Notes from a sermon on forgivenessI. The Hard and Messy Work of Relationships
Today we are continuing our sermon series REALationships. We are studying the “one another” commands to learn how to better love one another. Our relationships are a really big deal to God. Jesus summed up all the law in love God and love others. All sin is a failure to love.
As God’s redeemed people who have been forgiven by God, our relationships are the main thing that are transformed. We go from being enemies of God to sons and daughters in Christ. We go from hiding from one another to loving one another. Our relationships are living illustrations to the whole world of the difference the gospel makes. Our relationships with one another are a mirror of our relationship with God.
John 13:34-35 – “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.
So Jesus gives the church just a single command – love one another. Our love for one another will mark us as Jesus’ disciples. This was so important to Jesus that he prayed to the Father in his high priestly prayer in John 17:
John 17:22-23 – The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.
Unfortunately, we often fail to show the world the gospel when we bite and devour one another. Since we still battle against Satan, the flesh and the world, we still fail to love God and love others as we ought. Satan loves disunity and anger and bitterness and hurt feeling and unresolved conflicts because he knows that distorts the gospel message.
Until Christ returns, relationships, even in the church, are going to be messy and require a lot of work. That’s why so many of these one another commands exist in the first place.
Rom. 12 :16 – Live in harmony with one another
Rom 14:13 – Stop passing judgment on one another.
Rom 15:7 Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you
Gal 5:15 – If you keep on biting and devouring each other…you will be destroyed by each other.
Eph 4:2 Be patient, bearing with one another in love.
The reason these commands exist is because they needed to. Paul says stop passing judgement, which meant that they were passing judgment on one another. All this to say that perhaps the most important “one another” command in the New Testament next to love one another is to forgive one another.
Some of you have been hurt deeply by others in your life, all of us will be hurt by someone in our lifetime – so this is an emotional subject to be sure.
What does the Bible say about forgiving one another. The answer will likely surprise you because most of us have a therapeutic understanding of forgiveness rather than a biblical one.
Therapeutic forgiveness is based on my feelings. It says that I need to forgive my offender for my own sake whether they are sorry or not. Rick Warren spelled out therapeutic forgiveness perfectly in an article he wrote where he said:
“Forgiveness is only on your part, whether they respond or not, whether they ask for it or not, whether they even recognize they need it or not. You forgive for your sake.
Is he right? I submit that he is not. I would challenge him to find one example of such forgiveness in the Bible. Biblical forgiveness, in contrast to therapeutic forgives, always involves two people. It’s not something I can do alone for just my sake
Should Christians always be quick to forgive those who have done evil to others and specifically to those who have deeply hurt you or someone you love?
Dennis Prager, who is not a Christian, wrote an article in 1997 for the Wall Street Journal with the provocative title, The Sin of Forgiveness. Prager wrestles with the question on the limits of forgiveness when he writes:
The bodies of the three teen-age girls shot to death last December by a fellow student at Heath High School in West Peducah, KY, were not yet cold before some of their schoolmates hung a sign announcing, “We forgive you, Mike!” They were referring to Michael Carneal, the killer. This immediate and automatic forgiveness is not surprising. Over the past generation, many Christians have adopted the idea that they should forgive everyone who commits evil against anyone, no matter how great and cruel and whether or not the evil doer repents.
The number of examples is almost as large as the number of heinous crimes. Last August, for instance, the preacher at a Martha’s Vineyard church service attended by the vacationing president Clinton announced that the duty of all Christians was to forgive Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber who murdered 168 Americans. “Can each of you look at a picture of Timothy McVeigh and forgive him?” the Rev John Miller asked. “I have, and I invite you to do the same.”
Though I am a Jew, I believe that a vibrant Christianity is essential if America’s moral decline is to be reversed. And despite theological differences, Christianity and Judaism have served as the bedrock of American civilization. And I am appalled and frightened by this feel-good doctrine of automatic forgiveness.
“Feel-good doctrine of automatic forgiveness”. But doesn’t the Bible teach that forgiveness is unconditional? Shouldn’t we freely forgive others? The answer is actually rather complex, which isn’t surprising because relationships are messy. Let’s look at what the Bible actually teaches about forgiveness.
II. How God Forgiveness
There are two main passages in the New Testament were we are given the command to forgive one another:
Col 3:12-13 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.
Eph 4:32 – Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
Both of these passages have two parts. First there is a command – forgive one another, second there is a condition – as the Lord has forgiven you. So this applies specifically to Christ followers, those who have been forgiven. That little word “as” is essential to understanding biblical forgiveness. We forgive as God in Christ forgave us.
One thing the Bible makes clear is this: God does not forgive those who do not want to be forgiven. Here’s 5 statements on how God forgives:
a. God is willing, eager and ready to forgive everyone. That is just who he is. His loving and beautiful nature and compassionate desire. (David Murray)
b. God offers forgiveness to everyone.
John 3:16 – For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. An open invitation to the world
2 Peter 3:9 – The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. The Lord is willing to forgive any and all.
God offers to release those who have offended Him from their deserved punishment and alienation from Him. There’s a big difference between offering it and giving it. Offering it is unconditional; giving it is conditional.
c. God does not forgive everyone regardless of their response to His offer. Although God offers forgiveness to all, not all respond. In fact, some people don’t even think they need to be forgiven for anything.
God never drags anyone kicking and screaming against their will into heaven saying I forgave you whether you wanted it or not.
d. God’s forgiveness is conditional upon repentance.
Luke 13:3 – I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.
Acts 20:21 – I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus.
Mark 1:15 – The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”
Faith and repentance go hand in hand. Repentance is faith displayed. If someone rejects God’s free offer of grace and refuses to repent, then there can be no forgiveness because they don’t want it. C.S. Lewis said the door to hell is locked from the inside.
e. Forgiveness through repentance produces reconciliation on both sides. The goal of forgiveness is always reconciliation. That why it takes two people. God aim in forgiving us is to restore the relationship that sin destroyed. He doesn’t just forgive us so he can feel better and move on.
Col 1:19-22 – For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation
Romans 5:10 – For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!
Full forgiveness leads to reconciliation if God’s forgiveness is our example of what forgiveness actually is. God’s purpose isn’t just to forgive us but to redeem restore and be reconciled with us. HE wants our relationship with him restored.
Transition – Now, if we are to forgive one another as the Lord forgave us, then how God forgives us how we must forgive one another. Therefore….
III. How We Forgive
We must be willing, eager and ready to forgive everyone – This isn’t natural for us. We love movies where people get revenge. But the gospel is doing a work in us so that our relationships are different from that of the world.
We must offer forgiveness to everyone
Romans 12:18 – If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
We must offer forgiveness unconditionally but that doesn’t mean that it will be accepted. We can’t drag people kicking and screaming into receiving our forgiveness. Someone has sinned grievously against us and yet we offer forgiveness because we sinned grievously against God and he offered it to us.
This is what some call positional forgiveness because we are in the position where we are ready to forgive fully.
We must not forgive everyone regardless of their response to our offer – this is where people start to get uncomfortable. Forgiving someone before they repent is un-godlike. He doesn’t do it and he doesn’t have a different standard for us than he does for himself.
Also, it does not communicate the gospel accurately which is the whole point of forgiving one another in the first place.
We must forgive on the condition of repentance
Luke 17:3-4 – So watch yourselves. If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.”
Notice the condition of forgiveness – if they repent. But if they repent you must forgive every time. There isn’t a limit on forgiveness as long as they are repentant. If they sin against you seven times in one day it would seem that they unrepentant – but as long as they are willing to say I repent we say then I forgive.
The work of Ken Sande has been very helpful on this subject. He pictures forgiveness as a two stage process. He writes:
When an offense is too serious to overlook and the offender has not yet repented, you may need to approach forgiveness as a two-stage process. The first stage requires having an attitude of forgiveness, and the second, granting forgiveness. Having an attitude of forgiveness is unconditional and is a commitment you make to God…By his grace you seek to maintain a loving and merciful attitude toward someone who has offended you…
Granting forgiveness is conditional on the repentance of the offender and takes place between you and that person…When there has been a serious offense, it would not be appropriate to make the promise of forgiveness until the offender has repented.
So we are to have a constant unconditional attitude of the willingness to forgive and love but to actually forgive requires repentance.
Matt 18:15-17 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.
Again in this passage, the offended is seeking reconciliation and is willing to forgive. But if there is no repentance then eventually they are acting like a non-Christian so treat him as such – which means you still desire for them to come to Christ.
We must offer reconciliation to the repentant – This is full forgiveness, the hopeful goal of forgiveness. This is the kind of forgiveness that most glorifies God, most benefits the offender, and most satisfies the offended and best displays the gospel.
2 Cor 5:18-19 – All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.
2 Cor 13:11 – Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.
Transition: Now I am certain that at this point many of you still have questions and objections rolling around in your minds right now and so let me see if I can address at least some of them.
IV. Questions and Objections
- What if I can’t or won’t forgive? Some of us have been hurt at levels that few can understand. People have done something so evil to you are someone you love that you simply can’t just let them off the hook by forgiving them.
First, I think it’s important to note that the Bible commands us to forgive one another. The command is for Christians to forgive other Christians. They expectation is that the forgiven should be the forgiving.
Christians who have been forgiven are required to forgive one another. Christians who have the Spirit inside of them should be quick and ready to repent as well as forgive.
Matt 6:14-15 – For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
That’s very serious, our eternal salvation is at stake. Does this mean we can lose our salvation of we refuse to forgive – no, it means that if we are saved then we have no option but to forgive the repentant. .Jesus told a parable about this:
Matt 18:23-35 – “Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29 So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. 31 When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. 32 Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
The moral of the story is this – whatever someone has done to offend us always pales in comparison to what we have done to offend God. And yet he still forgave us. So how can we not forgive our brother.
What if it’s a nonbeliever that has done evil against us? We offer the same willingness to forgive but it isn’t likely that a non-believer is going to repent and so we trust God to deal with them.
- Can’t you forgive someone without having to be reconciled to them?
a. Most cases when this question is asked, there has been no repentance involved. The goal of forgiveness is always reconciliation, the restoring of a broken relationship but that is impossible without repentance. Sometimes the people who have done you evil were strangers in such case reconciliation makes no sense.
In such cases we still want to practice God’s love
Matt 5:43-45 – You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.’ “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven
But loving them doesn’t necessarily mean allowing them to have access to your life and family, especially when they are not trustworthy.
But there are times when the evil came from someone you had a relationship with however allowing someone back into your life is simply unwise because of the continued threat they bring. You can forgive them but you don’t have to let them move in. You can even be reconciled to them but that doesn’t mean you can’t set up boundaries.
The fact is that forgiveness doesn’t remove the consequences of our actions. Even though David repented of his sin with Bathsheba, he still lost his son and the rest of his family went into some serious dysfunction.
- What if I can forgive but I can’t seem to forget?
Forgiveness and reconciliation don’t just happen instantly, often it takes time and healing and is more of a process, a journey. We struggle with the fact they we keep playing the offense in our head, our imaginations run wild, we think of things we wish we would have said or did. We can’t forget.
God says in Hebrews 8:12 – For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.
This doesn’t mean that God has memory issues it means that he chooses to not hold our sins against us anymore. Love does not keep a record of wrongs. So while we may never forget what was done to us we can still chose to not keep someone indebted to us.
Author Ken Sande says there are 4 promises that Christians make when they forgive another:
- I will not dwell on this incident
- I will not bring up this incident again and use it against you
- I will not talk to others about this incident
- I will not let this incident stand between us or hinder our personal relationship
By making and keeping these promises, you can tear down walls that stand between you and your offender. You promise not to dwell on or brood over the problem or to punish by holding the person at a distance. You clear the way for your relationship to develop unhindered by memories of past wrongs. This is exactly what god does for us, and it is what he calls us to do for others.
This may take you some time, some good Christian counseling and a lot of prayer but you don’t need to wait till you find healing because forgiveness is the first step on the path to healing.
If you are practicing these promises and praying for God’s help, in time you will start thinking about it less and less. You must refuse to let your pain or your past to define you.
4. How do I know when I need to confront someone or just let it go?
We don’t need go around demanding that everyone who offends us be repentant or we write off the relationship. Especially since we are guilty of offending others ourselves. Most things call for us to bear with one another. We need to simply look past small offenses and not make an issue out of them. Half the time people aren’t even aware the offended you. Don’t be easily offended and ready to pounce. Don’t be hyper sensitive knowing that you have said and done plenty of offensive things to others.
Eccl 7:21-22 – Do not take to heart all the things that people say, lest you hear your servant cursing you. Your heart knows that many times you yourself have cursed others.
Prov 19:11 – Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.
So how do you know when you need to confront someone who has offended you and when you need to just let it go? Justin Taylor has provided a list of questions we should first ask ourselves.
5. Didn’t Jesus forgive everyone when he was on the cross without their repentance?
As Jesus was dying on the cross he said these words towards those who were crucifying him:
Luke 23:34 – Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.
When he said this there was no one who was at this point repentant and yet Jesus offered forgiveness anyway – or so the objection goes. However, this does not mean that Jesus actually forgave everyone who was responsible for crucifying him.
Obviously, not everyone was forgiven and converted. However, there were some. Luke goes on to tell us just 8 verses later about the salvation of the thief on the cross. And in v.47, a centurion calls out this man was innocent. And v. 48 says that the people left beating their breasts which is a sign of anguish, perhaps repentance.
John MacArthur – It is important to understand that Jesus’ plea for his killers’ forgiveness did not guarantee the immediate and unconditional forgiveness of everyone who participated in the crucifixion. He was interceding on behalf of all who would repent and turn to Him as Lord and Savior. His prayer was that when they finally realized the enormity of what they had done and sought the heavenly Father’s forgiveness for their sin, He would not hold the murder of His beloved Son against them.
Divine forgiveness is never granted to people who remain in unbelief and sin. Those who clung to their hatred of Jesus were by no means automatically absolved from their crime by Jesus’ prayer. But those who repented and sought forgiveness, like the centurion, or the thief on the cross, or the priests, or the people in the crowd—all who later embraced Him would find abundant mercy in answer to Christ’s petition on their behalf.
In Acts 7, we find the story of the stoning execution of Stephen. His last words were ‘Lord do not hold this sin against them” and yet no one had yet repented.
However, we know that overseeing the execution of Stephen was a man named Saul of Tarsus who heard these words spoken out loud. By chapter 9 Saul is converted, God answered Stephen’s prayer.
SO we are to have this leaning into grace where we are willing and ready to forgive but we must trust God at this point. Our willingness to pray for our offender’s salvation is an uncommon and amazing grace.
Some will really struggle against this. We think if we pray for their salvation then there will be no justice, no punishment for what they did. That’s not true at all. God never forgives without justice. It’s just that his justice and wrath were poured out on Jesus instead of us or them. God is always just!
6. How do I avoid becoming bitter towards the unrepentant?
It is easy to allow the offense of the unrepentant to eat away at us.
Hebrews 12:16 – See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled
The way we avoid bitterness is by giving over the unrepentant person who has wounded us over to God for him to deal with. The Bible makes it clear that we are never to take revenge for ourselves. We leave that up to God.
Romans 12:19 – Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.
Prov. 20:22 – Do not say, “I will repay evil”; wait for the Lord, and he will deliver you.
God will make all things right, but we have to let him do it because only he is a good, perfect and faithful judge who will always judge in righteousness.
2 Thess 1:6 – God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you
- I once watched this old war movie where Americans and Germans were fighting in trench warfare and they were hurling grenades at each other. One would land and they would pick it up and throw it back at them. Sometimes they would get blown up by their own grenade that they threw at the enemy and they enemy threw it right back.
- Isn’t that what we do, we getting in sparring matches back and forth, launching verbal grenades back and forth. God says, give me the grenades. Stop throwing them, let me deal with them. If someone throws a grenade at you, don’t throw it back, give it to me to deal with.
God will always do the right thing. And he will not let a single injustice go unpunished. He will either punish the evil doer or he has already punished Jesus in our place. God does not want you to carry your anger and your past hurts because in time the will blow up on you– he wants you to give everything to him and trust that he will do what is right. And hopefully he will bring our enemies into a relationship through Jesus.
- How can I know that God has forgiven me?
By placing your faith in the finished work of Christ and trusting in him. By repenting of your sins, your idols, your hatred of God and embracing Jesus as your Lord.
Romans 10:9 – if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.
Romans 8:16 – The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.