What Does God Say About Forgiveness?
According to Merriam-Webster, when we forgive someone we voluntarily give up our indignant displeasure or persistent ill will for them. These sound like strong feelings. But, what does God say about forgiveness?
Matt 6:14-15, “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” Since God has told us we have all sinned, Rom 3:23, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;” is forgiveness part of the process of our accepting God’s offer of salvation? Can we say we believe in Jesus and not forgive others? Truly believing in Jesus means we begin the process of transforming into His likeness, 1 Jn 2:6, “He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked.” which means we have to forgive others, as He forgave even those who put Him on the cross, Lk 23:34, “Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And they parted his raiment, and cast lots.”
How many times should we forgive someone? Matt 18:21-22, “Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.” Is God saying we should never stop forgiving?
Why is forgiveness so important to God? Acts 26:18, “To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me.” Does this mean forgiveness is not only important for our salvation but is it also a part of our shining light into the darkness of another person’s life? When we choose to forgive, we are giving up the displeasure and ill will that fuels our hatred. The way we feel and the actions we take are changed. This not only brings us a taste of God’s love but also brings it to everyone around us. Our darkness and theirs begin to fade in the light of God’s love.
What happens if we do not forgive? Prov 17:22, “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones.” Is God saying the happiness found in forgiveness heals the mind and the body of both the sinner and the forgiver? Can either of them find peace and good health without the happiness forgiveness brings? Eph 4:31-32, “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you.” Is God telling us forgiveness frees us from bitterness, anger, and malice? Is He calling us to love and to the tenderhearted care of each other?
Can we look to Joseph, a man whose brothers sold into slavery, to see how much God values forgiveness? Gen 50:20, “But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.” For those who do not know Joseph’s story, I suggest you read Genesis chapters 37-50. Here is a quick summary; Jacob had twelve sons and Joseph was his youngest and his favorite. Joseph’s brothers were jealous of their father’s love for Joseph, so they sold Joseph to a passing caravan. Joseph was then sold to a rich man and that man’s wife falsely accused Joseph of trying to attack her. His master had to send him to prison, where his favor with God was noticed and eventually led him into the service of the Pharaoh. Joseph’s ability to interpret dreams allowed him to rise to number two in command in Egypt, second only to Pharaoh. One of the dreams Joseph interpreted for Pharaoh was a coming famine. Pharaoh followed Joseph’s advice and stored up grain during the next seven years of plenty, leaving Egypt the only country with extra food when the famine came. Joseph’s brothers came to Egypt to get food so that their family could survive and found Joseph in command. Joseph had the power to save them from starvation and he did. God is able to take our evil actions and turn them into good, Rom 8:28, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” When we love God, we can trust that eventually, everything will work out according to His purpose, which is always good. Had Joseph not forgiven his brothers, God would not have used Joseph to turn his brothers’ evil act into good. God gives all of us a choice: love Him and do our part in His creation of an eternal family, or live this life only. He will not force us into eternity with Him.
When we have faith and forgive as God has called us to forgive, we will witness the good God can produce from the evil men intend. Will God not judge all of us someday? Rev 20:12, “And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.” Yes, He will judge all of us, but He is asking us not to judge each other, which gives us the power to forgive those who have sinned against us? Lk 6:37, “Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven:” It is through forgiveness that we are able to harness God’s power to love as He loves, freeing the sinners from their guilt and us from our hatred. Guilt is a tool of the devil, not a fruit of the Spirit of God, Eph 5:9, “(For the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth;)”
Have some misinterpreted this to mean sinners should get away with their evil acts? But, God has called us to obey every law, 1 Pet 2:13-17, “Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well. For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: As free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness, but as the servants of God. Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king.” When we Christians obey every law, we are free to leave the punishment of those who disobey laws to the proper authorities. God has allowed those authorities to survive to protect His remnant from those who would have destroyed every trace of them, He always leaves a remnant, Dan 2:21, “And he changeth the times and the seasons: he removeth kings, and setteth up kings: he giveth wisdom unto the wise, and knowledge to them that know understanding:” and Jn 17:15, “I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil.” and Rom 11:5, “Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace.”
If those authorities fail to punish the evildoer, their punishment is left to God and we are free to forgive. There is no evil beyond God’s reach, Heb 4:13, “Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do.” Can we find a better place to leave judgment, than in the righteous two-scarred hands of Jesus?
God has told us we have a choice to make, Deut 30:19, “I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live:” We can forgive, which frees us and allows the sinner to escape our hatred and their guilt; ultimately, foiling evils attempts at driving both of us further away from God. Evil attempts to drive the wedge of our unforgiving spirit between God and us. Our unforgiving spirit hardens our hearts until we are no longer able to feel God’s presence. We could allow the sins of others to continue to torture us, thus leaving us trapped in our rage and the sinner in their darkness, Lk 11:35, “Take heed therefore that the light which is in thee be not darkness” but to who’s benefit?
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