by Pastor John Kim
Looking back on my life for the past fifty years, God has truly been gracious and merciful in not only saving me from eternal condemnation, but in providing the hope and the ability to take that grace and mercy and learn to show it to others. But one thing that I continue to find challenging, and at times even struggle to do consistently, is the practice of true forgiveness.
It’s easy to sound like you have forgiven someone who has offended you or hurt you deeply. There are ways to couch your words carefully, to sound noble or humble or whatever it takes to soften the tone so that the edges are smoothed, to come across in a way that appears godly. But deep down the ever-beckoning hand of painful memories and the enticing pull of bitterness and resentment make genuine forgiveness a daily battle.
There are debates as to what constitutes proper forgiveness, how to deal with following up on forgiveness, and what proper restoration and reconciliation looks like. So I am well aware that many questions can be raised about the application of forgiveness. But I would like to take a moment to ask for a more significant consideration before the application – do you truly take to heart the forgiveness you have received in Christ, and is that forgiveness reflected in your life in such a way that it magnifies Christ?
Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you. (Ephesians 4:31)
Before we think about how the practice of forgiveness affects us, do we see how forgiveness reflects our relationship with God? In Christ we have received the forgiveness of sins (Eph. 1:7), just as we have been lavished with the riches of His grace in Christ. We have been reconciled to God through Christ, and are called to be ambassadors of reconciliation just as we have been called to shine the light of the gospel of Christ in this dark world. But all too often that light is dimmed because of the failure of Christians to love one another as Christ has loved us (John 13:34-35), and this is particularly seen in the refusal to seek peace and reconciliation, which at its heart is the issue of unwillingness to forgive and ask for forgiveness.
If God was willing to forgive us of all our sins and restore us to a right relationship with Him, it is difficult to reconcile with Scripture the attitude that many have in withholding forgiveness or the unwillingness to ask for forgiveness. Either way, there is something truly wrong when one is willing to justify and excuse themselves from dealing with forgiveness.
Withholding forgiveness is an act of sheer arrogance and pride: that one would judge himself or herself to have a greater authority and right than God in turning their back on someone due to an offense, and be unwilling to grant mercy and grace when as a Christian you have been forgiven infinitely more so than any person could sin against you. Now this never excuses or justifies the sins that someone would commit against you. Sin is always wrong and always an offense against the glory of God and must be taken seriously. But we are not the one at the center of the issue. It must always be Christ, and if Christ truly reigns in your life as Lord and Savior and the love of Christ controls you (2 Cor. 5:14-15), then to live for Him is the greater priority and to walk in a manner worthy of our calling (Eph. 4:1) would behoove us to reflect the work of Christ in our hearts by showing the kindness of God that lead us to repentance, by the tender-heart of God in being long-suffering and patient and gentle toward us in bringing us back to Him, and by the super-abounding grace of God that is most magnanimously revealed in His forgiveness granted to us because of the cross of Christ. When our hearts are filled with the Holy Spirit so that we might truly appreciate and even be in awe and wonder at the love with which we have been loved, it would be most appropriate and fitting in bearing witness of the gospel in our lives that forgiveness would be genuinely and truly granted toward those who have sinned against us.
But this is obviously difficult to practice if the love of Christ does not control you. We are not talking about a robotic, mindless control that obligates your or coerces you to do that which you do not want to do. If the love of Christ truly controls you, then you will know that it is only because of the love of Christ shown to you that you have not only the forgiveness of your sins but the hope and promise of eternal life that secures you forever, that no one can separate you from the love of God in Christ and therefore there is nothing that anyone can do to take that away. If I am truly secure and assured in the love of Christ, there is no risk too high, no offense too hard, no hurt too painful, no sin that is unforgivable and through the power of the Holy Spirit in accordance to God’s Word, I can and will be able to grant a true and genuine forgiveness toward my brother or sister in Christ.
There is also the issue of asking for forgiveness when you are the one who has sinned against someone. There are those who are unwilling to admit that they have done wrong and confess their sins and ask for forgiveness from the one they have offended. This too is act of pride and folly because it reflects a heart that is first and foremost rebellious toward God in showing a lack of humility and genuine mourning over sin. Many times this is seen in either denying there was ever an issue, in shifting blame, or even in just running away from those that they need to seek forgiveness and reconciliation. Unresolved conflicts have left a trail of broken relationships for many, and it is sad to see that there are those who are insistent on leaving things unresolved instead of seeking peace as much as we can (Rom. 12:18). But if we are the children of God, we will be a people characterized by a poverty of spirit, a mourning over sin, a gentle and meek spirit, and those who hunger and thirst for God’s righteousness to prevail. The mercy of God is made evident in a purity of heart that seeks God’s face and a commitment to peacemaking – all these are evidences of God’s people (Matt. 5:3-9) and are fitting when describing the kind of person who will be humble enough to admit their faults, confess their sins, and humbly ask for forgiveness.
If we as God’s people can commit ourselves to showing that we are a forgiven people by being a forgiving people, our testimony would be a powerful one because it would point to the Savior who makes it all possible. We will not forgive and ask for forgiveness on our own because our pride is to great and our will rebels and fights against it. But when we are submitted to the loving Lordship of Christ over our lives, when our hearts are filled with the Holy Spirit producing the fruit that manifests the reality of our salvation (Gal 5:22-23), when we are trusting in the sovereignty of God the Father that He will work all things out for good (Rom. 8:28), then we can both extend forgiveness and ask for forgiveness to His glory. I truly believe that this would transform our churches in ways that would be absolutely amazing.
This is my prayer for all the Lighthouse churches: that the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ would shine brightly through the ministry of forgiving one another. I hope and pray that those of you who are struggling with issues of forgiveness will take your eyes off yourselves, take your eyes off others, and instead fix your eyes on Christ. Remember the cross, the love that held Him there to save us. Remember that He endured the pain and suffering that we deserved so that we would be forgiven. Let that love then motivate you and guide you to be the child of God that is distinguished by a life of forgiving and asking for forgiveness and I trust God will use our humble lives and our churches for the sake of His kingdom.