Opening Riddle: The Miracle of Forgiveness
Mark 2:7-11 (Wey) "Why does this man use such words?" they said; "He is blaspheming. Who can pardon sins but One--that is, God?"... Jesus asked them, "Which is easier?--to say to this paralytic, 'Your sins are pardoned,' or to say, 'Rise, take up your mat, and walk?' But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to pardon sins"--He turned to the paralytic, and said, "To you I say, 'Rise, take up your mat and go home.'"
Mat 6:12 (TEB) "Forgive us the wrongs that we have done, as we forgive the wrongs others have done us."
Luke 6:37 (NIV) "...Forgive, and you will be forgiven."
Mat 6:14-15 (NIV) "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."
Assuming the teaching of Mat 6:15 and other such verses is understood and acknowledged as true, rather than emphasize the need to forgive in this Bible study--i.e., the law--we will instead look at five cheap substitutes or impediments to forgiveness, and then at what real forgiveness is, how to attain it, and how to remain in it. And we may find that forgiveness is more difficult, and more easy, than we first thought.
Sin Is Only Human...
What is natural to "the flesh" (the carnal nature) when we have been hurt or abused or insulted is to strike back, to plot revenge, or to simmer in bitterness. This is "only human". But God requires forgiveness, else He will NOT forgive us. If we are unwilling--or unable--to forgive, then there is no use asking God for what He has told us He will not give. For believers, dealing with the sin of unforgiveness is first priority.Mark 11:25 (NIV) "And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins."
As a way to test the veracity of the following points, let us consider forgiveness in the most radical sense we can. Think of something truly wicked that has been done to you or someone you love, not by accident or error but deliberately and with malice--where you have come right up against evil and the pain caused by it in your own emotions.
1) What Forgiveness Is Not: Play Acting For Show...
Remember when as a child you were forced by some adult to "forgive" someone who was first forced to "say sorry" to you? Is this really repentance by the perpetrator... or forgiveness by the victim? Well, perhaps so--in a few rare cases. But let us be honest and acknowledge that this charade by children is more often a temporary cessation of hostilities for the sake of the grown-ups, with the full intent to do more of the same violence (and not get caught) and/or get revenge later--when beyond the adult's watchful eye. Adults force children through this ritual because strife in a family or group of kids is an unbearable pain; and they want to teach. Play-acting does give at least a temporary reprieve. But God's pain is more acute when He sees our strife with each other, and His solution aims a little deeper than mere words or mimicry or delay or coating over. For He is aiming not at hypocritical play-acting, but at truth from the inside out. This childish pantomime of "forgiveness" often carries into adulthood as a superficial substitute for the real thing. We think by "saying so", it is so. But is God fooled by such? Is there ever a place where we can escape His penetrating gaze? Does He not see the secret meditation of revenge or the bitter hatred behind the nice smile? Since when is He impressed with mere words when hearts do not match?Mark 7:6 (Phi) Jesus replied, "You hypocrites, Isaiah described you beautifully when he wrote: 'These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.' These teachings are but rules made by men."
2) Is Denial Forgiveness?
The inability to really forgive is often due to a false concept that "forgetting is forgiving". Forgetting is NOT forgiving. To be sure, if we forgive we will forget as a result. But the reverse is not true: forgetting is not forgiving--it is denial.Ps 51:6 (NAS) Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being...
If we attempt to achieve a bogus forgiveness by deliberately putting "out of mind" the offense, we might be fooling ourselves and others that we have "forgiven". But all of the emotions and plots and hurt are still there--only held back by force of will in deliberated denial. But then we see "that person" again and all the bitterness and pain rise up again within us. Or, in the off moment--when such mental gymnastics cannot be maintained--we catch ourselves in an elaborate meditation of revenge or fit of rage and anger. Then we see just how deep and effective this sort of "forgiveness" is. A mind "bent" by denial has a nasty habit of "snapping back" in the worst of moments.
1 Jn 2:9 (Wey) Any one who professes to be in the light and yet hates his brother is still in darkness.
Denial is merely a delusion: flimsy, fake, and shallow. Forgiveness is real: robust and solid and deep. It is not an avoiding of the truth, but a dealing with it squarely, however painful. Consider God's perspective. Nothing is hidden from His sight: the evil intent, the hidden lust, the damage done, the choosing of that which is wrong, etc. And yet He is the author and originator of forgiveness. If we are going to really forgive, we are going to have to do it His way: with our eyes open. For those God chooses to forgive, He will "forget" their sins, "remembering them no more". But let us not accuse the omniscient God of not knowing something or of being ignorant of any fact. He has told us that nothing is beyond His sight. Rather let us understand the "figure of speech" and spiritual dynamic of how God forgives.Heb 8:12 (NIV) "For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more."
The order here is essential. Forgiveness first, forgetting second. Until real forgiveness takes place, the offense is "in our faces" as regards that person, and it is the same with God. The sin comes between us, and cannot be "forgotten" until dealt with. If and when we enter into true forgiveness, we can then regard the person without the "offense" looming first and foremost between us.Isa 43:25 (NIV) "I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more."
3) Impediments To Forgiveness: The Lure Of Sin
Another impediment to forgiveness is that bitterness, revenge, hatred, etc. have a perverted sort of appeal. Who has not felt the intoxicating lure of a grandiose meditation of scorching retribution? While we know this is wrong, it sure is great fun in the moment to fondle such thoughts.Eph 4:26-27,31 (NIV) "In your anger do not sin": Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold... Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.
4) Vengeance Is The Lord's... But Only If He Acts As My Agent?
Rom 12:19 (NIV) Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord.
Surely God has more power to pour wrath on our enemies than we do, and He surely sees the evil done all too clearly. So the thought may strike us to let Him do the dirty work. But when we think this through, it may not turn out as the carnal man within us might like. For let us face the plain fact that God has this habit of forgiving people and extending great mercy, at least for the time being. So... we may not see fire from heaven come down to consume those we wish would receive God's vengeance. It is not that He is letting them off by some magic or deflection of mind, it is just that He may take the painful punishment Himself.Prov 24:17 (NAS) Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles.
Mat 5:44-45 (NEB) "But what I tell you is this: love your enemies and pray for your persecutors; only so can you be like children of your heavenly Father, who makes his sun rise on good and bad alike, and sends the rain on the honest and the dishonest. If you love only those who love you, what reward can you expect? Surely the tax-gatherers do as much as that. And if you greet only your brothers, what is there extraordinary about that? Even the heathen do as much. There must be no limit to your goodness, as your heavenly Father's goodness knows no bounds."
Let us "count the cost" of letting God deal with our "enemies". He may bless them, prosper them, and save their eternal souls, rather than strike them dead with a lightning bolt. For this is what God is like, and what He is "up to" just now. And this may not satisfy our sense of what should happen. If we "let go and let God", He may well forgive and bless and love those we have plotted against and smoldered in hatred for, and even give us this same "foolish" (1 Cor 1:25) mindset.Luke 17:3-5 (Phi) "So be careful how you live. If your brother offends you, take him to task about it, and if he is sorry, forgive him. Yes, if he wrongs you seven times in one day and turns to you and says, 'I am sorry' seven times, you must forgive him. And the apostles said to the Lord, 'give us more faith.'"
5) Is Real Forgiveness Humanly Possible?
It has been said, "To err is human, to forgive divine." There is a truth in this.Luke 7:49 (GLT) And those reclining with Him began to say within themselves, "Who is this who even forgives sins?"
For what "seems right to a man" (Prov 16:25) is revenge. If the offense is not avenged, will not the perpetrator be sanctioned in his behavior to do more of the same? What about justice and fairness? Does forgiveness even "work" at a mere human level? What would happen to our society if everyone REALLY did this? Is "loving our enemies" something that appeals to our sensibilities? Does it even make any sense to the natural man?
Which Is Easier?
Perhaps the greatest impediment to forgiveness is the idea that we could actually do it on our own, that it is a human quality. Consider that we are as capable, and likely, to supernaturally heal someone in our own strength... as to be able to forgive them. For which is easier?Mat 9:5-6 (NIV) Which is easier: to say, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Get up and walk'? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins..." Then he said to the paralytic, "Get up, take your mat and go home."
What Only God Can Do
When God says we should do something that is reasonably within our power, then we can mistake our own carnal self-efforts for Spirit-led obedience. But when we hear Him say something impossible or impractical like "be perfect" (Mat 5:48) we despair and realize that it will only be by grace that we are saved, through faith in Him who alone has the qualities God requires. For this is "God stuff" we are talking about here. If "perfection" is not given to us from Christ, we will never get it on our own.John 15:5 (NKJ) "...For without Me you can do nothing."
On the scale of things Jesus told us we must do, perhaps just below His demand of "perfection" as being impossible to attain in our own resources... is forgiveness. Let us recognize that only God can forgive. It is not humanly possible. If we "get it" at all, it will be by God's very nature being imputed to us. And right here is the secret to real forgiveness. It is divine.Luke 5:20-21 (NIV) When Jesus saw their faith, he said, "Friend, your sins are forgiven." The Pharisees and the teachers of the law began thinking to themselves, "Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?"
It is assumed that every believer will have had some experience at true forgiveness, even if vicariously through a movie or book or story. And in the range of human emotion, true forgiveness ranks as one of the sweetest and most pleasurable that a human can feel. Corrie Ten Boom called this after-effect of forgiveness "a flood of joy and peace". The burden of bitterness is removed, there is a supernatural "rightness" to it, conflict is replaced with resonance, and love floods in where hatred once ruled. This is no accident, it is the very nature of God coursing through us. It is grace at work. For the only way to truly forgive is to have His life in us. All else is play-acting, denial, or capitulation to sin.
May we be encouraged all the more to this aspect of "Christ in us", now that we have tasted and seen that the Lord is good.
While many Christians are off chasing bogus revivals and spiritual hucksters making self-claims to be "anointed" or chasing some wind of doctrine to get some splash of spiritual thrill, what often goes untried is God's way of obedience. Want to experience God? FORGIVE. Want to feel His presence and power coursing through your body in a thrilling moment of supernatural encounter? Forgive.
What Comes Naturally To The Spirit In Us
Mat 6:12 (NIV) Forgive us our debts, AS WE also have forgiven our debtors.
In other words, this forgiveness stuff should be expected as normal and intuitive for Christians. And it is. As an analogy, grace working in us through the power of the Holy Spirit is like water pressure from a faucet, where we are a hose through which that water should flow. If we are attached, the power is not ours; but the waters of life can course in and through us as we are connected to the source. Occasionally, though, forgiveness can become elusive--even seemingly impossible. The hose has gotten "kinked" somehow. It is not as if God has failed, or that we do not know better, or what should happen, we just cannot, for some reason, enter into obedience. If this is the case, here is some practical Biblical advice to again find the flow of God's nature and Spirit in and through you. For the way of forgiveness should be "second nature" for those born again.
Remember What We Have Been Forgiven From!
Mat 18:21-27 (NIV) 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. "Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 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."
Mat 18:28-35 (NIV) "But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow-servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. 'Pay back what you owe me!' he demanded. His fellow-servant fell to his knees and begged him, 'Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.' But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened. Then the master called the servant in. 'You wicked servant,' he said, 'I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow-servant just as I had on you?' In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart."
Where this servant failed, then, is in FORGETTING the merciful treatment His master gave him. He FORGOT the great sin he was forgiven of.2 Pet 1:9 (NAS) ...For he who lacks these qualities is blind or short-sighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins.
Let us not make the same mistake. Let us make sure to remember our salvation from former sins, even if it means some people (who think they are serving God!) accuse us of being "negative".
Various people and teachers will have various opinions and advice about forgiveness. But by Biblical revelation, not remembering appears to be the MAJOR reason for "kinking" the supernatural flow of forgiveness in our lives. Are we less in need of forgiveness than those we are judging and holding in unforgiveness? Really? Have we so quickly forgotten the great mercy God has shown us when we needed it?Luke 18:9-14 (NIV) To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men--robbers, evildoers, adulterers--or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.' But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner.' I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God..."
Mat 5:21-22 (NIV) "You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.' But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment..."
1Sam 16:7 (NIV) ...The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart."
Authorized By Grace... We Can Do What God Does
Col 3:12-13 (Jer) You are God's chosen race, his saints; he loves you, and you should be clothed in sincere compassion, in kindness and humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with one another; forgive each other as soon as a quarrel begins. The Lord has forgiven you; now you must do the same.
1 Pet 2:21-23 (NEB) To that you were called, because Christ suffered on your behalf, and thereby left you an example; it is for you to follow in his steps. He committed no sin, he was convicted of no falsehood; when he was abused he did not retort with abuse, when he suffered he uttered no threats, but committed his cause to the One who judges justly.
1 Pet 3:9 (NEB) Do not repay wrong with wrong, or abuse with abuse; on the contrary, retaliate with blessing, for a blessing is the inheritance to which you yourselves have been called.
Luke 6:27-37 (NRS) "But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you... Do to others as you would have them do to you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same... But love your enemies, do good... and your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful... Forgive, and you will be forgiven."
Eph 4:31-32 (Phi) Let there be no more bitter resentment or anger, no more shouting or slander, and let there be no bad feeling of any kind among you. Be kind to each other, be compassionate. Be as ready to forgive others as God for Christ's sake has forgiven you.
Heb 12:15 (Jer) Be careful that no one is deprived of the grace of God and that no root of bitterness should begin to grow and make trouble; this can poison a whole community.
Rom 12:17-21 (Phi) Don't pay back a bad turn by a bad turn, to anyone. See that your public behavior is above criticism. As far as your responsibility goes, live at peace with everyone. Never take vengeance into your own hands, my dear friends: stand back and let God punish if he will. For it is written: "It is mine to avenge, I will repay," says the Lord. And it is also written: "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head." Don't allow yourself to be overpowered by evil. Take the offensive--overpower evil with good!
Extra Stuff on Forgiveness