The Gospel of Forgiveness

We are about to celebrate America’s 242nd year of independence. July 4th, Independence Day, reminds us of the various freedoms God graciously provided us as a nation. We are free to vote for whom we wish. We are free to live wherever we wish. We are free to worship how we wish. We have a duty to celebrate these freedoms often and defend them always.

There are other freedoms we need to be reminded of frequently, too. First and foremost, of course, is our freedom from sin, its power and its consequences, found in faith in Christ. With it comes the duty and the freedom of forgiving others.

This freedom, the power and ability to forgive others, proves to be elusive for many. They know the forgiveness of God. They just don’t know how to forgive others. Thus, they remain enslaved to the past, unable to move forward, trapped in the sin of unforgiveness, and doomed to reap its whirlwind for ages to come.

As the old saying goes, unforgiveness is “like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” Unforgiveness rarely hurts those who hurt you but it may just kill you. What a rotten way to live and a sure way to die.

Unforgiveness always stems from a rotten heart, a darkness in the soul that either does not know the Gospel or does not care. Such an attitude says, “I’ve got mine” in terms of forgiveness and dares you to “get yours” all the while failing to see any connection between the two.

The Bible speaks often about forgiveness. We’re told that forgiveness promotes love (Proverbs 17:9). We’re told to forgive too many times to count (Matthew 18:21-22). In fact, Jesus told the disciples to forgive the same number of times as Daniel said it would take in terms of years before salvation would come (Daniel 9:24).

The connection between forgiveness towards others and God’s forgiveness towards us is 490 times stronger than the possible connection between Daniel’s teaching and Jesus’. You don’t have to be an expert in numerology or familiar with the messianic prophecies of the Old Testament to understand the New Testament’s teaching on the matter. It couldn’t be any clearer and it couldn’t be any more foreboding.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said much about life in the Kingdom of God. He talked about the right attitudes (Hint: unforgiveness wasn’t one of them). He also taught us how to pray. In the “Lord’s Prayer” we are instructed to ask for forgiveness, assuming that we’ve forgiven others (Matthew 6:11). So strong is the connection between God’s forgiveness and ours that Jesus explained further, “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 yours” (Matthew 6:14-15).

The Bible’s teaching on forgiveness cannot be any more clear or frightening than that. Your forgiveness, your salvation, depends on the forgiveness you extend to others. That’s not to say you earn God’s forgiveness by forgiving others. That is to say your inability to forgive others’ sins is a sign of God’s unforgiveness of yours.

You see, forgiveness is not optional. If we have been forgiven, we will forgive others. We’re commanded to do so (Colossians 3:13).

Yet, many don’t. They won’t. They know these things to be true and don’t care. They would rather be right now, even it means they might be wrong for eternity. Such a selfishness proves to be a faithful barometer of human souls. Ghandi, not a Christian himself, rightly understood this eternal truth. He said, “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” You cannot give to others what you do not have.

Never forget: the sin of unforgiveness is a sin that needs forgiveness. Yet, those who often need to be forgiven and forgiving forgive only themselves. They do not see their own sins because of their obsession with the perceived sins of others. Until they do, unforgiveness will rule their lives and soil everything they touch. They’ll be remembered one day not for the good they did but the grudges they held.

So, as we celebrate our freedoms this month, let us remember two timeless truths. First, those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it. While that might be historically true, let us remember it’s spiritual corollary. Those who forget to forgive the past are doomed for all their future.

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