John Piper says, “The greatest risk we face as a church in these days is not that we may lose an organ, or that we may lose money, or that we may lose members, or that we may lose staff, or that we may lose reputation. The greatest risk is that we may lose heaven. Because one way to lose heaven is to hold fast to an unforgiving spirit and so prove that we have never been indwelt by the Spirit of Christ.”
For months, I hated her. I hated her for how she hurt me and how she devalued her relationship with me. I felt deceived by her. I destroyed every picture of us together and every card she had ever written me. I gave to Good Will any gift she had ever blessed me with. My animosity towards her was like cancer in my heart. Pain is an interesting emotion. Sometimes pain can be lethal, infecting every crevasse of our hearts with bitterness, agony and pride. My pain kept me from being able to forgive and my pride only fueled my hurt. I desired to see her life saturated in destruction and loss. Some of you are reading this and in shock that a Christian would be so hateful and wish a grave of heartache upon someone else’s life, but truthfully it’s not far off for people who are hurting to wish terrible things on the people who hurt them. You want them to suffer and hurt in the same way, if not worse than what you did. When I thought about forgiveness it only felt unattractive, undeserving and difficult.
When I think back on that season of my life, where my pain and bitterness tormented me and led my heart, I can’t help but wonder how close I was to losing heaven. I held onto an unforgiving spirit for months, which only proved that I did not trust God.
Sometimes believers paint this idealistic picture of forgiveness as such an easy task.
I have often heard about the necessity of forgiveness preached and how we forgive because we have been forgiven much. I have learned a lot about the difficulty, the humility and the power behind forgiveness. I wish the act of forgiveness was as easy as we often make it sound. Sometimes believers paint this idealistic picture of forgiveness as such an easy task. They claim that “all you need to do is forgive” or “just forgive…it will set you free,” often times citing Jesus, as if it was totally effortless for him to forgive us when he bore the weight of our sin on Calvary.
When I really imagine Jesus carrying the cross to Calvary, I struggle to believe that forgiving me required no physical or mental exertion. I struggle to believe that Jesus really wanted to forgive me after being beaten so badly to the point that he was unrecognizable. After all, the only reason Jesus was treated with such cruelty was because of you and me. It was our fault! He did not have to endure all of that suffering, but he chose to. He chose to forgive me and you. Forgiveness at the cross was anything but painless or effortless. It came with a massive cost. No where in Scripture does it say that forgiveness was easy, but it does say “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
So, what happens When someone’s sinful actions against us is like a dagger stabbed straight into our heart and then twisted a bit just to make sure it hurts more? What happens when their wrongful words and actions destroys our lives? What happens when forgiveness feels unwanted or impossible? We have to consider Jesus on the Cross. We have to consider Jesus when everything in us wants to get revenge or see calamity fall over the people who hurt us. We have to consider Jesus when we think about how he forgave us, even when we did not deserve it.
When I became a believer, I died. My life was no longer about me and it no longer belonged to me. I live not to serve myself, but to serve my God. My greatest concern must be God’s glory. My vindication, revenge and bitterness is not what matters most. When I consider God’s glory, I can’t help but recognize my own guilt and sin in unforgiveness.
J.D. Greear says, “So even when you’re the injured party, the biggest issue is reconciliation between the other person in conflict with you and your God. Your role is to disciple him or her to repentance and point them to grace. The key is to look to the cross. At the cross we see our own sin. When we get the chance to kill our Creator, we do so. So the cross prevents any sense of self-righteousness. Even if I’ve been innocent in this issue, I am not innocent. I’m not more innocent. I am only ever a rebel saved by grace.”
When we consider Jesus in every area of conflict in our lives, God will reveal our sin. In areas of hurt, it is tempting to want to punish others for their actions. It was easy for me to be cold and short with my friend who hurt me deeply. It was easy for me to lack any kind of affection or vulnerability. It was easy for me to paint the ugliest picture of this woman. The truth is, when I did that, I was punishing her for an offense that Jesus has already been punished for. I have no justified right to punish her or anyone a second time for their sin. Our bad attitudes, our lustful imaginations, our prideful and hurtful words and actions, and our whole bodies have all sinned against the Living God and Jesus was already punished for all of those sins. We cannot sinfully respond to sin. We must choose to forgive. The covenant love of God moves him to choose us over and over again everyday, even when we blatantly sin against him. Ephesians 5:1-2 says, “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” It is this covenant love that allowed him to give his only Son as a fragrant offering and sacrifice in our place. God’s covenant love for us birthed one of the most beautiful pictures of humility, grace and forgiveness.
The truth is, when I did that, I was punishing her for an offense that Jesus has already been punished for. I have no justified right to punish her or anyone a second time for their sin.
Charles Spurgen once said, “To be forgiven is such sweetness that honey is tasteless in comparison with it. But yet there is one thing sweeter still, and that is to forgive. As it is more blessed to give than to receive, so to prove rises a stage higher in experience than to be forgiven.”
Forgiveness is not the absence of anger or sadness. Forgiveness is not feeling good about what was bad or wrong. Rape, lies, cheating, greed, pride, death, slander, adultery…it will always be wrong… it will always hurt. We are not asked to forgive the sin, we asked to forgive the sinner. A heart that has been forgiven much is a heart that forgives much. If we do not understand the weight of our own depravity, God’s act of forgiveness towards us is less meaningful and as result, we will fail to be willing to offer forgiveness to others in the same way. Forgiveness is offered as the unforeseen means of breaking the cycle of sin. We have a greater obligation to forgive. Forgiveness is not optional…EVER. Forgiveness is tough, laborious and tiring. However, forgiveness paints the most beautiful picture of the gospel of the grace of God and his perfect ability to reconcile and restore all that is lost and broken.
I hated her. A convicting thought that only shows the deepness of my depravity. Then I saw Jesus bearing the weight of my hate, my sin and the fulness of her sin. I did that and he paid for it. He forgave me. I forgive her.