Summary: Just what does real forgiveness look like?
In our passage for today, Paul speaks about the dangers of unforgiveness. He tells us that unforgiveness . . .
A. Negatively impacts our influence on others - v. 29
B. Negatively impacts God’s influence on us - v. 30
Consequently, he tells us to all those things associated with unforgiveness - bitterness, rage, anger, brawling, slander, and malice. Instead, we are to choose to forgive when we are offended.
He tells what it looks like when we forgive others. It will look like what God has done for us in Christ - v. 32
1. In forgiving us, God did not deny the fact of our sin.
In forgiving us, God did not turn a blind eye to our sin. He did not deny its existence. Rather, He dealt with our sin appropriately by forgiving us.
Likewise, forgiving others does not require that we deny that an offense has taken place. God does not expect us to live in denial. Denial causes us psychological harm. Instead, we should admit our hurt and acknowledge our pain.
When God saw the sinfulness of mankind in Noah’s day, the Bible acknowledges His grief.
"The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain."
- Genesis 6:6 (NIV)
The Bible says that God was grieved by the sins of the people of Israel who rebelled in Moses’ day.
"How often they rebelled against him in the desert and grieved him in the wasteland!"
- Psalm 78:40 (NIV)
Jesus grieved over the rebelliousness of the people in His day.
"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing." - Matthew 23:37 (NIV)
Paul tells us that when we sin, it breaks the heart of God even today (v. 30).
God gets emotional about our sin against Him. Yet, He forgives us. Likewise, in forgiving others, we are not asked to deny the reality of the offense of the depth of the hurt.
2. In forgiving us, God did not approve of our sin.
God never approved of our sin. God hates sin. But he loves the sinner.
Likewise, we are not expected to approve or excuse the other person’s offense. But we are expected to forgive.
3. In forgiving us, God has given us a "clean slate."
Now, a common saying is that we should "forgive and forget." Often this is based on the notion that this is what God has done when He forgave our sin through Christ. We get this idea from Hebrews 8:12 (NIV), which says, "For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more."
But think with me about this. The Bible says that God is all-knowing. He knows everything about us - past, present, and future. So to say that God has erased His memory is not consistent with what the Bible tells us elsewhere about Him. We must conclude, therefore, that what Hebrews 8:12 is emphasizing is something else.
The idea is not that God has amnesia regarding our sin, but that He will never bring them up again. He has determined that He will not allow our sin to ever again come between Him and us. When the Bible says that God "remembers our sins no more," it is referring what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:5 (NIV), when he declares that love "keeps no record of wrongs."
Likewise, when we forgive other person their offense, we must choose that we will not let this offense remain a barrier in our relationship with the other person. We will "keep no record of wrongs" to "throw up" to the person the next time they offend us. But it doesn’t require that we erase our memory of past offenses.
Frankly, in some instances, we don’t need to erase the memory of an offense from our minds, because there are important lessons to be learned that will improve our relationship with the offender that would be impossible to learn if we "forget" it.
4. In forgiving us, God assumed the price for our sin.
We discussed this last time, but it bears repeating here. Forgiveness says "no" to revenge. This is Paul’s point in verse 31. Forgiveness, says, "I will trust God to work justice in this matter, and accept that for whatever purpose God has in mind, He has allowed me to experience this injustice."
This doesn’t mean that we become a doormat for others, or that we allow ourselves to be taken advantage of or hurt further. But it does mean we trust God and allow Him to use the experience to work out His purposes in our life.