Forgiveness is profound, challenging, hard. Forgiveness is at the heart of the cross, is at the heart of the gospel. Our inability to forgive is a part of our inability to understand the cross of Christ. Let us learn the cross, stand behind the cross. Our world needs hope, and forgiveness is the hope of the world.
What is forgiveness? What does the Bible say? What do you believe? What happens when I forgive--to me, to another, to our relationship?
Our world has trouble forgiving, people keep looking for the past, living in the past. Some are still seeking WW2 criminals. Some are still wanting revenge for past actions. It is easier to forgive your enemies after you have gotten even. We have trouble with forgiveness, in part because forgiveness is greater than life. "He who has mastered the grace of forgiveness is far more triumphant than he who has managed to see that no wrong is unavenged."
How and where can we develop a forgiving heart? It is only possible at the foot of the cross, when we see the price of our forgiveness, for when we see that, we see that the forgiveness we extend is little in comparison to what we have been forgiven. Jesus told a parable to illustrate this point when he told of two debtors, one owing much and the other little. [See Luke 7; also compare Matthew 18.]
A typical day, crowded full of things,
Household chores and a phone that rings.
The children rushing in at three
shouting with laughter and full of glee.
She tried to be helpful, saying, "Here, I'll pour."
And milk is spilled on the freshly waxed floor.
"Shame on you, now see what you've done,"
(Was that my voice?) "You naughty one."
"I'm sorry, mommy." "Sorry won't do,
You go to your room 'til I call you."
The hours slip by, supper is past,
The children are bathed and in bed at last,
When out of the darkness a question from Sue,
"When you're naughty, mommy, who punishes you?"
The house is quiet, my day is through,
And so I turn, dear God, to you,
To you who gives me each new day,
Another chance to go thy way.
Another chance all sins forgiven,
A gift of love from God in heaven.
And suddenly the teardrops start,
for I have failed to do my part,
To teach my children the kind of love
given to us from God above.
I, whose sins are so much more
Than a glass of milk spilled on the floor,
Forget how much I count on thee
Accepting "I'm sorry" each day from me.
Forgive me, Father, forgive me, Sue,
and help me remember my whole life through,
"When you're naughty, mommy, who punishes you?"
Shakespeare said, to be or not to be--that is the question. In religion the question is, to forgive or not to forgive. That is the question! Notice these truths about forgiveness. Consider the sequence and progression.
I. Forgiveness is not earned; forgiveness requires another basis than merit. BUT I WANT TO EARN IT.
Forgiveness from God is not dependent on whether we walk by the law, but is dependent upon whether we are focused in the right direction and method. Walking in the light is still to walk in sin. The more light, the more obvious the sin. The more light, the more sensitivity to sin. Walking in light is not performance, perfection, or mankind above and beyond sin. Everyone sins, Rom. 3:23. As we mature, grow, and get close to God, the more sin we have, the more his blood cleanses us. "No man walking in the light can be lost." Blessed assurance, good news! All other news is irrelevant and pales in comparison. Genuine forgiveness is found only at the church that honors the heart of Jesus. Only in Christ. Not in education, philosophy, performance. There is nothing wrong with performance, for faith works and is active, James 2:17-26. But performance is not the key to forgiveness. Performance is not the key to walking in the light. Our life in Christ is not to be measured in so much prayer, so much study, so much quiet time, so much attendance. If we motivate these things externally without changing the inside, nothing much really changes, and we are only miserable.
We are children of God not because of what we have done or have not done, but because of who we are or who we are not. It is a matter of our heart, attitude, loyalty. God does not reject his children at the first sin, 1 John 1:6-7.
We do not earn forgiveness as we submit to become children. Baptism is not a meritorious work, but an indicator of our heart and attitude and loyalty. That is why it pictures submission. Forgiveness is not earned--it is ours in the light.
We are forever trying to earn God's grace, but it cannot be. We question forgiveness because we know our own hearts--get your heart right, be loyal to Christ, work on those attitudes.
Forgiveness between people ought not to be earned. My accepting you ought not to be on the basis of what you do or do not do. "It is easier to forgive an enemy than a friend." Parents, do not require action before forgiveness. Forgiveness will motivate action. Action comes from faith, trust, truth.
II. Forgiveness is not forgetting, but forgetting requires forgiveness. I WANT TO FORGET IT BUT I CANNOT.
Forgive, but not forget. Some forget but never forgive. I know the OT, the words of God, through Jeremiah. We can quote those, but God is not talking about memory--he is talking about accountability. When a thing is forgiven, it cannot be brought forward again. Forgetting can be painless--some just have a bad memory. Many of us have forgotten sins that were never forgiven. We have just ignored them.
Some of us have gaps on our memory tapes. God is not talking about amnesia. God is talking about accountability, this will not affect our relationship ever again in the future. How wonderful.
"Forgiveness is forgiving, even when it cannot be forgotten." Some things I will never forget, but I can still forgive, and we can get along. Forgiveness is not sanctioning, condoning. This is the problem of the elder brother of the prodigal son. He could not understand the Father's accepting the son. Aren't you glad the son got mercy, not justice--what he needed and not what he deserved. God was not sanctioning sin here--he is talking about accepting us back.
Forgiveness--what is it? It is a new deal religiously. When Christ died on the cross, God was giving us new beginnings. Hurt feelings, lies, alienation, catastrophe, at war with God, and all this can be overcome. We get a clean sheet. This is not to deny the hurt or the problem. This is not saying what happened is right, but in spite of the wrong and the hurt, we can look forward and never look back. Forgiveness is always aimed at the future. From this moment on, this is the way we will be. This is not to deny the past, but is our commitment to the future.
Forgiveness ought to be given even to the dead. I do not want to argue about forgiveness being accepted, etc. Just want to challenge you to extend it. Bury the dead, don't try to turn back the clock. Forgiveness does not turn back the clock nor guarantee a painless future, but is the heartbeat of God. Makes us like God.
God took the hurt of sin, placed it on Christ. If we would be godly, we must forgive. We cannot understand God because we cannot practice forgiveness. Only when a person can accept it and only when a person can practice it can one genuinely know and understand and be like God.
III. Fellowship requires forgiveness. I WANT FELLOWSHIP.
Forgiveness precedes genuine fellowship. Sin separates from God. Only with forgiveness can there be fellowship. When sin and problems separate men, forgiveness must come first. Homes cannot be solid without forgiveness, Eph. 4:26. Relationships must be built on trust and forgiveness to be genuine.
IV. Forgiveness requires confession. I AM WILLING TO CONFESS.
What is confession? Confession is not just talking about sin. No generation has talked about sin more than ours. Movie stars sensationalize sin. Sins formerly unspeakable have entered the marketplace. Talking about sin is not confession. Letting everyone else know is not confession, that is gossip. We ought to be ashamed if we are only gossiping about our own sins or the sins of others. So there are the periodicals and the movies--we must learn what to avoid. Confession is not explaining sin. Confession is not blaming others, analyzing, confession is not being realistic. Karl Menninger in his book, "Whatever happened to Sin?" just did not go far enough. Psychology cannot go deep enough--cannot finally handle forgiveness. Only Jesus Christ can cleanse of sin.
Confession says, "I am responsible." Accountable, ultimately judged by God. That is #1. Then #2--confession is shared hurt. I sin against you, I hurt you--now I hurt because I made you hurt. Confession is not admitting sin, but is admitting and facing the hurting process. I see your tears, pain, problems. There is no painless confession, that is a contradiction. Then #3--confession is a gamble on grace. A fellow has his eye on a pretty little girl, his life has been bad, he confesses, can you forgive me? That is the risk and gamble of confession. To throw self at the mercy and grace of another. Sometimes the girl will forgive, sometimes not. Among men today, some things are never quite over--but not so with God.
One can run over God, deny him--but he will take us back and forgive us when we genuinely confess.
Confession requires faith. One cannot confess before God without faith. God has not called us to be judgers, but to be forgivers. God has not called us to be judged, but to be forgiven. We are most like God when we are forgiving. Why? Because of Jesus. This is a place unlike any other place, for this is a place where forgiveness is real and experienced. This is a place of faith. There is no place like this place, for we are in the forgiveness business.
There is an irony if this is a place where forgiveness is not. God for Christ's sake has forgiven us. That is mercy. The ultimate definition of sin is this: sin is the refusal to be loved by God.
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