Forgiveness (Apostles’ Creed #11)
One of the phrases of the Apostles’ Creed, that I think it’s fairly safe to say, most of us profess without too much reservation, is the statement we believe in “the forgiveness of sins.”
We can point to actual biblical evidence… scriptures… That confirm our belief is true.
*First John 1:9, that reminds us, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
*Luke 6:37, “forgive, and you will be forgiven.”
We believe God forgives sin through Jesus Christ… as in Christ paid the penalty for our sins on the cross... by his death and resurrection! Jesus is the “propitiation” - the atoning sacrifice - for our sins. His sacrifice freed us from our debt to sin.
Both our sins - and their sins (1 John 2:2). The fact is, we need only believe...
Yet, we sometimes struggle with that part, don’t we?
Sometimes we find it hard to accept that we’ve actually been forgiven! Because, we know us... we know our failings, our thoughts, and our intentions. And many times, we keep allowing some past mistake or indiscretion (or thought of inadequacy) to keep us from living the full and abundant life God promises. We can’t seem to forgive ourselves sometimes.
Then there are those who don’t think they’ve ever sinned... so they can’t imagine anything to be forgiven of. And, honestly... when we sin... we often minimize the significance of our sin. We rationalize, justify and project! “It didn’t really hurt anyone, so what’s the big deal? It was just a little white lie! If my father had just been more loving - or - if my mother hadn’t been so harsh.” We like to shirk responsibility!
Of course, if someone sins against us, it’s a different story! We tend to maximize or magnify the sins of others.
And then, there are also times when we see crimes and trespasses that are so heinous and vile that we can’t imagine them ever being forgiven! Right?
Yet... we’ve all seen reports, or read stories about exceptional forgiveness. A courtroom, filled with people... the verdict is delivered... guilty! And then a parent, or spouse, stands... offering forgiveness to the one who’s reckless behavior claimed the life of a loved one. Exceptional forgiveness.
Of course it’s been said, that, “people who have been generously forgiven should be generous forgivers!”
And that’s both a calling... an expectation (for followers of Christ)... and a tremendous challenge, isn’t it? It’s certainly a challenge for me.
In our scripture for today… Peter came to Jesus with a question, very serious question… a profound question. He asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive [those] who sin against me? Up to seven times?”
Of course, those of you who’ve attended Sunday school, probably know that Peter thought he was being exceptionally generous in offering 7-fold forgiveness! And, the fact is... he was!
Because in Jewish practice, if someone offended you… if someone sins against you… you were required to forgive up to three times. After that, no forgiveness necessary! You had “done your duty” so-to-speak! So “double” plus one went well beyond the requirement of the Law.
Which of course begs the question of us today, how much is enough when it comes to Grace? What are the limits (the bounds, the acceptable parameters) of forgiveness and grace?
Of course... getting back to Peter’s question... Jesus famously said to Peter, “I tell you not seven times, but 77 times!” Some translation say “not 70 times but 70x7 times.”
The point being: Jesus was stressing to Peter that you and I should forgive and forgive until we lose count! Our forgiveness, and our willingness to forgive, should be a reflection of the grace that we ourselves have received in Christ.
Again, “people who have been generously forgiven… Should be generous forgivers.”
After answering Peter... Jesus then offers a parable... which (I’m sure you know) was one of his favorite teaching methods. In the parable, a man who owed a debt... a very large debt... an unimaginable debt... was forgiven. His debt, completely cancelled. He was given a new lease on life! His master had bestowed and exhibited extraordinary grace. Complete forgiveness.
But that same man... when given the chance to “pay it forward” if-you-will... when presented with the opportunity to “forgive as he had been forgiven” - refused. He demanded repayment.
Of course, much like the man, the unmerciful or ungrateful, unforgiving servant in Jesus’ parable... we are often unforgiving. Right?
We like to hold grudges. I’m speaking from personal experience! I often struggle with forgiveness, even in light of my own forgiveness.
When I’m hurt... when I feel slighted... or used... I tend to remember that - and sometimes nurse it.
And I see the same thing reflected in the lives of those around me. When I’m talking with others... or counseling with people... it often “bubbles to the surface” that we hold-on to our hurts. When others cause us pain and grief... we most often cling to that offence...
Which makes me wonder: Do we understand... that you and I (in those unforgiving moments) are the servant, the ungrateful servant, in Jesus’ parable?
Do we understand the enormity of our debt? And do we appreciate the extravagant mercy of God, that’s been lavished upon us? Does it impact, and change the way we live our lives, and the way we react and interact with others?
We profess to believe in forgiveness! It’s a hallmark of our faith in Christ! But do we? Do we practice what we profess?
Maybe so! Maybe we do forgive... but... I’d suspect we all have work to do, right?
I wonder... is there someone out there (maybe someone in here) that we need to forgive?
Forgiveness is a promise from God that is contingent upon us, and our willingness to forgive. Jesus said, “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 5:14-15
May God grant us all, the strength and willingness to forgive. Forgiveness not only frees others of their debt to us... it frees us! It lifts a burden we cannot carry without damaging our own souls...
Maybe it’s time to stop focusing on what others have done to us... and focus more on what Christ has done for us.
The fact is... the greater our sense of gratitude for the grace we’ve been given... the greater our capacity to share that grace, that forgiveness... in light of how much Christ has done for us.