Author: Julia Grant
Forgiveness is an essential component of our faith, and yet one of the most difficult for us to demonstrate. Christian theology rests on the truth that God showed unrivalled mercy by sending His Son to die for our sins. Still, we find ourselves dealing with strained relationships, broken families, and an imperfect world where giving forgiveness to those around us does not come easily. However, when we truly understand the nature of the forgiveness we have received and see the example of Jesus’ what option do we have than to show others the same underserved grace that we have received.
Jesus Forgives Us
That Jesus forgives is not merely a Christian platitude to make us feel better when we are at our lowest. His forgiveness is nothing less than a miracle. In Romans, Paul notes “for all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law” (Romans 2:12). In other words, for Jew and Gentile alike, “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). When Christ offered us forgiveness and justified us through His death on the cross, He literally saved us from death (Romans 3:21-26). We have been forgiven much. Any offense that we encounter no matter how serious cannot compare to the offense of our sin against God. As those who have received such weighty forgiveness, there is no place for withholding it from others.
Jesus Showed Us How to Forgive – Even in the Darkest Hour
Jesus gives us a practical example of forgiveness during His time of ministry on Earth. This powerful moment occurs at His darkest hour – while Jesus is on the cross. He has just been betrayed by one of those closest to Him, beaten, mocked, and ridiculed by the same people He spent several years serving. Inhumanly treated and hanging on the cross, He utters those profound words: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
Jesus sets the example for us. Lest we think that our situation is too painful or too unjust for us to forgive, Jesus shows us that there is no limit to Christ-like grace. He is willing to ask the Father to forgive the very people who have strung Him up on a cross and tortured Him. He acknowledges that they do not know the full weight of their actions – they do not understand what it is Jesus is accomplishing on Calvary, or how the shedding of His blood, is purchasing their forgiveness. As they mock Him, He offers forgiveness. This is the King who we choose to follow.
Jesus Commands us to Forgive
As if His forgiveness of our sins and example of forgiveness in the Gospels is not compelling an enough argument that His disciples should be forgiving – He makes it utterly clear that those who choose to follow Him must also forgive others. He goes so far as to say, “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). In other words, if we want to experience the forgiveness of God, we must be willing to forgive people in our own lives.
Peter brings this issue before Jesus and asks Him how many times he must forgive somebody who has sinned against him. Jesus communicates to Peter that there is no limit to the forgiveness we should offer others (Matthew 18:22). He explains with a parable of a servant who owed his king a great debt – about 20 years’ worth of income (Matthew 18:23-24). The king has mercy on the servant and forgives the debt. This servant, who has been forgiven more than he could possibly repay, then goes to collect a much lesser debt (about one days’ income) from a fellow servant, despite his pleading for mercy (vv. 28-30). He ends up throwing his fellow servant in jail until he gets his money!
When the king becomes aware of this, he is enraged. The ingratitude of this servant, who owed a great debt, was forgiven, and then refused to forgive a much lesser debt, is incredulous. This doesn’t end up well for the servant, who ends up in jail himself until he can pay what he originally owed (which probably would never happen, considering it was such a large debt). Jesus ends this parable with a warning: “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart” (v. 35). The picture is clear: Jesus wants His disciples to forgive. Period.
Forgiveness is a big deal to Jesus. If we are going to receive and revel in the gift of grace given to us at the cross, then we must be willing to offer forgiveness to those who have wronged us. The debt that we have been forgiven is massive – and any debt that we might be ‘owed’ here on earth pails in comparison. To be a disciple of Christ is to be a forgiver. It is impossible to heed the call to follow Him while harboring bitterness and unforgiveness in our hearts. Jesus has forgiven us much, He has demonstrated forgiveness for us in the Gospels, and He has commanded us to forgive. So…go. Forgive. Let us be a shining example to the world around us of the great mercy that we have received by giving it freely, even when it is not deserved.