The Faith of Forgiveness


“And forgive us our debts, as we have also forgiven our debtors . . . 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” (Matthew 6:12, 14-15).


Such a beautiful, terrible word. 

Beautiful to receive, but often so terribly difficult to give. 

Because it’s not natural. It violates every impulse of our nature apart from God’s saving grace in Jesus Christ. Sinful humans naturally gravitate toward justice. For everyone but ourselves, that is. This is precisely why Jesus told His disciples to “first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matt 7:5). I have a log. You have a speck. That’s essential groundwork for forgiveness. 

The Bible speaks of forgiveness in two main ways – vertically and horizontally. I want to deal with only the first of these here. 

To forgive means to release or to set free. When God saves us from our sins by graciously imparting faith in Christ to us, He releases us. He sets us free from the just punishment and guilt of our sin, since He already dealt with our sin once for all in Christ on the cross (Rom 8:1-4; Heb 10:12-18; 1 Peter 2:24).  We can praise God that “where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin” (Heb 10:18). Doesn’t it make you want to sing?

My sin, O the bliss, of this glorious thought My sin, not in part, but the whole Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord, O my soul! 

It is this reality, that in Christ we are forgiven, that compels and propels us to forgive. Jesus insists that the forgiven forgive (see Matt 6:14-15). Jesus told a parable of a servant forgiven an absurd amount of debt by the King, only to turn around and choke out another servant who owed him a pittance. Jesus’ punchline put on the lips of the King is pungent: “You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should you not have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?” (Matt 18:33). Jesus went on to warn His listeners that if they acted as this unforgiving, wicked servant, they would be delivered to the torturers by the Father in heaven. 

Any questions? 

Withholding forgiveness is wicked. Unforgiveness hurts only the one refusing to forgive. It damages our souls and imperils our relationship with our God who has forgiven us an immeasurable sin debt in Christ. It is vertical, first, you see. We must release both the offenses and the offenders. We release them to God. When we forgive in this way, we are entrusting the offense and offender to God who judges justly. To God who lavishes mercy and forgiveness by His sovereign will. To God, the only One who can rightly discern all truth and all error. To God, the seer of all hearts and minds. To God, the weigher of all motives. To God, who has given all judgment to His Son, who bore the curse of sin (John 5:22; Gal 3:13).

When we release or forgive someone in this way, we are saying, “I refuse to allow this offense to embitter my own heart. I give this to You, O Lord. I refuse to sit in judgment upon a brother or sister or offender. I will not try to punish the offender with all my man-made schemes. I trust You, Lord Jesus, to do what is right and to make this right in Your time. I love you, Lord. I pray for the offender, that he or she might experience Your saving and sanctifying grace as I have. Grant repentance and restoration according to Your good pleasure. I thank You for forgiving me by pouring out Your wrath not upon me, but upon my Christ. Please help me forgive, and keep on forgiving, just as You do. Make me merciful as You are (Luke 6:36). May mercy triumph over judgment in my heart (Jms 2:13). When the temptation to anger or bitterness or unforgiveness rears its ugly head in my heart, and it surely will, give me speedy grace to lop its head off in Jesus’ name! O lead me not into temptation, but deliver me from the evil one (Matt 6:13). Give me daily grace to live as a son or daughter of the Most High, who is ‘kind to the ungrateful and evil’ (Luke 6:35). In Jesus’ name, Amen.”  

Do you see it? This kind of forgiveness is an attitude, a posture of the heart. It’s vertical. It is an act of faith . . . in God alone! This kind of forgiveness may or may not even be known to the offender. Most often, it’s not. And it need not be. We will discuss why that is in our next post. 

Does this attitude of forgiveness mark you? Are you forgiven in Christ? Are you a forgiver like Christ? To claim the first, while not doing the second, is to play the hypocrite and be self-deceived. The forgiven forgive. Not some of the time. All of the time. 

So much anger and bitterness and vexation of spirit even among Christians or those claiming to be so, stems from the root of unforgiveness. Our culture of perpetual victimhood is giving us gangrene of the soul. Let it not be so among us, dear Church. So help us God. 

Forgiveness is a fight. A daily fight (as is everything about sanctification). The war is waged at the level of our hearts, minds and wills. But fight we must. And fight we can in Christ (Rom 8:9-17). And if we take Jesus’ words seriously, forgiveness is forever worth fighting for.