Friday, July 5, 2013

The Grace of Forgiveness

Because it was my bright idea to devote a full month to the concept of grace here at Maidservants of Christ, Helene asked me what angle I wanted to take for the month.  If she could have seen me from across the world, she would have witnessed a great "deer in the headlights" look.  I don't know; I just like grace.  It's nice to remember grace amidst our sometimes painful confession filled posts.  Framework?  Um.... I like grace.

Helene was not going to let me get away with weaseling out of a more concrete idea.  "You chose it; you decide how we write about it."  Drat.  So I started a preliminary look at grace as we read about it in the Bible, particularly the New Testament.  I found a lot of verses I memorized as a child about our salvation through grace and how it colors our relationship with God.  That aspect of grace was familiar to me.  

As I continued reading, a less familiar facet of grace became apparent to me.  I don't just receive grace; I give it!  As I read, I got more and more excited.  (For those of you who have a great working knowledge of the grace we give, you'll just have to forgive me.  I'm dense sometimes!)  So on Fridays this month, I'll be talking about some of the ways we can pass on a small measure of the grace we've been given. 

When we think about the grace we receive, one of the main things that comes to mind is forgiveness.  It's also one of the main ways we can give grace.  It's a fairly easy concept to understand.  God has forgiven us of our sins through Christ's blood, and he expects us to forgive others (Matthew 6:14-15; Mark 11:25).  

Throughout the Bible, God makes it clear that we are to imitate Him (Ephesians 5:1). We are to be holy because He is holy (Leviticus 11:44-45; 1 Peter 1:15-16).  We are to love one another just as he loved us (John 13:34). Many of the ways we are called to be like Him are radical, counter-cultural.  Being a servant like Christ (Philippians 2:5-8), loving our enemies as Jesus did, and turning the other cheek are hard for even mature Christians.  

Two orangutans hugging (5982655204)
Forgiveness is no different. If you doubt that forgiveness is radical, remember that we are commanded to forgive others in the same way that Christ forgave us. "bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you" (Colossians 3:13). This verse demands that I take a look at my forgiveness and see if it looks like His.

In comparing God's grace to my forgiveness, I'm shocked by the contrast.  Too often, I've fallen for the worldly idea that forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation, that I can forgive someone without restoring my relationship with them.  I hear it all the time: "I forgive you, but I just can't trust you anymore."  "I forgive you, but I won't let myself be hurt by you again."  I forgive, but.  There were no "buts" when God forgave me. When he washed my sins away, it restored my relationship with Him as if I had never sinned.  He immediately entrusted me with His work.  The past no longer mattered, nor did the possibility of future sin.  Of course I would sin again.  And he would forgive me again, and continue to have a relationship with me.

Here's where it gets sticky.  God's forgiveness of my sins is conditional.  I have to repent (Acts 2:38; Acts 3:19).  Repentance doesn't mean I will never sin again, but it does mean that I must walk in the light to receive his forgiveness (1 John 1:7-9).  Does that mean that I only have to forgive repentant people?  Not exactly.  If someone has sinned against me, I must not hold any bitterness in my heart, regardless of whether they are sorry or not (Ephesians 4:31-32).  I must not try to get revenge on them (Romans 12:19).  But I would not suggest that a woman who has been beaten by her husband stay with  him and let him continue to abuse her.  It would not be wise to let your children anywhere near a child molester, even if he is your own father.  In cases where there is no repentance, sometimes there cannot be a reconciliation.

The forgiveness we give, though, should not be based on the seriousness of the sin.  After all, Paul abused God's own children, but after he repented, the Father sent him among those (nervous!) children to do his work.  The abusive husband who truly repents should be truly forgiven. 

In my world,  those situations are purely hypothetical.  I've never been abused; neither have my kids.  Forgiveness should not be so hard for me, but sometimes it is.  I want everyone to like me, so when someone says unkind words, I am likely to avoid them.  Instead of restoring a relationship with a sister in Christ, I spend my time figuring out how not to spend time with her.  I've soothed my conscience by saying I've forgiven her because I haven't said unkind words in return.  What if God had forgiven me that way?  "I'm not going to smite you, but you can't have a relationship with me.  I just can't trust you enough for that.  I'm not going to be that vulnerable."  I shudder even thinking it.  

On the upcoming Fridays, I'll be sharing some other ways we can give grace to others, but this one is key.  It isn't a suggestion or simply a nice thing to do.  It is a command, one with serious implications.  In God's eyes, when repentance is present, forgiveness IS the same as reconciliation.  It may be hard, but it can't be harder than what Jesus went through to forgive me.  


Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE(R), Copyright(c) 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

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