For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. – Matthew 6:14-15
One of the key issues during Lent is Forgiveness. This is because during lent we realise our sins, shortcomings, iniquities, transgressions and all we have to do is to run to God on repentance and ask Him to forgive us.
The converse is equally true, people wronged us and we have held them captive in our hearts refusing to let them go. This article is really about us forgiving those who have wronged us especially in obedience to the prayer Jesus taught us in Matthew 6:12: and “forgive us the wrongs we have done as we forgive the wrongs that others have done to us.”
Forgiveness is not a matter of warm emotions. It is a function of the will. It is asking the question not can I forgive but will I forgive, the Lord being my helper. And forgiveness is not pretending that a particular person has not injured or upset us in some way. True forgiveness entails recalling the full extent of the hurt inflicted and admitting: ‘Yes, that hurt’, but then because God requires it of me.’
To forgive means:
- To let go of resentments, bitterness, hatred, unnecessary anger; to let it drop out of our lives.
- To let a person off the hook.
- To cancel the debt we feel we are owed.
It can be done, but only with God’s help.
The Cost of Unforgiveness
If we are born again, we are beneficiaries of God’s forgiveness. If God has not forgiven us, there’s no way we would have become a child of God. God sent Jesus to come and die for our sins (1 Peter 3:18). According to Galatians 1:4, “He died for our sins, just as God our Father planned, in order to rescue us from this evil world in which we live”.1 Corinthians 15:3 says Christ died for our sins just as the Scriptures said.
In doing that, He had to shed His blood because, without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sin (Hebrews 9:22). In Christ, we have our redemption, the forgiveness of our sins (Colossians 1:14). According to Psalm 103:12, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us”.
Therefore, if we are beneficiaries of God’s forgiveness, we will be ungrateful to fail to forgive those who wrong us. We will be like that servant in Matthew 18:31-35 who was forgiven a huge debt of millions of dollars by the king, but went to arrest a fellow servant who owed him just a few thousand dollars and jailed him until the debt was paid in full.
This was despite the servant’s plea to be patient with him just as the unforgiving servant had pleaded and the king had forgiven him. Whatever offence anyone commits against you is far less than the sins God forgave you.
The Word of God says you should forgive from your heart anyone who wrongs you (Matthew 18:35). Forgive them whether they ask for it or not. That’s not because of the persons but because of yourself. Jesus said there should be no limit to forgiveness. That’s the meaning of Matthew 18:21-22: “Then Peter came to Him and said, ‘Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven”. Forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation.
If we don’t forgive, unforgiveness will cost us the following:
- We lose answered prayer. Jesus was clear that we must forgive as we pray: “And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven will also forgive you your wrongdoing” – Mark 11:25.
- We lose our Christian witness at some level. That’s because few of us are very good at hiding our frustration and unforgiveness toward others. Eventually, others see our anger.
- We lose a battle to the enemy. He’s the evil one who wants to bind us up in bitterness. He delights when we allow our anger to become our idol.
- We lose any real sense of peace. We might fake it for a while, but animosity and hostility toward someone else eventually eats at our soul. It consumes us.
- We lose an opportunity to live out the gospel. The gospel is about God’s loving forgiveness of us, and we model that love when we forgive others.
- We lose years of relationships. I could tell you story after story of family members who separated for many years and reconciled only at a funeral. I can likewise tell stories of some who never reconciled. Years lost.
- We lose some of our usefulness to the work of God. I’m deeply grateful He uses any of us sinners—that is, none of us is worthy to be His vessel—but we needn’t make ourselves less useful by our ongoing sin of unforgiveness.
Forgiveness is hard work. It often takes time. It seldom means forgetting. It doesn’t always lead quickly to renewed trust. Sometimes it doesn’t even lead to reconciliation. It is, though, worth more than we gain if we choose not to forgive.
The cost of unforgiveness is huge. Are you ready to pay for it? Proverbs 17:9 says, “You will keep your friends if you forgive them, but you will lose your friends if you keep talking about what they did wrong”.
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