Forgiveness is a colossal notion in the Christian life. I tend to think that most evangelism, preaching, and even counseling deal a great amount of time on the topic of forgiveness. A large potion of the story line of the Bible is man's need for God's forgiveness. We (individually and corporately) have violated the commands of God. More oft than not, we minimize this idea. God is the creator of all things. This is His universe and yet we flippantly do what we want. Christians included. I believe part of that is because of our skewed view of forgiveness. We think that it is God's nature to forgive and man's nature to sin so we don't take it seriously. While it is true that it is God's nature to forgive and man's to sin, that doesn't give us license. We tend to minimize the idea that sin is serious. If I can drive over the speed limit by five to seven m.p.h. and get a grace on that and not pay a fine, we have the tendency to think that is how God is. He will turn the blind eye to our sin. We tend to think that God is just like some earthy judge or police officer. He is not. Sin is serious. Even the sin we don't think is. Remember Christ took all the sins of the world upon Himself. God's wrath was poured upon His Son for sin. So we need God's forgiveness. It is not some little topic. But that is not really the reason I began this post. That isn't the forgiveness per say I have been thinking about.
I have been pondering more on our forgiveness. The forgiveness we grant to others. That is a serious issue as well.
Jesus said, "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" (Matt. 6:14-15).
James puts it this way: “Judgment by God is without mercy to those who have shown no mercy. But mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13).
Jesus tells a story in the gospels about the ungrateful or unforgiving servant. This servant was forgiven a debt that was beyond anything he could ever pay. Upon receiving this forgiveness, he turns around to one of his fellow servants and demands payment. He would not give time to repay the debt or lenience on the debt or forgive the debt. At the end of the parable Jesus says "So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
That is heavy. Those are serious consequences to think about when it comes to our forgiveness of others. What got me thinking about all of this was a couple days ago my wife asked me, "How do I know if I have forgiven someone?" That was a great question. A simple question, yet so profound.
It was something I had never really pondered. Right away it brought to my mind people who I feel have done me wrong. I began to process if I had truly forgiven people. Let's be honest, forgiveness is hard. We want God's forgiveness. Some people (Christians included) feel they deserve God's forgiveness. That He owes them. But then when someone does something to us, oh forgiveness, really? I don't think so. They caused to much pain. They did ME wrong. Forgiveness is hard. Forgiveness will never happen when we are in the flesh. It won't happen. But forgiveness needs to happen.
So as I stewed on this idea, how do I know I have forgiven, I began to think about certain individuals. I came to the conclusion that the best way to know if I have forgiven someone and to help come to some type of definitive answer to be able to say this is how you know you have forgiven, is to examine those individuals who I feel did me wrong. So I asked myself, is the first thought that comes to my head when I think about so and so or hear so and so's name, is the first thought, so and so did this to me? If the first thought I think about is the wrong committed upon me, I am lacking some measure of forgiveness. What if they needed help? Would I help? What if they failed in something? Would that bring a smile to my face? Do I want to see failure in their life? Do I want revenge? All those are signs of where you stand on forgiveness.
I know that many people have gone through terrible circumstances. I know that forgiveness is hard.
I know it is a struggle. But forgiveness is so liberating. Forgiveness is so needed. It has been a soul searching couple days thinking on this process. I saw some dark ugly spots in my heart. There were packets of resentment and unforgiveness dwelling and taking root. I am grateful my wife asked me the question. I am more grateful that the Lord revealed in me areas that were not conforming to the image of Christ. I am even more grateful that He supplies the grace to change and the forgiveness that I so desperately need. Our God is good. It can be painful to walk this road, but the comfort that He pours upon His children is overwhelming. May the Lord comfort you where ever you may be.
Soli Deo Gloria