We are to forgive others the way God forgives us—freely and often.
Every Sunday, we and thousands of other believers gather for worship in various congregations. We are greeted by the pastor. An opening hymn focuses our thoughts for worship.
Then comes a crucial moment in the service: We are invited to “confess our sins to God our Father, asking him in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to grant us forgiveness.” We do so, acknowledging that we have indeed sinned against God “in our thoughts, words, and actions.”
Finally, we hear a wonderful message: “As a called servant of Christ and by his authority, I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” And that’s it! There’s no interrogation process to test our sincerity or list of tasks to do in order to atone for what we’ve done. In Christ, God forgives us freely and fully!
Receiving full forgiveness
Do you ever stop to ponder how amazing this is? Think about how you are sinful from birth, imperfect, flawed, and defective. Then also think about all the ways you’ve sinned against God in the past week alone. I dare you to recount every inappropriate lust you’ve harbored in your mind, every swear word you have muttered, and every unwise word or action not motivated by love for God or love for others. The truth is painfully obvious: We sin far too many times for God to take notice of us or forgive us. Still, he forgives us without reservation or hesitation!
But what if God suddenly decided, “I’m done with half-hearted apologies and watching sinners make the same mistakes over and over again”? What if God stopped forgiving us entirely? Thankfully, we never have to worry about that. No matter the number or nature of our transgressions, God never sends us away empty-handed. Every single time, without fail, his declaration to us remains the same: “For Jesus’ sake, you are forgiven.”
This is a message we’ve heard hundreds or perhaps thousands of times. As a result, perhaps too many of us resist receiving forgiveness or simply dismiss it without hearing it. Sure, we might feel unworthy of forgiveness. Nevertheless, it’s ours in Christ, because of Christ, and we rejoice.
Freely giving forgiveness
But what happens when we find ourselves in a position to forgive others? Are we as ready and willing to say “I forgive you” to another person as consistently as God says it to us? We likely have no trouble receiving forgiveness, but many of us struggle mightily with giving it.
It’s not hard to understand why. Consider the stories about the atrocities some have endured: vile slanders, domestic violence, and horrific sexual abuse at a young age! Crimes like these irreversibly ruin lives! What about the unkept promises made by those we count on for protection, guidance, and sustenance? When we suffer traumas like these, we don’t forget about them. We especially don’t forget about the villains who put us through such misery. As time passes, our unresolved bitterness can fester deep within until it consumes us completely. When that happens, nothing else is important, not even the compassion God has shown us. All that matters to us is that our adversaries pay to quench our thirst for revenge!
Forgiving like God—unconditionally and limitlessly—does not make you weak or foolish. Forgiveness is strength!
If you’ve ever found it hard to forgive like God forgives, you’re not alone. Jesus’ disciples also wrestled with this issue. “Then Peter came up and asked Jesus, ‘Lord, how many times must I forgive my brother when he sins against me? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but I tell you as many as seventy-seven times’ ” (Matthew 18:21,22). Jesus then spoke the parable of the unmerciful servant.
He makes a compelling point: If God can forgive the millions upon millions of sins we’ve committed against him, then doesn’t it make sense that, overflowing with his abundant mercy, we can forgive the few sins others have committed against us? If not, then why do we expect God to treat us any differently? Do we dare entertain the idea that our sins aren’t as damning or that we’re somehow more deserving of forgiveness than others?
Remember, we all have fallen and come short of God’s demands, but we have all been justified in Christ Jesus (Romans 3:23,24). So then, what Jesus taught his disciples must apply to us also: “If your brother sins . . . forgive him. Even if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times returns to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him” (Luke 17:3,4). Jesus can’t make it any clearer than that. When someone repents, even if it’s for multiple infractions in a short time, our default response should not be to question their sincerity. We should not presume we know what’s in their heart. We shouldn’t demand they prove themselves worthy. Our proclamation to them is the same as God’s declaration to us: “For Jesus’ sake, you are forgiven!”
Glorifying God through forgiving
Our sinful nature protests: “What about evildoers getting their come-uppance? What about charlatans manipulating me? What if someone is never sorry about what they have done?” These are concerns, to be sure. However, is it really worth letting our fears of injustice win out or, being tricked, override Jesus’ clear command?
Let’s say someone who’s wronged you “apologizes.” You forgive them, only to find out later they weren’t being honest with you. You’ve done nothing wrong. If such an individual fails to understand or appreciate your compassion, that’s their sin, not yours. But what if you withhold forgiveness because you didn’t believe someone deserved it or didn’t appear to be sincere, but it turns out they were being sincere? That’s your sin! If one must choose between looking like a naïve fool or being a stubborn jerk, it’s far better to be the former than the latter!
But rest assured, forgiving like God—unconditionally and limitlessly—does not make you weak or foolish. Forgiveness is strength! It’s the greatest expression of his love. The apostle Paul writes, “God shows his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). As his redeemed children, we forgive.
Forgiving others like God forgives us is among the most excellent ways we can honor him. Moreover, what better way to proclaim the love of Christ than by sharing the same kind of mercy we receive from him? Could we be deceived or even exploited? It’s possible. But even then, forgiveness is a bold statement of trust that God’s justice will prevail, whether in the short term or all the way to judgment day.
Receiving forgiveness from God on a free and constant basis is truly a blessing like no other. May he empower us to grant it to others in the same way. Whether receiving or giving, there’s no need to resist. God is glorified through both!
The Scripture references used in this article are from the Evangelical Heritage Version.
Author: Andrew Meyer
Volume 107, Number 09
Issue: September 2020