Jesus teaches about the importance of forgiving others who have done us harm, even saying that the Father will not forgive us if we don’t forgive. What does this mean? Why is forgiveness so important? How do we practice it? These are questions that Greg explores in this crucial sermon for our times.
Forgiveness is simply releasing a debt, turning the offending person over to God. This teaching raises the question: if the Father’s forgiveness towards us contingent upon us forgiving others? In some sense, our forgiving others is inextricably bound up with God forgiving us, but how?
The importance of forgiving others is one of the most reoccurring teachings in the New Testament. Paul wrote: “Be angry (orgē) but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger (paraorgē) and do not make room for the devil” (Ephesians 4: 26-27). Paul was saying when you’re angry, don’t sin by refusing to deal with this anger and be done with it because when your anger becomes submerged anger it opens the door for the devil to begin to use that bitterness to eat away at every aspect of your well-being.
Unforgiveness is spiritual cancer. Studies show that people who hang onto grudges have higher rates of cancer, strokes and other diseases. They tend to have less satisfying relationships with others and are overall less happy than people who had learned how to let go of grievances.
With that in mind, is it the case that the Father won’t forgive us if there is someone we haven’t forgiven? It’s not that we forgive others so that God will forgive us. Rather, our forgiving others is predicated on, and motivated by, the forgiveness we’ve already received in Christ. What Jesus did on the cross he did for everybody. Jesus bore the sin of the world, and by his self-sacrificial death and resurrection, he atoned for and abolished the sin of the entire world.
On the cross, all is forgiven on God’s side. But this forgiveness only reaches us and benefits us when we acknowledge that we need to be forgiven and accept that we are forgiven, which is part of what it means to place your faith in Jesus Christ. Even as Christians, there are things we can do and attitudes we can cultivate that hinder our ability to receive God’s love and forgiveness. At the top of the list is unforgiveness. When we refuse to release others from whatever debt they incurred by wronging us, we give the devil a foothold to begin to wreak destructive havoc in our life. Our capacity for receiving the Father’s love and forgiveness is diminished.
How then do we release someone from a debt they incurred by wronging us? First, acknowledge a wrong was committed and give yourself permission to feel the pain of this and to grieve over it. Forgiving another person does not in any way minimize this wrong.
Second, let Jesus in on your pain. God wants to be with you on the inside of your pain.
Third, remember the enormous debt that God has forgiven you. The wrong may be inexcusable, but remind yourself that God has forgiven the inexcusable in you. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you fully appreciate just how much inexcusable sin God has forgiven you and remind yourself of the unsurpassable suffering God had to endure in Jesus to bring about your forgiveness.
Fourth, let it go. Turn the debt over to God who alone knows the degree to which people are acting out of their free will or acting out of the prequel of things said and done to them. Trust God to hold them accountable for what they have done. “Leave all vengeance to God.”
Finally, pray for your enemies. If the offense done to you was particularly grievous, place this person on your “Pray for Enemies” list. This gives God a chance to heal your woundedness, and to help you keep from grabbing hold of the debt you feel you’re owed.
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