Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Forgiveness: Getting As Good As You Give

“For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses." (Matthew 6:14-15)

What do you charge for forgiveness? Before you protest the whole Roman Catholic idea of charging money for handing out forgiveness of sins (Indulgences), may I point out that most of us require a certain attitude, show of sincerity, or even length of time, before we are ready to grant the full measure of our forgiveness. According to the apostle, John, God's price tag for personal forgiveness has only one word written on it: "confess" (1 John 1:9).

"But where does repentance come in?" you persist. You may well ask. This, too, weighs into the argument. We read in Luke 17:3-4: "Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him. And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him." True confession will always be accompanied by repentance. But repentance doesn't always exclude repetition, even seven times in one day, or four hundred and ninety times in a lifetime (Matt. 18:21-22). It's not the ideal scenario, I know, but it is a reflection of reality. And God was surely aware of it when He offered to forgive us.

Forgiveness is not the same as trust, of course; and that's where we sometimes get hung up. We think because we become hesitant to trust someone who has "trespassed against us" over and over, we have not truly forgiven him or her. But God is the only one who is able to forgive and forget. This is because no one is threat to Him as they may be to us; He already knows what they will or will not do. Our problem is not that we lose trust but that we made the mistake of trusting in the first place. God is wise enough not to put trust in any of us (Job 15:15); therefore He is not surprised when we fail. I'm afraid you and I expect far more of each other than we should. That's why we are more apt to consider sin as a personal affront to us than an offense against God.

The reason we need to get this thing of forgiveness right is what we read in these verses in Matthew six. For some reason, God has chosen to balance His own forgiveness of us against our forgiveness of others. I'm not sure how exact the balance must be, but I do know I don't want my own refusal to forgive others to tip the balance against my favor.

I don't want to charge any more for forgiveness than God does.

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