Forgiveness: The Forgiven Forgives
P. G. Mathew | Sunday, August 30, 2009
Copyright © 2009, P. G. Mathew
True Christians worship and obey the triune God and therefore obey God's word, which is infallible and inerrant. Having confessed Jesus Christ as Lord, we are his blessed slaves. As the Lord's slaves, we experience great freedom to obey God and to resist Satan, sin, and the world. Because of this, we forgive others, for God has forgiven our infinite sin.
I. The Basis of Forgiveness
The basis on which Christians forgive and are forgiven is the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. John writes, "He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world" (1 John 2:2). The eternal Son became man, lived a sinless life, and died on the cross for our sins. That is the heart of Christianity. If a person has difficulty forgiving the brother who sinned against him, especially when the offending party has asked forgiveness, that person is not a Christian, according to the late Dr. John Gerstner. The apostle John writes, "This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins" (1 John 4:10). We cannot look at the cross and refuse to forgive those who sinned against us who asked our forgiveness.
Paul states, "[Christ] was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification" (Rom. 4:25). He also says, "For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures" (1 Cor. 15:3). Peter declares, "For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect" (1 Pet. 1:18-19). This is the first reason Christians must forgive.
II. God Forgives Our Infinite Sin
We must forgive because God forgave our own infinite sin. Our sin is infinite because it is sin against infinite God. Jesus spoke a parable that demonstrated the magnitude of our sin: "As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. The servant fell on his knees before him. 'Be patient with me,' he begged, 'and I will pay back everything.' The servant's master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go" (Matt. 18:24-27). The ten thousand talents symbolizes the infinite sin we have committed against God and his majesty. Canceling the servant's debt speaks about our justification. God forgave our infinite sin-past, present, future-when Christ saved us.
He also forgives us daily. When we come to God and ask his forgiveness, he will never tell us that his forgiveness is all used up. God's mercy is infinite. How dare we, therefore, not forgive a brother who sinned against us and asked our forgiveness! None of us is holier than others; we all need God's mercy.
III. God Commands Us to Forgive
God commands that we forgive our brothers and sisters in Christ. When we become Christians, we confess that Jesus Christ is Lord and promise to obey God and his word. It is time that we practiced our confession.
Jesus said, "But if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your heavenly Father will not forgive your sins" (Matt. 6:14-15). He also declared, "And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your heavenly Father may forgive your sins" (Mark 11:25). This is not a suggestion; it is a command by the eternal God. Jesus is speaking about any sin, great or small, specifically in the church. If we do not forgive, he will discipline us.
In Luke 17 Jesus spoke about forgiveness. We may think this is a difficult verse. But it is the will of God and we must submit ourselves to it: "'So watch yourselves. If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, "I repent," forgive him.' The apostles said to the Lord, 'Increase our faith!'" (Luke 17:3-5).
For someone to sin against us seven times in a day seems inconceivable, but Jesus is citing an inconceivable situation. We tend to question the sincerity of a person's repentance if he continues to sin and ask forgiveness for the same sin several times in the same day. But it is not our business to seek proof of genuine repentance when someone asks our forgiveness. God will deal with the individual in that matter. Our business is to forgive because we were forgiven our own infinite sin.
On hearing Jesus' words, the entire band of apostles told him, "This is utterly impossible. Increase our faith!" And God does increase our faith. The Bible tells us to grow in grace and in faith. Faith comes by hearing. If we keep reading the Bible and see how God loved us, we will have increased faith to forgive those who sin against us.
Suppose, then, your spouse commits adultery and comes and says, "I repent." We must forgive. Suppose that person comes seven times in one day and says, "I sinned. Forgive me." We are still duty-bound to forgive. God will judge that person, not us.
Do you want increased faith? Paul exhorts us, "And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work" (2 Cor. 9:8). "Every good work" includes forgiving sins. We cannot forgive unless God gives us grace. But he promises to give us grace for all our needs, including our need to forgive.
From Paul's letter to the believers at Colosse, we receive insight into the extent of forgiveness we are to practice :
Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you (Col. 3:12-13, italics added).
First he addresses them as "God's chosen people." God chose us from all eternity as a function of his everlasting love. Second, he says we are holy people. God is holy and he tells us, "I am the Lord who makes you holy." Third, he says we are "dearly loved." In the Greek the word is hÍgapÍmenoi, a perfect passive participle meaning "beloved always." We were beloved to God in eternity, we are beloved now, and we will be beloved by God tomorrow. We are even beloved by God when we sin. Yes, God deals with our sins, but he does not stop loving us. That is why we cannot stop loving those who sinned and came and asked forgiveness of us. We must forgive our brothers from the heart.
Paul exhorts these chosen, holy, dearly loved people to "clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience," or to say it differently, "Put on the Lord the Lord Jesus Christ." We are not to clothe ourselves with arrogance or a "holier-than-thou" attitude. Then he says, "Bear with each other," meaning we must put up with each other. Isn't that what we do in our families? We put up with our children and our spouses and live with them without seeking their perfection. Paul continues, "Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another." Then he gives the extent to which we are to forgive: "Forgive as the Lord forgave you," meaning in the same manner and to the same degree.
Elsewhere Paul writes, "Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her" (Eph. 5:25). Can any husband say he has fully obeyed this command to love his wife as Christ loved the church? We certainly strive to do it, but we all fall short every day. Yet that is God's standard. In the same way, we are to forgive as the Lord forgave us. So Paul exhorts, "Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other just as in Christ God forgave you" (Eph. 4:32).
We are to forgive as the Lord has forgiven us. In other words, our forgiveness must be complete. "Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him" (Rom. 4:7-8). When God forgives us, he says he will never count our sins against us again. So Paul says, "God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them" (2 Cor. 5:19). He does so because he counted all our sins against another, our substitute, Jesus Christ: "He who knew no sin became sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in him" (2 Cor. 5:21).
We also read about such complete forgiveness in Isaiah. The prophet declares, "Surely it was for my benefit that I suffered such anguish. In your love you kept me from the pit of destruction; you have put all my sins behind your back" (Isa. 38:17). And the Lord himself says, "I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more" (Isa. 43:25).
Jeremiah also speaks of it: "'In those days, at that time,' declares the LORD, 'search will be made for Israel's guilt, but there will be none, and for the sins of Judah, but none will be found, for I will forgive the remnant I spare'" (Jer. 50:20). We are the remnant spared by God. He did not spare his own Son but he spared us.
Jesus instructed, "This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from the heart" (Matt. 18:35). It is not that we forgive externally but internally remain angry at the person. (PGM) We must forgive from the heart. Thank God, he forgave our sins from the heart. But this verse is also a threat because if we do not forgive from the heart, God will deal with us severely. Not forgiving the sins of others when they ask forgiveness is a very serious high crime against Almighty God because we are treating his forgiveness of us as nothing.
Responsibility of the Offender
In Matthew 5:23-24 Jesus spoke about the responsibility of the offending party, giving the illustration of someone coming to church for worship with a gift. As he enters, the Holy Spirit reminds him that he and his wife are not getting along, or that he has some other unresolved problem with a brother or sister. Such a person cannot worship. Jesus says he must leave his gift at the altar and go and take care of the problem. Then he can come and worship properly. His gift will be received, and he will be blessed for his worship.
We must be in right relationship with others when we worship God. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 11 that the church members were coming together for the worse, meaning their hearts were not right when they came to worship. That was true many times in the Old Testament as well. There was a lot of external worship-many bulls were killed and blood shed-but it did not do any good. God does not accept our worship when our hearts are not right.
Jesus said, "Leave your gift in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled." Notice, reconciliation does not mean saying, "I forgive you but I don't want to see you again." No, Jesus said, "Be reconciled to your brother," meaning that brother for whom Christ died. We may not like the brothers and sisters God brings to the church, but they are the family God has given us. Jesus concluded, "Then come and offer your gift." So God reminds us of our sin so that we can dispose of it. Then we may come and worship God in spirit and truth.
The Lord's Prayer says, "Forgive us our debts as we have forgiven our debtors." That is proper worship. We come to God and ask him to forgive us. But we also must forgive others before we pray; otherwise, God will not forgive us.
What if we do not want to obey this? God deals with those who refuse to forgive. Paul writes, "That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep" (1 Cor. 11:30). We may refuse to be reconciled to our brothers and feel pretty good about it. But not for long. God will deal with us.
Responsibility of the Offended
Matthew 18:15-17 speaks about the responsibility of the offended party. God demands that we worship him in spirit and in truth, with a clean heart and a good conscience. Otherwise, it is false worship. Jesus says, "If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you," meaning if he repents, "you have won your brother over."
Notice the words of Jesus: "You have won your brother over." Suppose your brother sinned against you. But you are praying, "O God, I am going to go to this brother. Please go with me and give him repentance." Our desire is that fellowship be restored with our sinning brother. If he does not repent and comes to church yet refuses to listen to the church, he must be put out of the church and the church should not fellowship with him. But until then, we must pray that he will repent and turn, so we can again fellowship with our brother for whom Christ died.
Paul says we are to strive and make every effort "to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace" (Eph. 4:3)." The church is a family. Most of us have families, and our children may do foolish things. When they do, most parents forgive their children fairly easily rather than putting them out of the family. Why not practice the same in the family of God, which is a more permanent family than the other? That is why we must make every effort to win over a brother who has sinned against us.
If we do not forgive, we are the brothers of Lamech, who said, "If Cain is avenged seven times, then Lamech seventy-seven times" (Gen. 4:24). Lamech was a wicked man who demanded that others be punished limitlessly until they were destroyed. But that is not Christianity. So in Matthew 18 Peter asked the question, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me?" Then he found all the strength within him and asked, "Seven times?" probably meaning in his life, not in one day. Jesus said, "I tell you, not seven times but seventy-seven times," meaning without limit.
We ourselves like limitless forgiveness when we sin against God. We should apply the same to our brothers. Never put a limit on forgiveness, for we are all sinners who go astray and sin every day.
The Example of the Prodigal Son
If we say, "I forgive him, but I don't want to see him again," we do not understand what God has done for us. Paul writes, "For if when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son" (Rom. 5:10). We were far, but God brought us near, into his very presence.
The prodigal son went away and wasted all his money. He lived a wretched life for quite some time. But his father was daily watching and waiting for his return. One day he saw a man coming-an emaciated, somewhat naked, unwashed, disheveled figure. It was his son. God had saved him, and now he was coming back to his father with this request: "I have not eaten for many days. Would you please hire me as a hired hand?" His father did not say, "Yes, go and ask for some food, but I don't want to see you again." No. This old man ran to his son and kissed and embraced him. That is forgiveness. He told his son, "You are not going to be a hired servant in my house. You are my son and you will always be my son." And he gave him new clothes, new shoes, and new ring, and said, "We must celebrate, for this my son was dead but he is alive."
How, then, can we keep our brother at a distance, saying, "Well, you did that to me and now I know who you are. I forgive you, but keep away from me. If you don't keep away, then I am going to get out. I don't want to see your face." In truth, you have not forgiven him, because if you had, you would embrace your brother for whom Christ died. John writes, "If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9).
We submit to the triune God who forgives all our sins and who revealed his will in a book, which is infallible and inerrant. We submit to that book. We do not stand over it or spit on it; instead, we study it to do the will of God. The basis of our forgiveness is God-given propitiation in Jesus Christ. We cannot look at the cross, the symbol of Christianity, and insist that we do not want to forgive. If someone does not forgive from the heart as God forgave us, he or she is not a Christian. God forgave our infinite sin, he forgives it today, and will forgive us tomorrow. God our Lord commands us to forgive; therefore, not to forgive is a sin against God's command, and God will deal with us if we refuse to obey his command.
We must forgive as God forgave us in Christ. He remembers our sins no more; we also must forgive and forget. We must forgive without limit. We must understand that we are all sinners with clay feet. No one stands above others. We all stand on the same level-the level of being a sinner. We must forgive from the heart. Be reconciled to your brother if he asks your forgiveness. Hug him and let him know you have truly forgiven him. We must forgive whatever sins there are against us, not just small, easily forgivable sins, but also great sins.
The psalmist says, "[God] forgives all your sins" (Ps. 103:3) and "Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven" (Ps. 32:1). If we have been blessed by God forgiving our sins, then let us bless others by forgiving their sins. If we do not, we will encounter judgment: "For this reason, many of you are weak and sick and a number have fallen asleep." If we do not forgive, we are giving place to the devil (2 Cor. 2, Eph. 4), giving him a base of operation to wage war within us against us and against God. Not to forgive is a serious thing. It affects one's health, physical and spiritual.
Bear with one another. Do not expect perfection from others. Remember that we ourselves are not perfect. When people go astray, pray for them, that they may be restored. Paul exhorts, "Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself or you also may be tempted" (Gal. 6:1). James writes, "My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth, and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his ways will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins" (James 5:19-20).
Yes, people will sin against us. We must say, "By grace I stand. And I am going to pray for my brother and I am going to see him. I am going to rebuke him because he is my brother. I am going to pray for him to repent, because I want to have fellowship with him." May God help us to forgive because we have been forgiven, and may God help us to be restored to the brother.
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Copyright © 2009, P. G. Mathew
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