The Freedom of Forgiveness

As Christians, we should find great peace in the fact “…there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8.1 NASB), or as J.B. Phillips put it in his inspiring version of the New Testament, “No condemnation now hangs over the head of those who are ‘in’ Jesus Christ. For the new spiritual principle of life ‘in’ Christ lifts me out of the old vicious circle of sin and death.” God has taken our sin and cast it as far as the East is from the West (Ps 103.12). Knowing God has removed all of our shame, guilt, and blame gives us restful peace.

This peace, purchased by Christ, comes with an added blessing–forgiving others as we have been forgiven. The Apostle Paul put it this way, “So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; 13 bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you” (Col. 3.12-13, NASB). We are commanded to forgive as Christ has forgiven us.

Jesus didn’t wait for our apology, repentance, grief, or for us to start living a godly life before He made a way for our forgiveness. He gave His life for us while we were still dead in our trespasses and sin. He showed grace, mercy, compassion, and love long before we ever repented of our rebellious nature or sought His forgiveness. That is the way we are to act toward those who hurt, betray, or wrong us.

While summarizing a sermon by Jonathan Edwards, Tony Reinke shares some of the reasons we hold on to grudges in his post “On Grudges and Generosity.” This isn’t a comprehensive list; however, it should give us a clear picture why we hold on to our hurts instead of modeling Christ’s example of forgiveness toward others.

Reinke writes:

Envy. Envy is withholding blessings from others in order to preserve my own joy-stature. It is “a spirit of opposition against another’s comparative happiness.” We like to be distinguished. We like to be superior to others. We want to stand out. We seek happiness and that often means we want to be happier than others, and so we begrudge others, lest they match or exceed us in happiness. Or we can twist our envy in the other direction. Others have more happiness than me already, so what need is there for me to share? Either way, envy cuts off our generosity.

Contempt. Contempt is more personal, a withholding of blessings from others because they are too lowly, or too unworthy of the blessings I have to offer them. It is revolt at the thought of my blessing resting in their unworthy hands. Of course, we would never say it that way. This subtle contempt, this looking down on others, cuts off all hopes of generosity.

Resentment. Resentment is withholding blessings from others because they have wronged me or, merely by some known offense or guilt, are unworthy of my generosity. Once we have been wronged, we may not look for opportunities to return wrongs, but we often stop looking for opportunities to bless. Thus resentment is effective at cutting off generosity.

We are “naturally selfish and pernicious in our benevolence,” writes Edwards. We are quick to begrudge.

We could beat up on ourselves all day long. We are envious, contemptuous, sinners quick to resent, and we find it hard to let go. But Edwards is not interested in beating us up. He’s interested in gospel theology, and in turning our attention to the God who holds no envy, contempt, or resentment against his children. And to that end, he lets our eyes adjust to the darkness before turning our heads to the glory.

God has every right to hold our sin against us. We deserve for Him to give us the cold shoulder, to talk bad about us to others, to hold a grudge for our rebellion; nevertheless, He shows grace, forgiveness, and mercy. In the midst of all we deserve, He cries out, “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rm 8.1, NASB).

If God, Who is perfect, forgives and forgets our sin shouldn’t we do the same to those who wrong us? Take it from me, there is great joy in obeying the indwelling Spirit’s leading to forgive others regardless of whether they are repentant or not. The joy comes from being transformed into the image of Christ!

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