Our last discussion concerning forgiveness ended on the point of what forgiveness is not. Forgiveness is not forgetting. Forgiveness is not overlooking.
Forgiveness is letting it go. It is not bringing the matter up again.
I also mentioned that “forgiveness is an impossible thing to do without the power of God.” That is a much more controversial statement. If I were to disagree with myself, I might say something like, “Pastor Andy, a non-Christian has the ability to not bring up an old offense again.”
I fully agree. But my reply is that most if not all people don’t bring up past offenses because they simply do not want to deal with sin itself. Often it is because we don’t want to deal with the pain and humiliation sin brings. But if we do not rip the brand-aid off, the wounds will eventually fester into gangrene. People don’t actually forgive. They ignore.
Remember, forgiveness is not forgetting or overlooking sin. Forgiveness deals with sin head on. A forgiving person admits that there is a problem and wants to remedy that problem.
Unfortunately, people don’t bring it up again simply because they do not want to deal with it.
If a young child hauls off and smacks his mother out of anger because he did not get his way, loving parents are going to do three things — not in any particular order. First, they are going to discipline that child immediately. Second, they are going to forgive that child for his anger and aggression. Third, they are going to communicate to that child that striking people out of anger is wrong and the older you get the worse the repercussions get.
Loving parents not only deal with the immediate issue, which is the outburst of anger. Loving parents also deal with the root issue: a sinful heart. Dealing with both the outburst of anger and a sinful heart demonstrates true forgiveness because the parents stop bringing the child’s outburst up and focus on what will change the child to be a better and more loving human being.
So if we are going to be honest, no one apart from Christians think like that because most people think everyone is ultimately good.
Here is what is so amazing about the gospel of Jesus Christ. Only the God of the Christian Bible has power to fully forgive sins. Jesus got in a lot of trouble because he forgave sins: “Jesus, seeing their faith, said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’ But some of the scribes were sitting there and reasoning in their hearts, ‘Why does this man speak that way? He is blaspheming; who can forgive sins but God alone?’” (Mark 2:5–7). Of course, the scribes were supposed to conclude that Jesus is God alone.
The gospel is amazing because when God forgives your sins through Jesus Christ, he lets them go. You are no longer guilty in his eternal courtroom. You may still need to deal with the physical repercussions of some of your sins in this life but when you turn to Jesus Christ, you are set free from that eternal debt and given an eternal home with Jesus himself. You are no longer condemned.
Another amazing fact that takes place is that Jesus Christ empowers the Christian to exercise the same kind of forgiveness toward all people. He does this by indwelling the Christian through God the Holy Spirit. That is why Jesus can demand that his people be forgiving people: “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you. Put on a heart of compassion . . . bearing with one another, and forgiving each other . . . just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you” (Eph. 4:32; Col. 3:12–13).
Is your marriage struggling? Turning to Jesus will teach you to forgive your spouse. Is your child causing you grief? Turning to Jesus will teach you to forgive your child. Are you afraid of dealing with the tough stuff of life? Turning to Jesus will give you the courage and virtue to face your problems in a sane and God-glorifying way.
Forgiveness is probably an odd topic to start off the new year. I could have written a column that talked about starting the new year off strong. I even could have introduced it with the typical failed new year’s resolution and how we ought to resolve to keep going to Church or something.
I guess I like looking at things that are a little less popular. By that I mean a lot less popular. Forgiveness is most certainly one of those less popular topics.
Start the new year off with a commitment to be and become a forgiving person. When God forgives, he forgives perfectly: “We all stumble in many ways” (James3:2). We even fail at forgiving. Yet when Jesus Christ takes first place in our lives, he works in us to forgive others.
Use 2019 as a year to become a forgiver. Some sins that need forgiving are a lot touchier than others. Start becoming a forgiver by giving your life to Jesus Christ. Find a local church that consistently teaches the content of the Bible. Attend that church regularly. Grow in your forgiveness. Build courage in Jesus to face the problems of today with a heart toward God. Focus on how to live for Jesus Christ and not on how other people are not. Become a forgiver.
The Rev. Andrés Reyes is the senior pastor of the First Baptist Church of Perry.