At one time or the other everyone had had to use these words, “…please forgive…” Whether you were pleading for yourself or for someone else; or somebody was pleading to you. They are words we say often, especially if you are a Christian. Forgiveness is significant because of offenses. The prevalence of offenses makes it a necessity to forgive often. In fact, Jesus Christ taught us to forgive a person more than seventy times seven (490) times a day (Matt.18:22). That was a figurative way of teaching us to forgive infinitely. But as human beings we find it difficult to stop keeping count of offenses!
Another issue of much concern is how we forgive. How often have you heard someone say, “I have forgiven, but….” You can complete that sentence with a whole lot of things. …but I would not talk to him again; …but I would not like to see him again; …but I would not… We say we have forgiven but we place a boundary as a result of the offense which was committed. This is because, once hurt, we do not want to be hurt again.
The online English dictionary defines forgive as follows;
1. to grant pardon for or remission of (an offense, debt, etc.); absolve.
2. to give up all claim on account of; remit (a debt, obligation, etc.).
3. to grant pardon to (a person).
4. to cease to feel resentment against: to forgive one's enemies.
5. to cancel an indebtedness or liability of: to forgive the interest owed on a loan.
To summarize, the English dictionary associates forgiveness with pardon and remission. To pardon means, to release from the penalty of an offense, a remission of penalty; and remission is defined as the relinquishment of a payment, obligation, etc. In simpler terms, remission means, to erase, delete, abandon and make immaterial the consequences of an offense.
In Greek writings as well as in New Testament manuscripts, forgiveness is, “aphiemi.” It means, let go, send away, remit, to disregard, to discharge someone from legal relationship; release, liberation. It means to release, as from bondage, imprisonment, etc. It means, pardon, of sins (properly, the letting them go, as if they had not been committed), remission of their penalty.
In any case, we can see that it is not forgiveness if you did not release the person from the consequences (penalty) of that offense. It is not forgiveness if we still place boundaries and restrictions as a result of the offense committed.
Forgiveness was demonstrated in Levt.25. The law of Jubilee demands creditors to release their fellow Israelites who owe them, at Jubilee (v.39-43). And that would not prevent the same creditor from lending to the same debtor again!
It is a saying that, to err is human and to forgive is Divine! Indeed, forgiveness is Divine. We need to look at forgiveness from God’s own perspective so as to know how to forgive. When God forgave us through faith in Christ Jesus, He did not only release us from the consequences of our sins, but also he exposed Himself to further hurts from those whom He forgave. In 1 John 1:8-10, reads,
“8If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. 9But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. 10If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts.”
That is how we are pre-disposed to hurting God through sin even after we have been forgiven by Him.
When God forgives He releases us from the penalty of that sin, and treats us as though the sin was never committed. And this is the same attitude that God requires of everyone who professes Christ. It is a command that we should forgive even as God Himself forgives. Matt.6:12,
“Forgive us for our sins, just as we have forgiven those who sinned against us.”
Did you notice the comparison? Furthermore, it said in v.14, “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
Some translations use the word, “trespass” in the place of sin. A trespass against you is that action of someone else which hurts you; it is doing to you what offends you or what you do not like. It is not necessarily the breaking of God’s commandments, but it is the breaking of your own “commandments” by someone else. When that happens, we are demanded to forgive and let go even as God forgives. Write it off completely; relate with that person as though the offence never occurred. And do not keep count of how many times you have been offended by the same person. This is what it means to live in the atmosphere of forgiveness! This is living the life of God on earth!!
Does this concept of forgiveness give license to unbridled sin? Not necessarily. Our God is a Disciplinarian! God has stipulated high moral standards that cannot be compromised for anybody. Even the Gospel of Grace does not nullify or diminish God’s demands on moral purity. In fact, the closer you are to God the more disciplined you would be. The scriptures made it obvious that the God of forgiveness is also the God of discipline. Let’s check out few examples;
The sexually immoral church members should be handed over to the devil. Read the verdict of Apostle Paul on this issue. “It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man is sleeping with his father’s wife… I have already passed judgment in the name of our Lord Jesus on the one who has been doing this. 4 So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, 5 hand this man over to Satan…” (1Cor.5:1-5). That sounds too harsh! But that is Divine discipline. A person who professes Christ as Saviour; accommodated in the Church as a brother, but indulges in wicked practices as of habit, should be ex-communicated from the Body of Believers. He is not a genuine believer in Christ.
Social boycotts for behavioral deviants. Professed Christians who live immoral lives are not supposed to be accommodated as “Brethren.” Paul further warned the Corinthians and said, “I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. 11 But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people. 12 What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? 13 God will judge those outside. Expel the wicked person from among you.” If Pastors and Church Leaders would do a survey of our members, and apply this scripture, many people would be expelled from the Church. But not expelling them is like being more merciful than God Himself. It is like loving the people of God more than God Himself. Jesus said that a little leaven leavens the whole lump! When you leave out discipline, character corruption spreads like wild fire! The Gospel of Grace and Forgiveness does not forbear the application of discipline that is rightfully deserved.
Do not tell them ‘God bless you’. It was not only Paul who blended the Gospel of Grace with discipline, but John the Beloved also did. The teaching of John was that, those who pervert the Gospel of Christ should not even be entertained or welcomed by us. 2 John 1:10 reads, “10If anyone comes to your meeting and does not teach the truth about Christ, don’t invite that person into your home or give any kind of encouragement. 11 Anyone who encourages such people becomes a partner in their evil work.” That sounds tough! Yea, Christians are supposed to be tough on those who cross the blood line. Being lenient to someone who trespasses the Gospel is character weakness! It invokes God’s anger. What the enlightened societies of the world today call tolerance is actually compromise and disobedience in God’s own view.
Forgiveness and Discipline are components of love. Love is incomplete if it involves only forgiveness without discipline. Through love God forgives our sins, and also corrects our wrong attitudes through discipline. Heb.12:5-11,“5And have you forgotten the encouraging words God spoke to you as his children? He said, “My child, don’t make light of the LORD’s discipline, and don’t give up when he corrects you. 6For the LORD disciplines those he loves, and he punishes each one he accepts as his child.”7As you endure this divine discipline, remember that God is treating you as his own children. Who ever heard of a child who is never disciplined by its father? 8If God doesn’t discipline you as he does all of his children, it means that you are illegitimate and are not really his children at all. 9Since we respected our earthly fathers who disciplined us, shouldn’t we submit even more to the discipline of the Father of our spirits, and live forever? 10For our earthly fathers disciplined us for a few years, doing the best they knew how. But God’s discipline is always good for us, so that we might share in his holiness. 11No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way.”
The God of love and forgiveness is also the God of discipline. The above scriptures go to illustrate that Christians are not bunch of fools. They are not those you take advantage of over and over again and they do nothing about it. The Christian culture is pure love, holiness, trust, humility, gentleness, and everything else Godly. Anybody in the Christian fold who manifests contrary attributes or attitudes is deemed a stench in the ointment; spots in our feast of love. Jude described them with these words,
“These people are blemishes at your love feasts, eating with you without the slightest qualm—shepherds who feed only themselves. They are clouds without rain, blown along by the wind; autumn trees, without fruit and uprooted—twice dead. 13They are wild waves of the sea, foaming up their shame; wandering stars, for whom blackest darkness has been reserved forever.”
We must make a difference between those who trespassed against us and never felt remorse about it, and those who deeply repented of it. When someone has shown contrition for his or her wrongs, and shows that he or she has turned away from it, the person should be forgiven and treated as if the offense never existed. But where such repentance does not exist, when you forgive (and you should do), guard yourself against further hurts. That is to say, you love the person so much as to forgive him, but you hate his attitude so much that you would guard yourself against being a victim. When we find it difficult to forgive we are actually giving in to bitterness, strife, pride, and several other spiritual sins.
We can see from the above that, Divine discipline provides a balance to grace and forgiveness. Grace and forgiveness express their full benefits in a repentant heart. No matter the offense; no matter how deep the hurt; once the fellow genuinely repents and turns away from those negative behavior that hurt us, the full force of forgiveness should apply. To keep reminding a man of his failure despite his obvious repentance and turning around is sheer unforgiveness; just as sanctioning an offender despite his expressed repentance and change in attitude is manifest ungodliness. On the other hand, to expose yourself over and over again, to someone who has hurt you despite his being unrepentant, is sheer stupidity, and at best naivety.
Indeed, real forgiveness is Divine. May God grant us the grace to forgive from our hearts; and the wisdom and inner strength to separate from those who constitute spots in our feast of love.
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“Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father..." (John 14:12).