Last night we wrapped up a few weeks look at what we were calling “practical spirituality” by examining the scripture’s teaching on how to forgive. Next week, Lord willing, we’ll begin a study through the letter to the Hebrews, and maybe when we’ve worked through Hebrews we’ll get back to a few more weeks of the practical spirituality studies. Anyway, here are the notes from last night:
We saw last week, as we studied prayer, that Jesus singled out one issue in particular that seems to especially affect our ability to relate to God in prayer—the issue of forgiveness. (See Matthew 6:12-15 and also Mark 11:25-26 (where Jesus says, “Whenever you stand praying, forgive.”) So forgiveness (that is, learning how to forgive people, and actually being a forgiving person) is a centrally important thing to being able to walk as followers of Jesus and live truly spiritual lives.
Here is one of those areas where we see an important difference between what most people think of when they talk about “spirituality” and what a Christian experiences when they live a spiritual life. Most people outside of Christianity think spirituality is a personal (even private) thing. But in the Bible the Holy Spirit teaches followers of Christ that true spirituality is essentially relational—that is, it only comes from a right relationship with God, and it can only be truly lived out as we experienced healed relationships with the other people in our lives. True spirituality is in that sense communal—it is about a new family God is creating, where he is the king, father and head. He’s giving this new family a kingdom—and in that kingdom everything depends on everyone being changed by his own love. So if we ever get tempted to think that forgiveness and reconciliation in relationships is no big deal, we’ve fundamentally misunderstood what God is all about in saving us. We can’t ignore and destroy our relationships but just be excited to go to heaven. And we can’t neglect reconciliation with those around us (especially other believers) just so we can get on with the real work of “serving Jesus” or something like that. No, this is the real work, or at least, this is one of the main things we can’t ignore if we really want to know God and live our lives following Christ.
Theological and Historical Background: First, we need to remember that when we read Jesus’ teaching on forgiveness, he is operating with a certain view of the world that most people around us don’t share. That view is the one found in the scriptures, starting in Genesis 2:17 and 3:7-24, where we see that all of us humans are currently under a death sentence. This is true, first because we’re part of the family founded by Adam, who violated God’s commands and brought down the sentence of Genesis 2:17 (“in the day you eat of it you shall surely die”), and second because we’ve all personally sinned and become guilty ourselves. Thus, Romans 3:10-23 is true of all us us—we’ve all offended God and are justly under the penalty of his wrath.
But…God is patient and forgiving. The whole world continues to exist because he’d rather reconcile, fix and heal than destroy and walk away. Everything waited through the long years of human evil so that Jesus could come in the right time. When he came he provided a way to fix it all, and also demonstrated that God wasn’t simply looking the other way as people used his good world to do such evil things. So when we find commands to forgive in the scripture, we have to realize first that everything we do is in a world made possible by someone who is patient and forgiving. We owe our life to God’s big heartedness.
So, how do we actually learn to forgive?
Read Luke 6:27-38.
- Take your cues from God (v.35-36). If you’re his child, you share his likeness.
- Pursue a joyful generosity in all (27-love, 28-goodwill, prayer, 29-patience, 30-possessions, 32, love, friendship, 35-kindness) Notice, forgiveness is mentioned (in v. 37), but only once as one part of a larger way of being. Jesus teaches us here that followers of Christ are called to cultivate this large-hearted, open-handed generosity of Spirit across every area of life. The picture Jesus paints here is of a smiling, positive, loving person excited to bless others with things and time and love—in other words, someone like God. This must mean that it’s impossible to be a consistently, authentically forgiving person if I’m stingy, guarded or grudging in other areas of my life.
- As you live this way, expect to be rewarded from God alone, and in the end, to get the things only God can give. (v.38)
Read Luke 7:47-50
- Understand the depth of the forgiveness you live in.
Read Matthew 18:15-20 (Note: Forgiveness does not mean that sin cannot be dealt with. Christians are called to confront sin when it is injuring the church or others. This passage also teaches that forgiveness can look different based on what relationship is involved, and may still involve a change in the relationship.)
- Be ready to offer unlimited forgiveness(v.22)
- Understand how much God has forgiven you. We always “owe” God more than others owe us (v.24). The distance between us and God is always greater than the distance between us and the person who sinned against us. I’m way closer to them, and way more like them, than I am to God. We should cultivate this awareness in our lives. It should change us and affect the whole way we move through life. (For instance, the person in Luke 6 sounds like a grateful person, right?)
- Then, with a deep sense of your own indebtedness, identify with those who’ve sinned against you and see yourself as being like them.
Read Ephesians 1:7 and 4:32
Notice the movement: We live in forgiveness, offer it to others.
- Care about the unity of the body of Christ for the glory of God, the spread of the gospel, and the health of other believers. Christians are people with totally new priorities. The ability to forgive flows out of this changed way of seeing the world. You want to pursue healthy relationships for the sake of the larger issues God cares about. (see Colossians 2:13-14 and 3:12-15 for the exact same flow of thought as Ephesians.)
The Process: Learn these things. Remember them when you need them. Pray for the Spirit’s help. Obey – what physical thing can I do to show forgiveness?
Summing it up, and seeing the Gospel of forgiveness: Read Luke 23:33-34
The center of the Christian message is right here—that the only true God is the one who came as Jesus Christ in order to let humans kill him—all so he could secure a just and real forgiveness for them. If you don’t know this God, and follow this Jesus, what forgiveness do you have? If you screw up, if you hurt someone, if you do something wrong—how will you ever deal with your guilt or the damage you’ve caused? How will you deal with the God you’ve offended? What about bitterness from what other people have done to you—do you have any answer for it? So many are living their lives totally dominated by pain other people caused them. Only Jesus Christ offers a way forward—and that way forward is to first receive the forgiveness he offers you for all the wrong you’ve done. As that changes you, he’ll show you the freedom of releasing your bitterness by forgiving others. All of us in who’ve experienced this invite you to become a follower of this Jesus, and to find true freedom—freedom from eternal guilt, and freedom from life-dominating pain.