Grace for Forgiveness; Grace for Repentance
"Grace is a provision for men who are so fallen that they cannot lift the ax of justice; so corrupt that they cannot change their own natures; so adverse to God that they cannot turn to Him; so blind that they cannot see Him; so deaf that they cannot hear Him; and so dead that He Himself must open their graves."
When another person wounds us our normal tendency is to strike back, foster bitterness, demand our rights and require penance. But forgiveness by God's standards are something quite different. It's hard to turn the other cheek, demonstrate His love through acts of kindness to the one hurting us, and love our enemies, isn't it? In a time where people are clamoring for and demanding their rights, what a unique thing to hear that as a Christian "we have no rights." Our rights, if you please, lie only in Christ and therefore in eternity. When we responded to His irresistible grace to "deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Him"--we were proclaiming the end of ourselves. The end of our rights.
God's purpose in salvation is to redeem men from sin and to conform them "to the image of His Son" (Rom. 8:29). "As obedient children," Peter tells us, "do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, 'You shall be holy, for I am holy'" (1 Pet. 1:14-16; cf. Lev. 11:44). The great hope of believers is, "We know that, when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is" (1 John 3:2). Imitating His love is possible because "the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us" (Rom.5:5).
we cannot be in our own strength...
and that is, Christlike.
The supreme act of God's love was to give "His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life" (John 3:16). God's love brought man's forgiveness. God loved His own with such a great love (Eph. 2:4-5) that He offered forgiveness to sinful, rebellious man by sending His own Son to die on the cross as our substitute that we might not suffer death and eternal punishment under His wrath forever (John 3:36).
Because forgiveness is the supreme evidence of God's love, it will also be the most convincing proof of our love of Him. Love will always lead us to forgive others just as love led God in Christ to forgive us (Rom. 5:6-9; Eph. 4:32). Nothing more clearly reveals a hard, loveless heart than the lack of forgiveness. The presence of forgiveness always proves the presence of love, because only love has the motive and power to forgive. The Greek word to forgive actually means to "hurl away the debt." Have we hurled away the wrongs committed against us by others or are we holding on to them, savoring a revengeful, bitter heart until they pay enough penance to get back into our "good graces" once again?
When we have a right view of our own sin; and a right view of what it cost the Lord to forgive us for our sin; then we will be quick to forgive others. Why? Because the enormous, insurmountable debt that we had before a holy God we could never pay; but yet, He still forgave us through Christ Jesus our Lord, fully redeeming us from the curse of our sin. We were undeserving, unworthy, and unfit to receive such love from our Lord--but He still forgave us (cp, Col. 3:12-15; Eph. 5:1-2)! Therefore, anything that anyone else might do to us in this life must be considered the "lesser debt." Because we have been forgiven such a great debt in Christ, we should always--without hesitation--be willing to forgive the lesser debt between each other.
Forgiveness and Repentance
But it is important to note here that forgiveness is not passive, but active. What I mean by this is the following: forgiveness is not something we can extend judicially, but it requires a transaction between two people: one to humbly ask for forgiveness, the other to humbly grant it. This is an act of grace: grace for repentance; grace forgiveness.
Jesus' powerful words in Luke 17:3-4 give us an important, and often neglected, component of biblical forgiveness: “Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.” Notice the unmistakable correlation between repentance and forgiveness. For genuine forgiveness to really occur between two people where a wrong or ought has been committed, there must be repentance from the one who has sinned against another AND a swift issue of forgiveness from the one who has been sinned against when forgiveness has been asked for. This is vitally important beloved. Repentance and forgiveness are different sides of the same coin. None of us are capable or even able to issue a blanket, judicial forgiveness to another who has sinned. Only the Lord can do such a profound work and ministry of grace as that.
Now at this juncture, some might be saying, "but Steve, what if that person who has sinned against us never repents and fails to come and ask for me forgiveness; or what if they have died some years later and the wrongs were never righted? How do I deal with the hurt, pain and woundedness I have experienced?" Here is our hope. Whatever the scenario may be, two things are clear: 1. as Christians, we are not to hold ought against another and be free from bitterness, malice, revenge, etc. And 2., until someone comes in true repentance, seeking forgiveness for the wrongs they have done against us, we are not to have a hard heart against them, but are to extend to them mercy and love; and in so doing, be free from the acidic bitter feelings of retribution that can dominate us in a time of severe pain and defilement. But mark the Lord's words above, for there to be genuine reconciliation between two people, repentance and forgiveness must occur. IOW, there can be no real genuine forgiveness, without there being genuine repentance as well. Otherwise, we diminish forgiveness into a religious mantra that we easily say, thinking that simply by uttering the words the breach is mended, the ought is done away with, and the pain is eradicated. Not so. Oh beloved, may we ask the Lord to grant us humility to walk in repentance, to walk in forgiveness and to walk free from revenge, free from retribution, and free from malicious malady.
The Priority of Forgiveness Given by the Lord Jesus Christ
Forgiveness is given such a preeminent priority by our Lord that He said these sobering and disturbing words, "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" (Matt. 6:14-15). This is dealing with the daily walk of the believer in Christ. Though we are saved, His daily forgiveness in our sanctification (John 13:5-20) may be withheld until we are repentant and forgive others. But in saying that there is still a greater warning.
A continued, purposed, hard-hearted action of unforgiveness and hatred against others also means that God will not forgive us our sins and truly unmasks an unbelieving heart from one that names Christ in word only, but in reality reveals the genuine state of their life being unregenerate. Consider the words of the Apostle John when says, "If someone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also" (1 John 4:20-21). (cp, 1 John 2:9-11).
A further brief note of explanation on Matt. 6:15:
Though the penalty of our sins has once for all been dealt with in Christ forever (Heb. 9:14ff); and His justifying work for His elect can never be reversed (Rom. 5:1); His chastening hand will come against any of His children who refuse to extend forgiveness to another (Matt. 18:30-35; Heb. 12:5-12). The consequence of which does effect our daily sanctification with Him--but not our eternal salvation in Him. A true believer in the Lord will eventually and always come to the place of showing forgiveness to others--even if that action is produced through the chastening hand of the Lord or through the discipline of His church. (See Matt. 18:35). God will not allow any of us to stay in perpetual unforgiveness with others, but will bring us to the place of brokenness, humility, and grace in ultimately giving forgiveness--even if it takes a "severe mercy" over a long period of time to evidence itself.
(Please take the next several minutes to read Matthew 18:21-35 of the unmerciful servant).
Key Verse: Ephesians 4:32 -"...forgive as God in Christ has forgiven you."
We are commanded here to forgive not according to our capacity to forgive; or our own ability to forgive; or even because the one that has wounded us has demonstrated a humility and brokenness over what they have done to warrant forgiveness. The bar is set high beloved; we are to forgive "as God in Christ has forgiven us." I don't know about you, but this takes a profound work of grace in my life for this is not my first reaction when I am hurt by another or possibly wrongly accused by even a friend for something I didn't do. But it's precisely at those moments that we have a choice--forgive as we have been forgiven or hold ought against another and forfeit the blessing and favor of the Lord in our lives (cp, Matt. 5:23-24; Rom. 12:18).
Listen, our Lord Jesus Christ on the cross has already paid the price for the wrongful act that has been done against you. Jesus has already bore that sin at Calvary; and because of that, we are truly free to forgive...amen? Whatever another believer may do against us, no matter how terrible or destructive or unjustified, Christ has paid the penalty for that sin. forgiveness doesn't mean that we are condoning the wrongs, but that we are free from the effects of those wrongs. Rather than being filled with bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander and malice (Eph. 4:31)--by God's grace we can be "kind, tenderhearted to one another, forgiving one another as God in Christ has forgiven you" (Eph. 4:32) No matter how others may hurt, slander, persecute, or in any way harm us, Christ's sacrifice was sufficient to pay that penalty. Here's the nexus of the issue: when we as Christians express, or even harbor, vengeance toward another, we not only sin by allowing selfishness and hatred to control us but we sin by profaning Christ's sacrifice--by seeking to mete out punishment in our own way for a something that has already been dealt with in Christ on the cross. Oh, if we can get a hold of that reality what a profound difference it would make in our daily walk with the Lord!
Peter thought that forgiving someone "up to seven times", was being very generous (can't we all identify with Peter?). But Jesus said, "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven" (Matt. 18:22).
How have we been forgiven by God in Christ?
To what extent have all of our sins been dealt with on the cross--even those we have not even committed or have had committed against us yet? When the Lord Jesus Christ declared from the cross,"It is finished!", He had:
• fulfilled the Law;
• went beyond the veil;
• satisfied God's justice;
• propitiated the Father's wrath;
• satisfied His holiness;
• fulfilled all righteousness;
• exalted grace;
• confirmed the gospel;
• redeemed the elect;
• justified His own from the penalty of sin;
• quenched the guilt of our sin;
• crushed the head of Satan and destroyed his hold of death;
• abolished death and its sting;
• fulfilled all redemptive Messianic prophecies;
• secured for us eternal life;
• brought us into intimacy with God;
• imputed to us His perfect righteousness;
• instituted a new covenant;
• and brought us into peace with God forever!
Aren't we grateful to the Lord this day that He has not "rewarded us according to our sin, nor dealt with us according to our iniquity?" (Psam 103:10). In Christ all our "sins are forgiven for His name's sake" (1 John 2:12); He has "forgiven us all our transgressions" (Col. 2:13, emphasis added). And if all our sins are forgiven by Him, can we not--or more importantly--this we must do, forgive the purposed wrongs that others do against us?
Beloved, God for Christ's sake forgave us; we for Christ's sake must forgive each other. Remember, the measure of our love is the extent of your ability to forgive! (1 Jn. 2:12; Col. 2:12ff)
A Word of Personal Testimony
I went through a tremendous tragedy in my life several years ago--wounded by my closest friend and companion. One early morning about 2:00am, while in the depths of sorrow, depression and bitterness, the Lord was breaking my heart on this very issue of forgiveness. Rather than allowing me to dwell in that place of bitterness and revenge, He led me to read that passage mentioned above in Matthew 18:21-35. Out of that unforgettable time of "wrestling with God" I penned these following lyrics. I had to come to the place of realizing that I had no right to harbor bitterness or resentment--even though other dear Christian brothers and sisters were lovingly affirming me of that right. When I finally came to the place of seeing clearly my own sinfulness before a holy God and how much He had forgiven me in Christ, then I had no option but to not hold an ought against this person who had hurt me so deeply.
By grace through faith in Jesus Christ, I had been given forgiveness and eternal life in Him. Since I had drank fully from the fountain of His grace, could I ultimately have a hardened heart against another that had wronged me? In humility and brokenness I learned that I could not. Though that individual has never come and asked for forgiveness and repented of their wrong, God by His grace (for this is not the fruit of my own invention) has allowed me to not hold ought against them by His mercy and love.
I hope these words born out of my own failing heart, will encourage you to dwell not on the sins of others but to realize the depth of forgiveness that God has given you and begin a fresh to thank Him for the grace He has extended to you in Christ.
You can listen to this song by going to the online store and downloading the MP3 version. It is located on the "Desiring God" CD project.
My Sins, My Sins - My Savior
By Steve Camp
My sins, my sins, my Saviour! They daily battle me,
Deaf and dumb Thy servant is, save only Christ to Thee;
In Thee is all forgiveness, fully free abundant grace,
I find my hope and refuge, in Thine unchanging face
My sins, my sins, my Saviour! How great on Thee they fall;
Seen through Thy patient mercy, I ought forsake them all;
Their penalty's forgiven; yet their power suffers me
Their shame and guilt and anguish, they laid, my Lord, on Thee
My sins, my sins, my Saviour! What cost to Thee ensued
Thy heel bruised in temptation, no Devil could subdue
Thou wrestled in the garden; and prayed the Cup would pass
Thy sanguine sweat, Thou trembled yet, embraced His will at last
My sins, my sins, my Saviour! Thou perfect Sacrifice
Drained wrath's chalice to the dregs; Thy Father satisfied.
O Holy Lamb of Glory, High Priest, Lord God and King
We worship Thee with reverence, Thy matchless Name we sing
My songs, my songs, my Saviour! No grandeur theme shall know
They'll trumpet of Thy glory, to wretched man below;
Thy righteousness, Thy favor, stream from Thy throne above
Sustain the hearts my Saviour that Thou hast lavished with Thy love