Re-scripting Your Life, Part 7
The Power of God’s Love In Action - Forgiveness
We left off in the last post looking at the amazing power of God’s love and what it looks like at its core in action. As much as this is the definition of love in 1 Corinthians 13, it is also the description of what forgiveness looks like. Forgiveness is in one sense a “legal” transaction of releasing a debt incurred by an offender and in another sense a complete removal of any trace in the heart of the one offended that the action ever took place at all. Amazing! God’s forgiveness not only acquits the original crime but also removes any history of it ever having been committed in the first place. This puts the offended (God) and the offender (man) in a state of perfect unity and harmony which enables love to fully mature and express its splendor.
The above description is what theologians would call justification. Justification is the outcome of God’s decision to utterly and ultimately forgive the offender who has truly asked for forgiveness. Some have explained justification like this: when God forgives, He justifies me, and being justified by God means God now relates to me “just as if I’d” never committed the offense in the first place. The Apostle Paul expounded on this truth in many places in his writings. Perhaps the most basic and vivid is this one from Romans 5:1-2:
Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory. (NLT)
From God’s perspective, then, our sin is no longer a problem of separation. From our perspective, then, it comes down to a revelation that God’s perspective is the one that must drive our faith in His ability to make us clean and whole. The acts of love and forgiveness demonstrated by Jesus on the cross is a once for all payment for all sin.
“For God's will was for us to be made holy by the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ, once and for all time.” Heb, 10:10 (NLT)
So back to the question posed in an earlier blog: when are we most like God? In the compilation of the teachings of Jesus we call the Sermon on the Mount, one of the issues Jesus is talking about is our heart attitude towards our enemies and those who persecute us. He describes how His Heavenly Father is kind and gracious towards even those who hate Him! He then makes this statement: “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect”. (Matt. 5:48 NASB) How is this even possible?
The word perfect does not refer to having no faults or shortcomings, but rather it is a word that indicates being complete, whole, or fully grown. The context of the use of this word is in reference to expressing love through forgiveness. This expression of love and forgiveness is the measure of being mature, full grown, complete.
So being perfect as God is perfect is expressed through forgiving everyone who sins against us in every and all circumstances. So, we are most like God when we are forgiving as He is forgiving.
The effects of an unforgiving heart have eternal consequences. Jesus put it bluntly: we are forgiven by God to the extent that we give forgiveness to others. In other words, if we are going to demand repayment of the debts people owe us through the offenses they committed against us, God is also going to require us to pay back what we owe Him. (see Matthew 18 for more detail on Jesus’ teaching along these lines). We could never reconcile that account!
Forgiveness, then, is the first key to unlocking the process of renewing our minds and re-scripting our lives. If we are to live in freedom in the present so we can look forward to a hopeful future, we must reconcile our past in the same way that God has reconciled us to Himself. When God forgives, He chooses not to remember sin or call it back to mind. God is always dealing with us in a state of reconciliation. (see Jer. 31:3)
If you have ever been in debt you know what it is like to be reminded that you owe a creditor money. Phone calls, letters, emails, and other notices keep hounding you to pay back what you owe. When you get your paycheck, one of the first things that will be called to mind is that you can’t really enjoy the fruits of your labors because you owe debt that needs to be paid back. You become debt conscious and can get stressed and depressed, and in this state you can make other poor financial decisions that can drive you deeper into debt. In reality, unresolved debt and financial pressure can destroy your life.
If God had not forgiven us from all of our sin-debt, we would be in a constant state of sin-consciousness. This constant reminder can have very damaging emotional, psychological, and physical effects on us. Living in a state of unforgiveness (either not fully receiving forgiveness or giving forgiveness to those who have offended us) systematically breaks our being down to a point, where left unchecked, can actually kill us. When the scriptures tell us that the wages of sin is death, (Rom. 6:23) death is not a punishment for doing wrong things but is a consequence of living against our true, created nature. Consider some of the effects of unforgiveness:
Physical - Brain chemical imbalances, immune system disorders, physical appearance changes (for the worse), disease development, and more.
Emotional - depression, aggression, stress and anxiety disorders, relationship fractures, and more.
Spiritual - loss of connection and passion in a personal relationship with God, loss of faith, fear and doubt increasing, legalistic mindset development, and more.
Under the Old Covenant system of sin accounting, the required sacrifices which were instituted as a stop-gap measure until the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus, actually were a reminder of our indebtedness to God much like a monthly credit card statement is a reminder that you still owe the credit card company money. (see Hebrews 10:1-ff). If we are ever to be “perfect” as our heavenly Father is perfect we must move from a state of sin-consciousness to grace-consciousness. This path is blazed through the gift of forgiveness.
Accomplishing Forgiveness - Forgiving From The Heart
We will use the concept of accomplishing forgiveness to indicate that forgiveness is a process that must be followed through to completion in order for its healing effects to be realized.
Many times the process of forgiveness is truncated by either lack of understanding the process or unwillingness to properly implement the process. In either case, being perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect leaves no room for personal editing.
In Jesus’s teachings on forgiveness from Matt. 18, Jesus clarifies a major detail in forgiveness where many of us tend to get stuck. Our forgiveness tends to get stuck when we involve the attitude and actions of the offender into the equation. What happens if the offender does not want to deal with the offense? What happens if the offender takes no responsibility for the offense? What happens if the offender continues to act in offensive ways? Forgiving from the heart addresses these issues by focusing attention on the one thing we can control in every situation - the attitudes of our heart (our mind, will, and emotions). Here are the basic elements that are the building blocks of forgiveness:
Step One: Be Forgiven. This statement begs the answer to this question, Can we forgive ourselves? If you have ever spoken to someone who is troubled with a guilty conscience you have probably heard that person say “I know that God forgives me but I can’t forgive myself.” In that statement is the implication that either our sin is really too deep and vast for God to forgive or that the person making it has the power to veto God’s decision to forgive them. In either case, there is a misunderstanding of forgiveness.
Forgiveness is an act on the behalf of the one offended (God) to release the offender (us) from the payment and punishment due from the offense. The response of the offender is either to accept or reject this offer, not to put conditions on it based on how they feel about themselves. Forgiveness is first a willful, legal acquittal of a crime (mercy) and then the willful and thoughtful act of the offended (God) to show love and favor (grace) towards the offender (us) as proof that true and complete forgiveness has been granted.
The mercy part of forgiveness is understandable- not getting the punishment we deserve. Even a human justice system has the ability to show mercy. The grace part of forgiveness, being treated as if we had never committed a crime in the first place, is incomprehensible to a mind that has been shattered by the Fall. (see Luke 15 for a display of what true forgiveness looks like in the parable of the lost/found son) We will look deeper into the healing of our minds when we unpack repentance. So the first act of forgiveness is to believe, by faith, that God has willfully chosen to forgive us completely!
In our next installment we will take a look at the other steps involved in accomplishing forgiveness. Stay tuned, and tune in!
by Pastor Jim Anan