The Bible primarily identifies Christians as saints. Paul never starts a letter with “Paul, to the sinners in Asia”.
We’re new creations in Christ. The old has gone, new has come. But though we are all saints we’re not yet perfected. Though no longer slaves of sin, we must still put it to death every day. And because we are building our lives together as believers, we often sin and sometimes sin horribly against each other.
Sin devastates. It causes anguish, sadness and misery. So I’m not advocating easy, flippant forgiveness. To forgive doesn’t mean we just brush it under the carpet and move on. It can take time to get to the place where you can forgive and restore the relationship. It doesn’t mean there are no consequences or that we must immediately trust someone. But forgiveness and reconciliation should be goals we work toward because God has forgiven us in Christ.
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 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. Colossians 3:12-13
WE WILL ALL HAVE COMPLAINTS AGAINST OTHERS
“If one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other…” Do you have a complaint against someone? Against your spouse or a friend? Against your pastor or ministry team leader? Could God have any complaints against you? If anyone has a right to complain about being sinned against, it is God. If he kept a record of our sins against him, he could produce an encyclopedia. Yet he was willing to forgive our mountain of sins against him. Jesus was willing to personally pay our debt so God could forgive us. Why? Because God is compassionate toward us even when we sin.
WE SHOULD FORGIVE EACH OTHER AS THE LORD HAS FORGIVEN US
“forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” How did God forgive us? How does he continue to forgive us?
God forgave us freely
In The Prodigal God Tim Keller says, “Mercy and forgiveness must be free and unmerited to the wrongdoer. If the wrongdoer has to do something to merit it, then it isn’t mercy, but forgiveness always comes at a cost to the one granting the forgiveness.” It cost God the price of his beloved Son to forgive us. And he gave him freely, not grudgingly. He didn’t wait till we deserved it. We will never get to the place where we can say, Ok I’ve lived a good life for 50 years now, I guess I deserve what Jesus did on the cross for me. No, we’ll never deserve it. For all eternity we’ll enjoy immeasurable blessings we can never deserve because God forgave us freely. So too we must freely forgive.
God forgave at great personal cost
Timothy Lane says forgiveness cancels a debt. It costs us. He says, “Suppose you borrow my wheelbarrow. When you return it, the wheel is flat. At this point, I have two options. Either I can make you pay for repairing the wheel, or I can pay for it myself. Either way, someone has to pay. We cannot pretend that the wheelbarrow is not broken. We can’t minimize it’s brokenness. Someone must absorb the cost for the repair. In a similar way, the very essence of forgiveness involves canceling a debt.” When we forgive others we say I’m willing to cancel this debt even though it will cost me. We can release others from having to make it up to us because we know Jesus will.
God doesn’t bring our sin up again to use against us.
For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.” HEB 8:12
Whe God remembers our sins no more, he doesn’t literally forget them. This means he doesn’t bring them up again to use against us. He might remind us of sins he’s forgave us for that we might forgive others, or that we might avoid temptation, but he doesn’t remind us to make us feel guilty or bad.
So when we forgive we should not bring up others sin to manipulate or put them down. We might talk about their sin to help them in some way or repair our relationship. But not to hurt or heap guilt on someone. And we won’t talk about their sin to others either.
When God forgives he doesn’t dwell on our sins. We too must guard against this. When bitter feelings arise turn to the Lord and say, “Jesus, help me. I have forgiven them, and want to forgive them. Help me with these feelings. Help me to love them and not be bitter. In your name, I affirm again, I forgive them.”
God forgives us repeatedly.
He doesn’t break off the relationship after our tenth or twentieth or hundredth sin. He doesn’t say ok that’s it, that’s too many times. He is patient and longsuffering. So we must be willing to forgive and forgive. Again, there may be consequences. It’s not. But we must never limit our forgiveness.
Oh how we need God’s grace. Obviously there is much more could be said on this topic. Whole books have been written about it. I’m sure I didn’t hit every angle. But let’s seek Jesus today for grace to be like him.