In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots.Peter remembered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!”
“Have faith in God,” Jesus answered.“Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. Therefore, I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” (NIV)
Sometimes forgiveness seems about as possible as moving a mountain or withering a fig tree. Yet, it can be done. It needs to be done. An unforgiving spirit only causes gangrene of the soul and rots a person on the inside.
The heart of the good news in the Bible is forgiveness of sins. It comes through the person and work of Jesus Christ. Forgiveness is both an event, and a process. Forgiveness is to be a constant dynamic within our relationships because we live in a fallen world. People sin against us, and others hurt us. We sin against other people and hurt them, too. Relational pain is a reality this side of heaven. Revenge and/or passive-aggressive behavior are neither biblical nor healthy ways of handling our hurt. So, what is a person to do?
We practice forgiveness. The following is some biblical guidance as to what forgiveness is, and is not:
Forgiveness is hard work.
God did not promise forgiveness would be easy. He knows exactly the kind of cost it brings. Through the death of Jesus there can be and is forgiveness. The price of forgiveness for Jesus was not cheap.
“The blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!” (Hebrews 9:13-14, NIV)
Forgiveness is a process.
Forgiveness is an ongoing process of putting off bad relational habits and putting on good ones. It takes time and cannot be hasty. Forgiveness must be deliberate with no shortcuts to it, otherwise it will not stick.
“Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling, and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:21-32, NIV)
Forgiveness does not mean we condone bad behavior.
Forgiveness is not blanket amnesty. It does not simply give another person a “pass” on their hurtful words or actions. Forgiveness means we do not hold the offense over the other person’s head. Dr. Fred Luskin from Stanford University, an academic researcher of forgiveness, states, “Forgiveness is giving up all hope of a better past.” We cannot undo the past. Yet, we have control of the present, and can choose to forgive. True forgiveness calls a spade a spade and names the specific offense in all its ugliness, and lets it go.
“You’re an evil man! When you begged for mercy, I said you did not have to pay back a cent. Don’t you think you should show pity to someone else, as I did to you?” (Matthew 18:32-33, CEV)
Forgiveness does not always result in reconciliation.
It takes two to reconcile. It only takes one to forgive. I have often been told that it will not do any good to forgive another person because it would not change them. I respectfully retort: That is not the point. We forgive because it is our responsibility to work through our forgiveness issues and do it. We are not in control of whether another person will feel sorry for what they did, or not. We regulate our own decision to forgive, no matter what the other person does or does not do, or whether they feel the gravity of their sin, or not.
“If possible, to the best of your ability, live at peace with all people.” (Romans 12:18, CEB)
“I [Jesus] say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44, NRSV)
Jesus said [on the cross], “Father, forgive them, because they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34, CSB)
Forgiveness is primarily for our benefit.
If we hold on to bitterness toward another for their offense, we only hurt ourselves. Drinking the poison of bitterness will kill you, not the other person. Avoid the magical thinking that they are going to come to you all slobbery sorry for what they said or did. That often does not happen. When it does, it is a beautiful thing. Regardless, of another’s decisions, we are to forgive everyone who sins against us just as God has forgiven us.
“Forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us…. If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:12, 14-15, NLT)
Forgiveness is to be frequent and generous.
The relational currency in God’s kingdom is forgiveness. Without it, we can neither operate well together, nor can we enjoy a satisfying life. However, with forgiveness, there is a demonstration of the practical effects of Christ’s crucifixion to life, not to mention a good witness to a watching world.
“Peter got up the nerve to ask, ‘Master, how many times do I forgive a brother or sister who hurts me? Seven?’ Jesus replied, ‘Seven! Hardly. Try seventy times seven.’” (Matthew 18:21-22, MSG)
Forgiveness is an act of faith.
To forgive is risky business. If we have taken on a grudge like a warm security blanket, to toss aside the odd comfort of unforgiveness will seem strange, even fearful. When we are hunkered down in bitterness, we rarely see how it causes faith to weaken. The longer the lack of forgiving goes on, the harder it will be to give it up. Faith steps out and acts, believing that God is in it. On the other side is the hope of freedom and peace. Besides, the consequences of unforgiveness are downright unpleasant.
Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others. Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil. (Matthew 6:13-14, MSG)
Forgiveness is a blessing.
The end of the matter for many people comes down to the intensely practical. So, here it is: Do you want to be happy or miserable? I am not familiar with anyone who wakes up in the morning and says to themselves, “Mmm, I think I will be miserable today.” No, we want to be happy and blessed. Forgiving others is the path to blessing.
It is a great blessing when people are forgiven for the wrongs they have done, when their sins are erased. (Psalm 32:1, ERV)
May you know the blessing of being forgiven and forgiving others. May this freedom allow you to enjoy the peace of God the fellowship of others. Amen.