Forgiveness - Part 2

Christ came to save people from their sins “because of the tender mercy of our God” (Lk. 1:78), which means that forgiveness is at the heart of the gospel. Therefore, it is a necessary fruit and vital sign of a regenerate person that they have a merciful and forgiving heart: “Blessed are the merciful for they will receive mercy” (Matt. 5:7), “and forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matt. 5:12; cf.5:14,15).

Last week we defined forgiveness. But practicing it is not that easy, especially if the other person is selfish, a habitual sinner, or even abusive.

Practicing Forgiveness

“Until we die or Christ returns, we will have to practice forgiveness in our relationships with others. But words of forgiveness such as, ‘I was wrong. Will you forgive me?’ and ‘Yes, I forgive you’, are rare.” (Tim Lane)

A few points on practicing forgiveness:

Don’t ignore the sin:

"If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you" (Matt. 18:15). Matthew 18 speaks as a whole about dealing with sin in the body of Christ. Vv. 1-5 speak about having humility; vv. 6-9 speak of the seriousness of sin and dealing with it violently; vv. 10-14 speak about having compassion for the lost; vv. 15-20 speak about confrontation and church discipline.

Love a habitual sinner wisely:

Wise love does not act in revenge (Ro. 12:17-19). It goes the extra mile and shows desire for reconciliation (Matt. 5:38-42), but doesn’t make it easy for someone to sin against you. Therefore, wise love involves others (Matt. 18:15-20) and sometimes even civil authorities (Ro. 13).

Be forgiving:

When you have been sinned against, the key is to deal with your own heart first. There are two axes of forgiveness: vertical and horizontal.

Deal with your heart attitude towards the other person vertically before God: Mk. 11:25, “And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”

Then deal with the horizontal forgiveness. The horizontal dimension is only possible if the offender repents. But even if that person doesn’t repent, the one offended can maintain a forgiving attitude towards that person before God (vertical). The offender’s failure to admit their sin and ask for forgiveness is not an excuse to hold onto anger.

Ask for forgiveness:

Saying “I’m sorry” is not the same as, “I was wrong about ______. Please forgive me.” “I’m sorry” usually gets the response “that’s okay”. Firstly, the person has not named their sin. Secondly, sin is never “okay”. Asking someone for forgiveness about the particular sin you have committed also requires the offended person to actually forgive you to complete the transaction. They must make sure they are right before God and not harboring bitterness and they must offer mercy, even as you ask for mercy. That way, both parties are humbled before the cross and God extends grace to both.

A few reasons we don’t forgive:

You don’t believe you need it:

When you don’t forgive you say, “I can’t believe that he did that to me. I would never do something that bad.” Like the unforgiving servant, you forget that you have been forgiven infinitely more than you can ever forgive another person.

You don’t believe you are forgivable:

There is often great shame in our own sin and it takes time to realize the grace of God’s forgiveness has overcome it. This might be true for you but it may also be true that there is hidden pride, which says:

My sin is too big. Pride hides behind humility. In your mind, you are bigger than God.

I don’t want to rely on God’s mercy. I’d rather believe there is some good in me or I can merit forgiveness in some way.

I can’t forgive myself even if God can. You take the place of God, set yourself up as judge and pronounce yourself guilty or innocent.

The joy of forgiveness has grown dim:

Daily life, with its trials and temptations plus a lack of time spent in communion with God causes the flame in our furnace for God to burn low. We must meditate daily on the gospel and ask the Lord to restore to us the joy of our salvation.

It takes God’s supernatural grace working in us so that we offer and receive forgiveness. To say either, “Will you forgive me?” or “Yes, I forgive you!” is a sign that the Holy Spirit indwells you because Christ absorbed the cost of your sins. When you practice biblical forgiveness, you powerfully express the love of Christ.

My notes are taken from “Forgiving Others: Joining Wisdom and Love” by Tim Lane (New Growth Press).