October 21, 2015

Great Themes of the Bible

Tonight’s theme on forgiveness isn’t something that most of you have heard over the years. But to be successful in our Christian faith, forgiveness is vital. So in some ways I feel like the Apostle Peter who said,

“For this reason I will not be negligent to remind you always of these things, though you know and are established in the present truth.” (2 Peter 1:12 NKJV)

For some of us, therefore, tonight is going to be a refresher course in forgiveness.

There aren’t a lot of topics that could be considered more important, and that’s because the world is filled with conflict, and the reason is because the world just doesn’t get it. It doesn’t understand what forgiveness is all about, so it misuses, misapplies, misunderstands, or just misses it all together.

But before we talk about how to forgive, it’s important to first understand what forgiveness isn’t, or what forgiveness doesn’t do. The reason why this is necessary is because people have a totally wrong concept about forgiveness, and are therefore prevented from experiencing the real power forgiveness possesses.

1. Forgiveness Isn’t Conditional

It’s not “I’ll forgive you if…” Whenever we attach a condition to forgiveness then it really isn’t forgiveness. Real forgiveness is unconditional, that is, when you forgive someone you place no conditions on your forgiveness.

Forgiveness is never earned, nor is it ever deserved. Forgiveness isn’t offered based on a promise, rather it’s offered whether someone asks for it or even wants it.

Consider Jesus’ offer of forgiveness. It’s solely based on His love for us, not whether we deserve it or asked for it. On the cross He cried, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34 NKJV).

We never asked to be forgiven, we weren’t even there, but Jesus offered forgiveness for our sins nonetheless. He took the initiative and forgave us even though it cost Him His life, and even though we didn’t deserve it. It was an act of God’s grace, and so that’s what we need to do for others.

2. Forgiveness Doesn’t Minimize the Offense

Forgiveness doesn’t pretend the offense never occurred. We’ve been hurt, and it bothers us. Whenever we minimize the offense it cheapens forgiveness.

We come at forgiveness the wrong way. We think by minimizing the offense we’re being spiritual, but we’re not. Instead, by suppressing the hurt we’re hurting ourselves even more, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Further, by minimizing the offense we’re not helping the person who hurt you. By taking them off the hook, they never accept responsibility and are never held accountable for their actions, and as a result they never change their ways and may harm us or someone else again.

3. Forgiveness Doesn’t Immediately Restore Trust

The Bible tells us that we are to forgive, but nowhere does it say that trust is to be immediately restored. Forgiveness doesn’t mean placing ourselves or someone else back in harms way.

And if we’ve hurt someone, don’t expect trust to be immediately restored. People say, “God’s forgiven me, why can’t they get over it. They said they forgave me, then why can’t things go back to the way they were?”

Trust is something that’s earned and it takes time. For trust to be restored, it takes quality proven measures over an extended period of time. It’s building back up the trust factor.

4. Forgiveness Doesn’t Mean No Changes

Forgiveness doesn’t mean things are going to go back to the way they were, which, by the way, is what led to the offense in the first place. Once harm has been done, things will never return to normal.

It’s like losing an arm. If we lost an arm, life will never be as it once was. We’ll never get back to a normal life with two arms. Instead a new normal will develop, one that is lived with one arm rather than two.

Forgiveness isn’t allowing things to be the same; rather forgiveness is the starting point that allows for a new normal.

5. Forgiveness Doesn’t Mean Forgetting

To forgive and forget is unrealistic. If I ask you to forget something, the first thing you’re going to remember is what I asked you to forget. Forgiveness isn’t forgetting the offense; rather it’s choosing to no longer remember the offense against the other person.

The Bible tells us love keep no record of wrongs, 1 Corinthians 13:5. When someone wrongs us, instead of writing it down for posterity, we need to choose to no longer store it for future use. It’s choosing to no longer use it against them.

There’s something better than forgiving and forgetting, and that’s forgiving and seeing the good God will bring. Someone said, “The happiest people are less forgetting and more forgiving.”

With these out of our way, let’s take a look at three basic reasons why we need to forgive.

1. God has Forgiven Us

Because God has forgiven us, we need to forgive others. That’s at the heart of what the Apostle Paul says.

“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32 NIV)

Just as God has forgiven us, we cannot withhold forgiveness from others. In the Lord’s Prayer we pray, “and forgive us our sins, just as we have forgiven those who have sinned against us” (Matthew 6:12 NLT)

What’s key to remember is that it’s far easier to forgive others when we not only feel forgiven by God, but also realize just how much God has forgiven us. God has not only forgiven us of all our past sins, but also our present and future sins as well.

Someone asked me how I could possibly forgive them, and I remember saying, “How can I not when Jesus forgave me of so much more.”

None of us will ever forgive someone else as much as God has forgiven us.

When we place the pile of wrongs someone has done against us alongside the pile of wrongs we’ve done against God, we’ll realize how insignificant and small the other people’s piles against us are when compared to our pile against God.

2. Resentment Doesn’t Work

“To worry yourself to death with resentment would be a foolish, senseless thing to do.” (Job 5:2 LB)

King David was running for his life. Absalom, his son, rebelled against David rounding up an army to defeat him. So David left Jerusalem, and on his way out of town, Shemei, a relative of King Saul, began cursing and swearing at him, kicking up dirt in disgust. Some of David’s men wanted to kill him, but David prevented them and continued on his way.

Shimei hated that David became king and Saul’s family became outcasts, and so his bitterness and resentment against David continued to grow every year and was now rearing its ugly head.

From this story several reasons arise as to why holding onto resentment doesn’t work

a. It’s Unreasonable

When we hold onto anger and resentment, not only is it unreasonable, it’s illogical. Here’s Shimei spewing out his bitterness at David and his whole army. Talk about not being smart, one man against an entire army.

But then I consider some of the dumb things I do in my anger and bitterness. When we hold onto and vent our resentment, trying to get even with someone, it never solves the problem.

When we try to get even it only escalates the conflict.

Choosing forgiveness involves weighing our need to get even against our need to move on. David could have chosen to get even; instead he chose to move on.

When we allow resentment to take hold, we’re choosing to remain locked into a vicious cycle of hate and bitterness, never knowing the freedom that forgiveness brings. But when we choose forgiveness, we can move on in freedom with the life God has purposed for us.

b. It’s Unhelpful

Solomon had it right when he said, “Do not hasten in your spirit to be angry, for anger rests in the bosom of fools.” (Ecclesiastes 7:9 NKJV)

Shimei held onto this grudge for over 20 years. It didn’t help him. It didn’t change what happened, nor did it correct the supposed wrong. Instead it made him a miserable person to be around.

Holding onto resentment always hurts us more than the person we’re resenting.

David wasn’t pining away for 20 years because Shimei was holding a grudge. David probably didn’t even know about it.

The same is true in our circumstances. The people we’re holding resentment against aren’t sitting at home anxious and worried about what we’re feeling. Ten to one they don’t even know we’re resenting them in the first place, and while our lives are on hold because of our resentment, they’re out having a good time.

c. It’s Unhealthy

Unforgiveness is deadly. Resentment cost Shimei his life. Studies confirm that bitterness and hatred are dangerous emotions. They attack our bodies as no virus ever could. When we hold onto anger and bitterness our body keeps score and physical complications develop.

It’s not so much what we eat as it’s what’s eating us.

Holding on to resentment is like picking a scab and letting the wound bleed all over again. It’s like our minds are caught in a loop, watching it over and over again.

Instead of following God’s word that tells us love keeps no record of wrongs, we laminate the wrong and hang it up to view on a daily basis.

3. We Need Forgiveness

“For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:14-15 NIV)

Jesus says that if we want God’s forgiveness then we need to forgive others. Jesus goes back to what He taught about our prayers.

“And forgive us our sins, just as we have forgiven those who have sinned against us.” (Matthew 6:12 NLT)

Do we realize what we’re praying? We’re asking God to forgive us as much as we forgive others. Now that’s a scary thought. Do we really want God to forgive us as much as we forgive others?

There’s no way we can make it into heaven based upon our own good works. None of us are good enough, and that’s because we all sin and need God’s forgiveness, Romans 3:10,23. So we better be about the process of forgiving others.

The process of forgiveness, or how can we forgive?

1. Refocus on God

“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” (Romans 12:2 NKJV)

Let’s not be molded by the world; that just keeps us focused on the hurt. Rather, let’s be transformed. Transformation is an inside out work, and this happens through renewing our minds; in other words, we need to take the focus off our problems and ourselves, and place our thoughts upon and onto God.

Whatever you focus upon will control your life.

2. Recognize We’re All Imperfect

“For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice.” (Romans 7:18-19 NKJV)

We’ve all blown it, which goes along with the fact that all have sinned, and there’s no one who is righteous before God, Romans 3:10.

We’ve all wronged others.

3. Release Your Right to Get Even

This is the heart of forgiveness. It’s saying that while we have every right to get even, we voluntarily choose to give up that right.

We are also to forgive others as many times as it takes. Jesus says we are to forgive others 70 time 7 times. Jesus isn’t putting the automatic number, 490 times, rather He’s saying, “Forgive them until the job of forgiving is done.”

How will you know when forgiveness has happened? It’s when you think about the other person and what they did, and it doesn’t’ eat your guts out.

“Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.” (Romans 12:19 NKJV)

Your job is to forgive, let God take it from there.

When we fail to release, then we’ll resemble those we’re resenting.

Those who abuse others are usually a product of abuse. How often have we said, “I’ll never be like my dad or mom.” This is based upon the perceived wrongs we’ve received at their hands, but that’s exactly who we become like?

4. Respond to Evil with Good

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21 NKJV)

Jesus said, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you.” (Luke 6:27-28 NKJV)

The secret of knowing when you’ve released someone is when you begin to pray for them. But not the kind of prayer that says, “Lord, break the teeth in their mouth, and may the IRS audit them forever.” Or “Lord, give them a case of hemorrhoids and put a recall on Preparation H.”

Instead it’s praying for their good and that God would save and bless them.

Before we finish there’s one last area that I really need to address when it comes to forgiveness

We Can’t Forgive Ourselves

The fact that people are trying to forgive themselves is where the problem lies, and why so many have such a hard time experiencing forgiveness. Because whose forgiveness do we really need?

This question, “How can I forgive myself,” is one of the most asked questions of our day. It stems from a very popular saying promoted by many New Age teachers as well as good intentioned ministers saying, “You must learn how to forgive yourself.”

Now I’m not saying those who use this phrase are purposely misleading; rather it places the emphasis of forgiveness on the wrong person. People are trying to live their lives, cope with their hurts with a faulty proposition that somewhere inside themselves lays the power to feel good about the wrongs they’ve committed.

Those who have bought into this philosophy of self-forgiveness have as a consequence unhappiness, condemnation, guilt, despair, rejection, and an overall feeling of helplessness, because no one will ever experience total forgiveness on their own.

The Bible clearly refutes the possibility of self-forgiveness. The Bible says only God can forgive sins, and that forgiveness for things in the past resides only in God.

While teaching His disciples the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus placed forgiveness squarely upon the Father. He said, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive our trespassers” (Matthew 6:12 NKJV).

The Jewish people knew this. It was in the Law, Exodus 34:6-10. So when Jesus healed the paraplegic saying, “Son, be of good cheer, your sins are forgiven,” the Scribes and Pharisees roundly rejected Jesus calling him a blasphemer, Matthew 9:1-3.

Since forgiveness is only in God’s realm, how could Jesus forgive the paraplegic’s sins? Because Jesus is God, and the prophet Isaiah foretold that this is exactly what He would do through his death.

Isaiah said, “For He was cut off from the land of the living…and He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressor.” (Isaiah 53:8, 12 NKJV)

Through His sacrificial death upon the cross, Jesus paid the price for our sins once and for all, and not just some of our sins, but all of them.

Forgiveness then is something outside our realm to accomplish.

Further, if only God can forgive sins, and we buy into this assumption of our ability to forgive ourselves, then we literally are becoming our own gods, and as such we’re guilty of the sin of idolatry.

So the question shouldn’t be, “How can I forgive myself,” but rather, “How can I avail upon the forgiveness already provided by God through His Son, Jesus Christ?”

We need to learn how to accept Jesus’ forgiveness for our sins.

Let’s stop beating ourselves up by trying to do what only God can do. Let’s accept the free gift of salvation offered through Jesus Christ, and accept His forgiveness and walk in the freedom that only His forgiveness offers.

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