One of the first memories that I have about receiving forgiveness for doing something irreversible and certain of unfavorable consequences was when I was about 11 years old. My mother went on a trip to Mexico, and while there, she purchased a beautiful vase, which she proudly showcased in our living room. One day my brother and I were playing in the living room, and I bumped into the table that the vase sat upon, and it fell to the floor and shattered. All I could think about was how I had destroyed something irreplaceable that made my mother so happy. I ran upstairs and cried in anguish over the disappointment that I had caused and the punishment that I was sure to receive.
When my mother came home from work and heard about what happened, she saw how upset and sorry I was. She told me that all was forgiven and assured me that the vase could be put back together. I felt so much love in her response, telling me that I was absolved of the offense I had committed. God’s forgiveness and mercy are very much the same way. When we sin and are broken and contrite, he is waiting with open arms to forgive and restore us.
Forgiving Each Other
“For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:14-15). God’s forgiveness demands that we forgive others. As believers in Jesus Christ, we should always feel uneasy when there are unresolved issues between us and another person. God’s heartbeat is reconciliation. First, we must be reconciled to God through Jesus Christ. Then we must be reconciled with one another as children of God. Sometimes, we are hurt very deeply by another person’s actions toward us. Feeling hurt is understandable but should only be temporary.
Sometimes, depending on the hurt that we have sustained, it may take a long time to forgive and move on. But there is a point at which we must make a choice between holding on to hurt feelings and being forgiving. Having an unforgiving spirit can result in a complete loss of joy and experiencing all that God has planned for you. Long term, holding on to feelings of hurt can turn into resentment. Unresolved resentment can turn into bitterness. All this can eventually result in feelings of depression.
We can even idolize our hurt and pain. It becomes woven into our very being. By holding on to pain, we may feel like we are justified in not having the responsibility to forgive. Even as Jesus was suffering on the cross for the sins of those who were mocking him, he showed mercy and extended grace and said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). Surely, this is an example that we can follow. If we don’t have the strength to do it, we can go to God in prayer. He will heal those who are brokenhearted (Psalms 147:3) and give them the strength and compassion to forgive. Prayer will change your entire perspective about the pain that you are feeling and about the person who has committed an offense against you.
There will be times when forgiveness is not reciprocated or accepted. For example, a person may sincerely ask another person for forgiveness but is met with the refusal of a heartfelt request. On the other hand, a person who has committed an offense may never apologize for the acts committed against another person, yet, we are still required to forgive them. In either case, we must be obedient to God and glorify him with our actions. In Matthew 5:44-48, Jesus gives great instructions for dealing with this.
“But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Forgiveness and Consequences
In Luke 23:39-43, a thief suffering the same sentence of crucifixion on the cross as Jesus asked Jesus to remember him when he came into his kingdom. He was in essence, repenting and asking for forgiveness. Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” The thief was forgiven of his sins, but still suffered the pain and agony of crucifixion and died. His circumstances were unchanged, yet he received eternal life and is with Jesus in Heaven.
Likewise, there are times when we receive God’s mercy and forgiveness, but because the consequences of sin are still present, we may ask, “If God forgave me, why is there still so much pain, suffering, and hardships? After all, 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” According to this scripture, God will forgive, and he absolutely does. However, it is God’s choice to remove the consequences of sin or to use them for some other purpose in our lives. Someone commits a felony and asks God for forgiveness, which he grants graciously, but there is still a lengthy prison sentence. Another person has an extramarital affair and asks God for forgiveness, which he also grants graciously, but the marriage may suffer separation or even divorce. Sinful decisions have consequences. Galatians 6:7 says, “… a man reaps what he sows.”
Unchanged circumstances do not mean that God does not love us or that he did not forgive us. Perhaps, they remain so that we will not commit sinful acts repeatedly. Ask, and God will give you the grace to endure if you keep your heart and mind fixed on him.
Forgiving Ourselves and Carrying False Guilt
Sometimes we dispense forgiveness to everyone but ourselves. When we are tempted and fall into sin, Satan uses guilt and shame to thwart God’s true purpose for our lives. Although God’s forgiveness is sought and received, the disappointment of a bad decision can lead to feelings of self-loathing. When people can’t forgive themselves, it is as if they presume that their standard of forgiveness is higher than God’s. We must forget the past and look forward to what lies ahead (Philippians 3:13NLT).
Past pain can lead to false guilt, which keeps a person in bondage and from fully living in freedom in their relationship with God. God never intended for us to carry these burdens. In John 10:10, Jesus says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.”
Christians are in a battle each and every day, as stated in Ephesians 6:12 and 1 Peter 5:8. The enemy, Satan, will try to tempt us in so many ways. There are so many things that lie in our pathway that stimulate our flesh and tempt us into sin. If there is something that happened in the past and the enemy keeps bringing it up, here’s what God says in Psalm 103:12 says about those who have placed their complete faith and trust in Christ: “[A]s far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” We have freedom in Christ Jesus from our past. We are a new creation!
Sharing God’s Forgiveness
When the Gospel of Jesus Christ is shared, God’s forgiveness is shared. Those who are in Christ were once enemies of the cross. Having received God’s grace and forgiveness makes us Christ’s witnesses and his ambassadors to share his Gospel of redemption. Salvation through Jesus Christ is truly the greatest message that a Christian has to share. The message of the Gospel contains themes of love, redemption, deliverance, and grace that is undeserved but yet given as a free gift from God through the sacrifice made by his Son, Jesus Christ.
Have you experienced forgiveness? If so, are you ready to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18)? Sign up for Wednesday Night Alive starting on Wednesday, September 14, to learn more about how you can grow in your faith.
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