A Lifestyle Of Forgiveness
By Kim Butts
"Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins" (Matt. 6:12-15).
Jesus makes it very clear that He expects us to live lifestyles that demonstrate forgiveness. Our children must be given a legacy of forgiveness early in life so that not only will they understand what Jesus Christ did for them on the cross, but they will also comprehend the importance of forgiving others and being forgiven by them. Forgiving parents will nurture forgiving children. Parents who refuse to forgive others will teach their children to do the same, simply by example. Those who are able to freely give and receive forgiveness will live lives filled with joy and peace, because they are obedient to the commands and example of Christ.
We have all heard people talk about how certain words or acts can never be forgiven; however, Jesus, who was demeaned, beaten, condemned and crucified, forgave even those who committed these heinous acts: "Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing…’" (Luke 23:34). Who are we to do less than our Lord and Savior requires by His own words and example? The Lord, who suffered a brutal death to redeem us from our sins is a God of forgiveness! When we have repentant hearts, He not only forgives our sin, but removes it and chooses not to remember it or hold it against us. There is no godly precedent for withholding forgiveness, nor any indication that we should continue to condemn ourselves when our Father does not. Forgiveness is a decision. We can choose to forgive…or not. Jesus warns us that if we do not forgive, we will not be forgiven. His words should make us eager to live a lifestyle of forgiveness. It is important to learn the importance of forgiveness, especially within our family relationships.
Satan Uses Unforgiveness as a Weapon Against Us
"Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation" (Luke 11:4).
Family life, even in Christian homes, can be rife with disagreements and poorly considered actions; yet, the call to be forgiving as our Father has forgiven us must always be stronger than our desire to hold a grudge or take revenge. The people who hurt us the most, and who we tend to be more hurtful towards are often those who are the closest to us. I believe Jesus gave us the cause for our tendency to be unforgiving, while also giving us the answer to free ourselves from such sin in verse 13 of Matthew 6: "And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one." We have an enemy, called Satan, who rejoices in every family relationship or friendship he can destroy through the sin of unforgiveness. The temptation can be very strong when we are wronged through the words or deeds of another – even if the person is a member of one’s own family.
The Bible has a wonderful story of a young man who chose to forgive his brothers. Joseph honored God by extending love and forgiveness to them, after they had thrown him into a pit and then sold him into slavery. To compound their sin, they told their father that Joseph had been killed by wild animals. Can you imagine the fear these men must have felt when, many years later, the most powerful man in Egypt aside from Pharaoh revealed to them his true identity? They fully expected to be punished severely for their sins; however, Joseph knew that what his brothers had intended for evil, God intended for good. Therefore, he was kind to them and received them warmly and generously. He also told them not to be "distressed" or "angry" with themselves for selling him into slavery. Read this remarkable story of forgiveness in Genesis 37:1 – 50:21 with your family and talk about it together. Teach your children that forgiveness is the teaching of Jesus, while unforgiveness serves the devil, who is the destroyer of relationships, especially within families…and within the family of God.
Forgiving Other Believers
Paul wrote to the Corinthians about forgiving other believers, because he recognized that Satan is determined to destroy the Lord’s Church from within. He wanted the Corinthian church to learn how to forgive those who had undergone church disciplinary action, and to restore that person to fellowship at the appropriate time through acts of forgiveness: "If anyone has caused grief, he has not so much grieved me as he has grieved all of you, to some extent – not to put it too severely. The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient for him. Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him. The reason I wrote you was to see if you would stand the test and be obedient in everything. If you forgive anyone, I also forgive him. And what I have forgiven – if there was anything to forgive – I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes" (2 Cor. 2:5-11). In Revelation 12:10, Satan is called the "accuser" of the brothers. We join in his work if we choose to be accusers rather than forgivers. Children are watching to see how we treat one another.
Jesus spent much time talking about forgiveness and its importance. For example, He gave an amazing response to Peter, who asked Him, "…Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?" (Matt. 18:21). We have all wrestled with those in our lives who continually sin against us. Sometimes we want to give up in frustration over the inability of others to turn away from certain sins – until we take a good hard look at our own lives. So, when Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times" (Matt. 18:22), He knew that an explanation was in order. As was His custom, He told a parable in order to emphasize His teaching. He spoke about the unmerciful servant (Matt. 18:23-35). The main focus of this parable was the importance of forgiving those who sin against us. Children should be taught this lesson very early so that they understand exactly where Jesus stands on the issue of forgiveness.
The Sinful Woman Shows Us How to Forgive Ourselves
Many believers suffer from a relentless burden of unforgiveness toward their own sinfulness. Jesus came to free us from our sin; therefore, to refuse to receive His forgiveness keeps us trapped by our sin. Do you remember the story of Jesus at the home of Simon the Pharisee? While He was having dinner, a woman who had lived a sinful life wept at His feet, wiped His feet with her hair, and then anointed them with perfume. She had no doubt heard Jesus speak, recognized her sinful condition, and wanted to be set free. Jesus took the opportunity to forgive her, and to teach Simon, who thought Jesus must not know the sinful condition of the woman, an important lesson about forgiveness: "Then He turned toward the woman and said to Simon, ‘Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give Me any water for My feet, but she wet My feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give Me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing My feet. You did not put oil on My head, but she has poured perfume on My feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven – for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.’ Then Jesus said to her, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’ The other guests began to say among themselves, ‘Who is this who even forgives sins?’ Jesus said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you; go in peace’" (Luke 7:44-50).
Commands of Scripture about Forgiveness
"And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive your sins" (Mark 11:25). It is clear that Jesus considers a lack of forgiveness to be a hindrance to prayer. Examining our lives daily is a good way to determine whether or not we have forgiving hearts that are pure and holy before God.
"Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift" (Matt. 5:23-24). Sometimes we need to ask forgiveness so that a relationship can be restored. Jesus desires that we are repentant before God, and that we make right our damaged relationships before we offer any gift to Him.
"So watch yourselves. If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him" (Luke 17:3). There is a fine line for believers when dealing with the sin of others. We must be quick to forgive others when they are truly repentant; however, if there is sin in our own lives, the enemy will make forgiveness difficult. Therefore, it is important that we continually "watch" ourselves!
"Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you" (Col. 3:13). Paul makes it clear that the key to forgiveness is that the Lord first forgave us! Because of His sacrifice on our behalf, taking our sins upon Himself, we are literally set free from the bondage of sin. Because of our fallen world, sin is always present, and will always be something we struggle to overcome; however, we cannot fail to forgive someone when the Lord has given His life so that we could be forgiven of our own sin.
The Blessing of Forgiveness
"Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit" (Psa. 32:1-2). Do you ever wonder how Joseph’s brothers felt after they were forgiven by the brother they had so cruelly treated, or how the "sinful" woman’s heart was set free after Jesus told her that her sins were forgiven? Do those who are forgiven and restored to fellowship within our churches feel the weight of the world lifted from them?
"For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more" (Jer. 31:34b). Our Father is merciful and filled with grace. When we have repented before Him, He is quick to forgive and forget. His example should be our own. Perhaps for us, as humans, it is most difficult to forgive those who have been unrepentant toward us. Yet, sometimes forgiving in this situation is more for our own benefit than for the one who has sinned against us. It shows that we can love others even when they have not loved us.
Allow God to bring to your mind those people you need to forgive, as well as those who may need to extend forgiveness to you. Think about a relationship that is a problem for you at the moment. A lack of forgiveness can be a stumbling block between us and others, as well as between us and Jesus. Teach your children how to be forgiving, for in forgiveness is true freedom.