Forgiveness (2)

by Greg Gwin | via

continued from last week

Under instructions to forgive others “just as God in Christ also hath forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:32), we have observed that God is 1) willing to forgive, 2) anxious to forgive, but 3) He forgives only when we have met His conditions of forgiveness, including repentance. We continue our study with some additional and important points about God’s forgiveness.

It is clear that when God forgives it is an absolute and total form of forgiveness. Too often men never really get over something. Past wrongs and offenses remain an issue and are allowed to fester like an open wound. People are heard to say things like, “I’ll never forget what he did to me.” But, thankfully, God is not that way, and we need to imitate Him. The Psalmist wrote (103:8-12): “The Lord is merciful and gracious … He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him. As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us.” We should be extremely grateful for His absolute forgiveness, and we should treat others the same way.

Furthermore, God’s forgiveness is permanent. Once forgiven, He never calls up our past sins again. The Hebrew writer quoted the promise made by the prophet Jeremiah: “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them; and their sins and iniquities will I remember no more” (Hebrews 10:16-17). Too often we will tentatively ‘forgive’ someone who wrongs us, but are quick to dredge up these old sins if that same person every crosses us again. It is not that way with God, and it cannot be so with us.

It is simply amazing that God is willing to forgive us over and over—even when the same offenses are repeated again and again. The apostle John wrote: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Note that these words were penned to those who were already Christians—those who had already been forgiven by God—yet the promise is that he will forgive even more. This ongoing willingness of God to extend additional forgiveness is incredible. And, we have been taught to do the same. When Peter asked Jesus, “how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him?” he thought he was being generous to suggest “till seven times?” But Jesus said, “I say not unto these, until seven times; but, until seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:21-22). This is surely a hard thing, but God extends that sort of forgiveness to us, and we should to one another.

It is clear that our Father never grows bitter against us and never ‘nurses a grudge’, and neither can we. Grudge holding is a sin (James 5:9), and we have been ordered to rid ourselves of bitterness (Ephesians 4:31). There is no room for these things in the heart of one who seeks to forgive like God does.

Finally, let us observe that forgiveness does not always remove all the consequences of our misdeeds. Some examples will illustrate our meaning:

  1. A man is abusive of his wife and children. For years he is negligent and mean. Finally he ‘comes to himself’, repents, and asks their forgiveness. They forgive him, but it is unreasonable to imagine that his family will ever be rid of the terrible scars that have been inflicted. He is forgiven, by his family and by God, but that family has been changed forever by his wrongs.
  2. Another man cheats on his wife. Thankfully he realizes how horribly he has sinned against her and God. He begs forgiveness, and it is granted by both. But things are not the same as before he made those wicked choices. She decides to divorce him (Her rightful choice). He is forgiven, but he must live alone the rest of his life.
  3. In a moment of uncontrolled rage a man strikes another. The blow inflicts a mortal wound. He is arrested, convicted, sentenced. He mourns, repents, and seeks forgiveness. Can he be forgiven? Of course! But he must still suffer the consequences of his deed.

Forgiveness is a wonderful thing—but, how much better to live so as to limit the need to approach God and man seeking it.

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