“Forgiveness… So Simple and Yet, So Hard”
Have you seen the advertisements for MasterClass? I have been intrigued with this company for a few years now. MasterClass is an internet company that produces online courses on a number of topics with people well-known in their particular field of study. For instance, there is a course on cooking taught by celebrity-chef, Gordon Ramsay, and a course on basketball skills taught by six-time NBA all-star, Steph Curry. So with each set of video lectures, you can be sure you are getting tips and insights from some of the world’s leading people in their respective areas.
One brief ad from MasterClass that sticks in my mind features actress Helen Mirren. She simply enters a bare stage, walks to the center, and sits on a chair. Once seated, Mirren explains, “So, I just did what I consider to be one of the most difficult things to do in my profession of acting, which is, walk as yourself.” Really? Walking is one of the hardest things to do as an actor? Why is that? If you can walk when off stage, shouldn’t you be able to walk just as easily on stage? You’d think so, but it has been my experience as an actor and director that what Mirren says is true. Actions that people may perform without any thought in life become stilted and unnatural-looking once they are in front of an audience or the rolling camera. We may know how to walk, but once the pressure is on, we begin to struggle. This is what makes training and rehearsal vital for the actor.
In a similar way, there are aspects of the Christian life that are so basic and simply understood that it may appear like a waste of time discussing them. However, things that may seem basic become a struggle when the pressures of life hit. I think this is easily seen when talking about forgiveness. I mean, can we get anymore basic to how a Christian is to live than by saying we are to forgive? Yet, this is exactly my point. We know, in theory, that Christians are to be forgiving people, but sometimes true forgiveness seems almost impossible. What can be done?
More Than Words
First, we must recognize what forgiveness is, as opposed to what we tend to make it out to be. Forgiveness is not simply saying the words “I forgive you” after someone apologizes. This may be how we begin to teach children about forgiveness. However, like many other areas of life, we need to grow beyond the basic concept. Therefore, we must start by acknowledging that forgiveness is more than words. True forgiveness actually changes the relationship between two parties. True forgiveness draws people together and brings healing to a fractured relationship.
Consider for a moment what happens when brokens sinners come to seek forgiveness from God. We are the ones who must “apologize”, who must recognize that we are in the wrong before our Creator, and that God is the offended party. When forgiveness is sought through Christ, God doesn’t forgive merely in word but through a process of transformation. God’s forgiveness of sinners includes justification and adoption. That is, God declares His people righteous in His sight and He brings them into a new relationship with Himself. God’s forgiveness of sinners includes sanctification and glorification. That is, God continues to mold His people into the image of Christ, making them holy and good which eventually leads to that moment in time when God’s people will be glorified with Him for eternity. God’s forgiveness is more than words!
The Heart of Forgiveness
A heart that can truly forgive is a heart that has been truly forgiven. You see, one of the ways that Christians can have assurance of salvation, of forgiveness of sins, is by recognizing our desire to be like Christ, our desire to reflect back to the world what God has done in our lives. Therefore, the apostle Paul writes to the church in Ephesus, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32). Paul’s exhortation to forgive comes from the reality of one having already received Christ’s forgiveness. In other words, Christians are to be like Christ. And if we, who have received much forgiveness, cannot forgive others, then we have a big problem (see Christ’s teaching in Matthew 18:23-25).
In fact, it must be understood that if one refuses to forgive it may be a sign that the person is not truly a born-again Christian. Jesus preached, “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 your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15). Jesus is not teaching that salvation is dependent upon our works--salvation is by grace alone (Ephesians 2:8-9); but one sign, a fruit of having received forgiveness from God is the willingness to forgive others. If the willingness is not there, it is possible that true salvation is not there, no matter what one professes about oneself.
Freely & Often
Yes, forgiveness can be hard especially when we have been wronged for an extended period of time by another person. Our natural inclination may not be to forgive but to seek justice for ourselves. We want people to pay for the way they have treated us and we want them to suffer through it. Yet the Christian life bucks against our sinful human inclinations. Instead of holding grudges and seeking personal vengeance (Romans 12:19), God calls us to forgive and seek reconciliation. Now, of course forgiveness will look different depending on the situation, but in an instance where one is seeking forgiveness, even after committing the same offense, Christians are called to forgive. In fact, Christians are called to forgive freely and often.
Consider this encounter that Peter had with Jesus. “Then Peter came up and said to him, ‘Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times’’ (Matthew 18:21-22). Jesus is not telling us to be people who allow others to take advantage of us, but to live our lives with a better view of what matters. Forgiving others, in more than words and from the heart, is one way that Christians point people to the Gospel of Christ. Forgiving is saying, “I’ve been forgiven by Christ more than I can even imagine; therefore, I will forgive you and implore you to seek Christ.”
So we must, dear Christian, be willing to forgive in a fuller sense and in doing so, point people to the Savior who offers eternal forgiveness. Yes, it seems so simple on paper, but let’s be prepared to take this theory and enact it in our lives by the grace of God. Let us be people of forgiveness.