God’s Forgives. God Requires Forgiveness.
One of the greatest challenges to human nature is the issue of forgiveness. Those who can’t forgive themselves are filled with guilt and despair, and those who won’t forgive others are filled with anger and bitterness. The most miserable people are the people who never let go of their bitterness. Have you ever met an old bitter man or woman? They can’t enjoy life and those who love them can’t enjoy them. Bitterness builds a barrier that keeps them caged in and the rest of the world closed out. The bitter person will cling to a hurt from the past and will never let go of it even though they know it is destroying them. To various degrees, we all struggle with bitterness. When we cling to anger, we punish those that hurt us, and we destroy ourselves. We through a pity party that only we can attend. They are not hurt by our bitterness, but we also become isolated and lonely. Our fleshly nature always seeks what will destroy us, but God’s commands always restore what the flesh erodes. Let’s look at the Bible’s message of forgiveness.
21 Then Peter came to Him and said, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?"
22 Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.
23 "Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants.
24 "And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents.
25 "But as he was not able to pay, his master commanded that he be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and that payment be made.
26 "The servant therefore fell down before him, saying, ’Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’
27 "Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt.
28 "But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, ’Pay me what you owe!’
29 "So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying, ’Have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’
30 "And he would not, but went and threw him into prison till he should pay the debt.
31 "So when his fellow servants saw what had been done, they were very grieved, and came and told their master all that had been done.
32 "Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, ’You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me.
33 ’Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?’
34 "And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him.
35 "So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses."
Forgiveness is a Need
The debt cannot be paid. Jesus used the illustration of a destitute servant in debt to a powerful and wealthy master. The servant could only go into debt, yet his desire was to pay off the debt. His intentions were completely impossible. He was not a wage earner, he was a bondservant. Jesus intentionally used the most humble class of citizen to illustrate the point that earning forgiveness is utterly impossible. Look closely at the illustrations Jesus used. The story begins by a servant giving an account for his debt. The record was read in his presence and he owed 10,000 talents to his master. To put this into perspective, 1 talent is approximately 200 pounds of gold. 10,000 talents equals two million pounds of gold and would be worth $8,467,200,000 on today’s market (that is almost 8.5 billion dollars). A good days wage was would be 1 denarii. A denarii was .1375 ounces of silver or the equivalent of 62 cents of silver. A servant would doubtfully get that much. The master ordered the man and his wife and children sold into slavery to pay off the debt. If that isn’t hopeless enough, compare the ancient daily wage to today’s. Their average daily wage was 62 cents. The national average annual income in America in 1999 was $30,500 or $173 a day. If you put the days wage 2,000 years ago on an even scale today, the equal debt this servant owed would be $1,600,300,800,000 in today’s dollar value. That is over 1 ½ trillion dollars in debt.
If they were credited at the daily wage rate, they would have to server 37,415,820 years to pay it off. The clear point is that the man could never pay the debt owed – or even get close to scraping the surface of the debt – even if he worked every day of history from the foundation of the world until the end of time.
The servant fell on his knees and pleaded for mercy promising that he would do the impossible if given the chance. He would pay back all. Yeah, right! He was promising the moon when he could not even get off the ground. Instead of giving him the penalty he justly deserved, his master did the unthinkable. He took the debt and wiped the slate clean. “You owe me nothing. All has been forgiven”. He did not even have a repayment plan. No debt, no penalty, nothing but a clean slate and freedom.
Jesus used the utter financial bankruptcy of this servant to illustrate our total bankruptcy to sin. It is hard for our human nature to grasp the debt we truly owe God. In our minds, we are generally good people. We judge ourselves by comparing our actions to the sins we find in other people. Even a murderer thinks he or she is a generally good person. There are some things we all do that make us feel good. Al Capone, one of the most notorious Chicago gangsters in US history fed the hungry and gave to the needy. While he projected the clean image, he was having rivals murdered, extorting money and building his wealth off of crime. We all can find comparisons that make us feel righteous, but that doesn’t make us righteous. It isn’t until we compare ourselves to God’s standard by which we will be judged that we get a glimpse of our debt. We can’t grasp the magnitude of our debt. Much less can we comprehend the impossibility to repay even one sin. The Bible says that all of our righteous acts are rotten rags in God’s sight (Isaiah 64:6). The word translated literally mean that our deeds turn God’s stomach.
How can I repay my debt when the only righteousness I can offer God is the very thing that repulses God? I can’t. That is the message of forgiveness. Justification comes from God, not from me. It is God who calls me. It is God who reveals my debt. My only role is to rebel or surrender. When the servant fell down before his lord, he was forgiven of all. It is God who erases my debt and puts me back onto my feet with a new life and new freedom. A man or woman has no concept of their need for forgiveness until they see the mountain of their debt. That is why the Bible says in Romans 3:19-20 that the purpose of the law is show us that we are guilty before God. The purpose of the law is not so we can be justified, but so that we can see our need for God to justify us. The Bible clearly states that no man will be justified in God’s sight by keeping the law.
Forgiveness is Free
God does not require penance in order to be forgiven, nor does He require a payment for our debt. He does require repentance. The forgiven servant didn’t grab another 10,000 talents of gold on his way out from being forgiven. Jesus always called people to come into the kingdom of God through Him and repentance was always the first step. Jesus walked and preached, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” All the apostles taught repentance as the first act of faith in the gospel. People mistake repentance as an act of works, but in fact it is an act of faith. It is not a work that we do, it is a response to the call of God to lay down our old life and take up the new life created for us in Christ.
It is also important to realize that we don’t come to repentance out of a fear of hell. We repent because we see God and His goodness. The law may require judgment outside of God’s grace and we may fear this alternative, but ultimately it is the goodness that draws us (Romans 2:4). It is a desire for God that leads us to salvation, not a desire for heaven. Heaven is just one of the benefits of a relationship with Christ, but it is not the purpose of that relationship. We come without bargaining material and without defense. We come, lay our lives at His throne of mercy and He lifts the burden of debt our sin has created.
Forgiveness is Complete Because the Debt is Forgotten
It is so easy for people to revisit the grave of forgiven sins and mourn over them. Our sins do not reside at the memorial markers we create. God has already dealt with our sin. That debt was paid on the cross of Jesus Christ, as He became our sin so that we might become His righteousness. We struggle to fully accept this by faith. We keep tabs and each time we sin, we are afraid to come before God because we might have used up our chances. There are two things we should always keep in mind when we ask for forgiveness. One, there must be genuine repentance. Two, forgiven sin is intentionally forgotten. The Bible shows us that if we walk willfully in sin and then claim God’s forgiveness and continue to walk in the darkness, we are living a lie (1 John 1 and Chapter 3). But if we are walking with Christ and we sin, we ask for forgiveness and are forgiven by the blood of His sacrifice for us. The one who looks at the cross as a holy washrag and rejects the relationship with Christ is deceived and unforgiven.
However, we do struggle to overcome our flesh and we fall, get up, fall and get up. Even when we struggle with our weaknesses, we continue to press ahead. Repentance, however, has been lost once I begin justifying my sins. The great news of God’s mercy is that when I am living a lifestyle of repentance and walking in a relationship with Christ, every time I sin it is the first time. The list of the times I failed is my list, but God does not acknowledge it. God chooses to forget my sins. We may still have consequences from this life, but God does not call us to account for what He has forgiven. Here are two passages that illustrate God’s mercy.
18 Who is a God like You, Pardoning iniquity And passing over the transgression of the remnant of His heritage? He does not retain His anger forever, Because He delights in mercy.
19 He will again have compassion on us, And will subdue our iniquities. You will cast all our sins Into the depths of the sea.
11 For as the heavens are high above the earth, So great is His mercy toward those who fear Him;
12 As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us.
13 As a father pities his children, So the LORD pities those who fear Him.
When God forgives, we are forgiven. Or as John 8 states:
34 Jesus answered them, "Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin.
35 "And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever.
36 "Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.
We don’t come to God for another chance, we come before Him with the sins we are carrying. You can’t run out of chances when it is the first time, and every time is the first time for a Christian living a lifestyle of repentance.
Forgiveness Requires Forgiveness
God does not require any works or payment for His mercy, but He does require us to show His mercy to others. When someone goes into financial bankruptcy, their assets are surrendered. Anything owed to the one seeking debt relief rightly belongs to their creditors. A bankruptcy judge would never allow someone to keep funds while declaring they can’t afford to pay their debts. Jesus is using this to illustration to help His disciples understand God’s mercy. How can I plead for mercy and then declare those indebted to me as guilty?
Jesus recognized this problem and taught it often. Twice in Matthew Jesus preached the absolute necessity of us taking responsibility of forgiving others. If we think about it, it is for my benefit. I can look at my own marriage and see how my own selfishness has created many unnecessary struggles over the years. Even today, selfish resentment creeps in and I have to deal with it as soon as it gets bad enough to be recognized. Usually I don’t know I am getting bitter until the symptoms start to appear. Unforgiveness is based solely on pride and selfishness. I believe that I have a right to be happy. If someone doesn’t do what I like, I get angry. I plant my seeds of anger deep in my soul and bitterness begins to sprout and take root.
My wife can do 100 things right, but I will only noticed the 1 thing wrong. What she does right is expected because my flesh centers around me and the flesh believes everyone should make me happy. My selfish human nature will also gladly sacrifice 100 good things in order to focus on the 1 thing I don’t like. Anger and bitterness blinds me to the good. Or as Jeremiah 17 tells us, a man is cursed when he takes his trust from the Lord and puts it in flesh. Flesh will fail him – always. When we look at people to fulfill us, we are truly cursed because we are blinded from the goodness of the Lord. Verse 6 says, “For he shall be like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see when good comes, but shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness, in a salt land which is not inhabited.” That is a powerful description. This is a picture of isolation and loneliness – just like we see in so many people’s lives. A family can live under the same roof and every person feels alone. Not only are they like a dead shrub in an empty land, but they also “will not see when good comes”. When you give people the responsibility to meet your expectations and fulfillment, you will never see the good blessings that God places all around you. You will be blinded and you will sacrifice the good things so you can pursue the bitterness of a single disappointment.
Forgiveness sets me free. No longer am I bound by the one, but I am free to enjoy the 100. This is one of the benefits of obeying what God commands. He commands us in unmistakable terms that you must forgive anyone who sins against you. From my own experience I have found that the vast majority of transgressions against me are in fact my selfish expectations and not really wrongs done against me. As disappointment breeds bitterness on both sides, people do begin to shoot barbs at each other. It is for my benefit that I am required to forgive, and it is my responsibility as a response to God’s forgiveness toward me. The servant that owed more than he could fathom was forgiven, yet he walked out and required justice against someone else. The Bible says that by what measure we choose, that will be measured toward us. He required justice, therefore God required justice. There is no mercy or benefit toward us in the hands of justice.
Forgiveness is to release the debt. We carry the weight of someone else’ debt on our back. When I forgive, I surrender that debt to God. We have our example in Jesus Christ. When He was unjustly treated, He did not demand justice, but pleaded for mercy for His executioners. 1 Peter 2:23 says, “when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously”. How did He commit these wrongs to the Father? By crying out, “Father forgive them”. We are commanded to do the same. We want to hand others over to God for their judgment and punishment, but God desires to show the same mercy to our enemies as He has shown to the servant hopelessly lost in debt. The forgiveness God calls from us is to bless and to be a blessing to those who are our adversaries as well as friends. Proverbs 25 says,
21 If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat; And if he is thirsty, give him water to drink;
22 For so you will heap coals of fire on his head, And the LORD will reward you.
When we return fire, the anger deepens on both sides, yet the Bible tells us that a soft answer turns away wrath. When we show love to those who show resentment toward us, the conviction falls on them and God uses this to weigh on their mind. When someone says something in anger and the response is compassion, it will burn in their mind and convict their heart. Many persecutors have been won to Christ by the light that shined through Christians. No ungodly man or woman will be convicted by their actions when someone curses them and declares their future damnation. That only entrenches people by confirming you as their enemy and helps to self-justify their action. It is much easier to crucify the enemy that hates you than it is to crucify the one who shows love and compassion to you. The Bible repeats this theme again and again:
44 "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...
Romans 12:14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse
There is a reason why this principle is echoed all through scripture. This is how God expects us to live and He knows how difficult it is to apply. “Bless and do not curse” is as clear as God can put it. Even so, I recently heard a TV preacher condemn anyone who even speaks against him or his ministry to hell and the wrath of God. What scripture does he get this from? Again and again, God tells us to bless others so that we reflect His glory.
Peter asked a realistic question, “Do I forgive 7 times?” That seems generous by human standards. But Jesus put it beyond human ability. I can forgive and truly mean it and still be able to think back and find 7 times, but I can’t possibly remember 490. Only if I am keeping a tab can I keep count. If I am keeping tab, I am not forgiving and wiping the slate clean. Therefore, we can never cease forgiving others. Another question I was recently asked was, “what if someone doesn’t ask for forgiveness?” Do I want to weigh down my own soul just because someone didn’t confess to me? My bitterness is the same whether I have a good reason to be angry or not. Should I poison my soul because my brother or neighbor refuses to confess? Does this give me the right to demand justice over a debt that is owed to God even though my forgiven debt goes far beyond my neighbor’s sin? Even more important, do I want God to measure my forgiveness based on my standard of measure? How many sins have I forgotten about and will never confess? How many times have I let pride infiltrate my heart? Or anger. I know I need mercy and I don’t want anything to stand between me and God’s mercy. Demanding justice against my neighbor or enemy also means justice for me. Give me mercy and not justice. The unjust servant condemned his peer for a $62 debt after he was forgiven for an 8.5 billion dollar debt. That is exactly where we stand. Forgiveness or justice? If God requires forgiveness and love for my enemies, how much more so is this required for my spouse, parents, relatives, friends and brothers and sisters in Christ?
I recommend making a note of 5 people that you would count as an enemy or people you would least like to be around. Write their names down and pray for them for 90 days. Plead for them the same prayer you would plead for yourself. Ask God to reveal Himself to them in a powerful way. Ask God to draw them closer to Himself; give them a deeper understanding and walk with Him; meet their needs and lift them up for His own glory. If you will pray sincerely for those you dislike, I believe God will not only honor your prayer, but also honor you. God blessed Job when Job prayed for his enemies. God judged those who persecuted Job in his time of great adversity. They called him a sinner and declared him unrighteous before God for some secret sin they believed must have been in his life. God was angry and said He would not hear their prayers nor forgive unless Job interceded for them. Job prayed and offered sacrifices on their behalf. God forgave Job’s enemies, but God also blessed Job with more than Job had before his great loss.
Job 42:10 And the LORD restored Job’s losses when he prayed for his friends. Indeed the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before.
When a new advesary comes along, lift them up to the Lord in prayer.
*** This sermon can be downloaded as a Word document by following the link at http://www.exchangedlife.com/Sermons/Matt/forgive-req.htm