There is a lot about forgiveness in Christianity. There is forgiveness for our own sins in Jesus. There is the call to forgive others as we have been forgiven. To follow Jesus is to live a life of forgiveness.
What does that really mean, though?
There is a moment in Jesus’ ministry where Peter asks Jesus how many times he must forgive someone who has sinned against him (Matthew 18). Jesus, like many times, responds with a story –
“Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
Matthew 18:23-35 ESV
In the story, the servant owed the master an extraordinary amount of money. He pleads for forgiveness, and the master forgives. However, when the servant went to collect much, much less money from someone else, he wasn’t willing to forgive. His heart was hardened and he wanted his “just desserts.” When the master found this out, he turned the servant over to the authorities to pay off the debt.
How many times have I felt justified in my anger? How many times have I told myself that it’s okay to live with resentments because I was hurt? I have been hurt and I have hurt others. I would like to be forgiven, so how can I withhold forgiveness from others?
The forgiven life is the forgiving life. God is very serious about this. We can see it in Jesus’ parable of the servant. We should be so filled with gratitude that our own depravity has been forgiven that we are willing to forgive others.
Here’s the harder thing, they don’t even have to ask for it.
When Jesus gave Himself up to die on a cross, the disciples didn’t ask for it. No one thought that was what the Messiah came for at the time. They were expecting something much different to happen. But then, Jesus gave himself up so that we may live a forgiven life both here and eternally. When it comes down to it, we didn’t ask for it. We just have the choice to accept it or not.
This is not to say that we shouldn’t be broken about the wrong we’ve down. On the contrary, we should be so aware of our forgiven nature that there isn’t a bitter bone on our bodies. When we find the bitterness, we take it to God. When we can, we take it to others. We long to live reconciled.
It took me a long time to recognize this. However, I believe a life full of grace and forgiveness is the business of God. I don’t think He is looking for referees to call the fouls. He’s looking for people who are ready to give their hands and hearts in help.