Even Those Things
Forgiveness is another one of those words that can get a bad rap. Like isn’t that letting this person who wronged me get off scot-free? Or signing up to be walked all over? Is offering forgiveness a “live and let live” mentality? Or is it actually part of being holy?
Here’s the thing: We are called to be holy as our heavenly Father is holy—to live in such a way that the world sees Him through us. And check out what Jesus does in one of His sermons. He says:
Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Luke 6:36 NIV
Wait, hold up. Did Jesus mess up the quote? I thought it was “be holy, just as I [God] am holy”? Yes, but Jesus knew exactly what He was doing. Because the part of holiness His audience was missing was mercy. And how often do we miss it in how we treat others too? We can be all about grace and mercy when it comes to ourselves, but as soon as someone hurts us, man, do we want justice!
Which makes it even more incredible to think about the fact that before you even knew Him, acknowledged Him, trusted Him, or even took a single step toward Him, Jesus went all the way to the cross for you.
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8 NIV
Talk about radical mercy and grace. What God shows us through the example of Jesus is that forgiveness really has nothing to do with the response of the other person. It is an intentional decision to treat them the same way that God, through Christ, has treated you. In other words, He has been so merciful toward us, that our calling to reflect Him to the world is inseparable from the habit of showing mercy to others.
After a challenging sermon, Peter asks Jesus this question:
“Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Matthew 18:21 NIV
Jesus responds with this story: There was this guy who owed a massive sum of money to the king. The servant was in the position of literally losing everything he had, giving up his home, and having to sell himself and his family members into slavery until he could gather enough to pay up. In an act of selfless mercy, the king forgives this servant’s debt, canceling it completely. What does the servant do? Weep for joy? Throw a party? Live the most generous life ever from that point forward? No, none of the above. Instead, he immediately goes and finds a fellow servant, a friend who owes him a mere fraction of what he had owed the king, and demands to be paid back, like, now. He even roughs his buddy up and has him thrown in jail! Wait, what? Did he get amnesia when he left the king’s court? Because that just shouldn’t happen. And that’s Jesus’ point. The only appropriate response to being forgiven of the debt that would have cost us our peace, our relationships, and our freedom—because that’s what sin does—is to turn around and forgive others.
Now there are those of us who have experienced deep, incredibly horrific wrongs. Hurting and taking advantage of others is not okay. And forgiveness doesn’t make things all of a sudden sunshine and roses. It’s not pretending that everything is fine. It’s actually the exact opposite. See, bitterness brushes things off. Forgiveness confronts them with the power of the cross. Jesus had to die for those things. That’s clearly a big deal. And because Jesus died for them, we don’t have to carry them. Choosing to show mercy and offer forgiveness frees us to walk in the peace, wholeness, and freedom that Jesus offers us, whereas choosing unforgiveness leads to bitterness—and the only person we’re really hurting is ourselves. However, showing mercy doesn’t always mean our relationship with the person will or should go back to the way it was before. We can’t choose obedience or repentance for them. As followers of Jesus, as holy people, our part is to offer mercy just as our heavenly Father has offered us mercy.
Habit 4: Show mercy to others. How often should we forgive? That was Peter’s question, which Jesus answered by saying “seventy times seven” and then telling the story about the two debtors. Was Jesus giving us a word problem, like in math class? No. Seven is the number of completion. So what Jesus was saying is that we are to keep forgiving until our forgiveness is completely completed. Another word for complete is perfect, and another word for perfect (yep, you guessed it) is holy. We, as holy people, forgive relentlessly—continuously, habitually—because our holy God never fails to forgive us.
Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
Luke 6:36 NIV
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Romans 5:8 NIV
Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who 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 bags of gold 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. “At this 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. “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. 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 it 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 outraged 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 handed 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 or sister from your heart.”
Matthew 18:21-35 NIV