One of the revolutions that Jesus taught us was the power of forgiveness. During a time of revenge and equal compensation, Jesus flips everything on its head and says, “Forgive.”
The problem is forgiveness is hard!
Yet it is freeing.
Sometimes freedom is hard. Sometimes freedom is a push. But when you taste freedom, you realize just how worth it, it is. As Cook and Baldwin point out in their fantastic book Love, Acceptance, and Forgiveness, “Forgiveness is not compromise.” However, when is enough, enough?
One day Jesus has a little powwow with his disciples. They are talking about so many of life’s issues. Greatness, sin, hurt. It is here when Peter, whether it be that he takes exception or just requires a little clarity, asks an important question that we have probably all asked.
Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”Matt 18:21-22
Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.
When confronted with how many times we are to forgive the repentant a person Jesus answer is, always. While Peter wants to quantify the number, Jesus states that true repentance’s response is continual true forgiveness. As Russell Brand points out,
“Forgiveness means letting go. It means being willing to accept that we are all mortals flawed and suffering, imperfectly made and trying our best.”
This doesn’t mean that there are no boundaries or consequence. It just means that both parties choose to live free of the infraction. Jesus articulates one of these critical boundaries as he explains what forgiveness is supposed to look like in our lives.
“Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. Mt 18:23–35
“At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.
“But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.
“His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’
“But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.
“Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.
“This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
What becomes clear is that the reason we are to forgive is that we have been forgiven. No matter how many times we fall at the feet of Jesus confessing our wrongdoing, admitting that we can do nothing to make it right, Christ welcomes us. Again, Brand rightly points out,
“How can I expect forgiveness if I am unwilling to forgive?”
Though we live and fight the double standard that seems natural to us, Christ calls us to forgive just as we have been forgiven.
However, if we think forgiveness is all there is and you are waiting on the sidelines holding that grudge, waiting to forgive that person when they finally ask for it, you might have a rude awakening. While Jesus talks about the power of forgiveness, the reason that you can forgive is that we have done something first—we have extended grace.
So what is grace? To this, I look to people who are much smarter than me. Bell and Bell write,
“Grace doesn’t brush over our sins and failures and faults—it sees them clearly in all their Technicolor mess.”
Grace isn’t about ignoring what has happened. It sees it in its fullness. It considers the immense brokenness in what has happened. Brennan Manning points out,
“The gospel of grace announces, Forgiveness precedes repentance.”
But why? Shouldn’t we want justice—for things that were wrong to be made right? Yes, we should. However, it is knowing that God is the perfect judge and choosing to say, in the words of Sting, “I could be you in another life, in another set of circumstances.” The apostle Paul explains grace to the church in Rome like this
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Rom 5:8
While we were still opposed to who God is—while we even walked our own direction—while we still admitted no wrongdoing, Christ gave his life for us. The day of the crucifixion, Jesus could have taken himself off the cross and said, “forget about helping all you ungrateful people.” Or while in the grave, as we waited for Saturday to end said, “well, they abandon me in a minute. They don’t really believe. Peace out.”
Though we didn’t deserve it, God showed us, love. He made the first move. This is the picture of a desperate Father running to his kid. Augustin writes,
“He did not delay, but ran crying out loud by his words, deeds, death, life, descent, and ascent—calling us to return to him.”
God knew we couldn’t do it on our own. That’s what the law was all about. God stoops his ideal to reach us. However, He knew we could never do it, that is why the law is proceeded with, “when you fail.” Though we had no power to pick ourselves up out of the muck of life, Christ can. If we back up from verse 8 to 6, we God’s love shining through. The Message puts verse 6 like this,
“Christ arrives right on time to make this happen. He didn’t, and doesn’t, wait for us to get ready. He presented himself for this sacrificial death when we were far too weak and rebellious to do anything to get ourselves ready. And even if we hadn’t been so weak, we wouldn’t have known what to do anyway.”
If asking forgiveness is putting the power into someone else’s hands, then grace is God saying, I will put the power back in your hands. However, this isn’t power so you can lord over others. This is the power that allows you to step out of the prison cell Christ has opened for you.
This power Christ puts back in our hands is the power of humility. It’s the power to say, I can’t do it on my own, I need the eternal God. While forgiveness can create superiority, us waiting for someone else to look up and say I’m sorry. God gives grace. Grace lifts the other up and admits you are not superior, we are all the same. We all make bad choices, some more destructive than others, but we are always one decision away from finding ourselves in the same shoes. Grace is saying, but for God, I too would be lost to the eternal consequences of my misdeeds.
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