“Indeed, this is what you were called to; because the Messiah too suffered, on your behalf, leaving an example so that you should follow in his steps. ‘He committed no sin, nor was any deceit found on his lips.’ When he was insulted, he didn’t retaliate with insults; when he suffered, he didn’t threaten, but handed them over to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the stake, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness—by his wounds you were healed. For you used to be like sheep gone astray, but now you have turned to the Shepherd, who watches over you” (1 Peter 2:21-25).
Forgiveness can be a touchy subject for some.
The roots of hurt and broken trust can run deep, so deep that it seems to entrap your very soul and cloud your vision. Unforgiveness is often one of the greatest causes of broken or destroyed relationships, leading many people into a life of anger and bitterness and sometimes isolation. It’s no wonder that one of the central motifs of the Bible is forgiveness. God provides answers for all that we need in His Word. Probably the most monumental thing we need—both to receive and to give—is forgiveness.
Some of the last words spoken through Christ’s mouth before He died were, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). Not only did he ask this while people were spitting at and reviling him, while they were cursing and killing him, but he asked this of his Heavenly Father who had turned His face from him. Christ—utterly alone, even from his Father, and dying—asked for God to grant forgiveness. Sometimes you feel alone when a friend deserts you, when a family member attacks you, when a boyfriend or girlfriend decides to break up with you. Often when these things happen to us we feel attacked, and sometimes rightly so. But, unjustly so, we often react with anger and wrath, sometimes through hurtful words that sends the already damaged relationship a crashing blow, and when we’re finished bringing what we think is justice to ourselves, all we feel is sickness.
But who are we? Aren’t we the sons and daughters of God, with a holy Shepherd guarding us?
We are to act according to the righteousness granted us when Christ died on the cross. If we take on his blood we also take on his character, and as we saw before, He forgave those who mistreated Him. We have it even better though, because while Christ suffered a severance from God we never will. We won’t be calling on a God who turned His face from us. Rather, when we plead for God to give us the ability to forgive those who have hurt us, we are calling on a God who fused his face in our direction for eternity when he put His Son on the cross and clothed us in His blood.
It’s encouraging and also convicting to read these words:
“No other relationship ever suffered more than what Father, Son, and Holy Spirit endured when Jesus hung on the cross and cried, ‘My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?’ (Matthew 27:46). Jesus was willing to be the rejected Son so that our families would know reconciliation. Jesus was willing to become the forsaken friend so that we could have loving friendships. Jesus was willing to be the rejected Lord so that we could live in loving submission to one another. Jesus was willing to be the forsaken brother so that we could have godly relationships. Jesus was willing to be the crucified King so that our communities would experience peace” (Timothy Lane & Paul Tripp, Relationships: A Mess Worth Making).
If Christ took on all the damage for us, why do we insist on holding grudges against our brothers and sisters in Christ, or even our enemies (who Christ commands us to actually pray for)?
It’s obviously because we’re still humans struggling with our sin. But even this is no excuse for us to remain unforgiving. All throughout Scripture we are told to “rid ourselves of all malice and vain deceit” (2Pet.2:1), to “put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” to “bear with one another and forgive each other” (Col.3:12), “just as God in Christ also has forgiven you” (Eph.4:32). We are also told that the Kingdom of God is a matter of power and not only words (1Cor.4:20). Power. We have been given power through Christ to conquer our sin! That is why we shouldn’t be content with an unforgiving heart. When you think about forgiveness, it dawns on you at some point that it is one of the greatest gifts of God to a Christian because only God has the power to grant true forgiveness. And He gives each of us this power when we have accepted His forgiveness through His Son. It is a reciprocal gift—because God forgave us, we can also forgive others. It is a mark of a true child of God.
Essentially, when we forgive others we are trusting God.
It’s funny how almost every sin we struggle with has at its heart a lack of trust in God’s power. When we don’t forgive, we are saying God won’t handle the situation, the broken relationship, the injustice done to us; that he won’t work it together for good, that he won’t heal our hearts and mend the relationship, we are saying that the sacrifice he gave wasn’t enough. We think we can hold on to the grudge because we are worthy to—but even Christ (who was worthy to) didn’t do that. Forgiveness is a hard task to accomplish, especially when you actually were wronged in a horrible way. But there is freedom in this area, because forgiveness doesn’t mean you have to trust somebody again (if they are unrepentant in their sin toward you, trusting them would be foolish. True forgiveness doesn’t require trust, though it does call for a hope that God will restore that in the relationship).
Part of having a God-centered life is having a God-centered mind, which means looking to Christ in everything. If we stop to look at our hurts and see ourselves as a victim even for a moment, most likely we’ll begin to foster sinful feelings and thoughts, and before we know it our minds aren’t on Christ anymore and probably hadn’t been for a while. When we are experiencing hurt and unforgiveness the command to take every thought captive and subjugate it to the Gospel is extremely important. It becomes the verse we have to remind ourselves of daily, and the ability to take every thought captive becomes one of our most agile weapons against the enemy. When we don’t forgive we give the Enemy an opportunity to invoke all kinds of evil and worldliness into our lives. Forgiving people is all part of the battle God put us in when He made us soldiers for His name.
So take courage! If unforgiveness is a struggle for you right now, remember that you have the Word of God to instruct you, the Spirit of God to guide and convict you, and the Sacrifice of Christ to cover you. Now pass those amazing things along through a spirit reflecting your Maker by practicing the life of love He has called you to: “Love is patient and kind, not jealous, not boastful, not proud, rude or selfish, not easily angered, and it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not gloat over other people’s sins but takes its delight in the truth. Love always bears up, always trusts, always hopes, always endures” (1 Cor. 13:4-7). Forgiveness is Love.
There is so much more to say on forgiveness, and if you are interested in looking more into it, a great book is: Forgiveness: The Freedom and Power of Forgiveness by John MacArthur. Other encouraging Scripture passages regarding what Christ did for us and the concept of forgiveness are Matt. 5:10-12, Matt. 6:9-13 (the prayer), Luke 6:36-38, Rom. 12:17-19, Matthew 5:22-24, Matthew 18:23-27 (the parable of the king and servant), and the book of Philemon.