The Righter Report

The Power of Grace and Forgiveness

SCRIPTURE READING: Matthew 5:23-24; 6:14-15; 18:21-22.

“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; and then come and offer your gift.”

“For if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father in heaven will not forgive you your sins.”

“Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times but seven times seventy” (Also see Matthew 18:23-35).

During his many travels Ernest Hemingway once spent some time in Madrid, Spain. And he told the story about a young man who had a falling out and a disagreement with his father, to the extent that, in anger, the son left home and ran away. The father was very hurt and upset, but after a short period of time he longed again to be reconciled to his only son, whereby he placed an ad in the local newspaper that read: “Paco (the son’s name), meet me at the Hotel Montana at noon Tuesday. All is forgiven. Love, Papa.” Well, Paco is a common name in Spain, and it turns out that when the father went to the hotel square to meet his son he found a number of other young men named Paco anxious and waiting for their fathers.

It’s somewhat sad that on that day only one family was reconciled back together when many others could have been.

Today, two of the major problems that we face in the church of Jesus Christ are, (1) the failure to understand and receive God’s unconditional love, grace, and forgiveness in our lives, and (2) the failure to give the same things out to others. Grace, love, and forgiveness are Christianity’s most gracious gift to the world we live in, exerting a force stronger than vengeance, stronger than racism, and stronger than hatred. What blocks forgiveness is not God’s reticence, but ours. God’s arms are always open. We are the one’s who sometimes walk away, thinking God cannot forgive what we’ve done. Let me assure you, He does. And He does it because He loves us.

Remember the apostle John? He was the one who wrote that he was the disciple that Jesus loved. I think in reality all the other disciples felt the same way. But only John wrote that down for us. What is our primary identity in life? Should it not be, “I am the one who Jesus loves?”

And I think God’s love and mercy are the reasons we cannot look to the government and other institutions for the answers to our problems. As Phillip Yancey noted, the government can arrest and punish KKK murderers, but it cannot cure their hatred, much less teach them how to love. It can pass laws making divorce more difficult but it cannot show husbands and wives how to love each other. It can give welfare to the poor, but cannot show the rich how to shower them with mercy and compassion. It can ban adultery but not lust, theft but not covetousness. And it can encourage virtue but cannot bestow holiness or character. Only God can do those things.

There was once a meeting of many of the world’s philosophers and religious leaders and one of them asked, “What is Christianity’s unique contribution to the world?” After struggling with this issue for some time, a man by the name of C. S. Lewis walked into the room and asked what the fuss was all about. After telling him that they were trying to define the one principle that separated Christianity from the other religions and philosophies of the world, Lewis responded, “Oh, that’s easy. It’s grace.” He knew that grace was the manifestation of God’s love, freely given to a world that has known so little of it.

Our God is a good God, and He is a God of reconciliation – father to son, mother to daughter, brother to brother, and man back to God. That’s the predominate theme we see repeated over and over again in the Bible – God’s love, grace, and forgiveness in reconciling brother to brother, and man to God. And the ultimate expression of His love and forgiveness was manifested at the cross of Calvary, where Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice so that our transgressions and guilt would never be counted against us. Do you want to see another example of the depth of God’s desire and commitment for reconciliation? I’ll read you 2 Samuel 14:14, then. “But God does not take away life; instead He devises ways so that a banished person may not remain estranged from Him.” Reconciliation is the goal, and grace and forgiveness are the means that God uses to bring it to pass.

Mark Twain used to tell the story about how he put a cat and a dog together in a cage to see if they could get along. They did, so then he put in a bird, a pig, and a goat. After a few adjustments, they too got along. And then he put in a Baptist, a Presbyterian, and a Catholic. And within an hour there wasn’t anyone left alive. Obviously, they weren’t discussing forgiveness and reconciliation.

So, “Just what is forgiveness?”

The Greek word to forgive means “to release, to dismiss, to hurl away, or to free yourself.” You see, there is a prisoner who is set free once we forgive our neighbor, and that prisoner is us. If we do not forgive others, we remain bound and chained in our own bitterness and resentment – we are held captive to the hatred or pain that someone else has caused us. It’s like we have given the people who have hurt us free rent to take up residence in our hearts and minds so that we can continually be reminded of that bitterness. In Ephesians 4:31 the apostle Paul tells us to get rid of all our anger, bitterness, and rage. Because everytime we are reminded of the pain, or the person who caused it, our anger and resentment resurfaces from somewhere deep within us to make us feel that bitterness over and over and over and over again. If we do not forgive, we continue to bear the wounds that the pain has caused us until time or death takes it from us. Some people remain in bondage their entire lives, because their pride won’t let them forgive someone who has hurt them. So now we add the sin of pridefulness to unforgiveness, and if we take revenge and add that in as well, then all of a sudden we’ve broken three of God’s commandments instead of just one.

Unfortunately, bitter people do not make very good friends, because their bitterness destroys their love, and their hearts turn cold.

Back in the first world war, the Germans were forced to sign an armistice in the back of a railroad car. Adolph Hitler remembered that, and when he defeated the French at the start of World War II he made them sign their surrender agreement in the same railroad coach that previously ended World War I. Hitler had held his bitterness and hatred inside him for over twenty years, and we can see the devastation and the destruction that it caused the world.

Failure to forgive others imprisons us in an unpleasant memory from our past and keeps us from achieving our potential for constructive change. Unforgiveness is often just revenge waiting to happen. And the one major flaw with revenge is that it never seems to settle the score. It sets off a chain reaction of vengeance that never ends, and it’s like an escalator that no one ever gets off. Ghandi once said, “If everyone followed the ‘eye for an eye’ principle of revenge, eventually the whole world would go blind.” There will never be any escape from hatred, war, or misery unless our hearts are changed and we learn to forgive and show mercy to others. So forgiveness is a release from the prison of bitterness that people build for themselves. Man has built many prisons in his day, but this is one that he can surely do without.

The next thing that I think needs to be said is that of all the people that we need to forgive, we need to forgive ourselves the most. There’s probably no other group of people in the world who carry around the amount of guilt and baggage that Christians do. It’s totally unnecessary. And there’s several reasons for this. The first reason is that Christians read their Bibles, and they know that God hates sin. They get convicted by the Holy Spirit and condemned by the devil. They live in constant fear that God will never accept them or forgive them.

There was this one woman who had just recently become a Christian. She was still having a problem believing God had forgiven her of all her sins. So she went to her pastor and asked him, “Has God really forgiven me ALL my sins?” The pastor replied, “You know if this is really troubling you, I think I know what God would tell you. He would tell you to mind your own business!” The woman was startled when she heard that and asked the pastor what he meant. He said, “Your sins are no longer any of your business. Jesus made them His business at Calvary and He’s already taken care of them. He cast them into the depths of the ocean and posted a sign on the beach that says, ‘No Fishing.'”

Yet no matter what you do, some people still feel unworthy their whole life through. What they desire most is to know and feel that God loves them and accepts them – that he affirms them in His heart, and that He will never let go of them even though He may not always be real pleased with what He has. Often, people think their sins are uglier and more unforgivable than anyone else’s, and so they think they have to do some extraordinary amount of good works to make up for it. But that makes salvation a salvation by works and not by grace. And that’s not what the Bible teaches. In Ephesians 2:8-9 Paul wrote: “For it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith. And this not of yourselves. It is the gift of God – not by works so that no man can boast.” People often don’t understand the magnificence of God’s grace, mercy, and forgiveness. If salvation were by any kind of works then man could boast about what he’s done. But the Bible says there won’t be any boasting at the judgment seat, because salvation is something God does by grace alone. It is a gift of unmerited favor, and there’s nothing we can ever do to earn it.

God’s grace comes with no strings attached to people who do not deserve it. God loves people because of who He is, not because of who we are. It’s not about fairness, it’s about mercy. Love is God’s bottom line, and mercy and forgiveness through Christ Jesus are the means He uses to take away our guilt. The often-heard adage in Christianity is “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” That goes for ourselves too. We need to love and forgive ourselves so we can pass that on to others. Do you think you’ve done something God cannot forgive you for? Once again, take a look at the type of people in the Bible that God loved and forgave. Moses was a murderer. Yet after he died he was resurrected into heaven and eventually appeared to Christ on the Mount of Transfiguration. God forgave him. King David was an adulterer and a murderer. Yet the split second after David confessed his sins God said, “Your sins are forgiven.” Even the apostle Paul was an accomplice to murder and the Bible says he “persecuted believers to death.” Yet God forgave him and made him an apostle to the nations.

The solution to sin is not to impose an ever-stricter code of behavior on people that they can’t possibly keep. If that were true, then salvation would have come to us through Moses and not through Christ. The solution is to know Christ and accept His unmerited favor. One theologian gave this simple definition of God: “God is the one who loves.” God is a good God. The Bible says, “There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” And Romans 11:32 says, “For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that He may have mercy on them all.” Jesus died for all of our sins – past, present, and future. So the necessity is that we need to forgive ourselves so that we can learn to develop more love for one another. If you have a sin that you feel guilty about, confess it and get it under the blood. Then move on and don’t worry about it anymore. Remember, it’s “none of your business anymore.” Continuous guilt is a tool that Satan uses to keep us from becoming productive and loving Christians. We must be able to overcome that.

The next thing I’d like to say about forgiveness is that forgiveness is seldom easy. Often it’s difficult and many times it is downright painful. It seems to go against our very nature. You all remember the story of Joseph, and how his brothers betrayed him and sold him into slavery. Years later, after he had been enslaved and thrown into prison, Joseph interpreted a dream for the Pharaoh of Egypt, and the Pharaoh, in gratitude, made him governor over all the people of Egypt. And later, during a famine, the brothers of Joseph came into Egypt to buy grain to feed their people. They hadn’t seen Joseph in over seventeen years, and for all they knew he was dead. If anyone had good cause to be bitter it was Joseph. Yet on the day that Joseph chose to forgive his brothers and be reconciled to them, the scripture says that he cried so loudly that the Egyptians heard him.” What was that sound we heard – that terrible crying? Is Joseph okay? Yes, he’s fine. That’s the sound of a man forgiving.

Our innate sense of pride and justice fights against us forgiving people. We say to ourselves, “Why do I have to forgive? Why doesn’t the other person come to me and ask for my forgiveness? Why do I always have to be the one to initiate it? But forgiveness isn’t about keeping score. It’s about making friends with your enemies. Abraham Lincoln once remarked, “Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?” Forgiveness is an unnatural act that stops the vicious cycle of retribution. But there’s one thing that’s even harder than forgiving – the alternative – continually living with the pain, anger, and bitterness of unforgiveness. Why should anyone want to subject themselves to that type of unpleasantness?

Forgiveness also restores the other person to wholeness by setting them free from the guilt and pain they caused. It releases a healing power both in us and in the person who did us wrong, and sets us both free. It restores relationships, brings families back together, and sets us free from unpleasant memories. It’s like one of those big church bells like the hunchback of Notre Dame used to ring. As long as unforgiveness reigns, the church bell keeps ringing in our ears. But once we forgive, the ringing of the bell, like our guilt and pain, slowly begin to fade away, until the only sound we have left is the sound of peace and serenity.

Some people think we need only forgive those who repent. If they don’t we don’t have to forgive them. But what did Jesus say about those who crucified Him? He said, “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.” The principle is clear. Even if we can’t set the offender free, then we can at least set ourselves free. Vengeance is not ours to take. “Vengeance is mine,” declares the Lord. If we recognize that God alone is the one who judges and avenges, then we can release ourselves from that obligation.

If we don’t forgive, we’re never going to have any peace or unity in our families. It’s like the two brothers once went to a rabbi to settle a long-standing feud. After a brief period of hollering and arguing, the rabbi finally got the brothers to reconcile their differences and shake hands with each other. As the two were about to leave, the rabbi asked each of them to make a wish for the other to celebrate the Jewish New Year. The first young man turned to his brother and said, “I wish you the same thing that you wished for me.” At that, the second brother threw up his hands and started screaming and said, “See that, rabbi, he’s starting it up all over again!”

Why forgive? Really, that’s the wrong question. It should be, “Why love?” It’s because we are commanded to. Our emotional health should not depend on waiting for someone else to ask our forgiveness. We do not give people that much power over us. We take the initiative and do the right things not because it’s easy, but because we value God’s word and our own happiness. Forgiveness is an ongoing process in our lives. Little by little, bit by bit, layer upon layer of bitterness and hatred is burned away, until our rage is gone, and all that is left is love. We make a conscious decision not to harbor resentment. We make a commitment to no longer be controlled by rage and pain. Instead, we choose to forgive and give out grace and mercy to others. Surely that has to be God’s desire for all of us.

Today, I ask for all of us to look into our hearts and find out if there is anyone we need to forgive. That shouldn’t be difficult to do – to identify who it is that we need to forgive. Just look for the pain, or look for the anger…. the person responsible for it won’t be far behind. And let us not forget to forgive ourselves. You see, in some mysterious way, God’s forgiveness for us depends on us forgiving each other. Ask Him to take away any pain you may have. He is faithful and true, and He will do it.

I will close with a word from Christian author Philip Yancey, who wrote: “The world thirsts for grace and mercy. And when it descends, the world falls silent before it.”

Many excerpts in this message are from the book, “What’s So Amazing About Grace,” by Philip Yancey

– The Righter Report

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December 6, 2011 - Posted by | Evangelical, God, Human Interest, Theology, Theology Articles

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