“For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.” (Matthew 6:14–15, NASB95)
Forgiveness is an amazing process. As I was reading through the Lord’s Prayer yesterday and I read the words about forgiving others debts, there was this thought that I had to forgive others for things they owed but did not give. It is as if they might owe me honesty and give me lies; or they might owe me help and give me abandonment; or they might owe me loyalty and give me betrayal. The things I got were transgressions against what I thought I was owed, and God expected me to forgive them just as He forgave my transgressions against Him. Think about this—God created us to have a relationship with Himself, and we respond to Him by turning our backs or thumbing our noses in all sorts of ways. Sin entered the world of man because man gave God disobedience and even disrespect. And since that time all of man has sinned and fallen short of His perfect standard.
For that God had no choice as a just and righteous God but to pronounce judgment leading to death and separation. This judgment brought great trials into our world and resulted in the advancement of all kinds of evil. But our God, also being loving and merciful did not leave man to his own ends, but stepped in and offered to him the opportunity for forgiveness and new life. This He did at the greatest of cost by sending His Son to suffer and pay the price for our sins. He redeemed us from our guilty judgment and made us right with His righteousness. This is the most incredible kind of forgiveness, and it was freely given to us at His expense. We owed Him a great debt which we could not pay, and He paid it for us. He did not merely set it aside, but He paid it. His Son took our sins upon Himself and bore them on our behalf.
This morning as I thought on this I was also engaging in a spiritual battle remembering that some time ago I was in the middle of a very intense period of life. Things were going on around me that were understandable but that were not necessarily being handled in the best way not because of malice, but because we don’t always get it right. I was really hurting, and two years ago tomorrow something happened, and I got into my truck and went for a drive. I turned off the radio, and talking to God—even being quite demanding—I asked Him what He was doing and told Him that I needed to hear from Him. It was a time of frustration and tears, and I knew the only one I could turn to in this way was God. He knew my every thought. He knew the words on my tongue before they were ever formed. He knew the intensity of my emotion, and He knew all of these things before there was even one day to my life. Yet He called me as His beloved child and I could come to Him as my Heavenly Father and cry out to Him. The next two weeks continued to hold some of the same frustrating events, but God also in His great compassion heard my prayer and answered, culminating in Robin and I being able to make a very difficult decision with a great deal of peace.
The back side of all of this is that I still had some hurts that I had to continually lay before God and purpose to forgive those who hurt me, even knowing that their hurt was not intentional. I started today’s post by saying that forgiveness is an interesting process. I chose ‘interesting’ because I couldn’t use ‘fun’, because it’s not. I couldn’t use a lot of words because they simply don’t describe what goes on in our hearts. Forgiveness is a process of choosing to set aside the wrongs of others so that we might have a right heart before them and before God. It is a difficult process because we have minds and hearts that don’t easily forget and are even reminded when other infractions occur. And it is sometimes an unrewarded process when the person(s) forgiven don’t see what they were forgiven of or don’t change in their heart attitude toward you. It is a difficult process because sometimes they didn’t even do anything wrong, but we are hurt nonetheless. Forgiveness is a choice we make, and make, and make. Every time these thoughts rise up in our hearts and minds we have to re-engage the process. It is an active one.
God’s forgiveness of us was completed at the cross by His Son. He died once and His death is totally sufficient to cover all sin. The peace that we receive is found in understanding His forgiveness and accepting the gift that He gave us by believing and being saved. It is then that we are made to be at peace with God and we are then called to live at peace with others. This means that we have to practice that same sort of forgiveness that Jesus showed to us. This was not easy for Him. In the garden, as we looked at a few days ago, He came before His Father fully submitted to His will. As He prayed He asked if there might be another way, but even in the asking He never faltered as He went ahead and completed the purpose for which He was sent.
As I have continued to walk in these two years afterward there have been plenty of times when I have had to go before God and re-forgive. When I do this I am always reminded of His great forgiveness of me. Verse 15 says, “But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.” This verse is not suggesting that God will remove His salvation from those who have believed and called upon His Son and are saved. Forgiveness is a permanent and complete settling of our guilt. As we looked at yesterday we are to confess our sins before God and obtain in a sense a regular cleansing (1 John 1:9). It’s kind of like the car my family was just given. The car is ours. It was fully and freely given to us. But since that time it has gathered some dust, and it is the right thing for me (or my kids) to regularly clean it (don’t take this example too far). In doing this I not only show respect for the gift, but I also honor the giver by demonstrating how I care for what was so freely given. One commentator said, “This sort of forgiveness is a simple washing from the worldly defilements of sin; not a repeat of the wholesale cleansing from sin’s corruption that comes with justification. It is like a washing of the feet rather than a bath (cf. John 13:10). Forgiveness in this latter sense is what God threatens to withhold from Christians who refuse to forgive others.” (MacArthur Study Bible)
Our relationship with God is not compartmentalized. He owns our entirety, and if we are harboring unforgiveness then it will have an impact on our relationship. God instructs us to deal with these things, freely forgiving others just as He in Christ has forgiven us. Having said this, even in our forgiveness we will find that we can’t control the responses of others or even bring about their change or even their acknowledgement of any wrong or hurt. In that sense, we also can bring them to God and uphold them in prayer knowing that His love shown through us will bring glory to His name.