So many people struggle with their past and for many it isn’t pleasant. Tracey and I have talked with men and women who have been abused, been the abusers, had abortions, divorces, addictions, murder, death, betrayal, broken families, etc. Even though all of these things are horrible and painful, the truth is they are in the past. Living in the past is a dangerous place to be and there is nothing you can do about it because it’s as good as it is going to get, whether it’s what you have done or what’s been done to you.
Thinking through life’s problems is a bit like whittling. As you look closer and closer at the problem you will discover what lies at the root is sin. Just who are you anyway? I mean what makes you think you should have it any better than someone else? Are you special? Unique? Or are you just as good a candidate for trouble as the next guy?
When talking about sin, I have discovered there are no favorites and no one is excluded. We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. The big question then isn’t so much what particular flavor our sin is rather what do we do now that we have identified it? The Bible tells us “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). Well, that sounds fine and good but I can’t stop thinking about it.
There are two sides to this subject. One side is the need for us to find forgiveness for our sins and the other is the need for us to forgive those who have sinned against us. This sounds like the prayer Jesus taught His disciples in Matthew 6, “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” I think these two go together because it is only when we truly receive forgiveness that we can give it. As long as we struggle with whether or not we ourselves are forgiven, we simply cannot forgive others. I think this is where many live their lives.
Let’s walk through this for a minute. Okay, let’s say you commit a sin such as stealing, lying or even murder and you come with a broken heart and accept Jesus’ offer of forgiveness provided by His death, burial and resurrection. You’re heart is made light, your burden is gone and the life of God’s Spirit floods into your spirit. You’re born again! Then someone does something to you, or you remember something from long ago that hurt you deeply, now what?
Jesus told a story in Matthew 18 about a servant who had his debt cancelled but he refused to cancel the debt of someone who owed him. Since he refused to forgive, Jesus said, “his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him.” You see when we refuse to forgive others it’s really us who pay the price. The torment of unforgiveness will eat you up inside. Let me walk you through this briefly. Here’s the way this generally works: someone offends you, you don’t forgive them, you become bitter over time and eventually a hardness of heart sets in. The further along this path you go the more difficult it will be to turn around. My suggestion is to simply forgive others. If you don’t do it on any other basis, simply do it because of the great debt you have been forgiven.
Sometimes we can ask for forgiveness and not receive it because forgiveness doesn’t always come with a feeling. We simply have to believe God’s word even if we don’t “feel” forgiven. In fact, sometimes condemnation sets in and we go under it and find ourselves hating ourselves. Norman Grubb said in “The Deep Things of God”, “we must not stay, even temporarily, under condemnation, when Satan has caught us out. It is the easiest thing to do, and our distressed feelings are really self-pity and pride. It is not so much that we have grieved the Lord that disturbs us, as that we have failed. The acceptance of condemnation is a form of self-righteousness. God has told us, when we sin, to get quickly to the light, recognize and confess the sin, and then He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse our consciences from all sense of unrighteousness…To remain in condemnation, therefore, is really disobedience and hurt self.”
In the end, forgiveness is a choice. Either we decide to receive forgiveness for ourselves and forgive others, or we don’t, it’s as simple as that. The good news is through the work of the cross we can have our sins forgiven and not only that we can turn around and forgive others too. After all, this is what the cross is all about. “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:19).