Summary: Part 4 of this series.
Preparation For Promotion Part 4: Test of Forgiveness
This will be the final message in this series on Preparation for Promotion. In this message we will look at the final test, the test of forgiveness. There is some background information we need to understand about forgiveness before I go into handling the actual tests of forgiveness. Let me start with forgiveness under the Old Testament Law versus forgiveness under our New Covenant in Christ.
I. Old Testament Law versus the New Covenant
The Old Testament discouraged the Hebrews from seeking either the peace or prosperity of their enemies. Deuteronomy 23:4, 6 says “Because they did not meet you with bread and water on the road when you came out of Egypt, and because they hired against you Balaam the son of Beor from Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse you….You shall not seek their peace nor their prosperity all your days forever.” God told the Children of Israel that they were not to seek peace or the prosperity with the Ammonite or the Moabites because of how these people treated them when they came out of Egypt. They were not to forgive them. We know that God did not want the Children of Israel to think that living lives like these people (following a pagan way of life) would lead to their prosperity. This law made it legitimate for a follower of the covenant ethic to hate rather than to forgive his enemy.
When we look at our new covenant in Christ, Jesus summed up what our attitudes should be when He contrasted the love of one’s friends with the hatred of one’s enemies. Matthew 5:43-44 says “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.” In expounding the ethic of the New Covenant, Christ taught that forgiveness is a duty of which no limit can be set (Luke 17:4). Jesus does not state that there is any wrong so gross nor so often repeated that it is beyond forgiveness. To Him, having an unforgiving spirit is one of the most heinous of sins. Our example of forgiveness not only comes through Christ, but also how God deals with us. Let review a few Scriptures of what happens when God forgives sin.
II. When God Forgives
“Indeed it was for my own peace that I had great bitterness; but You have lovingly delivered my soul from the pit of corruption, for You have cast all my sins behind Your back.” Isaiah 38:17
“I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; and I will not remember your sins.” Isaiah 43:25
“He will again have compassion on us, and will subdue our iniquities. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.” Micah 7:19
“….For I will forgive their iniquity and their sin I will remember no more.” Jeremiah 31:34
“As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.” Psalms 103:12
The reason we have a “duty” to forgive is because of what God has done and continues to do in our lives. When He forgives us, it is a complete restoration. God’s forgiveness is conditional upon our willingness to forgive. It is not because God forgives grudgingly, but because forgiveness alone indicates that disposition of mind which humbly accepts God’s divine pardon. When God forgives, it results in the complete removal of all estrangement and alienation between God and mankind. It restores completely the relationship that existed prior to the sin. Ideally the same result is attained in human forgiveness although the memory of the sin remains with both parties as a barrier between them, and even when there is complete restoration to the former state, the alienation cannot entirely be removed from memory. The closest we come to this is when we are dealing with our children or family members. When we forgive our kids of their wrong doings, we forgive and forget about it. We do not constantly wave a flag with their mistakes written on it in their faces. We can also do the same things with other blood relatives. However, this is much harder to accomplish with spouses, friends and other people not as close to us. When God forgives, He restores a person to the condition of the former favor. Having said this, there are still misunderstandings around forgiving someone. Let’s examine what forgiving does not mean.
III. Forgiveness Does Not Mean…
You have all heard it said that forgiveness means that you put the wrong behind you and treat the person as if it never happened. It is important that we understand the true context of what this means. Forgiveness is one part of a mutual relationship; the other part is the repentance of the offended. The full effect of forgiveness in action is the restoration of the person and the relationship to their former position, the position before the sin was committed. But, such a restoration requires the cooperation of both parties. There must be a granting and an acceptance of the forgiveness. Sincere, deep-felt sorrow for the wrong, which works repentance (2 Cor. 7:10), is a state of mind that insures the acceptance of the forgiveness. Hence Jesus commands forgiveness when the offender turns again and says “I repent”. It was this state of mind that led the father joyfully to welcome his Prodigal son home even before his son told him about his change of heart. Having said that, let me make something perfectly clear. It is not to be supposed that failure to repent on the part of the offender releases us from our obligations to extend forgiveness. Even without the offender repenting, we must still have a forgiving state of mind. This was what Jesus referenced in Matthew 18:35 when He said “…So My Heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.” When we are offended, we should seek to bring the wrongdoer to repentance (Luke 17:3). We are to carry this pursuit to the point of making every reasonable effort to win the wrongdoer, and only when we have exhausted every effort may we abandon it. The object is to gain our brother or sister. Here is the point I want to make, our forgiving someone does not mean that we must restore them to the former relationship. If they repent and stop the behavior, then we can work on restoring the relationship. However, if there is no repentance or change, we forgive them and move on, possibly forsaking the relationship altogether. You cannot restore a relationship when the person continues to walk in whatever caused the disruption. Although the relationship is not restored, in our hearts we forgive them.