Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
What does forgiveness mean? As a church, we talk a lot about forgiveness. We don’t always define it. What is forgiveness? What is God saying when He says that He forgives us? What are we saying when we tell someone “I forgive you”? Does someone have to say “I’m sorry” for us to forgive them? What if they keep doing the same wrong thing against us over and over again, are we still to forgive them?
I have a pamphlet in my office called “Peacemaking Principles.” It’s printed by a company called Peacemaker Ministries from the US. The Canadian branch of this group is called Ambassadors of Reconciliation. They specialize in conflict resolution training in the church. In this pamphlet, they teach about the four promises of forgiveness. We’re going to talk about each one, but I’ll list them here for you: 1) I will not dwell on this incident. 2) I will not bring this incident up and use it against you. 3) I will not talk to others about this incident. 4) I will not allow this incident to stand between us or hinder our personal relationship.
1) I will not dwell on this incident. We often speak about forgiveness as “forgive and forget.” When God forgives He gives us the promise that He remembers our sins no more (Jer 31:34; Heb 8:12; 10:17). Jesus is marked as the one who bears all the sin of the world in His baptism and takes all our sins upon Himself as He goes to the cross on Good Friday. Our sins are no longer ours. Jesus takes them, and He pays for them. There’s nothing left for God to remember. His wrath against sin has all been expended on Jesus so that as we abide in Him in faith there’s nothing there for Him to remember. He only remembers His own Son—His sinless life, sacrificial death, and justifying resurrection. God can certainly forgive and forget. It’s much harder for us. God can choose what He remembers, we can’t. We can’t control what our memories dig up sometimes, and the pain and anger that it will dredge up from the cockles of our life. And we feel all those feelings again, anew as the sinful flesh & the devil tries to remind us that we shouldn’t forgive, we should be angry and take justice upon the offender. Which makes this promise absolutely vital. When Peter asks Jesus how often he should forgive his neighbour and generously provides seven times, Jesus says, “No, but I tell you, seventy-seven times” (Matt 18:21-22) meaning an unlimited amount of forgiveness. Each time our memory digs up all those old pains that had once been forgiven we are called to forgive them all over again. To refuse to dwell on them. To choose not to dwell on them and die to our sinful lust for vengeance and justice. Vengeance and justice is the Lord’s job, a job which He’s given to the office of judge, police, and parents. We forgive, we choose not to dwell on the incident because we’ve already spoken our forgiveness over them and poured the blood of Christ upon them.
2) I will not bring up this incident and use it against you. I have heard this phrase far too many times: “I just forgive, and forgive, and forgive, and now I’m done.” Then you’ve never forgiven in the first place and you need to repent. 1 Corinthians 13 teaches us that love keeps no record of wrongs. It doesn’t count forgiveness. Love forgives as if this were the very first offence and forgiveness is in more than ample supply. Certainly, this is a bar no human being can climb to because the love that Paul’s describing in this chapter isn’t our love, but God’s love for us in Christ. In Christ God doesn’t use our sins against us (Thank God!). So we who have been baptized into Christ should not either. The phrase I’ve quoted above should be expunged from our vocabulary and put to death, as it comes from the devil himself, and not our Lord Jesus Christ. Ask yourself this question: “How would God deal with me if I did this to Him? Would He still forgive me?” The answer is yes. For you who trust in Christ & His Word God will always forgive you. Go and do likewise.
Well, I was hoping to get through all four at this time, but I’ve run out of room. I’ll come back to it next month, but I want to speak one more word: Is this easy to do? Certainly not. I don’t think you’ll find a single soul who’s mastered it, but a great many who strive and pray to God to grant it. It requires humility, mercy, love, and patience. But most importantly it requires patience, as Philippians 2 reminds us: it is God who is at work in us, both to will and to do according to His good pleasure. Jesus works forgiveness in you as you abide in Him in faith, hear & read His Word, remember your Baptism, and receive His body & blood.
Your servant in Christ,
Pastor Tim Schneider