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My friend and I have had an ongoing discussion about the order and relationship between repentance and forgiveness. He argues that forgiveness of another person is pointless unless that person repents and desires to be forgiven. My point is that it is his obligation to first, not only offer forgiveness, but to, in fact, forgive.
I’ve found that many Christians struggle with forgiveness. I believe many of us, at our core, find it difficult to comprehend the magnitude of Jesus’ sacrifice “while we were yet sinners” (Romans 5:8), and are still endeavoring to earn that forgiveness. Yet, struggle as we might, that is a reality of our faith. He forgives us. That forgiveness is then cemented when we, in faith, receive that forgiveness and repent.
While we struggle with our forgiveness from God, we struggle even more with our forgiveness of others. Jesus, over and over, states that there is a direct relationship between God’s forgiveness of us and our forgiveness of others. He makes this very clear in His parable of the unmerciful servant found in Matthew 18:21-35. Peter was asking Jesus how many times he should forgive someone who sins against him. Jesus said not just 7 times, but 70 x 7 times. Then Jesus went on to tell of the servant who owed the king over $10,000,000. Of course the man was not able to pay that, just like we are unable to pay for our own sins. The servant begs the king to be patient with him (like he was going to be able to pay that back in his lifetime!). But the king instead forgives the debt. It is canceled, erased from history – what Jesus does to our sins. Then this servant goes out to a man who owes him about $200 and demands that he pays. The man begs for grace but the servant has him thrown into jail, no forgiveness. The king is very upset. After he had been forgiven so much, why could he not forgive this little debt of this other man? Jesus points out that we need to forgive others from our heart.
Often, we want to attack those around us who “owe” us a paltry amount, but forget that we have been forgiven a king’s ransom. To fail to forgive others does not encourage or enable their repentance; only our forgiveness can do that. In fact, to withhold forgiveness only pollutes our own lives. Further, that root of bitterness can poison the well of all our relationships, even our relationship with God.
I find solace in the fact that the very thing I have difficulty in forgiving in others is the very thing that God has already forgiven through the sacrifice of Jesus. However badly someone may have hurt us, their Heavenly Father has already forgiven that child of God.
In His Service,