Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Forgive Like God Does

God's Words:

Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another.  Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
~Colossians 3:13

To forgive. One of the hardest things to do in life.  To willingly let go of the bitterness and resentment we feel towards someone who has hurt or offended us.

I think it's especially hard to forgive someone when they haven't even apologized (and probably never will). Or maybe they have, but you can still tell they aren't truly sorry for what they did.  Has this ever happened to you?
Or turning the tables a bit, what if it's you who has wronged someone and you are truly sorry so you apologize and ask for their forgiveness?  But although they might say they've accepted your apology and forgiven you, they definitely don't act like they've forgiven you.  You can tell that they are still holding what you did against you.

I don't know which situation is worse.  Having to forgive someone who doesn't seem to "deserve" it?  Or knowing you aren't truly forgiven by someone who is still holding a grudge?  Both situations feel pretty awful.

But let's dig a little deeper here.  What if you are the one who is holding onto bitterness or resentment by not forgiving someone (whether they've asked for it or not)?  In our key verse, Colossians 3:13, God says we are to bear with others (which means to be patient and control ourselves when provoked), forgiving whatever grievances (complaints; causes of distress) we have against them.  And that we are not only to forgive them, but to forgive them as God forgave us.  Whoa.  Now that's a tall order.  And what exactly does it mean?  How does God forgive us?  We need to know this if we are to be able to forgive as He forgives.  So let's just take a little look into God's Word to find out how He forgives.  And why.  And when.

First of all, let's start with the how - how does God forgive us?  It's not by anything we can do; it's a completely free gift of grace and mercy from a loving Father who wants us to be reconciled to Himself forever. 

This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. ~Romans 3:22-24. 

We are forgiven by God the Father through the perfect sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ.  God forgives our sins because, in dying on the cross, Christ took away the punishment for sin that was ours and put it all on Himself. 

Next we come to the why question.  Why does He forgive us like this - so freely, so undeserved on our part?  Amazingly, He says He does so for His own sake.  Wow. 

“I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more." ~Isaiah 43:25.

And also because He loves us so much, that's why!  This most famous verse puts it very simply: 

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  ~John 3:16 

Now we get to the final question on God's forgiveness.  When does He forgive us?  Well the how of forgiveness is already complete, once and for all - Jesus' death on the cross.  But before we are able to receive God's forgiveness through Christ's sacrifice for us, we must first acknowledge that we are sinners in need of a Savior and accept His sacrifice for our sins.  Only then are we forgiven by and reconciled to God the Father.  As it says in 1 John 1:9: 

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 

We are forgiven forever once we confess our sins to God and ask for His forgiveness to wipe out each and every sin (even future sins!) from our record, never to be held against us again.

And remember, God planned to give His perfect Son Jesus to die in our place before we ever realized we need to come to Him for salvation from our sins.  Actually, even way before we were ever born!  For His first promise of a Savior was right after Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden (see God's first prophecy of Christ in Genesis 3:15).

So Christ carried out His forgiving work on the cross before we were sorry for our sins.

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  ~ Romans 5:8

Now here is one more facet of God's forgiveness that never fails to completely blow my mind.  Did you know that He not only doesn't hold our sins against us when He forgives us, but He also forgets them forever?!  That the Almightly God, whose intelligence and ways are so far above ours, is actually able to forget our sins, never to remember them ever again.  As far as east is from west, and as deep as the ocean - that's how far He removes our sins from us.

The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.  He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.  For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.  ~ Psalm 103:12

Do east and west ever meet?  No.  Once God has forgiven you of your sins, He will never remember them again.  They're blotted out, like you never did them (see Isaiah 43:25 above).  Again, wow.

But why is He willing to go the the extreme of forgetting our sins against Him?  Because He doesn't want to stay angry at our sins forever, but delights in showing mercy - so much so that it's as if He hurls our sins into the depths of the sea, never to be looked for or found ever again.  I'm telling you, this stuff is just mind-blowing!

Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance?  You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy.  You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea. ~ Micah 7:18-19 

So there you have it.  If that is how God forgave us, then that is 
how He calls us to forgive each other.  But we can't do this on our own strength.  It is impossible to truly forgive others as God forgave us without His Spirit's grace and power working in and through us.

It will take a supernatural, holy power at work in us to forgive someone who we feel might not really "deserve" it; someone who doesn't seem sorry for how they hurt us.  We didn't deserve for Christ to die in our place in order to bring about God's forgiveness.  So we also should forgive those who may be undeserving.  Not merely because they have "earned" it by apologizing or acting sorry.

We should also be willing to forgive those who've wronged us because it is just one more way to show Christ's love to them.  After all, He does call us to love others.

Love your neighbor as yourself.  ~Mark 12:31b

So just as God has forgiven us because of His love for us, so we should also forgive others out of love for them.

And now comes the hardest part!  In order to truly forgive someone as God forgave us, we have to actively strive to not hold anything against them.  As hard as it may be, we must allow the Holy Spirit to work in our hearts to let go of any feelings of hurt, resentment and bitterness.  Ugh.  I don't know about you, but this is where I really need God's supernatural help!  Once I forgive someone, I desperately need God's power at work in me to not keep bringing up the past offenses and hurts in my mind, or keep a record of wrongs against them. 

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  ~ 1 Corinthians 13:4-5. 

Oh, if only we humans could really forget once we've forgiveness someone!  According to 1 Corinthians 13:5 (see above), when you love someone (as God calls us to do), you are not to keep a record of their wrongs.  You are not to hold anything bad they have ever done against them.  Argh.  That's so stinkin' hard!  How many times have you forgiven someone, only to still hold onto the memories of how they've hurt you in the past?  So because of those memories, it's harder to trust and have anything to do with that person again.

Yet - and here's the amazing hope in all this, my dear friends - because of the grace and power of the Holy Spirit at work in and through us, we are enabled to show others the forgiveness that God has given to us.  No, we cannot do it perfectly like He does.  No, we can't really ever forget how they've hurt us.  But we can ask the Lord to remove the remaining burdens of bitterness and painful memories that are still trying to cling to us.  So that we can move on in our relationship with them, working to not hold grudges and give them (and ourselves) a chance to start fresh.  We can still show unconditional love to them, in spite of what they've ever done to us.  With God as our Help and Strength we can do the "impossible" and forgive as God forgives us!

In Christ,


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