Jesus said some brutally shocking things that make us want to dumb his words down or rationalize them away.
- He told us to “love your enemies.” He couldn’t really have meant that we were show love to people who hate us, who tried to hurt us, right? There has to be another explanation.
- Paul, under inspiration, told us “Don’t worry about anything.” Are you kidding me? In this world? Living in perfect faith and perfect peace without ever worrying about anything? No way. Surely Paul was exaggerating.
- In Ephesians, he commanded us to “give thanks always for all things.” I have no trouble giving thanks for good things, but we are to give thanks for all things, at all times. That’s a whole different challenge.
Of course, several passages command us to forgive those who have sinned against us and warn that we cannot receive the forgiveness and blessings of God if we withhold it from those who sin against us. “Forgive us our debts (sins) IN THE SAME WAY we forgive our debtors (those who sin against us). These passages give no limits on the commands, no rationalizations or escape clauses.
- “Forgive the person as long as the offense is not too serious.”
- “Forgive them if they seem remorseful.”
- “Forgive them if you feel like it.”
They are universal and without exception. Regardless of the offense, we are commanded to forgive others as Christ has forgiven us.
How do we do that? It is hard enough to forgive minor offenses, but some of the readers here have experienced deep hurt, pain, and injury, and the idea of granting forgiveness is shocking and even offensive. In a previous post, I dealt with some of the questions that arise in response to this teaching, and in my next post I will try to define forgiveness carefully. The point remains. We are commanded to forgive, without qualification, excuse, or exception. How are people who have been deeply hurt to do this, to forgive those who have deeply hurt them?
The answer is Christ-active living, the only hope that any of us has to live out Christ’s stunning commands.
Only through Christ-active living can we love our enemies, live without worry in a stressful world, give thanks always for all things, and forgive as Christ forgave, even those who have hurt us deeply.
Most of us live our lives reactively. “I will treat you right if you treat me right.” Our lives are governed and defined by the circumstances of life, the actions of other people, and our own emotions. We let this world run us. I cannot tell you how often I have seen a pastor, a “man of God,” justify his angry words on social media by saying, “he started it,” or that he was only reacting to the other person’s provocation. When did another person’s sin justify ours? We are too prone to live reactively – living our lives in response to how others treat us or what happens in the world.
Living proactively is certainly a step up. We live by our own choices and beliefs, doing what we know is right. Too often, though, proactive living is rooted in our own abilities and relies on our resources, which run dry and fail.
The Bible has a better way, which I call Christ-active living. I must rely on the resources of heaven, on God’s power and provision.
- Jesus Christ lavished his love on me at the cross and every day since, loving me eternally, infinitely, and overwhelmingly. So, how do I love my enemies? I love them Christ-actively, with the overflowing abundance of the love Christ has poured out in my life. I love because Christ first loved me.
- I can live without worry or fear by being Christ-active. This world stresses me out, sometimes terrifies me, but when I remember that Jesus is Lord and that he is in control, I can let perfect love cast out fear. In Christ, I rest and relax.
- It is Christ-actively that I can obey the command to give thanks always and for all things. I’ve been through a lot of things in recent years I have not liked very much, but if I remember that Christ is at work in every circumstance to “work all things together for good,” that God, who “began a good work in me will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus,” I can give thanks for all things. He is transforming me to the image of Christ and using me for his purposes in this world.
Forgiveness flows downhill, from heaven. It flows from the Father, through the Son, to me, then through me to those who have sinned against me – that’s Christ-active forgiveness. Reactive living won’t work and even proactivity will fall short. I must remember that Chrit forgave all of my sins – he wiped them away through his gracious act on the cross. When I process the forgiveness I have received, I am overwhelmed and can then “forgive as Christ forgave me.” I love because he first loved me and I forgive because he first forgave me. It flows downhill.
Forgiveness is never rooted in the worth of the object of forgiveness. He or she sinned against me, hurt me, created pain and doesn’t deserve forgiveness. Neither did I, but God reached out to me by sending his Son to die for me while I was still a sinner, in rebellion against him. He didn’t ask me to earn forgiveness, to become worthy of it. By definition, “forgiving as Christ forgave” means forgiving people who do not deserve to be forgiven. Our forgiveness is rooted NOT in the worth of the object of forgiveness but in the worth of Christ. He forgave me so I forgive those who sin against me.
Forgiveness is also rooted in an understanding of my offense against God. I forgive because I recognize that others’ sins against me do not compare to the weight of my sin against others. Perhaps one of the reasons we struggle with forgiveness is that we fail to understand the holiness of God and the grievous nature of our offense against him. If he atoned for our sins and forgave us, how can we not forgive others when they sin against us. We must inculcate the meaning of the parable of the Unmerciful Servant. The king forgave the servants massive debt, then he refused to forgive the small debt the other had committed against him. The proportion is intentional.
Christ-active forgiveness is the way. It is a miracle empowered by the Holy Spirit – a marvelous thing to see.