Pillars of Christian Character: Forgiveness
Does God forgive utterly and completely the sins committed by Christians? The answer is an unqualified “Yes!” In Christ, our pardon is full, our justification is complete, and our glorification is sure. In Christ, God has buried our sin and refuses to mark the grave.
The story that Jesus tells his listeners in Matthew 18 is a wonderful story of mercy and forgiveness. It teaches us that we have a sovereign and merciful God who cancels the debts of all those who come to Him in true faith, confession and repentance. But it’s also a parable that teaches us something about how believers should behave toward each other.
The first debtor in our story is a man who owed a great debt, a huge dept, a colossal debt, an unimaginable debt to his king—10,000 talents of precious metal. If we’re talking silver, that’s 60,000 pounds or 30 tons of silver which equals to $3 billion. For the common working man of that day, that’s about 200,000 years worth of wages! If we’re talking talents of gold, at today’s price per ounce of $1,500, the amount is equal to $11,277,000,000. He must have been a rogue day-trader working for Bank of America!
This is not a debt you can roll over onto your VISA! This man is unable to pay off his debt when the king comes to settle his accounts. The king ordered that the man, his wife, his children and all his possessions be sold in order to repay the debt. This was within the king’s right at that time. But the debtor flings himself at the king’s feet and pleads—and please note this—not for mercy, but simply for more time to straighten out his accounts. Instead, the king graciously canceled the debt altogether. He did not have to do it, but the Bible tells us that the king looked on this man with pity and called off the debt.
If this were the end of the story, we could all shout amen, hallelujah, praise the Lord, and go home. But the story that Jesus tells does not end with the first debtor being cleared of his liability. There is a second debtor. He does not owe the king anything, but he does owe a debt to the first debtor. He owes about one-third of a year’s pay—about $13,000 in our culture. Compared to the sum the first debtor owed, this is a pittance. But the first debtor violently accosts his fellow servant and demands payment right then and there. The second debtor also pleads for more time, but the first debtor will hear nothing of it and has the man thrown into prison until the debt can be paid.
When the king finds this out, he is enraged. He summons the first debtor before him and calls him a wicked servant who is undeserving of the mercy he had been shown earlier. He hands the first debtor over to the tormentors (KJV) until all the debt has been paid. Jesus concludes the story on a somber note:
““This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”” (Matthew 18:35, NIV84)
When God forgives us, He expects us to cultivate a forgiving heart and to extend His mercy toward those indebted to us. A forgiving heart is another pillar of Christian character.
As a matter of fact, the Bible teaches us that if we are unwilling to accept the confession and repentance of another and forgive them, chances are good that we’ve never truly been forgiven since our unwillingness to offer forgiveness indicates a heart that has itself never truly repented and confessed to our Heavenly Father.
Jesus seemed very clear about this. In His Sermon on the Mount, he taught:
“Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’” (Matthew 6:12–13, NIV84)
We all know that passage as the closing words of the Lord’s Prayer. But listen to what Jesus say in vv. 14-15:
“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, NIV84)
Those are potent words my Christian friend!
If you’ve been born from above by the Most High God, you have been completely and totally forgiven by God. Your sin has been atoned for by the precious blood of Jesus Christ. Your are white as snow in God’s eyes though your sins be as scarlet. That same blood has also purchased the atonement for your brothers and sisters in Christ.
I. TRUE REDEMPTION MAKES GENUINE RECONCILIATION POSSIBLE
- ILLUS. Was it for crimes that I had done; He groaned upon the tree?; Amazing pity, grace unknown; And love beyond degree!; At the cross, at the cross where I first saw the light; And the burden of my heart rolled away; It was there by faith I received my sight; And now I am happy all the day!
- when God forgives us in Christ, He gives us the greatest gift that a person can ever hope to receive – grace
- He goes beyond what we would ever expect Him to do and He cancels all of the sin-dept we owe Him because of our iniquity and trespass
- listen to what the Apostle Paul says in his letter to the Colossian Christians:
- “When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.” (Colossians 2:13–14, NIV84)
A. OUR LORD’S DEATH ON THE CROSS MAKES IT POSSIBLE TO HAVE A RIGHT RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD
- Jesus’ Christ—who was absolutely sinless—died on the cross and paid the penalty for my sin and your sin and restored our broken relationship with God
- “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation—” (Colossians 1:19–22, NIV84)
- we need reconciliation because our sin debt is enormous and separates us from God
- for Jesus to use a figure of 10,000 talents in that day would be like us using the term gazillion
- that incalculable, unpayable debt represents the debt for sin that every man owes God
- it’s a debt that no matter how hard we work or how long we have, we cannot pay off the debt of sin
- when the Holy Spirit convicts a person of his sin that person is faced with the fact that the extent of his sin is beyond comprehension and humanly unpayable
- "The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.” (Matthew 18:27, NIV84)
- /“Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.”? (Isaiah 55:6–7, NIV84)
- here is a picture of a God who is rich in mercy
- He cancels the debt because He is a God of compassion
- “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!” (Romans 5:8–9, NIV84)
- ILLUS. Maybe that’s why Isaac Watts called it Amazing Grace!
- why does God do this?
- for His own name’s sake
- ““I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.” (Isaiah 43:25, NIV84)
- He saves us because it brings glory to His name
- then, from that moment on, Christ begins the work of transforming us back into Him image
B. OUR RECONCILIATION WITH GOD MAKES IT POSSIBLE TO HAVE A RIGHT RELATIONSHIPS WITH OTHER BELIEVERS
- ILLUS. Pastor and radio preacher, Chuck Swindoll, says that among Christians: “Forgiveness is a required course.”
- ILLUS. Martin Luther King, Jr wrote: “Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is a permanent attitude.”
- a forgiving heart, however, is not natural to the natural man
- because it is so foreign to fleshly human nature, people find it very difficult to forgive others
- ILLUS. King Louis XII of France articulated the feeling that many people have when he said, “Nothing smells so sweet as the dead body of your enemy.”
- ILLUS. Vengeance is everywhere, even in peaceful and egalitarian societies. It's the dirty laundry of society. And in our electronically networked society, people are finding profitable ways of allowing people to act out their vengeance. At a website entitled: GetPayBack.Com has as its motto: “Don’t get mad, get even.” On their website you can rip into anyone, any company or any institution that you feel has ‘dissed’ you in some way.
- ILLUS. When a drunk gunman shot and killed a priest in Pueblo, Colorado, a few years ago, the other priests at the church, close friends of the victim, made an immediate public statement of forgiveness. Much of the public was aghast, but the priests’ explanation was simple: “We are Christians. This is what Christians do.”
- Jesus’ most striking and humanly incomprehensible words from the cross were,
- “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34)
- forgiveness is the most godlike act that a Christian can perform
- these are people who always demand a pound of flesh when they’ve been slighted or mistreated in some way
- "No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” (1 John 4:12, NIV84)
C. WE ARE TO LOVE FELLOW CHRISTIAN IN WORD AND DEED, BUT SIN SOMETIMES INTERRUPTS AND HINDERS FELLOWSHIP BETWEEN CHRISTIANS
- broken relationships sometimes develop because of deliberate acts of jealousy, anger, boasting pride, gossip, or even greed
- more often than not, relationships are broken because of non-deliberate acts of insensitivity, impatience, tactlessness, or misunderstanding
- within the Body of Christ, differences of opinions, personality clashes, and power struggles can also damage the love relationship between fellow believers
- even Jesus’ disciples had to deal with the struggle of loving one another
- “Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him. “What is it you want?” he asked. She said, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.” “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them. “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” “We can,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.” When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers.” (Matthew 20:20–24, NIV84)
- ILLUS. Lorne Sanny, former general director of The Navigators’, once said, “Bitterness destroys more Christian workers than immorality.”
- the moment you start to resent a person, you become a slave to your anger and bitterness
- they control your dreams, absorb your digestion, rob you of peace of mind and good will and take away the pleasure of your work
- they ruin your spirituality and nullify your prayers
- you cannot take a vacation without them going along
- they destroy your freedom of mind and hound you wherever you go
- so, if you want to be a slave, harbor resentments, but if you want to be free, then God says you must forgive
- ILLUS. Corrie Ten Boom once wrote: “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and to discover that this prisoner was you.”
II. RECONCILIATION IS A RESPONSIBILITY OF ALL BELIEVERS
- fortunately, our relationship with Christ makes restored relationships possible
- Jesus teaches us that when we become aware of a relationship problem, we must take steps to correct it
- whether you have been the wronger or the wrongee – and the Scriptures speak to both – the Bible tells us that you have a responsibility in reconciliation
- that responsibility is to seek peace
- “Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.” (Hebrews 12:14, NIV84)
- wrong relationships with fellow Christians affects your relationship with God –
- “If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.” (1 John 4:20–21, NIV84)
- ““Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:23–24, NIV84)
- ““A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”” (John 13:34–35, NIV84)
- because God’s Kingdom and God’s church and God’s glory are more important than your rights or your feelings
- “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:1–3, NIV84)
When Leonardo da Vinci was painting the Last Supper, he had an intense, bitter argument with a fellow painter. Leonardo was so enraged the he decided to paint the face of his enemy into the face of Judas. That way the hated painter’s face would be preserved for ages in the face of the betraying disciple. When Leonardo finished Judas, everyone easily recognized the face of the painter with whom Leonardo quarreled.
Leonardo continued to work on the painting. But as much as he tried, he could not paint the face of Christ. Something was holding him back.
Leonardo decided his hatred toward his fellow painter was the problem. So he worked through his hatred by repainting Judas’ face, replacing the image of his fellow painter with another face and reconciled with the man. Only then was he able to paint Jesus’ face and complete the masterpiece.
You will never be the Christian you should be – or probably want to be – as long as you harbor unresolved anger and bitterness toward others.