Points to Ponder: Forgiveness, Part 1 of 2: A Scary Thought
Points to Ponder
Forgiveness, Part 1 of 2: A Scary Thought
What a scary prayer! Have you ever seriously considered what you are saying to God when you pray the Lord's Prayer? It is the model Jesus gave us for how to pray (Matthew 6:9-13; Luke 11:2-4). The prayer we recite in church most closely matches Matthew's version. The most risky line that makes me think is this:
"And forgive us our debts (trespasses) as we forgive our debtors (or, 'as we forgive those who trespass against us')!" (Matthew 6:12)
Jesus goes on to say that you can not expect to receive God's forgiveness of your sins unless you forgive others.
"For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses." (Matthew 6:14-15)
Now what's up with that? Didn't God so love the world that He gave Jesus His Son to die for our sins? (John 3:16) If you believe Jesus Christ died for your sins, paying for them with His blood and by His sacrificial death, you have eternal life (John 5:24). So why does Jesus have this contingency clause in the model prayer?
Consider this: Can someone purchase a gift for you and then you are not able or not willing to receive it? At Christmas time, could you leave the presents marked with your name unopened under the tree? Yes.
On God's part, a provision has been made to cover your sin. On our part, we have to have a proper heart condition in order to receive it. Some of us know in our heads what we still have not received in our hearts. Is that you?
Thus we get into the difficult matter of forgiveness. Have you ever been wronged by someone who did not deserve forgiveness? Have you been betrayed or hurt by someone who has never apologized for their actions? So many articles and Christian books are written about the difficult act of forgiving someone. Whole sermon series have been done on this. We struggle to forgive the often unforgivable and yet we casually expect that God will simply forgive and forget what we've done against Him.
Isn't it interesting that Jesus does not tell us to come groveling before God begging His pardon? God expects rather that we will go humbly forward toward our offenders, literally or spiritually, and forgive them.
How does that work when the offense is especially grievous and the effect upon your life is deep and long lasting? Suppose the offender is not moved to apologize, is in denial, or simply doesn't care? Does such a one deserve forgiveness? No. But then, neither do you or I. And the
scary thing you can observe in yourself on this issue is that you are the one being punished by the grudge you are holding, not the offender. If your heart has not been deeply moved toward the one who has violated you, how deeply has, or can, God reach into your soul and heal you?
Knee-jerk reactions, defensive anger will arise when someone dares to tell you that you must forgive. But read Matthew 6:14-15 and you find that you are arguing with Jesus. He said it. And, as they whipped His back into bloody shreds and pounded nails into His hands and feet, He did what He tells us to do - "Father, forgive them."
But how? This is not easy, especially because we equate forgiveness with emotions; as if the pain should just go away, the relationship should be restored, and we should just go on as if nothing happened. I doubt that Jesus was having warm, fuzzy feelings toward His executioners that day. Forgiveness is a decision, an act of the will. It may be a long time before our feelings match our decision or at least give a sense of resolution and peace. But in the end, after you have decided to forgive, it is you who changes for the better. The offender may be no less offensive for it, but at least you are no longer under the power of the sin that was committed against you.
There's a point to ponder: When sin is committed against you, there is a power in it that continues to pull your strings even after years have gone by. No doubt some things have happened to you that exacted real change in you that will never be undone. You'll never get "back to normal" because some things permanently take away "normal' forever. And that is where the power of the sin keeps a fire burning in your soul; because you dwell on what was lost, what you can't have back, on conditions you now have to contend with that didn't exist before... How can you receive the forgiveness of God, which is the truth that makes you free (John 8:32), if you give power to a past that you can't undo?
Isn't it true that our refusal to forgive is based in our desire to be in control? To forgive, one must release from custody; you have to let go. To do that is to give up power. But if you really ponder this, you must admit you have no power. In fact, the power has you.
To forgive is to release into Christ's hands the offense and the offender. We ourselves do not have the ability to truly forgive, but when we release it all into His hands, He forgives through us. Forgiveness is a supernatural act. It requires Supernatural power to perform.
More on this next week.
Pastor Dennis is now (and has been since July 1, 2007) the Senior Pastor of Hilltop Christian Fellowship located at 9508 National Pike, Big Pool, MD.