Summary: This message from Matthew 6:12-15 explains why forgiveness is essential and practical steps that can be taken to accomplish it.
A Forgiving Heart
(Inspired by a message from Dan Allender)
Jesus had a lot to say about forgiveness. When he taught his disciples how to pray (in what we now call the Lord’s Prayer) Jesus said, “Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors, and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” And he explained, “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
That’s a big deal. We literally instruct God in how he should judge us by the way we choose to judge others. If we hold grudges and hang on to resentment, we are directing God to withhold his mercy and forgiveness from ourselves!
1. Why Forgive?
But in spite of this, we ask “why forgive?” In our minds we KNOW that forgiving is essential for a Christian … but in our hearts we still harbor resentment and bitterness toward others. Somehow it feels like we’d be promoting injustice and unfair actions if we simply forgive a debt. We’d be letting the bad guys “get away with it.”
It seems especially galling to offer forgiveness to someone who is not even sorry for what they have done … or even worse, to someone who keeps on repeating the offense over and over again. Let’s face it, it’s HARD to forgive. It really goes against human nature. So, to help us along, let’s look at truths that can turn us into “forgivers.”
A. A forgiving heart knows how much it has been forgiven.
We could say it the opposite way, too. “An unforgiving heart doesn’t understand how much it has been forgiven.” This is what Jesus said in Luke 7:47. “He who has been forgiven little loves little.”
The forgiving heart is able to see a true view of self … free from rationalizations and denials. A forgiving heart realizes that in comparison to the perfection of God, we are all in the same boat. We are all pathetic, helpless sinners in desperate need of forgiveness. The distinction between the “good” the “bad” and the “ugly” among us is really not worth mentioning.
The forgiving heart is able to show undeserved mercy to everyone … because it understands the free gift of God’s mercy. If we refuse to forgive it’s a warning sign that we are trying to cover up our own sinfulness and our own need for God’s undeserved mercy. That kind of attitude hardens our hearts … making it impossible for us to enjoy the peace that comes from a close relationship with our Heavenly Father.
B. A forgiving heart yearns for reconciliation
Have you ever known someone who lives off of conflict? Every time you see them, they start telling you who’s done them wrong and what they’re going to do about it. This is the opposite of a Christ-like heart. I Corinthians 13:5 says love “…is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth.”
Being at odds with someone should never feel comfortable … and it usually doesn’t. You know how it is when you see someone in the grocery store and you wheel your cart around and head the other direction so you don’t have to talk to them. The forgiving heart is never at peace until there’s been an attempt at reconciliation.
This doesn’t mean we’re willing to have peace at any cost. We’re not talking about cheap forgiveness, because the cost of forgiveness is always high. The cost to the offended person is to forgive and cancel the debt of the offender. The cost to the offender is to admit the wrong and repent.
You see, reconciliation is a two-way street. Forgiveness is the offer of reconciliation, but that offer may be refused. There are people who you may forgive but never be able to reconcile with. That’s why Romans 12:18 says, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
I believe the Apostle Paul wrote those words knowing that, while forgiveness is commanded, reconciliation is not always possible. In that situation, you must satisfy yourself that you did what you could to mend things. Forgive, and then leave the rest to God. If there is more you can or should do, the Holy Spirit will let you know at the right time.
C. A forgiving heart works to destroy sin
In the same scripture where Paul urges us to do everything we can to try to live at peace with everyone, he also says in Romans 12:19-21: “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: It is mine to avenge; I will repay, says the Lord (Deuteronomy 32:35).