This is the second in what I intend to be 6 or more posts in a series on forgiveness. I believe the biblical accuracy of my point in this post, but it is generating a strong reaction among some in the survivor community. I intended to deal with some of the issues they are concerned about at the end of the series, but it appears I will need to do this sooner rather than later. In the meantime, I made some edits to the post to until I state my views on key issues, especially to a somewhat harsh illustration.
It made a point, but it wasn’t worth the injury it gave.
The fall of humanity began with a simple question. “Did God really say.” He led Adam and Eve to question whether a just and good God could really give the command that he had given to Adam. Was he so cruel as to restrict from them that luscious tree in the center of the Garden that would not only satisfy their hunger, but make them like God (or like gods).
His strategy has not changed substantially in the years since. He still makes us question whether the direct and clear teachings of Scripture can really mean what they say. Jesus says, “Love your enemies,” but he doesn’t really mean LOVE. He tells us to be patient and gentle and kind, but remember the tables in the Temple! We often look for excuses, exceptions, or explanations for clear commands of Scripture instead of just obeying what God said.
The Bible could not be clearer about forgiveness. Jesus was not confused when he told his disciples how to pray what is perhaps the most recited prayer in history. Most of us are stupid to say the words of Matthew 6:12.
Forgive us our debts as we have forgiven our debtors.
Do you really want to be praying that prayer? “Please, Lord, grant me the same kind of forgiveness that I have granted those who have sinned against me.” That is not usually the kind of grace we want when we go to God. We want the prayer to read, “Forgive me my debts regardless of how I forgive my debtors.” The prayer doesn’t say that and God doesn’t allow that.
Jesus made it clear the prayer was no slip of the tongue when, in verses 14-15, he amplified the point. He wanted there to be no mistake about his point. This is not about our salvation but about our daily experience of the presence, blessing, and forgiveness of God. Still, it is clear that Jesus takes this principle seriously.
For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
In Matthew 18:21-35, Jesus told the parable of the Unmerciful Servant to hammer this point home. The servant is forgiven by the King of a debt he could never repay, then refuses to forgive a small debt owed to him by another. The king then revokes his forgiveness and throws the servant into debtors prison until the entire debt is paid.
Then, Jesus says this.
So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.
Again, this is not about losing your salvation, but the parable makes two key points. First, when we receive God’s grace in Christ, we are obligated to share that grace with those who have sinned against us. We cannot experience the forgiveness of Christ while holding grudges against those who have sinned against us. Grace cannot be a solo flight!
The second, more subtle point in this passage, is that the failure to forgive leaves us in a prison of our own making. When I refuse to forgive those who have hurt me, I put myself out of the experience of God’s grace and into a self-inflicted debtor’s prison. This is a much-used cliché, but it is true! Anger and bitterness are self-destructive.
God has a better plan, a better way. What was one of the first verses you learned as a kid in Sunday School? Could it have been Ephesians 4:32?
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
The evidence is piling up that this is a key issue, isn’t it? God grants us his blessings by grace, not by works or our merit. Still, when we receive that grace, a burden is laid on us to pass on the grace received to others who need it. When those who have received God’s grace refuse to forgive those in need of our grace, the heavenly spigot of blessing is shut off. Our salvation is secure in Christ, but our daily experience of intimacy, of power, of the joy of our salvation is forfeit. Forgiving those who hurt us is essential to our walk with Christ.
This is no “Prayer of Jabez” teaching, where a theological mountain is built out of a molehill of biblical evidence. Passage after passage of Scripture commands us to forgive and warns us that there are consequences to not forgiving. We cannot treat this as unimportant or join the Serpent in saying “Has God really said?”
We are commanded to walk in God’s ways, loving even our worst enemies and forgiving even those who have hurt us the most. (Again, there will be some questions to be answered at the end of this series about reporting to authorities and using forgiveness as a weapon against the abused.)
A simple reading of Scripture leaves no doubt. I would love to find an excuse, because in my 4 decades of ministry I have felt some hurt. I would love to be able to hold grudges, seek revenge, hate people, and still receive the daily blessings and forgiveness of God. Show me a way. I can’t find one in the Bible. I find no exceptions to the commands of God. If I want to walk in the daily experience of God’s grace, I have to pass on to others the grace I have received from God.
Did God really say?
Yeah. He did!