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The Grace of Forgiveness

Category Articles
Date May 24, 2005

Forgiveness is no minor aspect of the Christian life. It is an incalculable blessing that we receive from the Lord when we exercise saving faith and repentance. By divine forgiveness, the Lord imputes no iniquity to us, but rather counts us to be as righteous as His beloved Son (Psa. 32:2). The forgiveness of our God not only frees us from the burden of all our sins, it restores to us all that sin had ruined in our lives, and leads to the provision of much more besides. The very nature of such forgiveness should make us treasure it and ask for it more often from God than we do (1 John. 1:9). In addition, its vital necessity should spur us to persevere in our asking, seeking, and knocking for it, should the Lord ever seem reluctant to grant it (consider the parable of the importunate widow, Luke 18:1-8), or should we ever have reason to question whether we have truly requested and received it. The fact that such monumental forgiveness is free to us for the asking should remove any and all impediments to our asking our Lord for it.

Some alternatives to our asking our gracious God that He might forgive our sins are: our delusional denials that we have sinned; our defensiveness wherein we excuse, rationalize, and point to mitigating factors in an endeavor to minimize our sin; and our feeble and foolish efforts to redeem and justify ourselves by doing some seemingly good deed, hoping that thereby we shall cancel out the sin that, in fact, stubbornly refuses to be covered by such fig leaves. As ridiculous as it may seem to us, we all resort to such vain devices at times, and some of us are prone to resort to them many more times than we avail ourselves of the free, full, and effective forgiveness of our Lord.

Not only are we to ask forgiveness from our God, but we are also taught by Scripture that we are to seek forgiveness from those people against whom we sin. This we find even less palatable to do than when we ask forgiveness of the Lord. It is wrong, but at least more understandable, that we recoil from the notion of asking for grace from fellow sinners. Yet, for all the pride and graceless stubbornness that is involved in our refusing or delaying our asking the forgiveness of those against whom we have sinned, the Word of God does not place as high a premium upon our asking forgiveness from others as it does upon our granting forgiveness to those who ask it of us. Jesus tells us that we are to forgive seventy times seven those who have sinned against us and have asked to be forgiven. While such a command from our Lord is definite encouragement for us to ask of others their forgiveness, the emphasis falls more heavily upon the matter of our granting or withholding our forgiveness (Mat. 18:21-35).

Why would we, who have tasted the sweet mercy of the Lord, be disinclined to exercise the blessed and blessing grace of such forgiving mercy toward others? For some, the reluctance is a deep mistrust of the Lord’s forgiveness. They fear that they themselves are not truly or lastingly forgiven, so they, who hold their own forgiveness in doubt, hold back their exercise of mercy toward others. For others, a perverse sense of justice drives them to be more exacting and punitive than is their Lord in His gracious dealings with them. Such ones regard a sin against themselves as being more heinous and unforgivable than a sin against the Holy Spirit. Still others know the potency and blessedness of forgiveness, but they have a misguided conviction that the hurt they have suffered from another’s sins will be soothed if they hold the other to his sin, rather than mercifully releasing him from its just penalty. Why, so reason those who are stingy with their forgiveness, should they suffer hurt and then let the perpetrator off easily?

Perhaps most who are unforgiving, however, simply fail to reckon with the reality that we cannot and must not expect those who have hurt us by their sin to heal us by their own efforts or suffering. We are all experts at wounding others, while we are totally incapable of healing others whom we wound. For, as all sin is ultimately against God and only incidentally against those who are His fallen creatures, so only the Lord can forgive sin and heal its wounds.

It is foolish, wrong, and ultimately wicked of us to retain our hurts in order to make those who have inflicted them upon us feel them. However justified we may feel in our nurturing our pain and anger against those who have sinned against us, the only right and blessed way for us to be healed and at peace after we have been wounded by another’s sin, is for us to be freely generous with our forgiveness. This is the grace that is supremely more blessed to give than to receive. That is because in our exercising of forgiveness toward others, we must draw upon the grace of the Lord that heals our wounds, cools our anger, and fills us with peace and true love. That blessed, divine grace, poured upon and filling those reflecting the Lord’s mercy, is far sweeter and stronger than our holding a grudge, however justifiable we may think it to be.

WILLIAM HARRELL

Immanuel Presbyterian Church, Norfolk, Virginia

williamharrell@cox.net

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