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 3:13 ESV)
One of the key elements to following Jesus Christ is being able to understand forgiveness on a couple of different levels. First, we need to understand that we are guilty of sinning against God and because we are guilty, we need His forgiveness. Second, because we have been forgiven, we should understand the grace and mercy that has been shown to us by the Father and, therefore, be forgiving to others.
I have been a follower of Jesus Christ for a little over 20 years and I believe I have understood the concept of forgiveness rather well. However, practically applying — i.e. living out — forgiveness has been rather difficult, especially through the last few years.
For the first 12 or so years of my walk with Christ, I dealt with forgiveness in two main areas. First, I sinned a lot, so I had felt led by the Holy Spirit to apologize a lot and ask for forgiveness. This aspect of forgiveness, obviously, applied primarily to others. After all, I asked for forgiveness, so the burden was on them to forgive me. Second, my wife and I have had a great marriage, but during these 12 or so years, we argued occasionally and so it was necessary for us to forgive each other for various things. And, I might add, we did. We actually forgave each other and moved on from our various arguments and continued to develop our relationship and love each other.
After the first 12 years of following Christ, I figured I had this forgiveness business licked. It was no big deal. Just watch me folks, and I’ll show you how to do it.
But the last eight years have been a different story.
Over these last eight years, I’ve come to experience the doctrine of forgiveness in a whole new way. In other words, life got harder and, therefore, the act of forgiveness got a lot harder as well.
During the last eight years, Sweet Wife and I were forced to deal over and over with some areas of conflict that took the concept of forgiveness to a whole different level.
During the last eight years, I’ve experienced some different types of betrayal at work and this has forced me to look at forgiveness in a whole new way.
During the last eight years, as our children have grown up, relationships with them have gotten harder and forgiveness has proven much harder.
During the last eight years, I’ve been a part of some severely strained relationships within the body of Christ and this has tested my ability to forgive.
During the last eight years, relationships within both sides of our extended family have been strained to the point where forgiveness didn’t seem possible.
For the first 40 or so years of my life, forgiveness was more of a “check the box, I’ve done that” part of life and Christianity, but over the last eight, I wasn’t really sure if I could achieve this thing called forgiveness. And that was a real problem, because forgiveness is essential to the life of a Christian. In fact, Jesus says this about forgiveness,
 but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (Matthew 6:15 ESV)
Even a cursory reading of these words will shake you to the core. Jesus is telling us that if we don’t forgive others like we have been forgiven, then God the Father won’t forgive our transgressions that we have committed against Him. It’s hard to spin that in a way that’s good for us without forgiveness.
So, how do we forgive? How do we get this done in a way that meets the requirement that Jesus sets in Matthew 6:15? How do we forgive when life gets so impossible that forgiveness seems totally out of the question?
Well, I think all of this points us back to the gospel of Jesus Christ and when we think about the gospel, we should remember these things:
- We, us, ourselves — me — are big-time sinners. And our sin isn’t just contained to ourselves. We we sin, we sin against God and often the ramifications of our sin are magnified onto others.
- Therefore, we need to never forget that we are sinners in need of a great Savior. Because we have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, we need God’s great grace and mercy. And He provides us forgiveness through Jesus Christ.
- We need to remind ourselves of this gospel message daily (or hourly or by the minute or even more frequently).
- When we remember this gospel, then we can take a deep breath and remember the starkness of the message in Matthew 6:15. If we don’t forgive, then the Father won’t forgive us! We need to remember and remind ourselves as often as necessary of our need to forgive!
- When our heart is tuned to the need to forgive others — even if we haven’t consummated the act of forgiveness — then we have a direction for prayer. Then we can petition our heavenly Father and ask Him to supply the grace and mercy we need in order to forgive others. Life is hard and it is often very hard to forgive the acts of others against us. How can we expect to demonstrate forgiveness without petitioning our Father for such a great gift?
- We also should pray and ask God to show us the hidden parts of our hearts and mind where we haven’t forgiven others.
- Then, tomorrow, if we seem to have forgotten the forgiveness we gave, we need to do all of this again.
Forgiveness, it seems, is really more of a process than one single act. Often, after we think we have forgiven someone for something, we soon find ourselves right back in the spot of unforgiveness. And that is fine…as long as our hearts are tuned to forgive and we work ourselves back through the process. We should worry — a lot! — when our hearts recognize that we haven’t forgiven and we don’t want to.
I have not done this perfectly over the time of my life in Christ, and I have especially struggled over the last eight years. In fact, during this time I would have given lip-service to forgiveness if asked about these things. Truthfully, most of them weren’t handled and they were festering and this showed in my thoughts, acts and in my conversations. But progress has been made when I remember God’s grace toward me and when I ask Him to show me where I need to forgive and when I ask Him for the power and strength to forgive.
Forgiveness isn’t easy, but it is absolutely necessary. Please, oh God, grant us to forgive others!