Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Real Reason You Need to Forgive

When I was at Moody, I used to pass by an old stone church on LaSalle Street that looked like it was erected in the early nineteenth century. This was a high traffic area, so there would be tons of people just walking by, laughing and carrying on their daily/nightly business, without concern about anything beyond what they were doing that night. But on the outside wall was a large crucifix with Christ looking sadly down from it. And upon the wall above it, an inscription was carved. It read: "Is It Nothing to You, All Ye Who Pass By?"

Of all the things I learned at Moody, this would stick with me more than anything else. The world is going by about its business, doing whatever it would have done had Christ never come and died, and Christians were often doing the same. So I would always pass by, think of the implications of what I should do in my life in view of what Christ had done, and continue throughout my stay there to take the question to heart, "Is it nothing to me?"

I'd like to draw out one application of this to the area of forgiveness and correct a common misunderstanding for why we forgive others.

Matthew 6:14-15 says this:

For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. "But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.

What many people will say is something like, "Forgiveness heals the one who gives it." In other words, the reason why those who advocate this as the primary reason to forgive is that it does something for the person who exercises it. Now, I certainly believe it does something for the person who exercises it, both psychologically, and most importantly, spiritually, as Christ here says that you will not be forgiven unless you forgive; but the reason why forgiveness is withheld from those who refuse to give it is because they are living in a continual state of blasphemy, and no blasphemer can ask God for forgiveness while he is blaspheming God. Such is an absurdity.

"How is he blaspheming?" you may ask. Well, what he is really doing when he refuses to forgive a fellow brother in Christ is evidencing a lack of genuine belief in the worthiness of Christ and His sacrifice. You see, when you do not forgive, you are saying that Christ’s sacrifice for that person’s sin was not good enough. They still need to pay for it. They need to make it up to you. Christ and His death are not valuable enough to restore that person to you. The sin is not washed away. It remains, and you will for sure make the person pay for that sin in full. Christ's payment on the cross is like Mastercard. It's not accepted.

So what you are really saying is that Christ isn't worth enough for His sacrifice to have paid for this injustice committed against you by this fellow Christian. His blood may be precious, but it's not THAT precious. You still need your pound of flesh from this person in order for things to be made right again; and this is precisely what evidences your lack of belief that God has paid for sins in full through His Son. An unwillingness to forgive is a denial of the cross, and a denial of the forgiveness bought thereon. Hence, as the old adage goes: "He who would not forgive burns the bridge over which he himself must cross."

In case we didn't get the point concerning how much God cares about us forgiving our fellow believers, He repeats this in an even longer parable:

"For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. "When he had begun to settle [them], one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. "But since he did not have [the means] to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made. "So the slave fell [to the ground] and prostrated himself before him, saying, `Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.' "And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt. "But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and he seized him and [began] to choke [him], saying, `Pay back what you owe.' "So his fellow slave fell [to the ground] and [began] to plead with him, saying, `Have patience with me and I will repay you.'  "But he was unwilling and went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed. "So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened. "Then summoning him, his lord ^said to him, `You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?' "And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. 
"So also will My heavenly Father do to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart."

Notice that the slave's probational forgiveness was revoked because he treated that forgiveness as nothing by requiring payment (of a much lesser amount) be made to him in full, and when it was not given to him, he was dissatisfied and punished the one who owed him. He evidenced a lack of mercy, precisely, because he treated the forgiveness offered to him by the King as worthless. Hence, the King made it worthless, and revoked it.

Now, this is a parable, so we shouldn't try and get direct analogies from it, as though one can lose his or her salvation if he does not forgive. The point being made here is that the person who does not forgive others is not forgiven by the Father either, because they never really saw the worthiness of Christ and His sacrifice, which is the prerequisite for someone to be saved. This parable is an example of what it looks like, not from God's perspective, who has always known whether someone is saved, but from our perspective. We see someone believe the gospel, and yet, they do not turn and restore their relationships with others who do something unjust (whether merely perceived or real) toward them, and this is a primary evidence that the person, if he or she persists in unforgiveness, is not forgiven either, as they have spit upon the cross of Christ in which they say they fully believe. 

Now, forgiveness has to do with repentance, so the person needs to repent; but that does not let us off the hook either, as the Lord tells us twice that if we have a problem with someone (they may not even realize what they've done), it is our responsibility to go to them and let them know what they have done to us (Matt 18:15-20). And if we know that our brother has something against us, and have not approached him in order to restore the relationship, if we blow it off, or choose not to make this move in order to restore it, then we needn't bother coming before the Lord, as He will not have fellowship with us until our fellowship with one another is restored (Matt 5:21-26).

If the person is repentant, we are to value Christ's sacrifice so much that it is not even the slightest debate in our minds as to whether we should forgive. Forgiveness should leap out of our hearts in love and mercy, and run quickly to our lips and motivate our actions to follow. Hence, in answer to the question as to whether Peter should forgive a "repeat offender" up to seven times, Christ very directly says, "Seventy times seven" (18:22).

Now, Peter probably said this in response to Christ who taught that you should forgive you brother if he should sin against you and repent seven times a day (Luke 17:3-4). The number seven signifies completion in the ancient world. Christ is likely saying that you are to completely forgive him, no matter how many times he returns and truly repents; but Peter misses the point and thinks that Christ is putting a limitation of the times he has to forgive. Peter did not yet understand the cross, but Christ does. Hence, He tells him, "I do not say to you [i.e., my point wasn't] up to seven times, but [my point was] up to seventy times seven [i.e., always, every time]."

Hence, we are to forgive because we have been forgiven with a great and precious sacrifice, the Son of God Himself. He, against whom all offense has been committed, abandoned His life that ALL of the injustices committed by His people might be paid in full through His violent and humiliating death. We owed God an eternity in hell, and the alleviation of that debt ought to cause us to forgive the worst of crimes against us just in terms of our gratefulness; and yet, not only this, but because that sin that we hold against our fellow believer has already been paid for. To require that it be paid again is nothing short of blasphemy and a denial of the restoring and redeeming power of the blood of Christ.

So if you are having a hard time forgiving someone, I'm not going to tell you to forgive in order to feel better for yourself. I'm not going to ask you if you're ready to forgive, as though you still need to let your emotions run their course. I'm only going to ask you one thing, and one thing only:

Is It Nothing to You?

No comments:

Post a Comment