If you find forgiving others, or even yourself, for some affront extremely difficult, raise your hand! (Both of mine flew into the air.)
Previous blogs in this series have dealt with Tough Issues among Christians, differences in interpretation of scripture and denominational differences. This one addresses what, for nearly all of us, is a really, really TOUGH personal issue. How can we forgive?
Forgiveness is inextricably intertwined with so many things in Christianity… Grace, Salvation, Repentance, Love among them. All of God’s commands are summarized by Jesus in the Great Commandment:
36″Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37Jesus replied: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38This is the first and greatest commandment. 39And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Mt 22:26-38)
Forgiveness comes from the heart, not in the mind or from the mouth:
33Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.
35″This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”(Mt 18:33-35)
The bitter root of unforgiveness is like a disease that infects us and everyone around us:
15See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. (Heb 12-15)
OK, we’re already given some really TOUGH things to deal with here, but there is more. A LOT more.
Let’s take a look at a portion of the Lord’s Prayer:
Forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors. (Mt 6:12)(Italics mine)[Mt 6:12
The Lord’s Prayer, as given to us by The Son, is followed by:
14For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. (Mt 6:14-15)
Far too often, we ramble through the Lord’s Prayer without giving deep thought as to what we are praying for. Look at the italicized words above, and be careful what you pray for!
Also in Matthew, we are given the Great Commission:
16Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Mt 28:16-20)
There are some confusing words in John:
21Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” (Jn 20:21-23)
Is God delegating forgivness of sins to us?
NO! Only God can sit in judgment of sin! We can and must forgive others and ourselves for the words and actions that are hurtful and sinful. But only God can cleanse us of sin. He did so through the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ.
And in the few words of John quoted above, Jesus is saying so very much more!
“Peace be with you.” This is the Jewish SHALOM… peace, wholeness, oneness.
“I am sending you.” The Great Commission
“And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.'” This is John’s version of what is recorded at Pentacost in the Book of Acts!
And then the toughie, v. 23: “23If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” Jesus is not empowering us to forgive sins. Instead, He is commissioning us to go into the world carrying the Good News of Grace and Salvation. It is only through accepting Jesus as our Savior that we can be saved. Anyone who has never heard the Good News does not have the opportunity of Grace and Salvation!
On the cross, Jesus said:
Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
Jesus is forgiving their actions and asking the Father to forgive their sins.
Perhaps the first martyr, Stephen, said it even more clearly:
59While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep. (Acts 7:59-60)
Being a Christian, a disciple of Jesus Christ, is never a simple or easy thing. Forgiveness, commanded by Jesus in the name of love, is one of the most difficult.
Why do humans find it so very hard to forgive?
What are your struggles with forgiveness?
And/or, how have you learned/grown to be able to truly forgive?
Shalom, Art Alive in The Word
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