Chapter 26 – Forgiveness

 

Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”

– Matthew 26:27-29, NIV

Forgiveness of sins seems to be rather important in the mindset and plan of Christ – indeed the very reason for which He gave His life. And around the world there are Christians who are becoming known for how seriously they take this forgiveness that Jesus died to bring. The mother of one of the boys in the projects where I worked in Rwanda is an incredible example of this: in the 1994 genocide one of her neighbours sought out her whole family and killed every one of them except for her and one brother, who were in hiding. Once the genocide had officially passed and people were being held accountable to the government for their actions, this neighbour was imprisoned. There was a system in place whereby if a ‘genocide crime’ prisoner confesses every murder he or she has committed and where they left the bodies, if the remaining family of the deceased come forward and publicly declare forgiveness, the prisoner serves a shorter sentence. This incredible lady came forward and told her neighbour that she forgave him, and he was later released from the prison.

However, as soon as this man was released, he went and found her remaining brother and killed him. Once again he was imprisoned, and once again she went forward and told him that she forgave him. I was astounded when I heard her story – only God can give the power to forgive this way, to this extent. Heather Mercer, a Christian Aid worker who was imprisoned in Afghanistan in 2001, said this: “I had the choice to either grow up and find God in the situation or become bitter. I chose to find God. And I experienced freedom like I never knew before.” We hear so many stories of extreme, dramatic forgiveness all over the world: do we let Christ challenge, convict and inspire us to take His words seriously and make changes in our own lifestyles?

If you, Lord, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, so that we can, with reverence, serve you. I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope.

– Psalm 130:3-5, NIV

Forgiving others, as well as being an inspirational and pious act with which God is pleased, actually makes life so much easier for the forgiver. Have you noticed? Stormie Omartian famously said, “Forgiveness doesn’t make the other person right, it makes you free”. When we truly forgive, a burden lifts from our own shoulders. When we have been hurt or let down by people and we choose to forgive them, the pain may still remain – but little by little we become more able to see people how God sees them; to think and act selflessly; to focus on God above all else. Christ came to set the captives free. May we surrender ourselves, our burdens and our bitterness to God – and allow Him to liberate us by teaching us to forgive.

The Bible speaks of many kinds of forgiveness: being forgiven by God; forgiving our brothers and sisters in Christ; forgiving others who do not yet know Him… God longs to offer forgiveness to each of us, and to all who will seek Him. May we surrender ourselves to God and let Him teach us His perspective and show us how to forgive people as His representatives. May we surrender our attitudes towards those who have hurt or offended us, or hurt those we love. May we surrender to God our pain and our longing for revenge. May give Him our feeble attempts to forgive, and may we place ourselves in His hands so that He can shape us with His love and teach us.

For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

– Matthew 6:14-15, NIV

True forgiveness is not simply about the words, “I forgive you”. It must come from an overflow of love. Christ challenges us to love our enemies, despite the wrong that they have done to us – and despite what a vulnerable position loving them may put us in. “Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.’” – Matthew 18:21-22, NIV. This is impossible without God’s help. Human nature, by necessity, teaches us to protect ourselves and guard against being hurt again by those who have hurt us in the past. We want to take revenge, hoping for people to at least feel bad about their wrongdoing. And of course we want to protect ourselves – to keep away from those who offended us so that they will be unable to hurt us in the future. So although our resentment need never show itself in words or deeds to the person’s face, this refusal to forgive can still keep us trapped in bitterness, restricting the work of God’s love in and through our lives.

As Albert Haase put it, “It takes a lot of emotional and psychological energy to keep a wound open, to keep a grudge alive. The longer I allow a wound to fester, the more bitterness, anger and self-pity poison my blood and eat at my heart.” May we surrender to God and let Him teach us to truly forgive – to love those who have hurt us, as He does. Jesus gave His life to save sinners; He actively showed love to those who had wronged Him. In love He pursues those who despise Him and consistently act against Him. We are all aware of ways in which God has shown tremendous grace and mercy towards us despite our sin and despite how undeserving we are. So, knowing and receiving His love and forgiveness towards ourselves, may we surrender to God our shoulders and let Him teach us to release into His hands any hidden bitterness against people, so that He can fill us with the abundance of His love, even for those who oppose us.

Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

– Luke 23:34, NIV

Jesus had the heart to ask God to forgive those who were brutally murdering Him. Have you ever found yourself thinking, “Well, I forgive so-and-so, because the Bible said that vengeance is God’s and not mine – God can deal with them as they deserve”…? Is this what forgiveness is? Is this what should be going through our heads when we say that we choose to forgive someone? That we need not worry because God will bring justice… We see this kind of thinking a lot in the Old Testament and the Psalms – people pray for God to bring revenge and death on their enemies. Jesus showed a very different way, when He prayed for the forgiveness of his killers. He not only forgave them Himself, but also asked the Father to do so. This feels wrong to the logical mind, especially for those who love justice – this kind of forgiveness means that a person’s hurtful actions may not be held against them at any time! This attitude allows the person to 100% get away with whatever it is that they have done! This is what Jesus prayed on the cross – and it is a sign of fully releasing every ounce of bitterness and resentment against people, in love – the overwhelming and abundant love of God.

Can we, as sinful human beings, follow Jesus’ example and learn to think that way? Fully releasing people and forgiving them for their actions against us, even to the extent of praying that God would also forgive them? “Then he adds: ‘Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.’” – Hebrews 10:17 NIV. If we persist in holding people’s actions against them, even if only in the sense that we expect God to do something about it one day, then we are still not right with those people. This is not loving our neighbour as ourselves. Neither is it showing the world that we are Christ’s disciples by the way we love each other. And as Lehman Strauss said, “We cannot be right with God when we are wrong with others”. So may we surrender to God our shoulders and let Him teach us to forgive in the same radical way that Jesus did. May we surrender, and let God help us to release every burden of unforgiveness.

The cross is laid on every Christian…. When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die. It may be a death like that of the first disciples who had to leave home and work to follow Him, or it may be a death like Luther’s, who had to leave the monastery and go out into the world. But it is the same death every time – death in Jesus Christ, the death of the old man at His call. Jesus’ summons to the rich young man was calling him to die, because only the man who is dead to his own will can follow Christ. In fact, every command of Jesus is a call to die, with all our affections and lusts. But we do not want to die, and therefore Jesus Christ and his call are necessarily our death as well as our life.

– Bonhoeffer

Richard Foster in his book on Prayer takes this even further in his chapter entitled the Prayer of Suffering: he suggests that in true heartfelt compassion for those who hurt us we choose to take onto ourselves grief for their sake: their grief for their own sin, and God’s grief for their separation from Him – this enables us to truly pray in love for those who hate us. Here we take the concept of forgiveness to the extreme, bearing with people in their pain brought about by the separation from God that sin brings, in order to earnestly pray for their forgiveness. We see them how God sees them and feel the pain that He feels when people turn from Him and sin, and we pray with a longing for them to know the freedom that God brings. What a powerful prayer, when considering those who hurt us the worst. What love, the love of Christ, that is far beyond the mental process of “I’ll just hurt more if I refuse to forgive them, so I might as well”, and far beyond the emotional process of “I’m ready now to forgive; it doesn’t hurt quite as much any more as it did at first” – the true love of God exceeds anything of this world and anything we can get our heads around. For this we need to surrender to Him so that He can teach us to love this way, with the radical heart of Jesus. May we surrender to God the way we forgive, and let Him teach us to truly know His love for those who hurt us.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

– 1 John 1:9, NIV

Not only does the forgiveness of sins for which Jesus died refer to grudges and bitterness against those who have wronged us, but also to the need to forgive ourselves. God forgives us and in doing so He sets us free from the sin that once enslaved us. But when we refuse to forgive ourselves for the wrong we do and the things we feel guilty about that the enemy uses to haunt us, we are still imprisoned as we have not released those things over to God even though He has forgiven us. “‘Come now, let us reason together,’ says the LORD. ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.’” – Isaiah 1:18 NIV. We all have things in life that we regret, things we have done or said that disgust us when we think about them. Isn’t it a great comfort that we can give even those things over to God and let Him release us from that guilt that can try to keep us captive. Christ has set us free, so although we have a memory and a conscience, when we repent of our sin we can then leave the past in God’s hands and let Him shape us, cancelling the record of the charges against us.

May we surrender to God the guilt that is perhaps still a burden on our shoulders, and let God take it away completely. May He teach us to forgive ourselves and live in the freedom of His forgiveness. Max Lucado said, “Our Saviour kneels down and gazes upon the darkest acts of our lives. But rather than recoil in horror, he reaches out in kindness and says, ‘I can clean that if you want.’ And from the basin of his grace, he scoops a palm full of mercy and washes our sin.” George Whitefield put it this way, “What if thou hadst committed the sins of a thousand? What if thou hadst committed the sins of a million worlds? Christ’s righteousness will cover, Christ’s blood will cleanse thee from the guilt of all.” What dramatic, overwhelming forgiveness God has for us if we but accept it. May we surrender to God our shoulders, and let Him teach us to forgive.

You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins. He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross. In this way, he disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities. He shamed them publicly by his victory over them on the cross.

– Colossians 2:13-15, NLT

 

Loving and forgiving Saviour,

Thank You for giving Your life so that we can forgive and be forgiven.

Thank You for giving us Your Spirit to enable us to forgive.

I surrender to You any burden of unforgiveness that I am holding.

Please teach me to release people, and so be free myself.

I surrender to You the pain people have caused me: help me forgive.

Please teach me to follow Your example and love those who hurt me.

Help me to pray the way You want me to, for those who oppose me.

Enable me to release any bitterness that holds me back – I surrender.

I give You my guilt – help me to forgive myself as You’ve forgiven me.

I surrender to You the way I live as a result of forgiveness.

Please shape my understanding.

I give You my shoulders and everything on them – please help me.

I choose to live in freedom with You!

Amen

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