Lifestyle of Forgiveness

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”

Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

Matthew 18:21-22

We will all sin from time to time, but that does not mean we have to live a lifestyle of sin. A person may drink too much one night. That’s an action of sin. But when someone gets drunk night after night, that is a lifestyle of sin. When someone sleeps around, that is a lifestyle of sin. When someone intentionally and continuously embezzles money, that is a lifestyle of sin. It’s not a stumble or slip up, but instead a pattern of behavior that flows out of a heart that is unhealed.

This distinction is important because it is in the areas of chronic sin where the demonic is most likely to enter our lives. These are the areas where demons set up camp in our heart, mind, and body and begin to torment us. One of the most overlooked chronic sins in the Church is a lifestyle of unforgiveness. Jesus makes it clear that we are not just called to forgive a few times. As those who have been forgiven of all of our sin by the grace and mercy of God, we are to live a lifestyle of forgiveness.

To drive this point home, Jesus tells the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant. A man who owed the king 10,000 bags of gold could not repay it, and yet the king forgave the entire debt. But when that man found a guy who owed him 100 silver coins, a much smaller debt than the one he was forgiven, the man refused to let it go. The man choked the guy and threw him in prison until the debt was repaid.

But when the king found about about this, the king brought the man in and said:

‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

Matthew 18:32-34

The man was shown mercy but didn’t show others mercy. The man was given total forgiveness but wasn’t willing to forgive his fellow servant. So the king enacted the biblical principle found in Luke 6:

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

Luke 6:37-38

The man had the opportunity to measure with grace, mercy and forgiveness. Instead, the man measured with justice. Justice is getting what we deserve. Mercy is not getting what we deserve. Grace is getting what we don’t deserve. So the king measured him with the measure that he himself used. And justice demanded that the man be thrown into prison until he could repay the debt.

Another interesting plot twist in the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant is that the jailers tortured the man. The lesson is clear. A lifestyle of unforgiveness leads to a tormented life. Unforgiveness becomes a super-highway for the demonic to set up camp in our life and bring all manner of torment to our hearts, minds, and bodies.

Chronic sin often leads to chronic problems. Chronic unforgiveness leads to chronic problems in our mental health, emotional well-being, physical health, and relational intimacy with others. Forgiving those who have hurt us is the quickest way to kick the enemy out of our life and restore flourishing to areas of our life that have been shut down for years.

Who do you need to forgive?

Pray this:
In the name of Jesus, I choose to forgive as I have been forgiven. I now choose to forgive _____________. I release any right I have retained to bring revenge. I release them from my hands and place them into Your hands, Jesus, my Just Judge. I break every curse I have sent to them and call forth a blessing to them instead. Thank you for the grace to forgive and the power to live in freedom. 

Boomerang

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

Matthew 7:1-2 & Luke 6:37-38

Harsh words and negative feelings that come from judgment have a boomerang effect. When I speak in harsh and condemning words, it is as if I am speaking those words over my own life as well. The measure I use against others will be used against me. The enemy loves to use our own words not only to tear someone else down but also to then become pronouncements of judgment upon ourselves. And when I decide not to forgive someone who’s hurt me, I create a shell around my heart that makes it impossible to receive God’s forgiveness for my own sin.

Yet, if give forgiveness, I will experience forgiveness flooding into my life. If the measure I use for others is full of grace and mercy, I will experience grace and mercy. This is why those who have the hardest time forgiving others are those who struggle to forgive themselves. The measure they use for others, and for themselves, is rooted in the Law and not in grace. For those who’ve sinned against them, they are looking for justice and revenge instead of mercy and grace. And so they experience justice for their own sins instead of mercy and grace.

Based on this principle, we shouldn’t be surprised when conservatives–who go around pronouncing judgments of immorality on everyone–eventually get caught in some scandal of immorality themselves. We shouldn’t be surprised when progressives–who go around pronouncing judgments of bigotry and hate on everyone–become cocooned in their own prison of self-righteous close-mindedness. This is just the fulfillment of Matthew 7 and Luke 6.

As followers of Jesus, we walk by grace, dispensing forgiveness and grace to everyone around us. We are called to give freely not only our money, but also our mercy. And as we do, God loves to pour out His love, grace, forgiveness and provision on us. It’s a joy for Him.

What measure are you using?

The Fog of Unforgiveness

Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness. Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble. But anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness. They do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them.

1 John 2:9-11

John reveals here the bad fruit of living in unforgiveness. Unforgiveness leads to resentment, and resentment to bitterness. Bitterness creates a breeding ground for hate. This is why living a lifestyle of forgiveness is absolutely essential for those who follow Jesus.

We forgive because we have been forgiven. When someone hurts us, there is a relational indebtedness that occurs. There is a feeling that they “owe” us. Forgiveness is choosing not to hold onto that debt. It is not saying that what they did was okay. Just the opposite. Forgiveness is saying that what they did was not okay and yet, because we’ve been forgiven, we will release the debt and cancel the indebtedness. Jesus taught us this in the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant in Matthew 18:21-35.

From this parable we learn that Jesus has forgiven us way more than what He is asking us to forgive. The debt that has been canceled for us is way more than the debt we are canceling for others. We also learn that living in unforgiveness leads to our life being tormented by the enemy. John is echoing that reality here in this passage of 1 John.

Unforgiveness, which eventually turns into hate, causes us to walk around in darkness. We lose the ability to see reality clearly. Everything gets filtered through the dark lenses of hate, bitterness, and resentment. When we live in unforgiveness, we lose our ability to dream about our future because we are stuck in the past. The chains of hate are shackling our life to the person who hurt us, and we find ourselves unable to move forward. Forgiveness is the only thing that will break that chain.

I wonder how many people who say, “I don’t know where I am going in life,” don’t need to “find themselves” but instead need to forgive someone who hurt them. They wander and meander in life and can’t figure out why. Maybe John is telling us one possible reason. Maybe they don’t know where they are going because the darkness has blinded them. Maybe darkness has been given permission to invade their sight because they were unwilling to forgive and the fog of hate clouds their future.

Perfectly Just Judge

For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,”[Deut. 32:35] and again, “The Lord will judge his people.”[Deut. 32:36] It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

Hebrews 10:30-31

This is such good news! Without this truth, forgiveness would be nearly impossible. We forgive others because we ourselves have been forgiven. Our debt with God has been canceled and that empowers us to cancel the relational debt that was incurred when that person hurt us. Forgiveness is not saying that what they did was okay. It is saying that we will no longer take it upon ourselves to bring revenge.

By forgiving, we hand the person over to God and allow Him to be the one to bring justice. This passage in Hebrews, which quotes two passages from Deuteronomy, reminds us that we can trust God to bring justice. We can trust Him to be our righteous and just Judge.

This truth bring us freedom. We no longer have to hold the grudge or hang on to the resentment. These things only poison us and never really bring justice. Forgiveness releases us from the emotional attachments that keep us bound to the one who hurt us.

So long as we live in unforgiveness and bitterness toward the person who hurt us, we stand in-between God’s justice and that person. We block God from dealing with that person because we are still trying to be the one to deal with them. Forgiveness is us stepping to the side and giving up the right to bring our own form of justice.

Sometimes God’s justice is allowing the person to reap what they’ve sown. Sometimes God’s justice is opening their eyes to see what they’ve done. Sometimes God’s justice is to allow the person to be on the receiving end of the same hurt they’ve dished out. Sometimes God’s justice is saving the person from any and all harm. God’s kindness and grace leads them to repentance as they come to realize the weight of their sin that’s been forgiven.

God has an unlimited number of ways to bring His perfect justice. It likely won’t look like the revenge that our sinful heart desires, but we can trust Him completely with it just as we trusted Him to deal with our own sin and the justice we deserved.

God is not like Santa Clause. Jesus is our ultimate image of God. God is perfectly loving and perfectly just. These two parts of His nature are never separated from one another and are never in conflict. He is a holy, righteous, and awesome God. He is worthy of holy reverence and worship. Forgiving those who’ve hurt us is one way we stop trying to be God, and we let God be God.

Forgiving God

Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

Ephesians 4:31-32

We forgive because we are forgiven. We don’t wait for the other person to apologize or ask for forgiveness. The other person may have really done something wrong when they hurt us. It’s also possible that they did nothing wrong and it was just a perceived slight that hurt us. Either way, forgiveness is not based on the other person but on our reception of God’s forgiveness in Christ. Forgiveness is the only way to weed out the bitterness, anger and resentment in our heart.

But what if you’re angry or feel distant from God? What if God is the one who you believe harmed you? Can we forgive God?

I had this interesting moment with the Lord the other day in a worship service. We were all singing and the Lord began to speak to me about a friend of mine who was feeling distant from God. I heard God speak to my heart and say, “He needs to forgive me.”

When I heard it, I couldn’t make sense of it initially. Forgive God? But why? “God, you don’t ever do anything wrong. Why would he need to forgive YOU?”

Then the Lord gave me a mental picture of a father kneeling down to his young son. The son was upset with his dad. His dad didn’t do anything wrong, but the dad knew that in order to restore the relationship he would have to be the one to ask the son for forgiveness. It wasn’t about the father doing anything wrong; it was about restoring the relationship and mending the heart of the hurting son.

“But, God, what does he need to forgive You for?”

Then I heard the Lord whisper, “I didn’t meet his expectations. He feels distant from me because I failed to meet his expectations. You need to tell him that I am asking for his forgiveness.”

Sensing that I was still uncomfortable with the idea of doing this, the Lord explained further. In an instant, He gave me a download of understanding. It wasn’t that He explained it all with words. It felt more like a surge of understanding.

What God reminded me of is that this is what God does. This is what Jesus did on the cross. He died a death He didn’t deserve to die. He didn’t do anything wrong. He lived a perfect life. Yet, He took our punishment. This is what God does. Even when He doesn’t do anything wrong, He takes the first step toward us. He’s not concerned with what is “fair” to Himself. He’s concerned with mending relationships and healing hearts. He just wants to be reconnected to His sons and daughters. So He bends down on one knee and asks His son forgiveness for not meeting his expectations (even though those expectations were probably false expectations).

It made more sense now. But before I would go and talk to my friend, I wanted to know where the expectations came from. The Lord told me that his family mistakenly taught him that if he did everything right, everything would turn out okay. This lie was planted early in life. And so he did everything right but things didn’t turn out okay. That’s when the feelings of betrayal, confusion, hurt and resentment entered in. Only by forgiving God would he be able to release the bitterness and hurt that has created a wall between him and the Lord.

The Father loves his son so much that He was willing to interrupt His other son right in the middle of worship to tell him all of this. He loves his son so much that He was willing to take a knee and ask His son for forgiveness! How great the Father’s love for us!

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! 

1 John 3:1

Some of you reading this may need to do the same. You may need to forgive God. Your mind has prevented you from doing so because you know He doesn’t make mistakes. But that truth in your mind has kept your heart distant from Him. What the Father understands is that your heart needs to forgive Him. Forgive Him for whatever that hurt is. Release the resentment, bitterness and anger you’ve been holding against Him. He’s getting on one knee before you, taking your hands, and He’s asking His child for forgiveness. Will you forgive Him?

If you don’t know what to say, try something like this:

Father, I was hurt by this ______________. And now I have felt distant from you. I hear You today asking for my forgiveness, wanting to mend our relationship, wanting to heal my heart. So right now, God, I forgive you. I choose today to forgive you. I release the anger, bitterness and resentment. I put aside any feelings of rejection. I take your hands. I want to be close to you again. Thank You for bending down on one knee and asking for my forgiveness. It feels funny to say I forgive you, but I know it is what my heart has needed. Thank you for understanding what my heart needed in order to come close to You again. You are a loving Father. Thank you for loving me through this. Heal my heart. Mend my wounds. May I experience Your love flow into my heart again through your Holy Spirit, in Jesus’s name. Amen.

What is grace?

For anyone who is a follower of Jesus, this is our story:

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live…But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.

Ephesians 2:1-2, 4-5

Yet, many of us misunderstand grace. Grace is not just being washed clean of sin. That is forgiveness. Grace empowers us to do what we couldn’t otherwise do. Grace is the divine enablement of God.

If we were a car, grace would not be the windshield wiper fluid dispensed whenever some sin has made our windshield unclean and our vision obstructed. That’s forgiveness. Grace is the gasoline in the car! Mercy is God’s passion to rebuild and rehab broken-down cars instead of tossing them into the junkyard.

As Dallas Willard says, “You will consume much more grace by leading a holy life than you will by sinning, because every holy act you do will have to be upheld by the grace of God.” Using the car analogy, a car that is in the shop all the time uses less gasoline than a car that is constantly on the move accomplishing the mission for which it was intended.

A life of holiness is a life in continual dependence upon grace. When Paul writes, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast”(Ephesians 2:8-9), he is saying, “For it is by gas that the car goes, through the turning of the ignition, and this is not your doing. You didn’t earn the gas; you didn’t put the gas in the car; you simply turned the key or pressed the button. God gave you the gas that made it go.”

Paul continues in the next verse, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do”(Ephesians 2:10), which is like saying, “For we are God’s restored car, rebuilt from the ground up, not in order to sit idling in a garage, but to go driving on the highways and byways transporting people back to God.”