Breaking The Dam of Forgiveness

Why is it often so difficult for those of us who follow Christ to forgive others? The words of Jesus indicate that forgiveness is not optional:

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. Matthew 6:14-15 (NIV)

We are taught that God’s love is unconditional, that we can never out-sin God’s forgiveness. This passage seems to contradict that very basic tenant of Christ-following. But does it?

“Salvation rests not on human merits but only on the grace and mercy of God. Once disciples receive forgiveness and salvation, they are to forgive others with the same forgiveness they have received. This is the evidence they are indeed forgiven.” (NIV Application Commentary and Grace and Truth Study Bible)

Put another way, this is where we need to see Jesus as a stream of living water. When we have truly surrendered our lives to Jesus, forgiveness flows freely to us from God and then from us to others. Failing to forgive doesn’t mean we forfeit our salvation. But it puts distance between God and us. When a husband and wife in a loving, healthy marriage have an argument they are still married. But the disagreement creates distance between them and must be resolved to restore the marriage to its previous health. The same is true with our relationship with God. A lack of forgiveness to others may be an indication that someone doesn’t know Christ. But believers can also struggle with unforgiveness and create distance between themselves and God.

I posted about this on Facebook earlier this week: “One of my greatest challenges as a Christ-follower: forgiving those who have no clue they wronged me. Yet I need to forgive them, even if they never acknowledge that for which they are being forgiven. A great challenge, but amazingly liberating when we do it.”

A friend then responded:

“Tell me how to do it friend; have a couple in my circle who see nothing wrong with actions and verbiage so no need to be sorry.”

I don’t doubt her salvation. But unforgiveness does create distance between God and us. To answer her question: We can forgive without receiving an apology because Jesus showed us how in no uncertain terms:

Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Luke 23:32-34 (NIV)

Bottom line: forgiving is for us; apologizing is for them. This is not to be transactional. Jesus surrendered his life and asked nothing in return from those who took it. He prayed to His Father that they would be forgiven. We are to forgive and expect nothing in return. And when we’re the offender apologizing is for us, and forgiveness is for the offended. We are called upon to make it right, even if we’re not forgiven in return. But we should pray that they do forgive for their own sake.

We often can find both to be difficult. They’re not difficult. Under our own power, they’re impossible. But with God’s grace flowing freely to us it can then flow freely to others. We can forgive an offender who doesn’t repent, and we can apologize without expecting forgiveness.

I am dealing with unforgiveness in my own life. God has shown me this week that my responsibility is to forgive and pray for those who have offended me, even though they won’t acknowledge what they did wrong. Difficult, right? No, impossible for me. But not for God’s endless grace. What an important gift to remember when someone in our lives needs forgiveness from us.

— Pastor Jerry Bader

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