Wednesday, January 21, 2009

CHAPTER 10: The Grace of Forgiveness

Not only can we be forgiven for disobedience to God, but we are also commanded to forgive those who trespass against us. However, we must first learn to forgive ourselves. This is vital. When we do not forgive ourselves we will not have the power to forgive others, for we must be healed within before we can effect a healing without. The spirit of forgiveness has this healing power.

The first thing we must do, however, before we can truly forgive ourselves, is to seek forgiveness from those we may have injured, and forgiveness from God. Jesus taught, "Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar,... go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift." (Matt. 5:23-24; see also Matt. 6:14-15; 18:23-35.) It’s often difficult to gather courage to ask for forgiveness. It’s the element of the unknown, not knowing what the other person will do or say. Fear often keeps one from true repentance. On the other hand, hanging on to a sin without repentance can often be harder than seeking forgiveness. Life is too short and too precious for any less.

If we ask forgiveness of those we have hurt or offended, it’s up to them how they handle the situation. It’s often more difficult to forgive, and let go of perceived offenses and hurts, than not to let go and forgive. However, that is their choice, and we have done what is required. If they do not forgive, it will be they who may have the greater sin.

Forgiving Ourselves
After seeking forgiveness from those offended, be it man or God, we must then forgive ourselves. Some of us seem to want to wallow in self-pity, continually and unnecessarily beating ourselves. However, if we keep holding on to our guilts, we become unable to receive the effects of the atoning blood of Christ. We suffer for sins for which the penalty has already been paid. It’s like owing a large debt which we cannot pay, so our big brother pays it for us, but we keep worrying about it, trying to pay it all over again. It’s foolish and nullifies the graceful offering of our generous brother.

We cannot reach down and lift others higher than where we are. When we will not forgive ourselves, we will not be able to lovingly forgive others. Many hold on and refuse to let go of the guilt of past sins, even though Jesus paid the price to set us free. Jesus paid the price for your sins and mine. Those sins belong to Him. When we do not trust that He will forgive us of our sins, and we hold on to the guilts associated with them, we are keeping something which does not belong to us. The sins are His. He paid for them, and when we keep them for ourselves we are keeping something that does not belong to us any more. That makes us thieves—keeping that which rightfully belongs to another. Do you want to be a thief, stealing something from God which belongs to Him? Let Jesus have them, and feel the joy and peace of His forgiving grace.

Paul was a prime example of how extensive God’s grace can be, for he was a persecutor of the Church of God (1 Timothy 1:12-16), yet he was forgiven and became a mighty witness of God’s grace and the principle of forgiveness. The Lord forgave Paul, and he will do the same for us. We need to let go of past sins, and the guilt attached to those sins, letting the atonement of Christ bear sway in our lives. We need to believe this is so, accept it, and let it happen. We need to believe in Jesus and that He has atoned for all of Father’s children. We need to believe that without His death and sufferings there could have been no forgiveness of sin. We need to believe that His is the only name given under heaven whereby mankind can be saved. It is a principle essential to the new birth.

Through deep and personal introspection, and not living in a world of self-denial, we can come to an understanding of ourselves, and of our true relationship with the Father and the Son. Jesus Christ accepts all imperfections and provides remedies for them. He forgives with pure love. We must have faith that Jesus can forgive and heal, regardless of what others may think of us. The perceptions of others are not important, it is what God thinks of us that matters, and He will forgive and cleanse when we seek for it and accept Him. On his television program, Pat Robinson once said, "Christians aren’t perfect, they are only forgiven." How true that is.

Finding No Fault
As we are forgiven we must also forgive others, but what might be the cause for our need to forgive another? Could it be because we have a judgmental attitude? The Lord does not expect us to find fault, criticize, speak evil, or demean one another. Instead, He calls us to build each other through encouragement, respect, and extending that quality of grace that only radiates the pure love of Christ, which we in our weakness also ask from Him.

We often criticize others because of some fault we believe they have. A common dictionary tells us that a fault is a flaw, failing, imperfection, or defect. When we find fault in another we are looking for flaws or defects, but what imperfections do other people have that we don’t have? If someone does something differently than we do, or believes and feels differently than we do, are those things faults? Is another person more sinful because his sins are different from our sins? We are not to look for sin in each other. We are to bless our neighbor, even our enemies, and not judge them, "for judgment is mine, saith the Lord." Because we cannot always know the motives of other people, the Lord has given us the commandment to not judge. We are to extend the grace of forgiveness. Judgment and vengeance are the Lord’s, not ours.

We all make judgements, many of them unfairly. There are two basic reasons which usually cause an event to take place. First are the underlying events, and second is the precipitating event. The precipitating event is what brings a problem to a head, while the underlying events are those things that could have been smoldering before things burst into flames. The precipitating event of the United States entering the Second World War with Japan, for example, was Japan’s bombing of Pearl Harbor. However, there were many underlying events that preceded that bombing. The firing upon Fort Sumter was the precipitating event of the American Civil War, but the underlying events were the denying of states rights to the Southern States that began the conflict. So it is with personal relationships, we need to examine all the straws that are placed upon the back of the camel, instead of blaming the last one that broke its back. That last straw should not be blamed alone.

When a ball team is down five to four in the bottom of the ninth, with bases loaded, and the last batter strikes out, he’s the one people want to blame for losing the game. They don’t consider all the other strike-outs nor runs not batted in by other players. It’s the one who finally ended the game with a loss that often gets the blame. He doesn’t seem to get the credit for having the guts to stand up at the place in life, often under extreme pressure, when all the odds are against him, and when the spotlight is focused on him. If his judgment is off just a split-second, he usually get the blame for the loss. God knows his inner strength, however, and He forgives while we want to blame. When we consider all that transpires in the life of someone, it would be gracious if we considered all the straws, and not just the one that broke the proverbial camel’s back.

In the world we also have a tendency to measure a person’s value or worth by what he does or doesn’t do: Is he producing? Is he achieving? How much money does he make? Does he have a college education? Where does he live? What is his position? Is he measuring up to the norm? Is he trained in the ministry?

Many tend to prefer that our neighbors be the same—predictable—and have common interests. In our modern culture we tend to like diversity in food, clothing, music, art, literature, sports, nature, and in most all things that fill our daily lives, except in people. For some reason differences in people seem to be the hardest thing to deal with. If someone thinks differently, prefers different entertainment, wears different clothes, or enjoys a different lifestyle, has a different religious belief, or belong to a different church, we get a little nervous. The adversary knows that our relationship with people has eternal consequences, where our taste in automobiles may not. Therefore, he likes to cause contention because of these differences.

Someone once said to me, "Our problem is one of eyesight. We tend to see things only on the surface, and therefore, we put too much weight on externals. We judge by appearances rather than actualities." This seems to be true. However, the problem might be deeper than the need for an eye exam. We need an attitude adjustment. It’s often difficult to see other people being different than we see ourselves.

Things are expected to be different from people, so we unconsciously look at people that are different as things. In that way they become easier to deal with, and an attempt to change them seems justifiable. A person once suggested the thought that it’s natural for many to have compassion for the physically handicapped who cannot function in society as a "normal" person. Is that because some look at them as things because they are not as we are? A Christian has the same charity for those who display all types of handicaps and differences Are we not all handicapped without a Savior? Comparison can make us a prejudiced people, and it opposes the work of grace.

Another attitude that needs altering is the desire to control others, trying to make them believe and perform as we do. This tendency is especially prevalent among those who find their security in business, political or religious rigidity. They often manipulate others by using fear tactics, labeling, and veiled threats. Controllers like to win by intimidation. Whatever the method, controlling, like comparing and finding fault, nullifies grace.

Perhaps we could look at this subject as though we are all plants in a garden. Each vegetable is planted in its own season, grows at its own rate, and is harvested at a different time. We are all at different levels of growth, and must all grow to maturity at our own rate. God allows all of us time to grow, so we are to allow others time to grow also. As we remove weeds, rocks, and other things from the crops to give them room to fully develop and mature, let’s step out of the role of being judges or critics, and allow others room to grow and develop at their own rate. Let’s water and be feeders instead of weeders, lest we tear up the tender plants while they are in the process of reaching for the Son. The Lord never designed His Church to be a religious industry, churning out "cookie-cutter" church members. On the contrary, Paul said that the Lord is "... dividing to every man severally as he will." God expects us to be different, and we cannot say to another, I have no need of you. (1 Cor. 12:11, 21.)

Our Heavenly Father does not put a performance criterion on our worth. To Him performance only determines how deserving or worthy we may or may not be at the moment, not how valuable we are in the total scheme of things. In His eyes our value was established before being born. Our performance does not determine whether God wants us back to live with Him, it only determines whether WE want to go back and live with Him.

We are all children of a loving, patient, and forgiving Father in Heaven, and we all pray for God’s mercy upon our own lack of perfection. Let’s pray God’s mercy for all of His children, and praise Him for their diversity. God will send down rich rewards upon the heads of the understanding, tolerant and charitable disciples. We are not to be limited in our views with regard to our neighbor’s virtue, but beware of our own self_righteousness. If we would do like Jesus, we must bear with each other’s failings.

Of course, weakness is no excuse for disobedience. We all are commanded to follow Him with no exception. He has not told one to obey today and another tomorrow. However, we are admonished not to judge another’s progression or station in society. We are to understand that other people may be on a different track, but still trying to reach the same destination. They need our understanding, patience, love and forgiveness, if need be, just as all of us need the Lord’s love and forgiveness. We are all beggars, and we all depend upon Him for all the substance that we have, for our food, clothing, shelter, health, the air we breath, and all of our worldly riches—everything.

The Need to Forgive Others
Forgiving others helps us esteem them as God requires. Forgiving is a personal responsibility, and it has nothing to do with whether a person asks for forgiveness or not. However, if a person does ask for forgiveness it’s our duty, obligation, and also privilege to offer that forgiveness. It’s also a requirement from the Lord that we forgive those who ask for forgiveness.

When we have truly forgiven someone we will not share their sin or offenses with others. It’s the duty of those forgiving to let go of hurts and ill feelings, instead of harboring further grudges and resentments. If we continue to hold ill feelings about someone, or share those negative feelings with another, then we have not truly forgiven. Hanging on to such feelings will only canker the soul.

Can we approach our Heavenly Father, asking for forgiveness, if we are not willing to let go and forgive? Forgiveness is one of the greatest signs of charity. It’s one of the greatest gifts we can give—to forgive and help set someone free from the pangs of guilt, that they may be free from that bondage. Forgiveness is one of the charitable attributes of Christ that all must have to qualify to enter back into the presence of the Father.

Forgiveness is a key principle of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We will find that to receive forgiveness from the Lord depends on whether we can forgive others. If we cannot or will not forgive, then we cannot and will not be numbered among the Lord’s people when He comes to make up His jewels. By choosing not to extend the charity of forgiveness to others, we are also choosing not to receive from Christ.

In one of the parables Jesus taught, He spoke of a servant that begged his lord for forgiveness of a debt that he could not pay. Jesus said, "... the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt." Now that same servant had a fellow servant that was in debt to him, but would not forgive his fellow servant, demanding payment. When the servant’s lord found out about this the lord was wroth with his servant and said, "O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee? And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him. So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses." (Matt. 18:23-35.)

As we choose to give, so we choose to receive. By extending the forgiveness and love, we can justly go to the Father and ask for the same from Him. We will then be able to go in confidence and faith, because we will know we stand justified before Him.

Bless Them That Curse You
There are those who will try and tear a person down instead of building him up. This is often done so we will appear more important. It is like blowing out someone else’s candle so ours will seem a little brighter. The Lord expects us to consider the worth of others and not try and take something away from them. He asks us to add to, not take away. All of the positive energy we give out to bless someone’s life will be multiplied and will come back to us manyfold. The Lord knew this principle well. Thus, we have received His commandment to bless our enemies.

Often we forget the principle of grace when dealing with our enemies. We live in a world of get-even attitudes, a "do it unto others because they did it unto you" mentality. We like to give people what we think they deserve, instead of what may be needed or undeserved. We like the law of Sinai that says "An eye for an eye," rather than the Sermon on the Mount which says, "Turn the other cheek." Getting even is far from what Jesus taught.

Vindictiveness does nothing but rot the soul. The Savior plainly taught us to love our enemies. We are to bless those who try and curse us, be good to those who hate us, and pray for the welfare of those who despitefully use and persecute us. The word despitefully, in the original Greek, means to "insult," "slander," or "falsely accuse." As we can see, the Lord has asked us to do just the opposite for our enemies as they try to do to us. We recall what He had to say: "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect." (Matt. 5:43-48.)

Satan wants us to hate. He wants us to fight back, returning evil with evil. That’s his mode of operation, and when we follow it we are in his power. The Lord had a better way, that of returning evil with good. It involves energy, positive energy. He knew that whatever energy we put forth, that same energy comes back to either bless us or haunt us, depending on the type of energy we send out. If we are angry with someone, or curse them, that is sending out negative energy that is designed to hurt and destroy the other person in some way. This is not God’s way, but Satan’s. On the other hand, when we bless someone, that positive energy can have the affect of healing, and the restoring of lost hopes, providing a saving influence.

Some years ago, when I was a Behavioral Therapist, I had a female patient that had a behavior we discovered was based upon her anger towards her husband. After we discovered this, the suggestion was made that she heal this anger so she could have a more positive and appropriate relationship with him. Upon the suggestion she said, emphatically, "No! He deserves me to be mad at him." She chose to stay in that negative downward spiral that only draws disaster. She could have chosen to forgive, bless and create an upward positive relationship.

Many know the saying, "What goes around, comes around." Being nice to our enemies is not just a good Christian thing to do. It has far-reaching significance for us when we put out positive energy. It comes back to us manyfold in positive ways. When we give out a curse, we receive a curse in return. When we bless others, blessings return. Jesus taught what He did because He knew this.

In Matthew 5:45 Jesus teaches that our Father treats our enemies the same as He treats us, that is, by sending both rain and sunshine on the just and the unjust. Therefore, we are to do the same. In verses 46 and 47 He basically asks, "So what’s the big deal if you love those who love you? The unjust love the unjust also." Here He asks us to go beyond the simple and desire to do the more difficult, that of loving those who try to damage us in some way. Verse 48 tells us that we are to be perfect in this thing. The verse does not tell us to be perfect in everything, as many suppose, but only perfect in the things discussed in the previous verses, which is loving our enemies.

To love our enemies, as commanded, can only be done by a desire to love them. This love cannot be found without service and sacrifice. What kind of service or sacrifice is expected? Blessing them, doing good to them, and praying for their welfare, that is what the Lord expects. Our motivation is to be for the welfare of their eternal souls, not revenge to satisfy our personal hurts, whatever those wounds may be.

We are not to do less for our neighbor than we do for ourselves. At the last supper, Jesus taught His Apostles how to be recognized as His true disciples. "A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye have love one to another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another." (John 13:34-35.)

How often have we disobeyed, hurt, offended and neglected the Lord? How many of us have no sin, and did not cause Him to suffer great agony, shedding His blood in the garden and on the cross of Calvary? But He still loves us, forgives us, has patience with us, and provides for us all that we have. Yet, we are still unprofitable servants, and only sinners saved by grace.

As we choose to give, so we choose to receive. When we extend the charity of forgiveness and love, we can justly go to the Father and ask for the same from Him. We will then be able to go in confidence and faith, because we will know we stand justified before Him. We, then, receive grace for grace.

The Bondage of Non-forgiveness
There is a basic reason why someone will not forgive another, and that reason is fear—fear that the injured party might be hurt or offended again, or fear that the offender might not get his just reward. Fear is based on pride and is the opposite of love. Love releases and holds no grudge, but fear is a negative, and it tries to get even. It’s vindictive.

Forgiveness is one of the greatest acts of charity; for it is the giving of something that only you can give—the forgiving of someone you feel has done you wrong in some way. Forgiving can help release the offender from a great burden which he may carry upon his shoulders. Until the offender can feel that he is forgiven, the burden he carries may be so heavy that it could literally crush him mentally, emotionally, spiritually, or physically.

When someone transgresses against you, he owes you restitution. Because of that restitution, he becomes indebted to you until forgiven. The guilty party is to seek your forgiveness. Forgiveness releases the transgressor from the burden of debt. When you do not forgive the trespasser, you are, in reality, keeping him in bondage, and bondage is slavery. He becomes a slave until you release him.

God doesn’t believe in slavery, He desires us to be free. He doesn’t want us to treat our neighbor as a slave, even though that neighbor might have agreed to a debt in the first place. Many realize that such debt agreements are usually done ignorantly, or under stress. Compassion could be extended, in such cases. Keeping someone in bondage is not treating or loving him as we treat or love ourselves. If the kingdom of heaven is like the example of forgiving debts, as presented in the parable above, then we forgive those indebted to us. The proud are easily offended and hold grudges. They withhold forgiveness to keep another in their debt, justifying their injured feelings.

There is a simple way to tell if you are able to forgive another: it is when you are no longer trying to punish someone by your words or deeds; you have released him and he owes you nothing. You have set him free from bondage.

Forgiveness, the Greatest Act of Charity
Jesus has told us to forgive "seventy times seven" (Matt. 18:21-22), meaning to forgive as often as possible. As a matter of fact, we are to forgive as often as the offender repents. If we don’t forgive when our transgressor repents, our sin against him will be greater than his sin against us. God is to judge, and He will forgive who He will, but we are to forgive all people.

One of the beautiful stories of forgiveness is that of the prodigal son. It’s a story about a son who demanded his inheritance from his father before it was time. After the father gave his son his portion of the inheritance, the son went and squandered it. After some time of deprivation, he found himself even among the swine. In humility, the son eventually returned to his father. "And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.... the father said to his servant, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry: For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry." (See Luke 15:11-32.) There are some other ramifications to this story when considered in its entirety, but this example is wonderful in helping us understand that we are to forgive those who take advantage of us.

The Master instructed us during the Sermon on the Mount how to forgive those who trespass against us. He said if one strikes you, turn to him the other cheek (Matt. 5:38-39), and if someone sues you in court for your coat, give him your robe also. (Matt. 5:40; 1 Cor. 6:1-8.) If you are forced to travel a mile with someone, offer to go twice the distance. (Matt. 5:41.) We are instructed to not turn the borrower away (Matt. 5:42), and if someone steals, don’t ask for the stolen item back. (Luke 6:30.)

True disciples of Jesus Christ are united in their motives. Yet, as professed Christians, some bicker over every subject imaginable. In so doing, we are not following the admonition of Jesus to be one, as He and the Father are one. (John 17:11.) Remember, it isn’t who is right, but rather, what is right. As disciples of Christ we will not desire to lay up for ourselves treasures on earth, even if one of those treasures is to prove a point.

We cannot expect from God that which we are not willing to extend to others. We cannot fail to forgive another and still go to the Lord and ask Him to forgive us—not with true confidence anyway. To receive the Lord’s blessings we must, in like manner, freely extend those same blessings to others. If we desire a gift from God, we must be willing to give that gift to someone else.

As stated above, forgiveness is one of the greatest acts of charity; for it is the giving of something that only we can give. Even though forgiveness is one of the greatest acts of charity, it is the greatest evidence of grace, for the atonement was built upon the principle of extending forgiveness through unmerited favor.

If we want to feel God’s love, we must let others feel our love. We then might find that it’s impossible to continually serve our fellow man, no matter who he is, and not develop an abiding love and empathy for him. Through that service the love of God will gloriously shine through and fill our souls, and we can then feel His healing influence. That healing influence comes because of forgiveness. As we serve others by extending forgiveness, we take their yoke upon us, helping them bear their burdens. Their burdens become our burdens. As we forgive, with the spirit of charity, we are blessed with a greater endowment of the Spirit of God.

Loving forgiveness is a display of grace toward our fellow man, and obedience to the will of God. Love is trusting in God’s word, trusting that He will give as we have given, forgive as we have forgiven, lift as we have lifted, and will reward as we surrender our will to Him. If God can forgive us, are we to do any less for others?

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