Forgiveness. Many people have just as many explanations about what it is. Let’s talk about some explanations and compare them to the biblical record.
This is a subject that the Bible is certainly not quiet about. Nor is it oblique about it — talking only in parables that need such lengthy explanations. No, the Bible is quite direct about this topic.
Colossians 3:12-14 (NET)
12 Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with a heart of mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if someone happens to have a complaint against anyone else. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also forgive others. 14 And to all these virtues add love, which is the perfect bond.
We are to forgive as Jesus has forgiven us. That is a powerful statement. It is also a commandment to us. This is not a suggestion; it is a direct command.
Jesus forgave you. Then, after that you weren’t perfect. Oops, His forgiveness is retracted. No? You mean even if you didn’t meet His checklist of perfection He didn’t remove your forgiveness? He didn’t put condition on condition for you to qualify, did He? And “Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also forgive others.”
Let’s break that down a little.
“Just as….” This means “in like manner.” Or “The same way.” Even “exactly as…” When we talk about the fact that the Lord has forgiven us, we undoubtedly know that the Lord has forgiven us. We stand forgiven of our sins. Jesus has taken our sins and removed them from us as far as the east is from the west.
“So you also…” This means that you “in like manner” should forgive. Or that you in “the same way” should forgive. Even that you should forgive “exactly as” Jesus did.
What doesn’t this mean?
Did you ever read that Jesus said to someone: “your sins are forgiven; now move away from me because I don’t trust you anymore.” Or perhaps you have read Jesus saying” “I forgive you; now get away. I don’t want to hang around with you. These types of statements are the result of self-protection. You don’t want to be hurt by the very person you say you are forgiving. You forgive and forget and hold the very offense close so you — and the person you forgave — don’t have a lapse of memory about it.
So why should we forgive? Quite simple: Jesus tells us to in the same way that He forgave us. It is a call to obedience. We are commanded to forgive.
But I don’t want to. Maybe I don’t feel like letting the offense go for this person. What do I do now? Well, you need to trust God. God will change the situation. He will change the offender. Most importantly, He will change us so that we can completely forgive. What you have to remember is that forgiveness is not something that you simply do; and it is not something that you will make happen. Forgiveness is a faith thing. We must forgive our offender by faith. We do what God has commanded of us, not because we want to or feel like it, but because we are commanded to do so. It is not natural to forgive, rather it is natural for us to seek a form of revenge — even if that is to distance ourselves from the offender and seek to not interact with them again. This is not a Godly response, though.
Philippians 1:6 (NET)
6 For I am sure of this very thing, that the one who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.
We act in faith. God does the rest. When we move in faith God will work in us. And scripture tells us that when He begins a good work in us, He will perfect it. We are in His hands. Remember that this is not a loss of our free will, but rather it is walking in faith. When we walk in faith we give ourselves over to God to help us, to shape us, to change us. We have a perfect free will to, at any time, turn and walk away from God’s handling of us. That would not be an act of faith, though. See what’s happening here?
So we make a decision to walk in faith. We decide to forgive our offender. God, being pleased in our selfless act in faith, will then work in us to change us. This change may take time. We must continue to walk in faith and continue to forgive. God will do the rest.
But what they did to me hurt me. I forgave them and it still stings. Forgiveness can be a slower process. God is working on you from the inside out. There is a learning process going on, but know that God is setting our heart free from the pain of the offense.
“Forgiveness is the fragrance the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it” — Mark Twain
Matthew 18:21-22 (NET)
21 Then Peter came to him and said, “Lord, how many times must I forgive my brother who sins against me? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, I tell you, but seventy-seven times!
Wow. That’s a lot. Seventy seven times? And the NKJV says “…but up to seventy times seven.” That’s even more! It doesn’t mean that we should start counting and after seventy seven times or after four hundred and ninety times we can stop forgiving. No, it pretty much is an idiom of the times meaning “forever.” “Forgive them” is not a temporary thing. It is permanent. It is forever.
How would you feel if your salvation was temporary? What if after we simply didn’t get it right and we slipped up seventy seven times in our lifetime Jesus came and said, “Well, you’re done. No salvation for you!” He forgave you once and for all. It is not conditional. Peter didn’t say in Acts to believe and upon the name of the Lord and you will be saved, unless you sin tomorrow and then you’re lost to hellfire. Your salvation is not up to you to earn. And your offender is not to earn your forgiveness: it must be a move of grace. It is a command of God. Forgive. And because we are human and may backslide in this “effort,” we are to forgive again. And again. And again. Kind of like practice — until we get it right and forgive unconditionally like our Father in Heaven.
But I don’t want to — because I’m angry! I want revenge! You want to judge this person. You want to condemn them for what they did and they need to pay for it. They can’t just get away with it and I’m just supposed to forgive them and forget that it ever happened? Is that right? Is that just?
Luke 6:37 (NET)
37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven.
We simply are not to hold offense. We are not to judge. If we do, we will be judged. We are not to condemn. If we do we will be condemned. If we do not forgive, we will not be forgiven.
Matthew 7:1 (NET)
“Do not judge so that you will not be judged. 2 For by the standard you judge you will be judged, and the measure you use will be the measure you receive.
In the manner that you judge others, that measuring stick will be used against you by God. If you fail to forgive, then the Lord will have no reason to forgive you. If you expect great judgement placed on them, then God will place great judgement upon you.
When Peter asked the question about how many time we needed to forgive, Jesus related a parable to them. This is a bit long, but read it carefully for understanding.
Matthew 18:23-35 (NET)
…the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his slaves. 24 As he began settling his accounts, a man who owed ten thousand talents was brought to him. 25 Because he was not able to repay it, the lord ordered him to be sold, along with his wife, children, and whatever he possessed, and repayment to be made. 26 Then the slave threw himself to the ground before him, saying, ‘Be patient with me, and I will repay you everything.’ 27 The lord had compassion on that slave and released him, and forgave him the debt. 28 After he went out, that same slave found one of his fellow slaves who owed him one hundred silver coins. So he grabbed him by the throat and started to choke him, saying, ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ 29 Then his fellow slave threw himself down and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will repay you.’ 30 But he refused. Instead, he went out and threw him in prison until he repaid the debt. 31 When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were very upset and went and told their lord everything that had taken place. 32 Then his lord called the first slave and said to him, ‘Evil slave! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me! 33 Should you not have shown mercy to your fellow slave, just as I showed it to you?’ 34 And in anger his lord turned him over to the prison guards to torture him until he repaid all he owed. 35 So also my heavenly Father will do to you, if each of you does not forgive your brother from your heart.”
Verse 26-27 is a picture of our salvation. We asked for forgiveness and the Lord forgave us. But then we go out and hold offense against someone else? Why do we deserve what we are not willing to give? See verse 35: “So also my heavenly Father will do…”
Forgiveness is a commandment. There are plenty of examples in the Bible of how forgiveness looks, but the greatest of these is the salvation picture. Although we are imperfect, we need to emulate this type of forgiveness. Because we are imperfect, we need to continue to practice it seventy times seven times. And remember that if we make some allowance to make us feel good, which may really be the satisfaction of revenge, we will get the same measure given to us. We will be treated the same way. But if we try, and try, the best we can, then the sins will be covered in the Blood and God will see us white as snow. But in making our own conditions — I forgive him, but I don’t need to deal with him any longer! — are we sure that we are right? God will measure as we measure.
Pray about it. Walk in faith. Walk in love.