The Miracle of Forgiveness

At the heart of the gospel of Jesus Christ is forgiveness. It is the central key to unlock the power and grace of Christianity. Yet unforgiveness plagues both the Christian believer and the church and threatens destroy our witness for the Lord Jesus Christ and our journey to be like Him. We live in the age of unforgiveness. Lashing out with disdain, hatred and revenge is the norm. How dare they attack me, the nerve of them slandering me, I will pay all of them back. Sound familiar? Forgiveness is considered a sign of weakness, a trait of the unenlightened.

Tolerance is all the rage of our generation but there is a big difference between tolerance and forgiveness. Tolerance — the increasingly omnipresent theme of Western culture. Many people of the Christian faith have adopted this approach to life, suggesting that Christians should be part of a “kinder, gentler” Church that is tolerant of many things that were unimaginable in generations past. It seems to me that many are confusing tolerance with the Christian call for forgiveness.

According to the Random House College Dictionary, to “tolerate” means “to allow without prohibition or hindrance; permit.” On the other hand, to “forgive” means “to grant free pardon for or remission of an offense; absolve.” There is a very big difference. Tolerance implies an absence of wrongdoing; it is a victory of moral relativism over the presence of right and wrong. 

Tolerance, taken to its natural extreme, removes the notion that anything can be inherently right or wrong. Rather, everything should be OK for all of us if it is OK for the person doing it. Forgiveness, on the other hand, recognizes that there has been a wrong. Forgiveness involves granting a pardon to the wrongdoer without approving of the act being pardoned.

An obvious example in the Bible of the distinction between tolerance and forgiveness is the account of Jesus’ encounter with the adulteress. Despite her undeniable sin, Jesus forgives her, rather than condemning her. However, he clearly does not “tolerate” her sin. Instead, he says “Go now and leave your life of sin.” (John 8:11 NIV) He does not tell her that what she has done is permissible. He forgives her but declares her acts to be sinful and commands her to change her ways.

We live in an age of offence. Everyone is offended. Everyone is angry. Everyone is enraged. And out of this offence flows bitterness, resentment, hatred, and unforgiveness. Jesus said, “It is impossible that no offenses should come” (Luke 17:1). All of us experience offence daily, but the critical question is how our heart will handle it. All unforgiveness comes out of offense and unforgiveness may be the greatest poison to the heart known to mankind.

John Bevere, The Bait of Satan: “As I travel across the United States ministering, I have been able to observe one of the enemy’s most deadly and deceptive traps. It imprisons countless Christians, severs relationships, and widens the existing breaches between us. It is the trap of offense. Many are unable to function properly in their calling because of the wounds and hurts that offenses have caused in their lives. They are handicapped and hindered from fulfilling their full potential…The closer the relationship, the more severe the offense. You find the greatest hatred among those who were once close.”

So many are wounded, hurt and bitter. They are offended and do not realize they have fallen into Satan’s trap. Every evil flows out of offense. Offense is a tool of the devil to bring people into captivity. The Greek word for “offense” means a “trap stick: the crooked stick on which a bait is fastened, which, being struck by the animal, springs the trap.” It is a deadly trap that springs suddenly and ensnares us in the trap of the Devil. This is why offense is called the bait of Satan as it gets the heart to fall into the trap of unforgiveness.

Matthew 24:10-13: And many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another. Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. And because lawlessness will abound, the love (agape) of many will grow cold. But he who endures to the end will be saved.

The Word of God can never grow and produce fruit in the soil of an offended heart. The Word of God will never grow in a heart plagued with unforgiveness.

II Corinthians tells us that a major device of Satan in his warfare against the kingdom of God is unforgiveness. Unforgiveness allows the Devil to get an advantage over us and entrap us in his snare. The Bible says we are not to be ignorant of this device of unforgiveness.

2 Corinthians 2:7-11: so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him. For this is why I wrote, that I might test you and know whether you are obedient in everything. 10 Anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive. Indeed, what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ, 11 so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs.

We are continually outwitted by Satan because we do not forgive. Much of our confusion and misery in life is due to our underestimating (or ignoring altogether) the enemy of our souls. Some of us rarely think of Satan and his demons, and if we do, we often downplay their power and influence.

Do you want to know what Satan’s schemes are? He wants you to hold a grudge. He wants you to believe vengeance is yours, and not God’s. Forgiveness outwits Satan, and forgiveness subverts his wickedness. Satan loathes forgiveness. Forgiveness offends everything he stands for and fights against. He relentlessly accuses — morning, afternoon, evening, and night — hurling our sins, like stones, against us (Revelation 12:10). Accuser is who he is, and therefore forgiveness is his sworn enemy. Forgiveness contradicts his existence. Forgiveness defies his life’s work. To him, forgiveness is hostility.

Forgiveness can be hard because it fights against all the impulses of our flesh: “Did you see how he hurt me? Why would I make myself vulnerable again?” “The pain still feels so fresh and deep — how could I possibly pretend to be okay with her?” “This is the dozenth time he has done this to me. Haven’t I forgiven him enough?” “I’ll never be able to trust her again — how could I possibly forgive her?” What voices keep you from forgiving?

That means to withhold forgiveness is to play into Satan’s hands, to reinforce his war, to join his cause. To withhold forgiveness is an attempted suicide of the soul.

We as a church worship the hind legs off God figuratively speaking, then not lift a finger to do a single thing he says. Is such the case for Christians in the hard area of forgiveness? We worship God yet refuse to forgive. We praise God yet carry in our hearts a root of bitterness toward someone. God’s word is clear on the great duty of the Christian to forgive always without exception.

And Jesus calls us to forgive not just once, but tirelessly. “Pay attention to yourselves!” he warns. “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him” (Luke 17:3–4). 

Returning to the dictionary, to “rebuke” means “to express sternly one’s disapproval; reprove; reprimand.” Jesus here is telling us, as Christians, to express strongly our disapproval of sinful behavior. Paul instructs us to do so publicly. If we have to express that disapproval seven times, then that is what we are to do, even as we forgive. We are NOT to tolerate sinful behavior by letting it continue without rebuke as if there is nothing wrong with it. We are NOT to allow our forgiveness of a wrongdoer to become an expression of tolerance for the wrong.

Maybe the most effective way to wage spiritual warfare today would be for us to more quickly and freely forgive. Counselor Ed Welch writes,

Remember, (1) the flesh has a sinful bent toward self-interest. It is committed to the question, “What’s in it for me?” (2) Satan is a liar and divider. Notice that the most explicit biblical teaching on spiritual warfare (Ephesians 6) is found in the book that emphasizes unity. Satan’s most prominent strategy is to fracture and divide. And (3) the world tries to institutionalize these tendencies. (When People Are Big and God Is Small, 196) “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood” (Ephesians 6:12). Instead, we rush to forgive flesh and blood. And we wrestle “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). The rulers and authorities of darkness trade in angry grudges. The spiritual forces of evil breed bitterness and dissension. But we, those forgiven by God, defy and defeat them by wielding the precious and dangerous weapon of forgiveness.

We are ambassadors of a Kingdom that is all about forgiveness. The greatest example of forgiveness is when Jesus was beaten, betrayed, spat on, mocked, and crucified, in the midst of all His pain, He said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34).Wow this is almost incomprehensible. Think about that next time you are confronted with unforgiveness.

There are many definitions of forgiveness, but a simple one is to surrender the right to hurt others in response to the way they’ve hurt us. Forgiveness means refusing to retaliate or hold bitterness against people for the ways they have wounded us. It is a unilateral act — not conditional on the person being repentant or even willing to acknowledge what they’ve done.

Forgiveness is not saying that sin doesn’t matter. It is not approving of what the other person has done, minimizing the offense, or denying we’ve been wronged. Forgiveness is acknowledging that the other person has sinned against us and may never be able to make it right. 

Unfortunately, I want to cling to my right to be angry and often resent being asked to give that up. It all seems so unfair. My flesh still demands some type of retribution. My resistance shows me I need God’s help to understand forgiveness and to truly forgive.

Forgiveness is an inherent part of God’s nature. Psalm 86:5: For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you.

There are three Greek words for “forgive” which help us understand more in depth what it means to forgive.

1) Aphiema-To send away, dismiss, set free, express the discharge or acquittal of a defendant, to remit the punishment, where the guilty is dealt with as if he were innocent. When we forgive, we send the offense away, we set it free from our hearts and we declare the person NOT GUILTY and acquitted even if they were not innocent!

2) Charizomai: Forgiving (“given as an act of grace”) means literally to give freely and unconditionally or to bestow as a gift of grace and then to remit a debt, and hence to forgive. To forgive is to extend grace to someone. Who does not deserve some grace? God extended unlimited grace to us. Why is it so hard for us to extend it to someone else? Charizomai means to extend grace, to show kindness or to bestow favor. The present tense calls for this to be the believer’s continual practice, our new way of life (our “new garment” worn continually) as saints. Don’t say you can’t forgive, for what you are really saying is you won’t forgive. We can forgive others because He forgave us! As an act of mercy make the conscious choice to extend grace to others who don’t necessarily deserve it. In fact Paul uses the middle voice which pictures believers as those who are to initiate the action of forgiving and then to participate in the results of forgiveness, not the least of which is we free ourselves from the “prison” and “poison” of unforgiveness!

3) Apoluo-to let loose from, to loosen, unbind, to set at liberty, to set a debtor free, and overlook. When we forgive, we let loose the offense, we unbind it from our heart and throw it away never to let it raise its ugly head again. We set the debt free like the parable and set our heart at liberty by freeing it of its offense.

As mentioned before an unforgiving spirit is the devil’s playground: Ephesians 4:27 “Don’t give place to the devil” by allowing unforgiveness to dominate our hearts.

Unforgiveness is at the heart of every Church division and split throughout history. Unforgiveness is running rampant in Christianity today and it must be stopped. Its poison pill is being swallowed every day by Christians and it is corrupting their witness for Christ and destroying their lives physically and spiritually.

Galatians 5:13-15: For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.

Romans 14:19: Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another.

Ephesians 4:1-3: I therefore, the prisoner for the Lord, appeal to and beg you to walk (lead a life) worthy of the divine calling to which you have been called with behavior that is a credit to the summons to God’s service,2 Living as becomes you with complete lowliness of mind (humility) and meekness (unselfishness, gentleness, mildness), with patience, bearing with one another and making allowances because you love one another.3 Be eager and strive earnestly to guard and keep the harmony and oneness of [and produced by] the Spirit in the binding power of peace.

We can only walk worthy of our divine calling when we walk in complete forgiveness. God is begging us to honor our Lord by forgiving others. God says in I Corinthians 1:10: “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.”

Divisions and disunity have all come from offense and unforgiveness. Won’t you answer God’s plea from this day forward and let forgiveness be the brand of your life. Do not let offense push you to be unforgiving, hard-hearted and bitter, but forgive like God in Christ forgave you and set your heart free. We must not allow a schism to arise in the Body of Christ because of unforgiveness, but we must have the same love and care for each other as Christ has for us. Then the gospel will truly set us free to live as His ambassadors for Jesus Christ on the earth walking in His amazing love and forgiveness.

I Corinthians 13:3-8a (Living Bible): Love is very patient and kind, never jealous or envious, never boastful or proud, 5 never haughty or selfish or rude. Love does not demand its own way. It is not irritable or touchy. It does not hold grudges and will hardly even notice when others do it wrong. 6 It is never glad about injustice, but rejoices whenever truth wins out. 7 If you love someone, you will be loyal to him no matter what the cost. You will always believe in him, always expect the best of him, and always stand your ground in defending him…love goes on forever.

Love never fails in any situation or problem. It is God’s solution in all relationships. Forgiveness never fails either for when you forgive you are fulfilling the will of God in any relationship.

For only forgiveness liberates us from a painful past to a brand-new future. Not to forgive is to suffer endlessly the torment of yesterday as both present and future are hopelessly overwhelmed and devoured by the past. Only forgiveness sets us free. Forgiveness sets us free to love like Christ loved in every circumstance, in every problem and with every person. According to Christ, no one is exempt from forgiveness no matter how bad they have hurt or harmed you. Remember Christ died for us while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8).

We must forgive; it is a commandment of the Lord: Colossians 3:12, 13:  Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 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 1:13,14: He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

Ephesians 1:7.8a: In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, 

God lavished forgiveness of sins upon us out of the riches of His grace. Shouldn’t we lavish it upon others especially our Christian brothers and sisters in the Body of Christ? Forgiveness of sins flows out of the blood of the covenant-memorialized in Communion). Without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins (Hebrews 9:22)

Forgiveness also provides healing for an entire nation: 2 Chronicles 7:14: If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. Forgiveness is always the foundation of healing.

Nehemiah 9:17b: But you are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and did not forsake them. God is always ready to forgive. Shouldn’t we? 

Effectual prayer that moves mountains is also linked to forgiveness: Mark 11:22-25:  And Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God. 23 Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. 24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received[c] it, and it will be yours. 25 And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.” Forgiveness should be the rock of our prayer life.

Matthew 18:21ff:  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?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times. 23 “Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants.[g] 24 When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. 25 And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made.

A talent is a unit of measure. It was used in measuring gold, silver and other precious metals. One talent was equivalent to 75 pounds. Ten thousand talents would be approximately 750,000 pounds or 375 tons. This servant owed the king 375 tons of gold. The price of gold currently is $1926 an ounce. So the servant owed the king in today’s dollars almost 23 billion dollars!! Jesus was emphasizing this was a debt he could not pay. 

26 So the servant[i] fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe. 29 So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. 

A denarius was approximately equal to a laborer’s day wages. So in today’s money one hundred denarii would be worth about $12,000. This man was forgiven a debt of 23 billion dollars, but refused to forgive a debt of $12,000. The offenses we hold against each other compared to the offenses that God forgive us for are like the $12,000 compared to the 23 billion. We may have been treated badly by someone else, but it does not compare with our transgressions against God. A person who cannot forgive has forgotten the great debt for which they were forgiven. When you realize God through Christ released you from the penalty of your sins, from eternal death and gave you citizenship in His kingdom as sons and daughters you will release others unconditionally. Every time you don’t forgive you are like this unforgiving servant in the parable who was forgiven so much but refused to forgive a paltry sum in comparison.

31 When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. 32 Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers,[k] until he should pay all his debt. 35 So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

An unforgiving spirit is the devil’s playground and before long it becomes the Christian’s battleground. If somebody hurts us, either deliberately or unintentionally, and we do not forgive him, then we begin to develop bitterness within, which hardens the heart. We should be tenderhearted and kind, but instead we are hardhearted and bitter. Actually, we are not hurting the person who hurt us; we are only hurting ourselves. Bitterness in the heart makes us treat others the way Satan treats them, when we should treat others the way God has treated us. In His gracious kindness, God has forgiven us, and we should forgive others. We do not forgive for our sake (though we do get a blessing from it) or even for their sake, but for Jesus’ sake. Learning how to forgive and forget is one of the secrets of a happy Christian life.

Bitterness-the fretted and irritable state of mind that keeps a man or woman in perpetual animosity; that inclines him to harsh and uncharitable opinions of men and things; that makes him sour, crabby and repulsive in his general demeanor; that brings a scowl over his face and infuses the words of his tongue with venom; Bitterness reflects a smoldering resentment, a brooding grudge–filled attitude, an unwillingness to forgive or a harsh feeling. Bitterness is the opposite of sweetness and kindness. In every recipe of unforgiveness there is the ingredient of bitterness. Every day thousands upon thousands people die in bitterness of soul, having never tasted the goodness of forgiveness. (Job 21:25). Hebrews 12:15: See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; 

And so you ask, whom shall I forgive first? If Christ is your Savior, he calls you his own. He calls you clean; he calls you forgiven. Jesus said to Peter one day, “Whatever I have cleansed, do not call common or unclean anymore” (see Acts 10:15). So first, you must learn to forgive yourself. We have all made mistakes. We have all fallen short of the glory of God. Sometimes people can receive the forgiveness of God, but they cannot forgive themselves for what they have done. Accept God’s forgiveness, and then forgive yourself.

Once you are operating from that perspective, then it is easier to let go of the debt that somebody else owes you. It is not worth hanging on to any longer. There is a story about a bear coming up to a campfire where he finds a cauldron sitting on the open flame. He picks it up with his big paws and holds it to his chest. It starts to burn him, but he does not know enough to let it go, so he holds it tighter, not realizing that the tighter he holds it, the more it is going to burn, eventually killing him. We are like that with unforgiveness. We grab onto it, we hold it, and we feel justified. And even though it is hurting us, we refuse to let it go.

There is no room for grudges in the Body of Christ. To forgive is to release it forever, never to bring it up again. There are no conditions to forgiveness in the Bible as it is unconditional. Our forgiveness so often is not unconditional as we seek, desire, plan and try to carry out our revenge. We don’t want to forgive until the debt is paid in full, so we set up ourselves as the Judge and jury, but there is only one Judge and it is not us. Do not be in bondage to human justice. We really try to play God when we do not forgive. Unforgiveness in borne out of a prideful heart that refuses to humble itself and release the offense to God. Quit trying to defend ourselves and let God defend us. Release the unforgiveness to God and be set free from its poison. Unforgiveness is a breach that prevents restoration of a relationship. If God marked our iniquities we could never stand so we should not mark the iniquities of others. Psalm 130:3,4: If you Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared (respected, revered and held in awe).

The promise of God to you is if you will receive his forgiveness, forgive yourself, and forgive others, a whole new realm will begin to open to you—a whole new way of living, an understanding of his power, a release of his life within yours. You will be able to pull down strongholds, recover your family, and reclaim your purpose in life! Hallelujah!

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