Let’s face it. Forgiveness is hard. Whether you are the one asking for it or the one giving it, it’s challenging either way. This week, I had experiences with both, and Matthew 6:14-15 says that’s the way it has to be. But whether it is our own sin we have to take before God or the sins of another that cause hatred and anger to divide a nation, the Bible is clear. God will forgive us when we forgive others, and we need both to be right with God.
Christians Hate Sin
Christians who are filled with the Holy Spirit of God hate sin. We hate it, but that doesn’t mean we don’t do it once in a while. I’m not talking about sinful thoughts that come into our minds that we quickly dismiss. I’m talking about the times when we have heard the Holy Spirit’s warnings but took that step over the line anyway. I know I’m not alone here. 1 John 1:8 says, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”
But when those sins happen, it is a very short minute between our toe touching down and the Holy Spirit’s alert that we are not right with God. And, for a Christian, this is absolutely unacceptable. Nothing is more important to us than being in right standing with Him. For one thing, sin separates us from God. Isaiah 59:2 says, “But your iniquities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear.” For another, sin is a slippery slope of more sin that can only take us further away from the path to our Lord and Savior.
So, this week, I sinned and had to ask God for forgiveness. It was one of those things where I sat on the edge of it for a minute, talking it through in my head. See, it was the end of the school year, and my teaching team and I had just been through the ringer with the kids trying to make sure all our seniors did everything they needed to do to get credit for the class to graduate. For those who didn’t, it meant calling parents and touching base with counselors and administrators.
Just four short days later, summer professional development training hit with full force including a long and involved “homework assignment” even after the meetings were over. We were tired. We were drained, and, sparing you all the gory details, I did something wrong, and I knew it was wrong. Oh, I called it something else in my head at the time, rationalizing it to make it “acceptable,” but it wasn’t. Why did I do it? Two of the sorriest reasons on the books: pride and fear.
So after the situation played out, of course, I came to God for forgiveness. By that time, I was wrecked. I had disappointed God, making excuses for sin when I knew it was wrong, and possibly harmed my Christian witness in the process. What kind of Christian was I, anyway? I was so, so sorry. I confessed my actions and the motives behind them and asked Him to help me never to do that again. He forgave me. 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” And, He restored me to right standing. Psalm 103:12 says, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.”
The enemy tried to harass me about it for a while afterward, but I reminded him about Romans 8:1: “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” I had stumbled, but I was back on my feet. Repenting was difficult because it involved acknowledging not just that I had done the wrong thing but WHY I had done it. It exposed parts of me that I didn’t want to think were still there. Facing that and the idea that I had separated myself from God, even for a few minutes, was hard, but as soon as I did, He forgave me, and just that fast I was right with Him again. But as quick as that forgiveness was and is, it does come with a small condition. We must forgive others if we expect God to forgive us.
The Sins of Others
On the other side of things, the big news this week has been the George Floyd case. He was the 46 year old Black man in Minneapolis who was arrested on a charge of passing a counterfeit bill. Even though he wasn’t resisting arrest, the police officer involved, Derek Chauvin, used excessive force to subdue him, kneeling on his neck while he cried out in pain for 6 full minutes until he fell silent, motionless. Then the officer continued his assault for another three minutes past that. The pictures and videos were clear and spoke for themselves. Chauvin and the three other police officers involved with the scene were fired. The county charged Chauvin with third degree murder and manslaughter, but Floyd’s family and many others believe that the charges are not enough. They want the county to prosecute Chauvin with first degree, premeditated murder.
George Floyd’s death has ignited protests that started in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis/St. Paul but have since spread to other cities. People are tired of the police brutality, and they are tired of the double standard with the harsh, inhumane treatment of Blacks versus the softer, more polite treatment of Whites. Even more, they are tired of a society that would seem to condone it by its very silence when it is done. But while some took to protesting in the streets, holding signs and articulating their anger and frustration to the cameras for the world to see, others threw rocks at squad cars, broke windows, vandalized and burned down buildings, and looted stores and museums.
Since that video evidence hit the airwaves, conversations began popping up all across social media. Some are angry and disgusted. Some are shocked and sympathetic. Everyone seems to be feeling some type of way about the original situation and the reactions since then. In fact, while George Floyd’s wrongful death started it, the protests have really ceased to be just about race at this point. My friend and brother in Christ J Anthony S. said, “These aren’t just racial riots occurring. The rioters and looters are of all races. People are on edge because of the virus, the failing economy, unemployment, being pinned up, all of these government and media lies, massively divisive politics, racism, injustice and more. George Floyd’s murder was just the torch thrown on a country already heavily doused in lighter fluid.”
Emotions are high. People are upset and lashing out. True colors are showing themselves on Facebook and Twitter feeds all across the world. But what is happening on the outside is just a symptom of what is happening inside the hearts of men. When Jesus spoke about the times were are in right now in Matthew 24:12, He said, “And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.” Hearts are getting colder, harder, and more embittered. But, for those who are followers Christ, that simply cannot be.
Christians Must Forgive
“Then Peter came to Him and said, ‘Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.’”Matthew 18:21-22
Pretty much everyone knows this verse, but maybe not everyone knows the context of it. In it, Peter is sure he has the right answer with the number seven. After all, the number seven is often a symbol for being complete. But Jesus goes one step further with what may be a reference to Genesis 4:23b-24. In those verses, Cain’s descendent Lamech says, “…For I have killed a man for wounding me, even a young man for hurting me. If Cain shall be avenged sevenfold, then Lamech seventy-sevenfold.” Here, Jesus seems to be saying that as much as Lamech wanted revenge, that’s how much we should be eager to forgive.
Even when it’s hard. Even when people don’t deserve it, we forgive because God tells us to forgive. Romans 12:17-21 says, “Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. Therefore, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink. For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
We Can’t Stay Silent
That doesn’t mean that we stay silent when injustice occurs, and we absolutely must call it what it is. Christians are to be both salt and light. We preserve our worlds, doing what we can to stop the moral decay in our sphere of influence. We are also to shine God’s light of goodness in an ever-darkening world. The way we do that is by loving when the world hates and forgiving when the world would exact its revenge.
Matthew 5:43-45 says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”
We Can’t Hate Others
We also can’t hate others when they react differently than we do. People feel angry. People feel hurt, frustrated, and out of control in their own worlds. We don’t condone people’s actions when they commit violent crimes, but neither should we condemn them for their anger that is a natural result of fear, not to mention injustice after injustice with no earthly end in sight. 1 John 4:20-21 says, “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also.” Instead of condemning them, we must pray for them. God will take care of justice in His time.
In the meantime, we are responsible to God for no one else’s actions but our own. We will be called to account for what we said, did, and thought in our heart of hearts, and no one else. That goes for those who are on the ground as well as those who are watching from behind their screens. Romans 12:9 says, “Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good.”
We Must Forgive to Be Forgiven
“For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”Matthew 6:14-15
The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant in Matthew 18 makes it clear. If we harbor unforgiveness in our hearts for others, we cannot expect God to hear our requests for forgiveness. Whatever men have done to us, it is nothing compared to the offenses we, ourselves, have committed against a holy God. Psalm 130:3-4 says, “If You, Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with You, that You may be feared.” God is so gracious to us when we need forgiveness, but we must forgive to be forgiven and stay in right standing with God.
And, after my stumble just this week, I would like to testify to you now, in case you haven’t experienced it for yourself recently. There is nothing on this earth that is worth giving up fellowship with God. Nothing. Mark 8:36 says, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?” We can’t let those hurt, angry feelings creep up on us and turn us bitter. That bitterness will NEVER hurt anyone else but our own hearts. Because, ultimately, God’s requirement for forgiveness is for our own good. Unforgiveness is a poison that leads to other sins and can even result in spiritual death.
Words of Wisdom
This week, in the course of conversations, a brother in Christ, Ray L, posted about three of his own experiences with racial injustice. They were minding-my-own-business but harassed-by-the-cops stories that make you grit your teeth at the unfairness of it all. But at the end of the post, his words showed the true Spirit of Christ. He said, “Despite those situations instead of holding grudges, I decided to do what the Lord did when He was arrested, wrongfully tried, and sentenced to death. I forgave.”
Jesus is our role model. He forgave those who spat at Him, beat Him, and nailed Him to a tree. Not only that, but He prayed to His Father in heaven to forgive them as well: “…’Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do’” (Luke 23:34a). He was sacrificed as a lamb, but He is coming soon as a lion.
While Satan is the prince of this earth, sin will reign in the hearts of men who do not belong to God. But there is coming a time soon when justice WILL be done. Ecclesiastes 3:17 says, “I said in mine heart, ‘God shall judge the righteous and the wicked: for there is a time there for every purpose and for every work.’” Justice is coming, and when it is done, “…it brings joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers” (Proverbs 21:15). Choose wisely on which side He will find you when He comes. Give and receive forgiveness today.
Check Out These Other Resources
If you want to forgive but don’t know how, try reading 3 Steps to Forgive From the Heart. Please subscribe in the upper right corner (or at the bottom on a phone). Also, check out my YouTube Channel. There, I read my blogs out loud and have a playlist of hymns from my church. Far from boring, they are fast, sassy, and anointed hymns and gospel songs.