The Call to Forgiveness
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“For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” Matthew 6:14,15
Forgive! Forgive! Forgive! These are the very words of our Lord Jesus as he taught his paramount Sermon on the Mount. Our precious Savior knew that a life without forgiveness was not a life to be lived. In forgiveness there is peace and joy for the soul and without forgiveness there is only anger, bitterness and loneliness. Romans 14:17 tells us “the Kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.” What a wonderful way to live - in righteousness, peace and joy that can come only from the Holy Spirit of the Living God!
The antonyms for righteousness, peace and joy are wickedness, war and sorrow respectively. This accurately portrays a heart that harbors unforgiveness. Wickedness demonstrates itself through the constant malicious thoughts and actions towards the one who has committed the offense. Our hearts war over the desire for freedom but the unwillingness to relinquish the accused from their punishment. We war over our need to move on but our reality of reliving the past. Sorrow consumes us as unforgiveness keeps us from getting close to anyone including the Lord. For you see, Jesus himself said that if we do not forgive, then we cannot be forgiven. (Matthew 6:14,15) When we vow to never forgive someone for an offense against us, we lock ourselves into a life of wickedness, war and sorrow. It is only through the forgiveness of the Father that we can experience a life of righteousness, peace and joy, which is the abundant life of His kingdom that He desires to share.
This teaching is something that I had to grasp early on in my walk with the Lord. It is also something that I have had to learn to walk out each day of my life. I came to the Lord at the age of fifteen and had seen more in those short fifteen years than most will ever watch on the evening news in a lifetime. Mine had been a life of abuse, abandonment, confusion and loneliness since the day I was conceived. The Lord truly pulled me from the miry pit of life and gave me a hope and a future. “He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.” Psalm 40:2 - “For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11 My salvation truly was a miracle and I understand fully what 2 Corinthians 5:17 speaks of when it talks of us being new creatures in Christ. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”
My first interaction with the Lord’s teaching on forgiveness was the day I knelt at the foot of the cross, broken and tired and alone. The youth pastor of the church that I had stumbled into gave a true Gospel salvation message the third Wednesday night of my attendance. I had never heard such an incredible story before in my life. I saw Jesus, this good and humble man, hanging on a cross in shame and loneliness. He was experiencing all that I had been feeling; yet he was choosing it. What was more unbelievable was that He was choosing to do it for me. For so long I had been casting the blame on other people, seeing all of the wrong that had been done to me. I had been the innocent victim, and the world had been at fault.
To some extent that was true. I did not choose to be placed into some of the circumstances I had found myself. However, for the first time I was witnessing a truly innocent person being hurt for absolutely no reason. My only response was to weep. I wept from the bottom of my toes. I wept that such an intense love could ever exist. I wept that such a love could be poured out for me. I wept because I finally saw my own sin and my own part in my pain and loneliness. I wept and cried aloud for the forgiveness that I was told could be mine.
It is a night that I shall never forget. I learned a lot about forgiveness in my first months as a Christian. I learned that forgiveness brings freedom. It brings healing to hearts and souls and relationships. I saw and experienced first hand the joy and peace that forgiveness brings. I also learned that forgiveness is not conditional and that it is complete. There was nothing I could say or do to add to the forgiveness and redemption that was given to me by Jesus’ death and resurrection. I also learned that the reality of forgiveness is a choice. Yes, I had been given complete freedom through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Did I always feel forgiven? No way. There were many times that I struggled with condemnation and guilt. In order for the forgiveness that I knew that I had to be a reality in my life, I had to make a choice to walk in that forgiveness each day. When the thoughts and feelings of guilt began to hang heavy on my heart, I simply had to declare that I was forgiven. With the passing of time and diligence of those declarations, those feelings of guilt and condemnation began to come less and less.
I learned as well that forgiveness does not erase what took place. I had committed sins. I could not tell people that I was a virgin simply because I had been forgiven for the sin of premarital sex. Forgiveness did not erase the action; it merely eradicated the punishment for that action. A teacher that I heard once said that a pardon (or forgiveness) is not an acquittal. It is releasing someone from the punishment they deserve. A pardon recognizes that an offense was committed, yet it chooses to release the offender from his or her deserved punishment: just as the Lord knew that I was a sinner, yet he chose to release me from the death that I deserved. “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
It did not take long for these concepts to begin to trickle into my earthly relationships. I had to learn that if I was going to walk out the forgiveness given to me by Jesus, I had to extend it to others. I had to take all of those things that I had received at the foot of the cross and begin filtering them into my past, present and future relationships. My Heavenly Father began the process of removing my heart of stone and replacing it with a heart of flesh. “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” Ezekiel 36:26 This is a procedure that is neither quick nor pleasant, but the result was simply astounding!
When I came to know the Lord, I had a heart made of stone. It was cold and calloused from all the pain and emptiness that it had known. I had decided that the entire world was against me and, therefore, I had to be completely independent to survive. In my efforts to survive I made a decision to never allow anyone to get close to me again because after all it was through people that I had been hurt. My survival tactics had been fueled by my bitterness and resentment. I would prove all of the people wrong that had spoken negatively to me over the years. I was a mess emotionally.
At that moment of my salvation when I received the sweet forgiveness of the Lord, He began the surgery of removing my heart of stone and replacing it with one of flesh. Over the next year, He helped me to acknowledge emotions and events that I had long ago repressed. I cried more in my first year as a Christian than I had before or since. It was a year of relinquishment.
You see, all of those glorious concepts of forgiveness that had brought me freedom on the day of my salvation were being walked out in my life. The Lord was challenging me to allow those same concepts to invade the dark areas of bitterness and anger that for so long had held me captive. He knew that it was only through my forgiving the sins of others that I could ever fully experience the forgiveness that He offered me.
The first thing that I had to realize was that Jesus was not asking me to acquit those who had hurt me. I did not have to deny the pain or pretend that no wrong was done. He was charging me to pardon them; release them from the punishment they deserved. You see, I had deserved death for the sins I had committed. Yet, my precious redeemer offered me a pardon and life in place of the death I had earned. He desired me to now hold out that spirit of pardon to the people in my own life.
All of those things I had experienced for myself, I now had to sift through my relationships. I learned that forgiveness brings freedom. As I began to relinquish the bitterness and anger and pain, I was suddenly free. I was not bound by a desire for revenge or limited by the chains of fear. I was free to feel and love and live.
Forgiveness brings healing to hearts and souls and relationships. I had desperately longed for healing from the pain for so many years. As I began to implement the Lord’s standards of forgiveness my heart began to heal. The memories were still there, but they no longer caused me pain to remember. I often tell people that when I remember my past it is almost as if I am watching a movie of someone else’s life. I saw and experienced first hand the joy and peace that forgiveness brings.
I also learned that forgiveness is not conditional and that it is complete. There was nothing I could say or do to add to the forgiveness and redemption that was given to me by Jesus’ death and resurrection. So, there was nothing that I should expect from others to extend my forgiveness to them. I could not wait for them to apologize or even acknowledge their wrongdoing. I could not wait for them to pursue reconciliation or do something to somehow make up for the pain they had caused. I was forgiven before I ever knelt before the Lord the night of my salvation. That night I merely received the forgiveness He had already secured for me. Therefore, I had to forgive unconditionally before it was ever sought of me.
I also learned that the reality of forgiveness is a choice. In the beginning, anger remained. I had to choose daily to forgive. I had to declare that those who had wronged me were forgiven in my heart and released from the punishment they deserved. And with the passing of time and the diligence of those declarations, that forgiveness became a reality and the anger disappeared. Gradually, I could hear someone’s name spoken without wincing or bump into a person and keep a genuine smile on my face. Forgiveness is a choice, and as I made the choice to walk it out daily, moment by moment, that choice slowly transformed my feelings to line up with the decision that I had made.
I realize that this is an extreme example, but I know that this is the way that the Lord desires that we live each day of our lives. He wants forgiveness to be the attitude in which we walk. Whether or not the offense is as great as some of my initial issues as a Christian or whether they are as small as someone cutting us off in traffic, Jesus wants forgiveness to be a part of all that we do.
I also would like to point out that although I think that the spirit of forgiveness would radically transform our marriages, I do not think that we need to stop there. This is a principal that we can apply to every relationship in our lives. It is a principal that will enable us to carry out all the other mandates we are talking about. I encourage you to allow the Lord to search your heart, bring freedom and healing to your pain and irritations, and empower you to extend that same forgiveness to others.
The Real World…
Forgiveness is a big word. It is one of those things we can spit out through clenched teeth with a wince on our faces. Although it is choice, it must be a sincere choice coming from a heart that intends to honor the declarations of its mouth. None of these practical aspects of walking with a spirit of forgiveness will reap a life of freedom if they are done with a root of bitterness in our hearts that we are not willing to relinquish. “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.” Romans 12:9
Remember your own salvation. I believe that the key to walking in forgiveness towards others is to always be mindful of our own salvation. When we remember the fact that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23 then we must also recall that even though we were sinners, the Lord forgave us. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8 The Lord’s incredible mercy, love and forgiveness poured out for me on Calvary empowers me to forgive others. “Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” Colossians 3:13b
Communicate. Be willing, especially with your spouse, to keep the lines of communication open. I would say that most times an offense was really a misunderstanding or some form of miscommunication. If you are willing to go to someone and talk about what they did to hurt you, you will most likely learn that it was accidental and unknown to the offender.
Learn to get over it. There are a lot of petty offenses that could simply be gotten over. If your husband did not notice that you spent all day cleaning the house and, therefore, did not compliment your work, get over it. Proverbs 10:12 tells us, “Hatred stirs up dissension, but love covers over all wrongs.” We need to learn to recognize when something is not worth our anger or our forgiveness. We need to learn to just get over more. “A man’s wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense.” Proverbs 19:11
Check your own eye first. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” Matthew 7:3-5 Generally in an offense our immediate reaction is to cast blame on the others involved. We begin to dissect all that they said and did that was wrong. Instead, however, our immediate response should be one of introspection. Usually, there is a need for repentance to be spoken from our own lips. It is amazing how after we tend to the plank in our own eye that speck in our husband’s no longer seems to matter.
Live a life of humility. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interest but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be same as that of Christ Jesus:” Philippians 2:3-5a A Christian leader I heard once said to “go into an offense with the attitude of humility”. When we consider others better than ourselves and relinquish our need to be right, then often offenses will dissipate.
Learn to deal with offenses Biblically. There will be times that a wrong has legitimately been committed and must be dealt with. Matthew 18:15-17 gives us instructions on how to deal with a brother or sister who has sinned against us. In a spirit of humility and forgiveness we need to learn to follow these instructions. “Do not say, ‘I’ll pay you back for this wrong!’ Wait for the Lord, and he will deliver you.” Proverbs 20:22
Let me end with a note of hope and assurance. Forgiveness brings life. It brings unspeakable joy and it brings freedom. “He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom to the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners,” Isaiah 61:1 If you have never accepted the forgiveness of the Lord that I spoke of earlier, I encourage you to receive it. It has already been secured for you by the death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus, we now must reach out in repentance and receive it.
If you have received the Lord’s forgiveness yet still struggle with guilt and condemnation, I encourage you to walk out your forgiveness. Get into the Word of God and declare the truth that is within it about your new life in Christ. You are a new creature (2 Corinthians 5:17), there is no condemnation in Christ (Romans 8:1), you are saved by grace (Ephesians 2:8,9), and you are set free in Christ (John 8:36).
If you are walking in unforgiveness and bitterness, let me remind you of the words of Jesus from his Sermon on the Mount. “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” Matthew 6:14,15 By harboring that unforgiveness in your heart, you are blocking the forgiveness of the Lord in your life. Let go and receive the life and freedom that the Lord longs to give you.
Envision the freedom and joy that would consume marriages if we were willing to walk free of bitterness and resentment. Consider the healing that would come from a constant spirit of humility and repentance. “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Ephesians 4:31,32 (emphasis added)
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Excellent. A straight-from-the-heart piece with good grammar and spelling. It seems you've been forgiven for much by Jesus, and so it gives you a bettr understanding of the subject. It's very personal in places, and thanks for sharing. It's sure to be an inspiration to many.