to sanctify us. When I struggle with forgiving someone I turn my attention to Jesus' Gospel (Romans 1:16-17). Often times when we are dwelling in un-forgiveness we are playing the victim (and let's be honest, that's pretty easy in our culture right now). As long as I see myself as the victim I will never be able to forgive. Here are three questions that help me focus on the Gospel and leave behind my victim mentality:
- Have I forgotten how much I have been forgiven?
When someone first comes to Christ it is usually in terms of asking forgiveness for certain sins. Perhaps he or she steals pens or continuously lies. We tend to think that part of me is bad because of something that has happened too me. We tend to think that when Jesus died for my sins he was dying for a certain portion of my life, we would say the bad parts. The parts we try to hide form people. As we draw closer to Jesus we begin to understand the call of Christ in our lives. It is not that we are good and something bad happened to us and the Gospel is there to fix the bad parts. It is that we are sinful and we need something good to happen to us. The Gospel comes to us; this is grace! Jesus demands that he has our whole life (Luke 9:23-27)
Paul's testimony is comforting. Remember that Paul was a religious leader. He did everything that he was supposed to do. Then he encountered Jesus. He testimony went backwards! First he says he is the "least of the apostles" (1 Corinthians 15:9), then he says he is the "least of all the saints (Ephesians 3:8) and finally foremost of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). It is not that Paul dove into sin after accepting Jesus' sacrifice, but rather as he drew closer to Jesus he realized more and more of how sinful he was and desperately needed a savior.
When I consider how much I have been forgiven I am reminded that Jesus doesn't just hold our sin and is crucified with it, Jesus becomes our sin so that we might become righteous (2 Corinthians 5:21). In other words Jesus becomes everything we are with our sexual immorality, impurity, passions, evil desires, covetousness, anger wrath malice, slander, obscene talk, lies, and self righteousness. Do I remember just how much I have been forgiven?
- Have I been regarding others in terms of flesh?
When a person surrenders their life to Christ they are a new creation in Christ. Their spirit is renewed and yet the flesh is still broken. This is the hope that Christians have, that just as Jesus was raised from the grave in the flesh our flesh will be redeemed. When somebody wrongs me I need to remember that everything is spiritual, we no longer regard anyone according to the flesh (2 Corinthians 5:16-18). Just as when David sinned with Bathsheba, he recognized that his ultimate sin was against God.
When somebody sins against me I need to remind myself that ultimately it is a sin against God. I have nothing to demand of them. After all, if I have surrendered my life to Christ, it isn't my life it's Jesus' life. I have nothing to demand in restitution, Jesus purchased my life with his death. Their debt is to Christ not me. If they are a Christian, I can go to my brother or sister in Christ and be reconciled. Jesus died for our sin so that our friendship can live. If he or she who sins against me is not a Christian how much more patience should I have with them. It is God's patience that leads us to repentance. They are acting out of a Spirit that is not renewed, why should I expect them to act in a way that is contrary to their flesh?! However, my forgiveness in their life is opportunity for them to experience the grace of Jesus. Forgiveness is contrary to the world's way of thinking and perhaps it will win them over.
- Have I lost sight of eternity?
Many Christians make a sincere mistake of think that when they surrender their life to Christ life will become easy. Certainly, it will become peaceful in the sense of a peace that transcends circumstance, but hardly easy. It most always become more difficult. Letter after letter and verse after verse in the new testament testify to this truth.
The Apostle Peter penned two letters of the New Testament: 1 & 2 Peter. He wrote these letters as the Roman persecution of Christians was increasing (thrown to the lions, lit on fire, etc.). In this letter he encourages the church that Jesus has them as living stones and is building them up as a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood (1 Peter 2:1-11). He goes on to extort them to not repay evil with evil (1 Peter 3:9). Similarly, John penned the book of Revelation in exile on the Island of Patmos. He writes in Revelation 12:17 "Then the dragon became furious with the woman and went off to make ware on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of Gods and hold to the testimony of Jesus."
We need to keep our eyes on the prize (1 Corinthians 9:24-27). This life is not the end. It has been said, "Everything passes through the hand of God." this doesn't mean that everything that happens God desires to happen, but it does mean that he knows your struggles and mine. He knows when we have been wronged and he takes account. We also know that everything works together for his glory (Romans 8:28). If God holds your eternity then he holds your everyday life as well. When I am struggling with forgiveness I need to remind myself of the big picture. I need to remind myself that God is using this life to prepare us for eternity with Him.
Matthew 18:21–35 (ESV)
The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant
“Another of the disciples said to him, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” And Jesus said to him, “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead.” And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. And they went and woke him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. And the men marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?” And when he came to the other side, to the country of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men met him, coming out of the tombs, so fierce that no one could pass that way. And behold, they cried out, “What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?” Now a herd of many pigs was feeding at some distance from them. And the demons begged him, saying, “If you cast us out, send us away into the herd of pigs.” And he said to them, “Go.” So they came out and went into the pigs, and behold, the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the waters. The herdsmen fled, and going into the city they told everything, especially what had happened to the demon-possessed men. And behold, all the city came out to meet Jesus, and when they saw him, they begged him to leave their region.”