Summary: How do we forgive?

I would like to begin this morning with a very troubling verse of Scripture.

"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."

-- Matthew 6:14-15 (NIV)

Does this mean that you can lose your salvation? Or that you must earn your salvation? No. What it means is this: a heart which cannot or will not forgive other human beings is a heart which has never been transformed by the grace of God, a heart that has not been changed through faith. In other words, the capacity and willingness to forgive is an essential characteristic of a Christian.

Why is this troubling? First of all, Jesus does not allow any exceptions. There’s no escape clause, no mention of extenuating circumstances. The requirement to forgive is absolute.

[Matthew 18:21-35]

Again, this passage troubles me, because I can imagine circumstances in which it would be very difficult to forgive. Let me give you an example. [Example: the shooting at Westwood Baptist Church] I wonder: could I forgive if my son or daughter was one of those killed? But Jesus tells us that if I can’t forgive - even that - then I’m not a Christian.

You can think of other examples. Sadly, our world is full of them. [John McCain’s accounts of torture in his autobiography, "Faith of My Fathers"]

But those are both remote from our experience. Let’s move on to offenses which are closer to home. How about an unfaithful spouse? Rebellious children? Ever been betrayed by a close friend or family member? Someone you trusted and cared about? Someone you thought cared about you?

The second reason this requirement is troubling is that it is do hard. In fact, it seems impossible. It goes against everything within us. It certainly goes against our culture, which extols revenge. [Examples: Road Rage / WWF Wrestling / Movies]

The truth is that everyone in this room has been hurt, and hurt deeply. Maybe this week. Maybe thirty years ago. But we’ve all been hurt. And we have two choices. We can forgive. That’s the way of life and freedom. Or we can nurse a grudge, allow bitterness to take root and grow in our hearts, and perhaps even seek revenge. That’s the way of death. According to Jesus, only the first is an option for those who claim to follow Him.

But how do we forgive? That’s the question. How do we grant forgiveness when everything within us is calling out for revenge? How do we move from wanting them to suffer as we have suffered, to the place where we can genuinely wish them well? As I’m speaking, you may be thinking of a particular person who has hurt you. Try to imagine having no bitter feelings against them, not desiring to take revenge on them, not wanting them to suffer; but instead, sincerely wishing them well from your heart. If it seems impossible, then you understand the enormity of the task. Apart from God’s grace, it truly is impossible. But His power makes the impossible possible. By God’s grace we can forgive even those who have hurt us deeply, personally, and unfairly. Let’s see how.

First, let’s understand what we’re talking about. What does it mean to forgive?

Forgiveness is not:

· Forgetting. Deep hurts can’t be removed from our awareness. If they are, it probably isn’t healthy (submerge the painful memories until they emerge later in a destructive manner).

We can only forgive as we face the truth of what was done to us. However, forgiving will make it easier to forget; release us from the tyranny of our pain.

· Condoning the behavior. Forgiveness doesn’t regard the offense as acceptable. That would devalue me as a person. It would say it’s OK for others to treat me any way they want (doormat). Rather, forgiveness respects my worth and dignity as a person made in God’s image.

· Excusing. "It wasn’t her fault." "He was under a lot of stress." "She didn’t really mean it." "He had a difficult childhood."

Forgiveness respects the offender’s humanity by recognizing that they are responsible for their actions; they freely chose to do what they did. Excusing is easy; forgiveness is difficult: it requires that we be tough-minded enough to hold the offender accountable for their behavior.

· Dismissing. Brushing it off as "no big deal."

· Pardoning. Forgiveness is a personal matter between the offender and the one offended. It doesn’t necessarily release the offender from the legal consequences of their actions.

· Reconciling. You can forgive, even if the other person refuses to reconcile, or can’t be contacted. Reconciliation isn’t under my control; forgiveness is.

Forgiveness is an unconditional gift of mercy and grace to one who has wronged us, affecting our mind, emotions, and will.

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