“ . . . As the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” – Colossians 3:13
God commands Christians to be compulsive forgivers. When Peter asked Jesus how many times a repeat-offender should be pardoned, he basically said every time (Matthew 18:21-22). In fact, he went so far as to say that if we are unwilling to forgive others their trespasses, the Father will not forgive us our trespasses (Matt. 6:14)! According to Jesus, a readiness to overlook the sins committed against us always accompanies saving faith. The person who has received God’s forgiveness is required and desires to extend forgiveness to others.
But this Spirit-given desire to forgive sometimes clashes with the not-so-gracious disposition of our flesh, doesn’t it? Everything in our fallen nature wants to hold tightly to offense. When someone lies to us, slanders us, lashes out at us, devalues us, or otherwise sins against us, our natural inclination is not to extend forgiveness but to harden our hearts against the transgressor. And the more intimate our relationship with the person, the more intensely we feel the pains of their betrayal. I find it reasonably easy to forgive those with whom I’m not very close. But the more invested I am in the relationship—the more I love, value, and trust a person—the more difficult I find it to overcome the negative emotions and extend grace.
When my pained heart is reluctant to forgive, I have found it tremendously helpful to meditate on the following three realities:
- God’s forgiveness of my sins. No matter how grievous the nature of a person’s trespass against me, the smallest of my sins against God is inconceivably more offensive. God is infinitely worthy of my loyalty and love, and I have betrayed him millions of times over. Yet even still, he looks on me not with anger or bitterness but with grace and forgiveness through his Son.
- God’s justice. The sin committed against me either has been dealt with justly or will be dealt with justly. If the transgressor is a believer, Christ has already taken upon himself God’s wrath against that specific sin. And if the person is not a believer and remains in his or her unbelief until death, God will punish him or her personally for this sin. Whichever way it happens, all sin will be avenged. I don’t have to punish someone with my anger or bitterness. God has done or will do what is just concerning the offense.
- My innumerable transgressions against others. I have sinned sorely against the people in my life. I have lied to friends. I have slandered brothers and sisters in Christ. I have gossiped about those who love me. My transgressions against others are innumerable. Who am I to stand in judgment over them for doing what I myself have done (and might do again in the future)? Who am I to withhold forgiveness from those who have forgiven me time and again of my sins against them?
I don’t think it is at all wrong to initially be hurt or even angry when an offense is committed against us. But it is sinful to allow these reactionary feelings to linger and produce bitterness in our hearts. Because we (believers) enjoy God’s forgiveness, know God will deal justly with all sin, and are ourselves guilty of sinning against others, we have no legitimate reason to ever withhold mercy from anyone! Whenever someone sins against us, we must remind ourselves of (at least) these three realities and participate in one of the greatest gospel experiences on this side of Heaven: forgiveness.