Part 4 of a series called Peacemakers
You can listen to this sermon here.
[This sermon series is based on Ken Sande’s book The Peacemaker.]
“So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matt. 5:23-24).
Forgive as God Forgave You
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you (Eph. 4:32).
“Christians are the most forgiven people in the world. Therefore, we should be the most forgiving people in the world. As most of us know from experience, however, it is often difficult to forgive others genuinely and completely. We often find ourselves practicing a form of forgiveness that is neither biblical nor healing” (The Peacemaker, 204).
There are two types of forgiveness that we receive from God. First, there is the forgiveness of salvation. And, second, there is the day-to-day forgiveness that restores our fellowship with God. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
Having trouble forgiving? Remember God's forgiveness.
“The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us” (Ps. 103:8-12).
The parable of the unmerciful servant (Matt. 18:21-35) teaches us that we are to be willing to forgive the offenses of others. “This parable illustrates an attitude that is all too common among Christians. We take God’s forgiveness for granted, while we stubbornly withhold our forgiveness from others. In effect, we behave as though others’ sins against us are more serious than our sins against God” (The Peacemaker, 217).
Jesus taught us to pray, “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matt. 6:12). He went on to 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” (vv. 14-15). Someone once said, “Unforgiveness is the poison we drink, hoping others will die.”
What Forgiveness Is Not
To understand what forgiveness is, we must first understand what it is not.
Forgiveness is not a feeling.
The truth is, we don’t always feel like forgiving. Forgiveness is an act of the will.
Forgiveness is not forgetting.
But what about Isaiah 43:25: “I will not remember your sins” (cf. Jer. 31:34)? The Bible doesn’t teach divine amnesia. God is saying that he completely forgives. “Forgetting is a passive process in which a matter fades from memory merely with the passing of time. Forgiving is an active process; it involves a conscious choice and deliberate course of action. To put it another way, when God says that he ‘remembers your sins no more’ (Isa. 43:25), he is not saying that he cannot remember our sins. Rather, he is promising that he will not remember them. When he forgives us, he chooses not to mention, recount, or think about our sins ever again” (The Peacemaker, 206).
Forgiveness is not excusing.
“Excusing says, ‘That’s okay,’ and implies, ‘What you did wasn’t really wrong,’ or ‘You couldn’t help it.’ Forgiveness is the opposite of excusing. The very fact that forgiveness is needed and granted indicates that what someone did was wrong and inexcusable” (The Peacemaker, 206).
What Forgiveness Is
As the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive (Col. 3:13).
Forgiveness is a decision modeled after God’s forgiveness of us.
Ideally, repentance should precede forgiveness. Jesus said, “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in a day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him” (Luke 17:3-4). What should we do if the offender has not yet repented? We should approach forgiveness as a two-stage process. The first stage is having an attitude of forgiveness. The second stage is granting forgiveness.
Both stages of forgiveness were demonstrated by God. On the cross, Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). Then about 50 days later, Peter preached in Jerusalem (the city where Jesus was crucified), saying, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38). Luke reports that “those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls” (v. 41). First, there was the attitude of forgiveness, and then there was the granting of forgiveness.
Does forgiveness eliminate the consequences of sin? Not always. Proverbs 19:19 says, “A man of great wrath will pay the penalty, for if you deliver him, you will only have to do it again.” God forgave David for adultery and murder, but God did not spare him from all the consequences that naturally flowed from his sin (2 Sam. 12:11-14; 13:1-39; 16:21-22; 19:1-4).
Make the Four Promises of Forgiveness
Isaiah 59:2 says, “Your iniquities have made a separation [wall] between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.” “Through forgiveness God tears down the walls that our sins have built, and he opens the way for a renewed relationship with him. This is exactly what we must do if we are to forgive as the Lord forgives us: We must release the person who has wronged us from the penalty of being separated from us. We must not hold wrongs against others, not think about the wrongs, and not punish others for them” (The Peacemaker, 209).
Forgiveness may be described as a decision to make four promises:
1. “I promise I will not dwell on this incident.”
2. “I promise I will not bring up this incident and use it against you.”
3. “I promise I will not talk to others about this incident.”
4. “I promise I will not allow this incident to stand between us or hinder our personal relationship.”
If you are struggling with forgiveness, Ken Sande suggests the following prayer.
“God, I cannot forgive him in my own strength. In fact, I do not want to forgive him, at least until he has suffered for what he did to me. He does not deserve to get off easy. Everything in me wants to hold it against him and keep a high wall between us so he can never hurt me again. But your Word warns me that Unforgiveness will eat away at my soul and build a wall between you and me. More importantly, you have shown me that you made the supreme sacrifice, giving up your own Son, in order to forgive me. Lord, please help me to want to forgive. Please change my heart and soften it so that I no longer want to hold this against him. Change me so that I can forgive and love him the way you have forgiven and loved me” (The Peacemaker, 205).