The Call of Forgiveness is just that; it is a direct call from our Lord. It is something extremely special which we are given, and something precious we are to replicate to others. It is not easy. It requires the practice of maturity, the patience to allow the process to unfold, and the tact to endure it. Forgiveness is also a mandate from our Lord. We can take great comfort in knowing that He is working while we are waiting, and even suffering. We can best practice forgiveness by realizing how much we have been forgiven. We can then be imitators of that forgiveness when others willfully or unknowingly cause us setback or harm. The magnitude of forgiveness from our Lord for what we have done can never measure up to anything others could do to us. When we put forgiveness into practice, we will be free from the bondage of bitterness and pain that imprisons us, disconnecting us from life and its wonders, which God has provided for us.
I was watching one of those reality shows recently where a bunch of young people were put into a nice beach house to live and work together. The show is about the drama and strife each one causes the other, and how they “do not” work it out. After all, if they were a big happy family, it would not make good TV, so I am told by a friend in that business. One young woman, in her early twenties, kept making the statement, “I refuse to forgive anyone for anything.” So, in the episode I watched, the attention was centered on how she was alienating everyone in the house. The result was that she ended up alone, hated by the others. She would make a big deal if someone took her cookie, or gave her an objectionable look. She was a very sad and pathetic person, whose self-imposed code of conduct, created out of pride, made it impossible for her to make friends or cooperate with anyone in her life. She could not see that she was the problem; she reused to take any responsibility. In her interviews, she blamed everyone else for her problems. The sad fact is that this is typical behavior amongst many people today, even Christians in the church!
As human beings, we are prone to make mistakes, either intentionally or unintentionally. We all have hurt people, and we have all been hurt; we are all in the same boat. So, when we refuse to forgive one another, it is like escaping the disaster of the sinking of the Titanic in a lifeboat, only to poke holes in the very lifeboat that saved us. Our escape from the sinking ship is our redemption, which we did not deserve. Since every one else in the lifeboat needs the cross too, why try to sink one another? All you will accomplish is to sink yourself.
Out of mistakes we make, or others cause us, comes our pain, hurt, and resentment. This resentment escalates into animosity, and builds into bitterness, until it destroys relationships and causes us isolation, just as it did with that young woman. She refused to forgive, and built an impenetrable wall that caused bitterness and isolation as she wallowed in her troubles, blaming everyone else for them. She would not allow forgiveness to break down the wall, allowing for the building of life and relationships. Forgiveness is the only human force that can stop the disintegration of relationships. This is why it is so essential. This is why our Lord calls us to forgive. If you have been hurt, or you have hurt others—and we all have—open your eyes and realize that it is the call of the Christian to dispel these conflicts. Without forgiveness, our growth and maturity with Christ, and our integrity with others, cannot be built.
We may suffer betrayal from friends, family, coworkers, and even church members. However, we are called to forgive, anyway! Why? Because, we need it, and because we are imperfect, fallen, and full of sin. Even the Christian who is saved by Grace is still in process of growth and sanctification. We are yet imperfect, no matter what the level of maturity. If you are thinking, I refuse to forgive others, just as that young woman did, consider this reason to forgive. We forgive because God has forgiven us. If we do not, the resentment will build and build—like battery acid that slowly eats away a car—until, unless we fix it, it will destroy us. Even secular psychologists tell us that resentment is the most powerful, self-destructive emotion in our arsenal. Will you allow forgiveness to build, or bitterness to destroy your relationships and life?
God desires that we seek forgiveness, because God is a God of relationships, and is committed to relationships. God knows our human weaknesses and our self-destructive nature, and that our relationships tend to be fragile. Broken relationships come out of our sinful nature and our fallen world, which seeks its own gain. God's desire is to show the world our potential. Because of what Christ has done for us, we should not take pleasure in destructive situations, those that divide and draw relationships apart. Relationships are what life is all about! Satan seeks to destroy relationships. His first attempt was in the Garden of Eden, nearly defeating our relationship with God and with one another. God's plan is to prove Satan wrong, and, our call is to build one another up, not destroy one another.
When we have been wronged, we experience feelings of betrayal, and consider retaliation to be justified. God calls us out of retaliation and into reconciliation. When we fail to forgive, we are the ones who suffer the most. Anger, resentment, shame, bitterness, contempt, and defensiveness all synergistically build on top of one another, so every segment within us is held hostage with these emotions. We are chained like a dog on a leash, unable to reach the destination we desire, what Christ has for us. Do not allow the bitterness to continue so that it festers, corrupting your whole being. The bitterness must not take hold in your life, or it will block the flow of the Holy Sprit and self-controlling love. Or else, the festering will continue to the point that Christ is crying out to us in the wilderness, yet we do not hear Him.
Our Lord is alerting us to the perils of being unforgiving, just as the call of red alert in the TV show, "Star Trek," warns its crew of impending danger. If we do not heed the warning, our emotions will run wild, and we will no longer have control or composure, unable to recognize who we are in Christ. Thus, the anger and the uncontrolled emotions will become controlled by Satan. The red alert has been ignored, and our ship has been destroyed! Your relationship(s) have been destroyed!
This passage in Matthew, chapter eighteen, is a story of a forgiving king and a wicked servant. The king forgave this servant’s enormous debt, which is a parallel to our enormous debt of sin that we held until Christ forgave us. This servant represents the Believer, who, after experiencing the forgiveness of God, did harbor bitterness to another, and then refused to forgive his fellow Christian (or a non-Christian) for a much, much smaller debt. The king became furious, and handed the servant over to be tortured. The Bible is telling us that if we refuse to forgive one another, and continue to harbor bitterness, we can be tortured, too. My personal experience is when I have refused to forgive people in the past, I have become consumed with feelings of guilt and shame, and this is a torture I can do without. I feel much better, and sleep much better with an attitude of forgiveness; I cannot think well or sleep well with an attitude of bitterness. Why would a Christian want to go through life with feelings of bitterness, which consume him with misery and unrest, instead of giving it to the Lord, and receiving forgiveness and rest?
How can we go through our Christian life and experience, and rationalize our actions and deeds, only to face our Lord later at the judgment? By what point are we to make, by what feeling are we to base, by what hope do we have? When we have the knowledge of God's mercy, then we have the responsibility of acting with mercy toward one another (2 Corinthians 5:21).
God calls Christians to operate in the parameters of forgiveness, love, and mercy. And, when we have not been forgiving, we will have a heart filled with suffering and torment. How can we receive Christ's forgiveness, and claim Christ as our Savior, when we are unable to forgive one another? When we have a forgiving attitude, then we will have a heart at rest and in peace!
What Forgiveness Looks Like
Taking our primary lead from Matthew, chapter 18, and looking at various other Scriptures, we can see what God requires of us, and our appropriate response regarding the different categories of forgiveness.
We, as Christians, must extend ourselves to other people with love, and that which flows out of love—forgiveness!
Ephesians 4:29-32 tells us,
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 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.
John 13:34-35 tells us,
A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.
We are to love one another—period! No strings attached! This is the model we are to use to show God’s love to the world!
We should be clear on this. A healthy Christian is one who puts aside the malicious traits of an evil sin nature, and embraces others in love. What comes out of love is the release of our feelings of betrayal and hurt. The Christian is called to model kindness, love, empathy, compassion—and, out of these, will flow forgiveness. God wants us to get with it, to wake up, and seize the wonders and opportunities He gives us. An unforgiving attitude, and its ugly rotten fruits, will chock us off from His wonders!
Ask yourself this question. How do I handle forgiveness? How do you respond when others forgive you? What do you do with opportunities that our Lord has for you? We must realize the generosity of Grace, and being in Christ, which we do not deserve. Our Lord does not want us to forgive begrudgingly, because, He did not forgive us with conditions, or with strings attached. A Christian that does not forgive is like a small child who refuses to share a game ball that he/she received as a gift. Thus, the child will not be able to play with that ball as it was designed to be used. That child will not be using it to its full potential. When the Christian does not forgive, he/she distorts the relationships he enjoys. We are like the child who, unable to play a game because he refuses to share the ball, cries that he is alone and nobody will play with him, or, he cries because he is not having any fun. Without forgiveness, we forfeit relationships with others, and, we are unable to play our games. We just end up cheating ourselves out of our potential, and the best plan that Christ has for us.
First: Forgiveness is Hard
Isaiah tells us, “’For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the LORD. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.’” (Isaiah 55:8-9, NIV)
True forgiveness is one of the hardest things to accomplish in the human experience, even for the mature Christian. Yet, this is our mandate, and call. Forgiveness is hard because it demands a surrender of our right to get even. Forgiveness even causes suffering for the person who was wronged, the victim. The suffering, from our human perspective and reasoning, should belong to the instigator of the wrong. It is natural to consider this unfair. And, yes, it is unfair; it was unfair for our Lord to go through what He did to forgive us!
Forgiveness is hard, also, because we can easily avoid it; we can walk the other way, and execute revenge. And, it would be considered justified in the eyes of our friends, our relatives, and, especially of society. We could even receive some kind of medal for coming up with a good scheme of revenge.
As a youth, I loved the comic book, ‘The Punisher,” where the super hero was a victim of a severe crime, and his wife and kids were inadvertently killed by the mob. So, he makes it his life’s crusade to affect revenge on all criminals who evade the law. This is appealing; the criminals deserve the Punisher’s revenge, especially since the law is unable to deal with them because of bribes, cut backs, and apathy. This pleases our human nature. However, God does not want us to rely on our human nature, rather, to rely on Him.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways…”
This passage is telling us that our way of thinking is wrong. If God is the Creator of all things, including truth, and He is all knowing, and He is all-powerful, then, His ways are better than ours. We may not be able to recognize this, because our perspective is limited, as is our knowledge and insight.
· God is governed by righteousness; whereas, desires and emotions drive us.
· God has a moral and virtuous purpose; our purpose is self-seeking.
· God’s primary purpose in our lives is to bring us out of our self-destructive and self-seeking nature, and into the reclamation of redemption in Him; this is the work of Christ.
· God’s thoughts are beyond our comprehension and imagination; therefore, we should rely on Him, and not on ourselves.
Second: Forgiveness is Complete
Colossians tells us,
Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. (Colossians 3:12-14, NIV)
Matthew 18:27 tells us, “The servant's master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.” Forgiveness is actually canceling a debt. It is as if someone owes you one thousand dollars, and he or she cannot pay you back; you forgive the debt, never expecting to receive the money back. The amount owed to you is no longer owed or expected. You give up your right to seek the repayment of that debt. Forgiveness is bankruptcy; once filed, the creditor may not retrieve the debt, and it is wiped out. We need to see the cancellation of the debt as a write-off, and not some form of embezzlement. When we forgive, we forget; that is, we are no longer to even have the desire for restitution, pay back, or punishment.
There is a man, at a church where I was once on staff, who I admire greatly for exhibiting forgiveness in an instance that I do not think I could ever have done it; yet, with Christ, I should be able to, because all things are possible with Christ. His wife was murdered, indiscriminately, by a drive-by shooter in the Pasadena area a few years ago; she died in his arms. He realized that for him to go on with his life and faith, he needed to forgive that person. And, he did. Now, he did not tell the police to let the shooter go; forgiveness is not necessarily a release of the obligation, especially when a crime is committed. Rather, we, as Christians, are released from our personal desire for retribution. This form of forgiveness even prevents us from those “polite” sly remarks and glances; our revenge is repudiated…divorced from our desire to get even.
Forgiveness is so rare in our society. For it to become a powerful witnessing tool, it must be complete. Forgiveness does not make light of the wrong, nor should it give a license to others to take advantage of us, but, they may. Yet, it is well worth it! Out of the completeness of forgiveness will come the forgetting. Then, out of the forgetting, will come the healing. The healing we get from forgiveness will close the wounds we receive; it will allow us to go on with life. It will prevent our sufferings and setbacks from becoming our identity and obsession. For, without forgiveness, we give in to the bitterness that will consume and take us over, that it may give us a purpose for existing, but not for living. If we just try to forget, then agonize over it, we will get nowhere; but, through the process of surrender (Galatians 2:20-21) will come the forgetting. Forgetting is a process, and we can not expect it to come right away. We must be patient, let the process unfold, and embrace the forgiveness that Christ has given us. That man, who forgave his wife’s killer, took many agonizing months to do so. But, in the end, he and his remaining family were able to get on with their lives, and honor his wife’s memory by living life. Had he remained in bitterness, not only would his kids have become dysfunctional, but a total breakdown of that family would have occurred, and his wife’s memory would have been framed in bitterness, and not life! Forgiveness has to be complete; if not, it will not work, and you will not make it!
Third: Forgiveness is Costly
Luke tells us,
But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you. (Luke 6:27-31, NIV)
When we forgive, it may incur a cost to us. We should realize, and even welcome, that cost. These go against our inclination and Will, but, remember, the vengeance belongs to the Lord. We are to never forget the cost our Lord paid on our behalf. No cost we could ever incur could compare with the cost He paid for us. When we forgive, we will be refocusing our plans for our pain into God’s plan, and God’s ways. So, our pain is relieved, and our life can go on—in a better direction!
We can live improved quality lives when we forgive. Our relationships can grow, and we can become more useful to others and, especially, to God. When we understand that it does involve cost, we can gain the right mindset for forgiveness. We will realize from Scripture not to base it on our feelings and desires, but to focus on what forgiveness really is. We can see it as what Christ gave us, as He was our example. John 3:16 is the example on what forgiveness cost our Lord. His undeserved, painful death and separation from the Father was a substitution for what we deserved. This was our Lord’s suffering and cost. In comparison, the cost for us will be very minimal and limited, and we need to keep this in view, using it as our strength to get through it. Our cost is to live with the consequence of the evil that was brought on us. We then take the responsibility for the hurt brought on to us. Understanding this is hard, even for the mature Christian, and, virtually impossible for the non-Christian, since it goes against the common sense of society. In the eyes of the world, the suffering should be put upon the one who did the wrong. Yet, the Scriptural view is a beacon, a witness to the supremacy of Christ.
We could normally avoid this form of suffering, but we are called to face it. We need to accept the consequences of the wrong, such as a parent forgiving a child for breaking a priceless object. The parent bears the cost to either replace it, or suffer without it, and the child gets off free (well, with some sort of punishment). This is the cost of suffering. In the case of the man who lost his wife to murder, his suffering is that he cannot be with his wife anymore. Forgiveness chooses to suffer. It is very hard to make that voluntary choice to take on the suffering, even when we do not deserve it; yet, we must make it so as to grow in our walk with our Lord, and to grow toward our full potential.
Humanity owes a great deal to the Creator of the universe, and our willful disobedience to our Creator is a slap in His face. We owe a debt we could never conceive, or pay. Yet, most people live their lives as an insult to what Christ has done. And, Christ still pursues them with the ultimate love! Christ did not owe our debt, yet He paid it!
Christ was the substitute for our punishment, which we deserved; so is forgiveness. Forgiveness is a substitution too, since it requires a penalty to be paid, and, the victim pays that penalty. It is a faint reflection of what Christ has done for us! We may not understand the mystery behind this, but we can trust in our Lord, who will carry us through it. The relation between what Christ went through so that we could be forgiven, and the call for us to take on the responsibility for a sin we did not commit, will give us a deeper understanding into the character and nature of God. From this, we should mature to a deeper level, and be used in a greater way to further the cause of Christ. The result is that we take our response to evil and redirect it for good, and, even to a point, take the evil on ourselves. The result is that Satan is defeated and prevented from receiving a prize, his reward that he craved to gain, from our refusal to forgive. This is why the cost accepted by our Lord is the greatest cost of all. We need to realize this, and respond accordingly to one another.
Forgiveness is worth the agony we may go through, because, it will heal the wounds and relieve the pain. Perhaps a scar will remain. But, take it to heart, and recognize that scar as a badge of honor to help us grow and mature, to redirect our wrong path onto the right direction. Be the person who forgives. Do not be the person who refuses to!
Next moth we will look at forgiveness some more with “The Pursuit of Forgiveness.”
Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the LORD does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit. When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the LORD"--and you forgave the guilt of my sin. Therefore let everyone who is godly pray to you while you may be found; surely when the mighty waters rise, they will not reach him. You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance. I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you. Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you. Many are the woes of the wicked, but the LORD’s unfailing love surrounds the man who trusts in him. Rejoice in the LORD and be glad, you righteous; sing, all you who are upright in heart! (Psalm 32, NIV)
Richard Joseph Krejcir is the Director of “Into Thy Word Ministries,” a discipling ministry. He is the author of the book, Into Thy Word, and is also a pastor, teacher, and speaker. He is a graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena California. He has amounted over 20 years of pastoral ministry experience, mostly in youth ministry, including serving as a church growth consultant.