March 29, 2007

To Forgive or Not To Forgive, That is the Decision

Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Matthew 18:21, NKJV.

I have truly missed writing over the last several weeks and I thank those of you who have said so to me, either in person or via email. Well, the wait is over and it's time to post a new message.

Over the past few days the subject of forgiveness has been something that quite a few people have asked me about. Mostly because they are going through some form of it and need clarification on how to forgive, or why they should forgive someone who has hurt them, or if they are harboring anything from someone they have not forgiven of from the past? How does one forgive the years that have gone by, where so much time has been lost, even in family relationships, because of selfishness and clinging on to the past?

How does one forgive another when they have said something horribly painful about one of your children, in anger against you? How does one spouse forgive the other because of marital infidelity? There are other examples I am sure, but these stood out the most to me over the past few days.

Forgiveness, in our own human effort, is not an easy behavior to demonstrate. When we have been wrongfully accused or hurt emotionally, physically, verbally even financially, it is not easy to accept an apology because of the damage those actions have caused. We would much rather not forgive someone and never speak to them again, than to feel or appear weak for accepting their sincere apology and reconcile the relationship. Our human nature wants to feel as though we can still have the upper hand over someone else when it comes to unforgiveness.

How was it that Jesus could forgive the woman the Pharisees caught in adultery and wanted to stone her to death? How could Jesus forgive Peter for denying that he was with or even knew Jesus? How could Jesus forgive his disciples, who in the darkness of night ran away from him when He was betrayed by Judas Iscariot? Many even questioned Jesus' authority to forgive sins.

How did Jesus do it? With love and love covers a multitude of sins according to James and Peter's letters (James 5:20, 1 Peter 4:8).

During Jesus' Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chapters 5 - 7), he taught that we are to forgive the debts of others as we ask God to forgive our debt to Him (Matthew 6:12). We must forgive others as we desire to be forgiven by God.

But what are we to do? How are we to forgive when it just would not seem appropriate to do so? Can I forgive and forget? That's a big one. "I can forgive you, but I won't be able to forget what you've done to me." Imagine if God were to say that to you, every time you asked Him to forgive you, because you had sinned again and again and again and again and needed to ask to be forgiven again and again and again.

Paul in his letter to the Romans refers to King David's psalm regarding forgiveness, “Oh, what joy for those whose disobedience is forgiven, whose sins are put out of sight. Yes, what joy for those whose record the Lord has cleared of sin." (Psalm 32:1-2, NLT, Romans 4:7-8).

If a person believes what Jesus said was true in His Sermon on the Mount, then we should forgive others as we ourselves desire to be forgiven. Harboring the sins of another enslaves one to that sin as much as the sin that has been committed against you. Sadly, I have learned of people who failed to ask to be forgiven and the one whom they offended had died, often times it is a loved one too. Time will heal their sorrow and mourning but it will never come close to the release from the burden of not saying, "I'm sorry, could you please forgive me?" There are people who have died without saying I'm sorry too. How awful that must be to die with such guilt and a burden of anger and resentment in one's heart only to then see Satan waiting in joy because of their selfishness to remain in an offense of sin.

Physically and humanly, we all need to forgive and humble ourselves to ask to be forgiven. Spiritually, it is a necessity. Without accepting Jesus' death as God's forgiveness personally for our sins, a person stands only to be judged accordingly by God.

"And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment," Hebrews 9:27

"For we must all stand before Christ to be judged. We will each receive whatever we deserve for the good or evil we have done in this earthly body." 2 Corinthians 5:10, NLT

Jesus Christ did not allow Himself to be beaten, whipped, ridiculed, spit on and humiliated for no reason at all! He did so because God needed to reconcile the sins of the world through an atoning sacrifice for sin. Imagine what was going through His mind when He was praying to God and asking Him if there may be some other way to satisfy the penalty for sin He was about to pay (Matthew 26:39). "Nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will" were His words that followed.

It is more than just being the bigger or better person to say they will say "I'm sorry." How can anyone expect to be forgiven for their sins against God when they cannot, or will not forgive the offense of another? When we choose to remember the offense of others, God is able to do the same. When we choose to forgive and forget, God will do the same (Hebrews 8:12, 10:17).

It is great to write again and I look forward to sharing another message as the remembrance of the Lord's death, burial and resurrection is soon approaching.

And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:32).

Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked NLT are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright 1996. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, Illinois 60189. All rights reserved.

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