September 12, 1999
Forgive As You Have Been Forgiven
Colossians 3: 12-13
Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another.
Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
St. Paul wrote to the Corinthian Church, "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away, behold the new has come." In much the same way Peter writes these words: "Once you were not a people; now you are God's people." These two Biblical writers with an inspired pen were telling us that when a person lives with Jesus Christ there is a difference in his life, in his attitude, in his or her behavior, in the spirit they carry with them.
What are some of those differences? What are some of the changes that you may see in a person who confesses faith in Jesus Christ? (Notice I mention a person who lives in a relationship with Jesus Christ. I'm not talking about a person who only confesses to be a Christian, yet shows little evidence of that faith.) During the past few Sundays I have been centering our thoughts around the general theme of what a good word from God can do in the life of a person when the Holy Spirit is permitted to make those words living truths. A few weeks ago I used as my text these words from Deuteronomy 33: "The eternal God is your resting place and underneath are His everlasting arms." These are not words only, but truly a word that will have tremendous security in knowing we do not walk through this world alone. God walks beside us at all times, in sickness and in health, in life and in death, He is that Savior who has promised to be with us always.
Last Sunday I used as my text the words from Isaiah 26: "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on thee." When the Lord has captured our hearts and our minds and we know that His is always with us, there is what the New Testament calls the peace which passes all understanding. When you live with a security and a peace like this, it is bound to be evident in your spirit, your attitude, and in your behavior. Today I would like to add to that list by including the verse from Colossians 3:13 - "Forgive as the Lord forgave you." Those are the words of St. Paul written under inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
If you are acquainted with your Bible and the Christian faith at all, you know that forgiveness is a basic truth. The Bible again and again talks about forgiveness. It is really what Christianity is all about. Christianity talks about the relationship between God and the human being, and the relationship among human beings. We have to have forgiveness because we are always sinning against someone, always hurting someone, and so God's Word talks to us continually about being forgiven. St John tells us, "If we will confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive our sins."
If we are willing to confess the things that we have done wrong, first to God and then to others, and place our faith in Jesus Christ who has suffered and died for us on the cross, we will be forgiven. The broken relationship becomes the restored relationship. That has a tremendous effect upon who we are because it takes the guilt away from us. St. Paul writes, "In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sin." It is the same truth that St. John talked about. It is not an isolated message that one disciple wants to give and the other one ignores. St. Peter writes, "He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree so that we might die to sin and live for righteousness. By His wounds you have been healed." That healing is spiritual forgiveness. He is saying you should only trust Christ, then remember that he died for your sins and nailed them to the cross through his suffering, death and glorious resurrection that the Church may announce the Gospel. The Good News is that by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone, we may be forgiven. John, Paul, Peter, they all spoke of forgiveness, as well as those in the Old Testament. But time does not permit us to do so. Over and over again Jesus said, "I forgive you." Once it was to the woman who had been taken in adultery. Her fellow men and women were condemning her. They wanted her to be stoned to death. But Jesus, when he saw her repentant heart, said to her, "I do not condemn you. Go and sin no more." He wasn't in anyway trying to overlook her sin, but was willing to forgive it and change her life that she may no longer be an adulterous woman but a real child of God.
Jesus came to Jericho to a man who was accused of stealing. Perhaps it was legal stealing, but it was still stealing. He had over taxed the people. Jesus looked into the face of Zacchaeus and said, "I forgive you." There was a difference in Zacchaeus' personality after that. He said to the crowd, "If I have stolen from any of you, I am willing to restore it four fold and half of my goods I will give to the poor." There was a real change in his person when he began to walk and to live in Jesus Christ. He became a forgiven child of God.
Remember that day on Calvary when our Lord, looking over the mass of humanity from the cross and cried out, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." So first, in this whole matter of forgiveness, we have to say that we are the forgiven children of God. But then the word of God goes on to say that because we are the forgiven children of God, we are to forgive those who have sinned against us.
Listen to the Lord Jesus again. "If you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. The Lord is willing to say, I forgive you but then you also have to forgive others. This words are not only those of Jesus. Peter also says in his letter, "Do not repay evil with evil." Vengeance belongs to God, Paul tells us his letter to the Romans. God will repay. You don't have to try to get even with a person who hurt you so badly. Leave it to God. You just forgive him. That is what Christianity is all about. St. Paul summarizes it in these few short words. "Forgive as the Lord has forgiven you."
Why is there such an emphasis on forgiveness? The answer is simple. There is within us a natural weakness to carry ill will toward someone who has wronged us. That ill will can go on to become hate. I ask you, as far as you are concerned and you allow the Holy Spirit to invade your soul, how much ill will do you have therein today? Do you harbor any hate?
One may say, No, I just dislike this person very much. I'm hurt and not able to forgive, not yet. That is a natural weakness found in the human being.
I remember so well the story by Corrie Ten Boom who tells about her sister. They were prisoners in Auschwitz. They had been sent there by the Nazis because they defended some Jewish people in their home. Corrie's sister has been especially mistreated and died in the camp. When the war was over Corrie was released. One day she was in an audience of a large number people when she spotted a former guard of this prison camp. This particular guard had not been very good to Corrie's sister and had humiliated her in so many ways that Corrie hated him while she was there. But now they were both free people, how could she face him and what would she say if she had to come into contact with him.
The circumstances of the night brought them into contact with one another and he recognized her. He said to her, "I have become a believer in Jesus Christ. Will you forgive me for what I did to you and your sister." Corrie goes on to explain the terrible feeling in her soul even then. As she spoke there was an intense hate. She could have hit him, spit on him, or turned her back on him. But while the sinful will was working overtime, the Holy Spirit was also working, and Corrie was given the grace to extend her hand and say, "I forgive you."
This is not just emotionalism. It is not forgiving without any thought at all. It is the Holy Spirit at work. If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation. Corrie Ten Boom, Homer Larsen and yourself can never manufacture that kind of forgiveness. It is the Holy Spirit at work. A good word spoken from God at the right time can bring a real change. Corrie was a changed individual. This does not come easy. We are told to forgive those who have hurt us. But I think that there is a lesson for us to learn here.
Some time ago a certain man, Mr. Dennis Prager, wrote in the Wall Street Journal, "The bodies of three teenage girls murdered by a fellow class mate at Heath High School in East Paducah, Kentucky were not yet cold before the students of a Christian prayer group announced, 'We forgive you, Mike” referring to the murderer." Mr. Prager goes on to say, "It is not biblically correct to say that Christians are to forgive everyone who commits evil against anyone, no matter how cruel, and whether or not the evil doer repents. It is the Christian's duty to forgive just as Jesus forgave those who crucified Him. Jesus never asked God to forgive those who had crucified thousands of others presumably because he recognized that no one has the moral right to forgive evil done to others."
I cannot forgive somebody for doing evil to you. I am not involved in that. I can only forgive that person who has personally hurt me and one of those I love thereby hurting me. It has to be that close. It is that intimate. This is not a little bit of emotion. It is really the work of the Holy Spirit. Happy is the person who has been empowered by God to forgive those who have hurt him or her. "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, the new has come." The old is hate and resentment; the new is forgiveness and love.
Rev. Homer Larsen