“If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matt 6:14, 15)
Was Jesus serious when He said this?
- Maybe Jesus was referencing some specific situation, but surely these verses do not apply to every situation.
- Maybe this description of forgiveness was for a different era, perhaps confined to the days of antiquity, but surely not relevant in our day of runaway injustice, unfairness, betrayal, and continued attempts of redefining what is right and wrong?
- Maybe you are thinking, “Sorry, I just can’t forgive like that.”
I remember taking part in a canoe trip once attended by a large number of men. The morning we arrived on the banks of the beautiful Buffalo River in Arkansas, we discovered the water was a bit high. The decision was made to begin the float, and most everyone shoved off the shore with the exception of two guys. They were too uncomfortable with what might be waiting downstream. When the journey was over, all those who canoed the river that day had a great experience, minus the two.
Similarly, understanding and living the level of forgiveness presented by Christ in Matthew 6:12, 14, 15 appears too uncomfortable for some, and like the two canoers decide they can go no further. The result is they short-change the spiritual experience designed by God.
This brief blog doesn’t begin to do justice to the powerful theme of forgiveness, but here are a few key things to remember and explore in more depth when considering how Jesus defines forgiveness.
Before we look at this list, though, I would like to quote Christian author and teacher A. W. Tozer who referred to the kingdom or realm of God as, “other worldly”. Simply meaning, God’s way of doing things is not the world’s way of doing things. Our human limitations do not enable us to fully understand or comprehend God. We are loved by Him and invited to join Him through the redemptive grace of Christ. We are encouraged in 2 Peter 3:18 to, “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” But it doesn’t say this will lead to a complete understanding of all His ways. God is a mystery, and who doesn’t love a good mystery…I do!
- The first key to consider about forgiveness, or for that matter when considering anything about God is that we benefit whether we understand Him or not, whether we agree with Him or not, whether He makes sense to us or not… He’s always right. His Word tells us clearly, “Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did.”(1 Jo 2:6) So, if we say we want to live and be like Jesus, then we have to forgive like Jesus even if it doesn’t feel comfortable in the natural. For most of us it will not.
- Second, as powerfully life-giving and liberating as forgiveness is to the human heart and soul, unforgiveness on the other hand is powerfully restrictive, destructive, and will choke the very life from us if we do not forgive. My wife once read me a line from a book which said, “Unforgiveness is the poison we drink hoping others will die.” Unforgiveness grows in the dark and putrid places, and it is a killer.
- When God forgives, He doesn’t remind us of our past.
We cannot eliminate the weight of our transgression or hide and remove its filth no matter how hard we try, but God can. He has a high and holy standard. We are to live in honor of Him for the world to see, and while I am not saying He won’t remind us of our past should He see us drifting toward a destructive direction, He does that solely because He is motivated by His love for us. He would never remind us of our past to embarrass or belittle us, and we who gather under the banner of Jesus would do well and be farther along in our pilgrimage in becoming Christ-like if we practiced forgiveness as Jesus forgives.
(More about forgiveness coming up in part 3)
(The “Living the Lord’s Prayer” blog series is based on Craig’s book, The Vigil, available at village2village.co. Proceeds will support mission work around the world.)