When I think back on my life I can remember being a pretty awful kid.
Just ask my siblings…
Especially in my teen years, I can remember always being at odds with my parents for one reason or another. It usually wasn’t even important, just me being a prideful, stubborn young man trying to get my way.
These times, more often than not, would culminate with me stubbornly and unemotionally apologizing for my actions or words and accepting the rightful consequences for them.
Now, if you ask my parents, they’ll probably tell you I was not that bad, but don’t believe them. They’re too gracious. Believe me when I tell you, there were many times I said, “Sorry Mom.”
Sorry Is Easy, Forgiveness Is Not
Now that I’m married and in a new stage of life, I look back at those times and realize I was always missing something very important. I always said sorry, but rarely did I ever seek forgiveness. I realize now that this is simply missing the whole point of actually being sorry for something.
Saying you’re sorry is easy, but seeking forgiveness is extremely difficult. One is simply saying something somewhat shallow and the other is a confession. It’s a confession that you are in need of something from someone else.
Being sorry is something anyone can do. Seeking another’s forgiveness takes humility and the guts to admit you are in need of someone’s benevolence.
Experiencing Gospel Forgiveness
So many simply stop at, “I’m sorry,” and never truly get to the root issue. What they don’t understand is that when they do this, they miss out on the Gospel. They miss out on the opportunity to experience, on a smaller scale, the forgiveness and love we have through Christ.
When we extend forgiveness to another, we are showing the love the Father through that action. We display a knowledge of and love for the Gospel of Christ. We understand that we have been forgiven so much, there is no other recourse but to forgive with a joyful and loving heart.
Forgiveness is never done out of anger or obligation. It is a joyful thing we do because we want to show the offender the love of Christ. This is the purpose of forgiveness.
When we don’t seek forgiveness we’re short-changing ourselves. We are missing out on the best part of reconciliation. Although we should never do something simply for the feeling of it, there is a wonderful feeling that comes from being forgiven. It’s freeing.
There’s a load that falls off when we confess sin and are forgiven by the ones we offend. It feels good. It feels right. It is a small taste of the wonder we should feel every day because of the greater forgiveness we have in Christ. We should be beaming from ear to ear every day because of that knowledge.
The Personal Pain of Forgiveness
I would be lying if I said that forgiveness is something that comes easily or even naturally to me. I of all people struggle with forgiving people that hurt me. As I said before, forgiveness is hard and I know this truth all too well.
I was serving on the leadership team in a church when the Lord truly taught me about forgiveness. I will spare you the detailed version, but the fact is I was deeply hurt by the leadership of that church.
I was in a position where a large part of my job (as I was told) was to bring in new people and create growth. This caused me much stress and anxiety not only because I believed the growth of a church was completely up to God, but also because the pressure of wondering what would happen if I failed was always on my mind.
I brought these concerns to one of the leaders at the church and long story short, was told that I was not the right person for the job should actually question my desire to be in church ministry entirely if I was not able to perform under those circumstances.
This rocked my world and sent me into a spiral of doubt and anger. I trusted these guys. I wanted to serve the church and care for its people. I thought this desire was from God, yet I was told that I might not be fit for ministry if I could not handle this aspect of my job.
It was soon after this that I turned in my resignation wondering if they were right and if I would ever again serve God’s people in a church setting. This hurt. To be honest, it still hurts.
Yes, I realize this situation is not as painful or dramatic as some. At the end of the day, there was a difference of ministry philosophies and we parted ways. Happens all the time. However, there were things said and done that were very painful to me and that pain delved deep and firmly rooted itself in my heart.
It was months before I even had a desire to enter the doors of a church again, much less talk to anyone there. I had been burned once and I had no interest in being burned again. I hated Sundays. Church was simply stress.
However, it was during this time the Lord showed me the problem I was facing. I hadn’t forgiven these men in my heart. I had allowed my pride and anger to harden my heart and block off the Gospel.
This affected my marriage, relationships with family, my worship and my ability to show Christ to others. I was too focused on my situation and what had been done to me that I had forgotten to forgive. I had forgotten the Gospel.
This is truly the result of an unforgiving heart. We forget the Gospel when we don’t forgive. Our emotions take over and infect every part of our lives. Nothing remains unaffected when there is hatred or an unwillingness to forgive. I found this out and it ended up hurting me more than the original offense did.
From Pain To Forgiveness
So what’s the solution? How do we forgive when every part of who we are doesn’t want to? How do others who have gone through horrific events learn to live a life of forgiveness? As obvious as it may be, the answer is to simply keep Jesus at the forefront of your mind and heart.
Keep the Gospel as the lens of life. Remember the truth of the Gospel and the great depth that God reached to pull you from the mire. Remember the pain that Christ went through in order that you might be forgiven. Remember that God chose to forgive you even though you committed such horrible sins against Him. Remember that God did this because He loved you and still continues to love you with a love that cannot be described or understood.
We must be, “…bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Colossians 3:13-14).
Let the joy of your forgiveness flow through you like a torrent. You will be amazed what the joy of salvation can cover over. I have seen this joy overcome the most impossible situations. I have seen Jesus enable His people to forgive the most heinous and unthinkable sins. Sins that would be impossible to forgive if it were for the great source of forgiveness itself.
The question is, will we put away our anger in order to let the Gospel do what the Gospel does? Will we remember the forgiveness we have from God? Will we, through the pain, anger, sadness and hurt, allow the light of Christ to shine through our lives? Will we show that world what it means to be a follower of Jesus? Will we forgive?
Christians should be a people of forgiveness. We of all people have the ability to truly forgive. I do not believe those who have not been shown the forgiveness from God truly have the capacity within themselves to forgive.
In other words, I don’t believe someone can give something they themselves have not received. Being forgiven by God gives us the ability to forgive. This is because forgiveness is a picture of the Gospel.
Unbelievers can be sorry, but cannot truly give forgiveness because they do not have that source to draw from. Christians do. This is why it is paramount that we are a people of forgiveness. The world needs to see it.
When we don’t forgive, we make a lie out of the Gospel. We lie with our lifestyle about the forgiveness that we have been shown. We must not lie, we must forgive and live the truth.
Giving and receiving forgiveness should be joyous and wonderful. We get to show Jesus to each other in a way that is so close to what we have been shown. This is amazing. This is what being a Christian is all about.
Never are we living the Gospel more than when we say to a brother or sister, “I forgive you.” We receive and give forgiveness because we love each other and we love God. We do this for each other because God has done it for us. He is the source. He is the reason we forgive. He is the reason forgiveness is so wonderful.
Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. – Ephesians 4:31-32