As a Christian the word forgiveness is a word which should hold significant meaning to us. The word implies that the action can have deep and lasting effects on us in several ways. The first is the most important which is our spiritual relationship to our Heavenly Father. Second is an internal one of forgiving ourselves when we make a mistake and being able to move forward in a positive way. And third is in our relationships with others, whether that is family, friends, neighbors, or those we work with in life. This would include those who we meet as we go about our daily lives. We truly need to understand how the ability to act on this concept should be a part of our character.
If you are like me, as a Christian you think about this word every week when we participate in communion or when the idea of salvation is mentioned by the preacher. However, how often outside of our church services do we think about forgiveness and freely give it to someone? This is where the rubber meets the road in the character of our lives. Is it part of our nature as God’s children to be willing to forgive? In 1 Timothy 1:15-16 we find the apostle Paul reflecting on the fact that he at one time was lost. He refers to himself as the chief of sinners, one who had persecuted the church that our God had established and cast Christians into prison. Yet, because of God’s mercy he had been redeemed from his sins and allowed to be a pattern for others to believe and lead them to salvation. Paul had come to understand the joy of forgiveness and how it had affected his life. He also came to appreciate how it was connected to relationships he would make in life. In Luke 23:33-34 we see Jesus as he is being crucified ask his father to forgive those who were crucifying him. These are two strong examples of for us from Scripture of a characteristic we should possess in our own lives.
Forgiveness is a word we do not think about often. We do not see it much in the world we live in today. We see the direct opposite and the evil that takes its place. When we as Christians think about forgiveness it is probably regarding our own salvation and those we love. However, there is much more to this word and all which is behind its meaning. In Webster’s dictionary the word forgiveness is the act of forgiving or pardon, the excusing of an offence without exacting a penalty. Forgiving is having the ability and being willing to forgive.
I would like us to look at three points regarding forgiveness. First, where does the ability to forgive come from? Second, how does it fit into our lives and its effect on them? Third, let’s focus on the forgiveness that we all should be seeking and truly need in our lives.
To begin to understand the depth of this characteristic, we must go to the beginning. God said, “Let us make man in our image, and after our likeness” (Gen. 1:26). He created man and gave him dominion over the earth. Let us ask ourselves, “Did God give us the tools, skills, abilities, and talents to accomplish what he had given us to do?” The answer is a resounding yes! Ask yourself whether the image was physical or something else. Would he also have given us the power to defeat evil to accomplish his will in a way closest to his likeness? In Romans 12:1-3 we learn that as Christians we are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds into the image of our Savior. This Savior is one with the Father. God has always been willing and able to forgive man if he would grow close and obey him. From the very beginning God has loved his creation and desired the best for him. Look at Genesis 3. There we learn that God had given them the ability to be a free moral agent able to decide and make choices. So, we see that the woman was beguiled by Satan and the man followed her into sin. Yet God chose not to destroy them, but instead provided a way back to him. He showed mercy and forgiveness to them in the garden. The idea of forgiveness originated from our Father with all its benefits.
Secondly, when I look back in time and reflect on my childhood I now realize that in those early years I found it easy and simple to forgive others. As a child, we desire the relationships which make us happy and the closeness of those we hold dear. Yet as we grow older, we are influenced by the world that relationships can be used as weapons to punish or hurt by denying friendship, love, and yes, even forgiveness and the closeness we have with each other. This flies in the face of who we are as God’s children. Due to the nature of our spiritual Father, we as his children are created in his image (Gen. 1:26), provided by God with the power to freely give forgiveness to anyone who has wronged us or seeks to harm us. To do otherwise is to choose to go against our heavenly Father desires for us to live. We are told in Matthew 5:44-45 to be children of our Father in heaven, to love our enemies and do good to those who hate us, those who would persecute us, and pray for them who use and persecute us. How can we forgive those who seek to do wrong against us? It takes practice and determination to be like our Father who created us and offers us the ability, the strength and power to persevere us against all types of evil. In Matthew 19:14 our Lord says, referring to the little children, “…for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” We can be transformed into the image of our Savior. Through prayer and work we can resist the devil and the evil that seeks to destroy us in this life. Reflecting on my own life, I am thankful to have had God-fearing parents who taught me to not only ask for forgiveness but freely forgive and treat others as I would want to be treated, with compassion, forgiving our human faults, and encouraging others to transform their lives into the image of our savior. In 1 Corinthians 10:13 we are reminded that that our God can and will provide an escape to all temptation we may confront in our lives as his children.
How often have you known people who were tormented by their failure to forgive someone and love them in the way as God has told us to do in our lives? Perhaps they cannot forgive themselves for something they had done either willingly or by accident. The unwillingness to either ask for or give forgiveness can create emotional or physical issues in our lives. It does not allow us to motive forward in a positive way. We need to heed the example of our Lord and the apostle Paul.
Finally, we need to heed the scripture. In Luke 6: 35-37 we learn if we forgive, we shall be forgiven. In this passage we learn several key elements to live by. In Ephesians 4:32 we also see that as Christians we are to be “kind, tender-hearted, forgiving one another as God has forgiven us.” Let us always remember these verses. Forgiveness affects not only the one forgiven but the one who offers forgiveness. Let us seek be the true children of our Heavenly Father.
John worships at the St. Andrew’s Road congregation in Columbia, SC.