Now, more than ever, it seems that forgiveness is an area in which we all need improvement. Sometimes, people do things to us intentionally to hurt or wound us. Other times, the offense is not intended, but damages nonetheless. When we are hurt our response is often to hold on to the grievance. It fuels our anger and animosity towards others. We often forget that we have the same ability and inclination to wound others. It’s easier to forgive our own sin and failure than to forgive others who wound us. This was part of the point of Jesus telling us to “remove the plank from our own eyes before trying to remove the speck from someone else’s eye.” We live in a “But they…” culture. Jesus says, “Forgive,” and we respond, “But they…!” We prefer the hurt over the healing and the forgiveness. We demand justice before we will even entertain the thought of forgiveness.
But the Bible doesn’t place any limitations or restrictions on forgiveness. There’s no tally we keep and, once we reach a certain point, refuse to extend forgiveness any more. Forgiveness is an attitude—something that can be extended even before the offender asks. It can be extended even if the offender never asks. Jesus asked God to forgive his murderers, not because they deserved it, but because forgiveness is part of God’s character.
Real forgiveness, then, is what we ought to seek. Real forgiveness lets go of the right to get even or pursue justice and, instead, extends compassion and love. Real forgiveness is not deserved or earned—it is a gift from the one who is hurt to the one who does the hurting. The apostle Paul writes:
Friends, do not avenge yourselves; instead, leave room for His wrath. For it is written: Vengeance belongs to Me; I will repay, says the Lord.
We can forgive and leave payment up to God. He frees us to love. Forgiveness fosters love. Refusing forgiveness fosters hate.
But we don’t forgive because it’s the nice thing to do. We forgive because it is God’s nature to forgive. As we seek to be faithful followers of Christ, we need to be letting his nature become our nature. Paul writes again, “Accept one another and forgive one another if anyone has a complaint against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive” (Col. 3:13).
And again, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God forgave you in Christ” (Eph. 4:32). Our forgiveness wasn’t earned. In fact, the Bible tells us that God showed us his love in that Christ died for us while we were sinners. We were broken and messed up and he chose to extend love and forgiveness.
It doesn’t end there.
Extending or withholding forgiveness can affect our relationship with God. Jesus says, “If you forgive people their wrongdoing, your heavenly Father will forgive you as well. But if you don’t forgive people, your Father will not forgive your wrongdoing.” Tough words to live by, but I didn’t make them up. God calls us to live in forgiveness and reconciliation if we want to have a healthy and vibrant relationship with him.
Ultimately, forgiveness brings freedom. It allows us to have healthy lives. It opens the door to reconciliation and makes for richer relationships. Our world is being torn apart by hate, hurt, and an unwillingness to forgive. As Christians we can set the example for the way God calls us to live—we can extend love and forgiveness, even when people don’t deserve it. It’s the only way forward.
How about you? Do you have any experience being forgiven by someone else, even when you didn’t deserve it?
Chris Linzey is husband to Tené, father to the three most beautiful children in the world, movie addict (seriously, if it’s on a screen he'll watch it—doesn’t matter how crummy or low-budget), and a Navy Chaplain, currently assigned to Naval Air Station, Meridian. Chris has a deep desire to help people live lives of faith where the Bible is more than mere words on a page, but the way we live everyday. His undergrad and Master’s studies were in Biblical Studies and he focused on the New Testament (his mentor was a Gospel of Mark scholar). He went on to get a Master of Divinity (MDiv) in Pastoral Preaching. Follow him at @chrislinzey.