How many of you have someone that you’re having a hard time forgiving? Of all the one another commands—love one another, accept one another, and so on—none more difficult or costly than this one: forgive one another.
But none is more necessary either. How many of you are sinners? Look at that—it’s universal! We’re all imperfect. We all fail. I tell married couples, “Take two imperfect people and put them under the same roof for a lifetime—that’s a wicked soup!” Put hundreds or thousands of imperfect people in a church—that’s a mess! Forgiveness is the glue that holds imperfect people together. Lots’s of forgiveness. But it isn’t easy.
Let’s look at the two verses on the top of your outline.
Ephesians 4:32 (p.1008) Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
Colossians 3:13 (p. 1017) Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
Both of them say that we are to forgive one another as Christ has forgiven us. Each week, we’ve said that God only asks us to do for each other what He has already done for us. God tells us to forgive one another. Why? He has already forgiven us. So we are to forgive each other as Christ has forgiven us.
The Big Idea: We are to forgive one another as Christ has forgiven us. How has Christ forgiven us?
How has Christ forgiven us? Here are five characteristics of God’s forgiveness that we need to pass on to each other, then take to the world.
1. Jesus has forgiven us completely.
Jesus has forgiven us completely. He has forgiven all our sins. Every sin you’ve ever committed or ever will commit—all your sins are forgiven! Look at:
Colossians 2:13–14 (p. 1016)
13 When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14 having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.
He forgave how many sins? All our sins. All of them—past, present and future. All of them. And Paul drives this home by pointing to Jesus’ death on the cross, where Jesus took the bill of our indebtedness and nailed it to the cross. Paul pictures our sins as a legal bill or a moral debt that we’ve accumulated, and Jesus pays that bill in full on the cross. The penalty for sin is death, and Jesus paid it all. This is the meaning of His final shout of triumph as He died.
John 19:30 (p. 932)
When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
You might read that as a weary sigh of resignation: “It is finished. It is finally over.” But the word Jesus uses is the Greek word tetelesthai, which means, “to bring something to an end or completion.” This is a shout of triumph. Jesus has finished what He came to do; the great work of redemption is completely accomplished. The word tetelesthai was also used commercially—it meant “paid in full.” This is what was stamped upon a bill when it had been fully paid.
I think this is what Paul had in mind when he wrote in Colossians 2 that Jesus forgave all our sins, nailing our bill to the cross and shouting, “It is finished—paid in full.”
This is what the author of Hebrews meant when he wrote that Jesus died for our sins once for all. One time for all sins. One Savior for all people. Jesus forgave all our sins. One more verse:
1 John 1:7 (p. 1054) But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.
Jesus purifies us from how much sin? All sin—past, present and future. You are completely forgiven.
Forgive one another as Christ has forgiven you. Forgive one another completely—for everything.
To forgive literally means “to let go, to send away.” It means I refuse to hang on to that offense, or the hurt, or the desire for revenge. I let it go. I send it away. To forgive completely means that I not only let go of your past or present sins, but even your future ones. I decide to never hold anything against you. I decide to create an environment of forgiveness in our relationship, so you never have to wonder, “Will he forgive me?” Yes. Every time. That’s how Jesus forgives us, and how we’re to forgive each other.
It’s hard to forgive; it’s especially hard to forgive repeated sins. It is hard enough to forgive someone once, or twice, but when they keep on sinning, keep on offending and hurting you over and over, it’s really hard to keep on forgiving. And yet that is what Jesus does for us, and what He commands us to do for each other. We’re all repeat sinners! We all need repeated forgiveness.
Once I got into an argument with a friend of mine and said some things I regretted. After I cooled down, I sought him out and apologized and asked him to forgive me. He said, “I’ll forgive you this time, but don’t ever let it happen again.” Somehow, I didn’t feel very forgiven. I walked away with my sin still hanging over my head.
That’s not how Jesus forgives us…aren’t you glad? He forgives us completely, even if we fall and fail again, and again, and again.
Forgive one another completely—just as Jesus has forgiven you.
2. Jesus has forgiven us generously.
Jesus has forgiven us generously. That is the meaning of the word “forgive” here in Ephesians 4 and Colossians 3. The word is charizomai; it comes from the root charis that means grace. This word literally means “to give freely, to give generously, to give graciously as a favor; extending grace”. It’s a beautiful word and a beautiful idea. To forgive is to extend grace. To forgive is to give freely, generously, graciously more than is deserved.
The best illustration of this is found in Matthew 18:21-35 (p. 844). Peter asked Jesus how many times he should forgive his brother when he sins against him, and then supplies an answer, “Up to seven times?” Peter thought he was being very generous. The Jewish rabbis taught that you had to forgive three times, and then weren’t obligated to extend grace. So Peter took the number 3, doubled it and added one for good measure. “Up to seven times?” I can just see Peter waiting for a big pat on the back. Instead Jesus gives him a whack on the side of the head! Jesus said, “Not seven times, Peter, but seventy times seven.” Jesus doesn’t mean that we keep a record of sins up to 490—what a bookkeeping nightmare that would be! Seventy times seven means unlimited forgiveness. Forgive freely, generously.
Jesus illustrated what He meant with a story about a king who decided to settle accounts with his servants. Amazingly, one servant had accumulated a staggering debt: ten thousand talents, roughly 10,000 lifetimes of wages! Since he wasn’t able to pay, the king ordered that he and his wife and children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt—kind of the ultimate bankruptcy liquidation sale…everything goes, including you. The servant fell on his knees and begged for mercy: “Give me time and I’ll pay back everything.” It was a ridiculous request; the debt would take 10,000 lifetimes to pay back. Look at verse 27: “The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.” Billions of dollars of debt just wiped out, forgiven…just like that. Who absorbed the loss? The King. Would you say that’s generous? Very!
So what did this servant do? He left and found another servant who owed him a hundred days wages—a drop in the bucket compared to 10,000 lifetimes— and demanded payment. But when this servant begged him for mercy just as he had begged the king only moments before, he had a different response. He threw his fellow servant in prison. He had just been forgiven billions, but he wouldn’t forgive another man a few thousand.
When the king heard about this, he was incensed and called this idiot in. “You wicked servant. I canceled all that debt of yours because you asked me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?” Then he threw that servant in prison until he paid back all he owed. Jesus finished by saying, “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.” You can’t afford to be stingy with forgiveness!
So Peter asks, “How often should I forgive? How generous should I be with forgiveness.” And Jesus answers, “Be as generous forgiving others as God has been forgiving you. God has generously forgiven everything, a huge debt you owed Him. Now don’t be stingy with others. Forgive generously.”
Forgive one another just as Christ has forgiven you: generously.
3. Jesus has forgiven us readily.
Jesus has forgiven us readily. Look at these two verses.
Psalm 86:5 (NASB) “For You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive, and abundant in lovingkindness to all who call upon You.”
Several other translations use that same phrase: ready to forgive. What does it mean to be ready to forgive? It means that you have already decided ahead of time what your response will be. You will forgive. You have determined that the forgiveness will be the climate of your relationships, the environment in which you will relate to others. If your spouse fails, he or she is already forgiven. You’ve already decided. If your child sins, he or she is already forgiven. It’s not up for debate. If your friend sins, he or she is already forgiven. You are ready to forgive. You forgive people before they even ask for forgiveness.
Luke 23:34 (p. 908) Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
Had they asked for forgiveness? No. In fact, when He prayed this, they were crucifying Him, mocking Him, tormenting Him. No one was asking for forgiveness. But He was giving it anyway, before they asked. He was ready to forgive; He had already decided.
Forgive one another just as Christ has forgiven you: readily. Forgiveness should be the climate of our families, our friendships and our church. If you sin, if you fail, you shouldn’t have to wonder, “Will I be forgiven?” You should know, “Of course I’ll be forgiven. God forgives me and I know my brothers and sisters will too. We’re all forgiven and we’re ready to forgive.”
Jerry Cook, in his book Love, Acceptance and Forgiveness, tells this story.
A well-known pastor in Jerry’s town became involved in adultery. His marriage failed, his ministry collapsed, and his church splintered, scattering hurting and confused people all over town.
A year and half later, Jerry received a phone call at 7:30 one Sunday morning. It was this former pastor, who asked, “Would you mind if my wife and I came to church this morning?”
Jerry said, “Why would you even call and ask that question? Of course we wouldn’t mind.”
“Well,” he said, “you know this is my second wife and I am divorced from my first. Are you aware of this?”
Jerry said, “Sure, I’m aware of it.”
This guy had been turned away at the door by other churches; some had called him ahead of time and asked him not to come. By now he was weeping. “I know that you have video for overflow crowds. If you want you can put us in a room where no one will see us and let us watch the service.”
Jerry said, “Listen, you be there and I’ll welcome you at the door.” He came with his wife and their little baby. They came late and sat in the back.
The compounding thing was that many of the people who had been hurt through his fall were now a part of Jerry’s congregation. Nevertheless, they extended grace to him, and the Lord did a remarkable healing. Jerry said he will never forget this man burying his head on Jerry’s shoulder, weeping like a baby, and saying, “Jerry, can you love me? I’ve spent my life loving people but I need someone to love me now.” Over a period of months and years, he wept his way back to God and to wholeness.
Did you notice Jerry’s response when the man called and asked if he could come to church? “Why would you even ask that? Of course you can come.” Jerry was ready to forgive. He had made up his mind, and his church had decided to be a place where sinners would be forgiven and loved and accepted. They were ready.
In fact, one day a pastor friend of Jerry’s called him, very upset. He said, “You know what you are out there? You’re nothing but a bunch of garbage collectors.”
As Jerry thought about that, he realized the guy was right! That’s exactly what the church is supposed to be! What were we before Jesus found us? Weren’t we all just garbage, in one sense? Jesus finds us and recycles us and makes something beautiful out of our lives. Where is God going to send the garbage for recycling if he can’t send it to our doorstep? Where do we go when we need to be forgiven?
Forgiveness needs to be the environment of the church. You come here, and you don’t have to wonder, “Will they forgive me?” Of course we will. We’re ready to forgive, just like Jesus was.
Forgiveness needs to be the environment of our marriages and families and friendships too. Too many spouses and kids and friends fail and then have to wonder, “Will they forgive me this time? Will they forgive me without a bitter aftertaste? Will they forgive me, but only after I’ve been made to squirm or suffer for awhile?” Jesus has forgiven you completely, generously, readily. Forgive others even before they ask! Make up your mind to forgive the same way Jesus has forgiven you.
4. Jesus has forgiven us forgetfully.
Jesus has forgiven us forgetfully. The Bible says that when God forgives, He forgets. Now this doesn’t mean that God couldn’t remember if He wants to; of course He could remember. But He chooses to forget.
Occasionally I have lapses of memory. Someone last week called it a “senior moment”. As you get older, you lose things. Of all the things I’ve lost, I miss my mind the most!
But God doesn’t have senior moments, lapses of memory. He can remember everything, but thankfully, He chooses not to. He chooses to forget our sins.
Jeremiah 31:34 (p. 680)
34 No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the Lord. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”
This is the new covenant that God made with us through Jesus—we are forgiven and our sin is forgotten—God chooses to forget, to remember no more. This passage from Jeremiah is repeated in Hebrews 8 describing the new covenant. “I will remember your sins no more.”
This became real to me in college. I was struggling with a particular sin, and when I’d done it again, I came to the Lord very upset. “I did it again, Lord. I’m sorry, I did it again.” And in a quiet moment, the Lord spoke to me and said, “Did what again? There is no ‘again.’ I’ve forgiven you and forgotten. As far as I’m concerned, this is the first time you did this. And I forgive you.” I realized that I had a better memory than God.
This is what God wants you to know about forgiveness. When your sins are forgiven, they are forgotten. Your sin is gone, dead, crucified, remembered no more. What God forgives, He chooses to forget.
Forgive one another just as Christ has forgiven you: forgetfully. What does that look like? It means that we don’t hold on to sins or grudges; we don’t keep bringing them up over and over, throwing them back in people’s faces. We let go of it, send it away and choose to forget.
I just finished a novel by Liane Moriarty entitled, What Alice Forgot. Alice is 39 when she falls during a spin class and hits her head. When she wakes up, she has lost the last 10 years of memory. She thinks it’s 1998 instead of 2008, that she is newly-married to Nick, they are wildly in love, and expecting their first child. She is stunned to learn that she has three children she cannot remember. Even worse, she is horrified to learn that she and Nick are separated and in the midst of an ugly divorce and custody battle. She has no memory of the last ten years—of the thousand little hurts, the disappointments and betrayals. She can’t imagine not loving Nick.
Most of the book is about her trying to live without her memory, and how it begins to change relationships that have been broken in the last 10 years. Nick begins to thaw toward her, but bets her $20 that as soon as her memory returns, she’ll want nothing to do with him.
When her memory does return, Alice is faced with a choice. Do I want to be the person I was 10 years ago before all this negative stuff happened, or do I want to be the angry, uptight, bitter person I’ve become? Alice remembers both—and gets to choose what she wants to keep or send away. It’s a fascinating book—and an intriguing look at forgiveness as forgetting—choosing to forget.
What if you could just erase all the bad memories, all the hurt and disappointment and start over. I’m not saying it’s easy. But that’s what forgiveness can do. It can give you and the other person a fresh start. We choose to forgive and forget—to not hang on to that hurt any more.
A boy and his mom had been to a shopping mall and the boy had been naughty. As they were driving home, he could sense her displeasure and said, “When we ask God to forgive us when we are bad, He does, doesn’t He?” His mother replied, “Yes, He does.” The boy continued, “And when he forgives us, He buries our sins in the deepest sea, doesn’t He?” The mom replied, “Yes, that’s what the Bible says.” The boy was silent for awhile and then said, “I’ve asked God to forgive me, but I bet when we get home, you’re going to go fishing for those sins, aren’t you?”
If we’re going to forgive one another like Jesus does, we’ll have choose to forget. No fishing allowed!
5. Jesus has forgiven us sacrificially.
Jesus has forgiven us sacrificially.
Matthew 26:26-28 (p. 853)
26 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.”
27 Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. 28 This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”
Jesus forgave us by absorbing the pain and punishment for our sins. I want to point out that forgiveness is free, but it isn’t cheap. It is very costly and can be very painful. It cost Jesus His life to forgive us. The pain of crucifixion is unimaginable—he suffered that for you, to forgive you. He poured out His blood to forgive our sins. Forgiveness is the most costly thing in the world.
Forgive one another just as Christ has forgiven you: sacrificially. In one sense, all forgiveness is sacrificial. Some is more costly than others, but it is all sacrificial. It costs the forgiver. You absorb the pain. You give up the desire for revenge. You let go of judgment and hatred and anger. You pay the price. All forgiveness is sacrificial; that’s what makes it so hard, and that’s what makes it so healing.
Jack was doing 73 in a 55 zone when the cop pulled him over. It would be his fourth speeding ticket in as many months. He was annoyed and angry, and then he saw the cop get out of his car. It was Bob, a guy from his church! Maybe Bob would go easy on him.
They chatted for a moment; Jack did his best to schmooze Bob. But it soon became apparent that Bob wasn’t going to just let him off. While Jack sat behind the wheel, Bob wrote him up. When he was done, Bob folded the ticket, handed it to Jack and went back to his car.
Jack opened the ticket and was surprised to see that it wasn’t a ticket at all. It was a hand-written note, and here is what it said.
“Jack, once I had a daughter. She was 6 when killed by a speeding driver. A fine and three months in jail, and the man was free. Free to hug his daughters. All three of them. I only had one, and I’m going to have to wait until heaven to hug her again. A thousand times I’ve tried to forgive that man. A thousand times I thought I had. Maybe I did, but I need to do it again. Even now. Pray for me. And be careful. My son is all I have left. Bob.
Jack watched Bob’s car pull away and disappear down the road. He sat there a long time before he pulled away and drove slowly home, praying for forgiveness, and hugging his surprised wife and kids when he arrived.
Do you think it was easy for Bob? Every speeding ticket he wrote was a sacrifice. Forgiveness is free, but it’s never cheap. Think of how much Jesus gave for you to be forgiven. Is there someone you need to forgive, but it’s seemed too costly? Forgive one another as Christ has forgiven you. It cost Him everything.