I was reading chapter 11 in Mark, where it says in verse 25:
And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.
Now, as evangelicals, we are really good at focusing on how free and available and all-covering God's gift of forgiveness is. We know so many of the lines by heart:
- If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)
- In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace... (Eph 1:7)
- For this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. (Matt 26:28)
- For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
...everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name. (Acts 10:43b)
That's just a start! His forgiveness is free for the asking. No matter what we have done, no heinous sin is beyond His ability to forgive, and we can even go so far as to say that every sin I will commit in the future has already been paid for, already been covered by the blood of Jesus.
But I noticed something different about this verse today: it seems to indicate that - while forgiveness is free - it might be possible for a person who has been forgiven...to become unforgiven...IF they don't extend that same forgiveness to others. It essentially says "forgive...SO THAT...you may be forgiven..." So yes, forgiveness is free, but there's a catch. If we want forgiveness, we have to give it as easily as we receive it.
Ooooohhhhh....does that bring to mind anyone you've had trouble forgiving, or any wrong done to you that you've not been able to let go of?
And there are a lot more verses to back it up.
- For IF you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but IF you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses... (Matt 6:14-15)
- Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; FORGIVE, and you will be forgiven... (Luke 6:37)
- Bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. (Col 3:13)
Jesus even went so far as to illustrate this idea with a parable so people would get the seriousness of it - The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant. In the parable, the servant who owed the king was forgiven his debt. But as soon as the king heard that this servant refused to forgive another servant's debt against him, the king tossed him in jail until all his debt was repaid to the king - essentially taking BACK the forgiveness of the debt. Jesus concludes the teaching by saying, "So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart."
Friends, this is a serious matter. I know I'm not the only person who struggles with knowing that I have 100% forgiven people for what they've done to me. When we've been hurt by those closest to us, or those we trusted most - that can be some of the deepest pain, and the hardest to forgive. But if we want to be forgiven, We. Must. Forgive.
Think of this, too: in the parable, Jesus described how the unforgiving servant owed A LOT to the king, yet he was initially forgiven...but his co-servant only owed him a little, and even after being forgiven the MUCH, he couldn't bring himself to forgive the little...thus the king's justifiably indignant anger. It's the same for us - our sin against God is GREAT...bad enough that it basically nailed Jesus to the cross and drained the lifeblood out of His body. Nobody on earth has sinned against me quite as bad as I've sinned against God. How could I NOT forgive anyone of anything, when I've been forgiven so much??
And yet, we think about that one person or circumstance, and all the negative emotions and all the thoughts of what was said or done come flooding back, and our hearts start racing, and we think, "Well, have I actually forgiven them??"
The word I'm focusing on this year in my prayer life is "STRONGER" and I think it is so appropriate for this issue - I am NOT strong enough in myself to forgive some people! And I don't think forgiveness is a one-and-done thing, sometimes it takes TIME. Every time the thoughts and the feels enter my head and my heart, I have to stop and pray, give it to God and choose to again forgive. Like Jesus said "seventy times seven" times - keep forgiving until the pain starts to lessen. And that has to be God. Like the man who told Jesus "I believe, help me in my unbelief!" - we too, can pray "I forgive, help me in my unforgiveness!"
When we are weak, He is strong, and if our heart is to forgive, we keep doing our part, and God will help heal our hearts from the pain and He will help us to forgive.
If you have trouble forgiving someone, please, ask God to help you. Ask a trusted friend to pray for you, even if you don't reveal the details of the offense. It's so crucial to your own spirit!