Jesus broke the barriers of legalistic religion when he spoke about forgiving our enemies and all those who sin against us. The Law of Moses spoke about the rights of retaliation, ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ Jesus showed us a better way, the way of grace and forgiveness. He said,
Love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Luke 6:35-37
As we have seen, the Lord’s Prayer teaches us the discipline of daily forgiving others. Jesus tells us to pray, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Paul says that we are to, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you”. This shows that one of the most important character traits in the family of God is our willingness to forgive others. It shows we are living in grace, and are true sons of our heavenly Father.
What does it mean then, ‘to forgive one another, as God has forgiven us in Christ?’ When God forgives us he makes a promise ‘not to remember’ our sins ever again. It is a promise to forget and it means that as far as God is concerned our sins never happened!
“This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the LORD: I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds I will write them,” then He adds, “Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.” Hebrews 10:16-17
When you forgive someone as God has forgiven you, it means you make a promise never to remember those sins again. In other words, forgiveness means you promise that you will never again bring up those sins or use them negatively against the person. You promise never to remind the person concerned (or others, or even yourself) of their sins against you. That is how God has forgiven us.
The fruits of forgiveness
Forgiveness frees you up to love the offenders and help them with the underlying problem that gave rise to the offence in the first place. This is when we can lovingly help people according to Jesus teaching:
And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck out of your brother’s eye. Matthew 7:3-5
Once we have dealt with our own faults and hardness of heart (including unforgiveness), we can begin to help restore others. The New Testament shows that we have a responsibility to do this, but we must first deal with our own offendedness before we can help the offenders.
Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:1-2
We can only work for restoration in relationships if we go about it with a Christ-like attitude of gentleness, with a complete lack of resentment and with a spirit of non-retaliation. Jesus told us how to win a brother who has sinned against us. We approach them in an attitude of forgiveness and reconciliation.
Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. Matthew 18:15
Walking in forgiveness frees you from all the negative effects of unforgiveness. It releases the power of God to work in that situation. Very often on our Encounter Weekends we see the powerful effects of forgiveness. We show people how forgiveness releases others from the offences they have committed against them.
As they do this, powerful things happen. People are healed and relationships are restored (often supernaturally) and families come back together. It seems as if forgiveness sets people free from the curse-like pronouncements that have kept people bound and imprisoned by negative experiences. The grace of God is released, often bringing dramatic change into the situation.