Christian Excuses: Forgive but don't forget
This excuse disguises itself as self-preservation. Forgiveness can be a tricky concept because it goes against our profound human need for justice. But the fascinating thing is that when we have been slighted, we want justice, but when we are the offender, we want mercy. Jesus addresses this issues multiple times in the gospels, because the disciples really struggled with the idea too.
When Peter asked Jesus, "How many times should I forgive someone who wrongs me?" He piously tries to answer his own question. "Up to seven times?" The number seven in Hebrew culture represents completeness. So Peter was asking if we need to completely forgive a brother if he continues to sin against us.
Jesus' response is compelling. He said not seven times (completely), but seventy times seven. I'm not going to get into weird numerology here. But I think it is safe to say that Jesus was going beyond complete forgiveness to eternal forgiveness. The same level of forgiveness that God gives to us, Jesus is now expecting from His disciples.
He then goes on to teach a parable about a servant who was forgiven of a substantial debt by his master, but then the same servant will not excuse a smaller debt of his fellow servant.
Once the master found out about the servant's actions, it did not go well for him. The master called him wicked because he would not offer mercy to another after receiving mercy himself.
We have all benefited from God's mercy and forgiveness. While we were steeped in sin and willful disobedience, He forgave us. We certainly didn't deserve it. We have continued to stray from His path, but thankfully God's forgiveness is eternal. God's forgiveness free and eternal, but it is not without conditions.
How can we who have received undeserved mercy, now refuse to forgive someone for reasons of "self-preservation"?! If this is our response to our fellow man, we have not truly understood or emulated Christ's eternal forgiveness. And just like the unmerciful servant, it will not go well for us.
In the parable, the master put the unmerciful servant in jail until he could pay back all that he owed. He rescinded his forgiveness because of the servant's desire to hold his debtor to a different standard than he held for himself. This teaching has eternal significance for every Christian today.
One more passage that is important to understand in light of this teaching is Matthew 6:14-15. Immediately after the Lord's prayer, Jesus says:
"IF you forgive people their wrongdoing, your heavenly Father will forgive you as well. But IF you don't forgive people, your Father will not forgive your wrongdoing."
That is heavy stuff. Your forgiveness is given freely (like the servant in the previous story), but the "contract of forgiveness" states that if you refuse to forgive others, you have voided the contract of forgiveness given to you by a merciful God.
So your forgiveness (and your salvation) are not determined by walking an aisle or saying a prayer. I don't care if you were baptized in a Baptist church or the river Jordan. If you receive His forgiveness and refuse to forgive others, according to Jesus' teachings, your forgiveness is in jeopardy.
Forgiveness and mercy are a fundamental component of God's character. If we are trying to emulate Jesus Christ, then our life will be characterized by bold mercy and undeserved forgiveness.
When we offer such radical grace to the people in our lives, it often opens doors for teaching moments.
The same Peter who piously said he would forgive someone completely found himself a few weeks later needing forgiveness. He had abandoned Jesus and lost his faith. But Jesus sought him out. He found him back in his old life, and he reinstated him. He spoke gently but firmly to him. Jesus allowed him to correct course and get back on the right path. And that is just what Peter did.
When people wrong you and you demonstrate a divine measure of grace and mercy, you may also find yourself in one of those rare teachable moments that could change the course of someones life.
If you decide to "forgive" them but harbor feelings of suspicion or doubt. You will never see the transformation that true forgiveness leads to.
Stop making excuses
Forgive and forget.
When you forgive, do it like Jesus.
Exhibit to others the same grace and mercy shown to you.
You can not forgive someone's sins against God, but you CAN forgive their sins against you, and that might lead them to God and his eternal mercy or forgiveness.
If you would like to read the other entries in this series start here: