Forgiveness is not in our fallen human nature. We are attacked, we defend ourselves; someone treats us unjustly and we want justice done to them; someone is mean to us and we want to hit back. Even as the event recedes into the past we keep it alive with fantasies of revenge.
God Is Really Clear on This
Yet Jesus was extremely clear – extremely clear – that we need to forgive!
“And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” (Mark 11:25)
Note that here, Jesus doesn’t say anything about if a person really sinned against you or not, only that you hold something against them. Sometimes someone really isn’t sinning against us, or maybe they did once then we took that ball and ran with it.
But you’re not a mind reader to go around ascribing the world’s worst motivations to someone else. “Well, I KNOW that she hates me and she’s judging me and she wishes I would fall into a well!” So who died and made you a mind reader? What are you, the Great Bambini?
Now, sometimes people really DO sin against us, and forgiving them is harder. But stop ascribing the worst possible motivations to other people.
OK, this does not just apply to individuals who we feel have wronged us. This also applies to politicians! It applies to nations! It applies to other religions! NOWHERE in the Bible did Jesus say to forgive someone… UNLESS THEY’RE A CERTAIN POLITICAL PARTY. Nowhere! Don’t argue with me about that, argue with God.
It is perfectly all right to hold opinions, even strong ones, and to act on those opinions when you are called to do so. But it is NOT all right to be unforgiving, angry all the time, full of hatred for people who disagree with you. Even if you firmly believe that you are right and they are wrong!
God has told us in no uncertain terms to forgive. Only Almighty God reserves the right to judge the living and dead, and He will at the Judgment Seat, but what did Jesus say when He faced the mob was to kill him?
When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.
he people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.”
The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar 37 and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.”
There was a written notice above him, which read: this is the king of the jews.
One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”
Did Jesus have to right to judge? Absolutely! Not only were they murdering Him, they were murdering the perfect son of God! But He didn’t. So who are we to think we have the right?!
Because we don’t. There is a lot riding on our decision to forgive – or at least to start the long process of forgiving when we have hated for so long.
We Forgive so God Will Forgive Us
The first one ought to give all of us pause. If we don’t forgive other people – we’re not forgiven either. Whoa. This should prick the balloon of our own self-righteousness really fast.
“For 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 Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:14-16)
“Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (Colossians 3:13)
We Forgive so Our Prayers Will be Answered
We also forgive so that our own prayers will be answered. Apparently God is not big on answering our prayers when we refuse to forgive someone. Remember that this is for our sakes; we will be stunted and unhappy if we refuse to forgive.
Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (Mt. 18:21-22)
The Hebrews used the number 7 as a number of perfection. Peter really thought he was being very generous with his example of 7 times, since the Jews also believed that you should not forgive the same sin more than 3 times. After that many times, it was clear that the person would never straighten up and fly right.
So what does Jesus say? Something radical! “Not 7 but 70 times!” This is the “perfection of perfection.” And do you know where it comes from? Because God forgives us again, again and again, and a good thing too. Can you imagine if God only forgave us 3 times, or 7 times, or even 70 times over our whole lives?
Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. (Colossians 3:13)
Forgiveness Isn’t Easy
Why is it so hard to forgive, or sometimes to even realize we need to forgive? Because staying angry feels good! It feels in control! We feel like we’ve got this!
We haven’t “got this,” but Satan has got us! We think that holding onto our anger will change things. It won’t. It will change us and not for the good!
Remember: anger is not in and of itself a sin, but it so easily turns into one!
“In your anger do not sin” [Ps. 4:4]: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. (Eph. 4:26-27)
This can take a long time! A great injustice or hurt done to you or someone you love is hard to forgive. So is a long history of small slights, which can build into towering anger and resentment.
When you have been damaged by someone doing something that hurts you, we do have to make a choice between deciding to forgive and feeling that we are ready to forgive. Although forgiveness can help us to feel better in time, we cannot afford to wait until we feel emotionally ready to forgive. Forgiveness is first and foremost for the Christian obedience to God and his command to forgive. Secondarily we know that our lack of forgiveness stunts and embitters us.
In these cases the ability to forgive does not always start with the capacity to forgive – it starts with the will to forgive. God will give you the grace to forgive, but you must come to a place where you are ready to start. Remember that your lack of forgiveness is unlikely to hurt anyone else but you, certainly not the person who hurt you!
Working to forgive takes time! Be aware of your own sin of unforgiveness and constantly seek God to forgive you for it, even as you work to forgive others. And don’t be discouraged.
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)
Just don’t sit around and feel mad all the time. And for God’s sake – and I mean that quite literally – don’t sit around and slam each other.
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (Eph. 4:29-32)
We are new creatures in Christ, but an attitude of hatred and unforgiveness is straight from hell. Forgive – our eternity depends on it! Other’s eternities may depend on it too. What kind of witness are you if you’re boiling over with self-righteousness and unforgiveness? Not much of one!
You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. (Eph. 4:22-24)
This is what we are striving for. Don’t be passive, don’t ever be that. Work for what is right. We But the mind of Christ is love; the mind of demons is hatred. God forbid we should end up there because we will not forgive!
For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Col. 1:13-14)