This is probably the worst title I’ve ever written for a blog post. But I think this post is going to violate a lot of the unspoken rules I set for myself when I adhere to when I blog:
This is going to be long, which means I won’t have time to hunt down images, and I’m also writing it largely for my own pleasure and for the Lord’s: I’ve been gazing at God today, and I don’t just want to write it down: I want to proclaim it.
Consider yourself forewarned.
I started reading Crazy Love by Francis Chan today. He has some videos posted on the website for the book, and he refers the reader to them at certain points. In one of the videos, he talks about how God forgives us because He wants a relationship with us.
I’ve heard that a million times before and I believe it to be true, but something today struck me about the nature of the forgiveness that not only puts aside sin, but also desires a relationship with the sinner. God didn’t just forgive us because we needed the forgiveness. He didn’t just forgive us and then, after we were forgiven, say, “Oh, now you are clean! Look at how nice you look, all dressed in white. I would like to have a relationship with you.”
When You Forgive and Can’t Forget
I think everyone’s experienced this scenario: Someone wrongs you. You say you forgive them because you know it’s the right thing to do. But every time you see them, you can’t help but to hear the things they said to you (or about you), or think about what they did to you, and you rant to yourself, How can this person expect to get off scott-free after what he/she did??
It’s clear to the person who wronged you (and everyone else who’s privy to the situation) that you haven’t really forgiven him/her. But you still insist, “No, I forgave.” So many people say, “I’ll forgive it, but I’ll never forget it.”
When You Forgive and — Oh, Just Forget It
Here’s another scenario: Someone wrongs you. You say you forgive them because you know it’s the right thing to do. You try really hard not to treat them any differently, but you can’t help but to be suspicious that they haven’t really changed, and that they’ll just keep doing the same thing to you or to other people.
Maybe you don’t say anything because, after all, you said you’d forgiven them. It would be ungracious of you to say, “If you had really repented, then you wouldn’t be doing this or that.” So you keep it to yourself, but, now that your eyes have been opened to the depths of that other person’s sin and the shallows of their remorse, it changes your relationship. After a while, the relationship is practically non-existent. You don’t bear that person any ill will, but you certainly aren’t as close as you once were, and maybe you never will be.
Just Plain Forgiven
In both of the above scenarios, a relationship was lost because one person sinned and the other person had a hard time forgiving — that is to say, both people sinned. But God’s forgiveness isn’t like that. He didn’t forgive us and then cautiously wait to see how it would change us. He forgave us and then eagerly loved us. He didn’t just reserve judgment. He took care of it; judgment is no longer in the picture for the one who’s forgiven.
What blows my mind is that God wanted to have a relationship with us. We killed His Son. He didn’t just die for us; He died because of us. I imagine trying to forgive the murderer of someone I loved dearly. After telling him I forgave him and maybe sharing the gospel with him, would I take him gifts in jail? Would I visit him? Write him letters? Would I pursue his friendship? Would I want to marry him, even though he was so messed up that he just killed someone I loved more than anyone else?
That is exactly what God did. It wasn’t good enough for Him that our sins were paid for. He needed to pursue us, to draw us into a relationship with Him.
Ephesians 4:32 exhorts us to “[forgive] one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” But I think I always approached this in the wrong way. I would focus on just trying not to be mad at the person. I would tell myself, “Christ forgave me; I should forgive her.” “What she did isn’t nearly as bad as some of the things Christ has forgiven me for.” “This is really dishonoring to Christ. I need to just obey!” “What is wrong with me? Why can’t I let this go??”
But what I didn’t think about was why Christ forgave me. It was because He loved me. God knows me; He knows all of my sins. And, yet, He loves me. I don’t deserve His love. But, because He loved me, He sent His son to die for me. And, so, forgiveness began with love, led to death, and will end in life abundant.
Maybe instead of trying to be a better person and trying to do the right thing, I should try to see that other person as Christ saw me. That person was wrong, and she sinned against me. I was wrong, and I sinned against God. Trying to minimize the severity of the other person’s sin never helps. That’s man’s forgiveness; forgiving because the matter is trivial. That cheapens forgiveness. God forgives not because the sin is small, but because His grace is great. To trivialize the sin is dangerous and untrue.
Either Way, Someone’s Gonna Pay
But remember that God loves this person anyway. When He looks at her, His heart swells with love for her. His heart is filled with compassion for her because her sin has overcome her to the point where she’s hurting others with it. Maybe she’s even callous to the severity of her sin — that should provoke fear and trembling in you. There’s no mourning in heaven, but she will certainly wish that she had not been so cavalier about sin while she lived on earth. When she’s made like Christ, she will love His glory more than anything else, and she will understand how dear these small opportunities to honor Him are, and she will come as close to regretting as you can when you’re engaging in perfect worship of the perfect King.
And if she’s not a believer, the fear and trembling become unbearable. If she’s a believer, then Christ has paid for her sin; you should not (and really cannot) hold it against her. But if she’s not, then she will pay for her own sin, and that is a dreadful, dreadful thought. She will burn in hell because of what she did to you, and it will bring you no comfort.
Back to Love
So, anyway, back to Christ’s love: He loves her. He doesn’t just love her with a generic love, closing His eyes to her sin. He knows her, and He loves her for who she is; who He created her to be. I know that God sees us as though we’ve lived the perfect life of Christ, but I don’t think we show up to heaven as though we’re all just dressed up like Jesus for Halloween: “Oh, it’s My Son. Come on in!” “Hey, there you are again! Didn’t you just come through here? Well, no matter, go right through.” “Boy, you certainly move fast! I could swear I just let you in! Anyway, Mi casa es su casa.”
No, He knows us intimately, and He will call us by name. There are things about me that I think He loves. I know how prideful that sounds, but it really isn’t if you remember that He’s the one who created me in the first place. I think He laughs when I crack a joke. I think He is proud of me when I write, the way a father swells with pride when his daughter learns how to write, “Hapy brithdy dady I love yoU.” He delights in us, and I don’t think it’s because He grits His teeth, shuts His eyes, and mumbles, “JESUS, JESUS, JESUS” to Himself.
This is the tender, intimate love with which He loves us. This is the tender, intimate love with which He loves the person who has wronged you. God is pleading with you, “If you knew her as I do, if you loved her as I do, it would be a joy for you to forgive.”
What is Impossible with Man
Sometimes, we think that forgiveness might seem possible, but that reconciliation is a whole other ball game. Maybe you’ve heard or even been part of this conversation:
“Yeah, we talked, and I forgave him.”
“That’s great! So, you guys are good?”
“Well… not really. I mean, I forgave him, but it’s still pretty awkward.”
“But that’ll pass.”
“I’m not so sure. I mean, I’ve forgiven him, and I don’t hold anything against him, really. But this is just one of those things; our relationship has changed, and I don’t think it’ll ever go back to the way things were.”
My big question here is: Why not??
Some people will balk at this question. They’ll think it’s insensitive. They’ll think it’s offensive. They’ll think it’s judgmental. They’ll think it’s naive.
But that doesn’t answer the question. When God forgave us, it made our relationship with Him better. When He forgave us, He didn’t just pay our debt and then leave it up to us to pursue Him. He forgave us joyfully, and eagerly pursued a relationship with us. It’s what makes His love so irresistible. How can you resist the person who forgives you warmly when you confess and repent before Him, and then lavishes you with gifts and throws an arm around your neck and can’t stop introducing you as His best friend, and jumping up and down because He’s so excited that He can love on you all He wants now?
Men are funny, though, and some of them just can’t receive this kind of love. There are the Javerts of the world who are offered grace and would rather die than receive it. Just because you extend this kind of lavish love and forgiveness to someone doesn’t mean that the offender will receive it. In that case, there really is nothing you can do.
But be honest with yourself: are you relieved that you can blame the failure of the relationship on him instead of actually having to make good on the grace you offered? This lack of blame will be of no comfort to you if your offer was half-hearted. Your conscience will only be clear if your heart was the heart of Christ and you sincerely wanted to love the offender and laugh with him and fellowship with him and worship together with him. If this was your heart, you’ll feel grief, not relief, when he rejects your grace.
And if he receives it — what joy! What a beautiful testimony of Christ! Christ exhorts us to love one another because this is how the world will know that we are His: if we love one another.
When God forgave us, He wasn’t just demonstrating His love for us. He wasn’t just demonstrating His power over sin and death. He was also showing us the power that we would have at our disposal through His Holy Spirit. He forgave us. US! We killed His Son! We spat on Him! We beat Him! We hurled sticks and stones and insults at Him!
How can we believe that He can forgive us of all of those things, and then believe that He cannot empower us to forgive? He showed us it was possible when He forgave us. And He can empower us to do the impossible! He can!
In His Shoes
Once again, you might think I’m being naive or oversimplifying things. You might think to yourself, “She has clearly never been wronged the way this person has wronged me.” And you’re right. I really haven’t had all that much practice forgiving others. People in general are pretty good to me, and I very rarely find myself in a position where someone is asking me to forgive them. And, even then, it’s usually a pretty minor offense; something I didn’t even notice, or something that I totally didn’t take the wrong way.
But I have spent quite a bit of time on the other side of that fence. I have sinned deeply and grievously against others. I have had to confess, repent, and ask for forgiveness many times, and for serious things. Sometimes, I hate that I’m always the one who’s wrong, that I’m the one who goes around hurting everyone else. I think people must despise me because I’m such a screw-up. It sucks to always be in the wrong.
But, at the same time, it also gives me a deeper understanding of God’s grace than someone who never errs. I have received much grace, so I know that the well is deep, and the water good and refreshing. I’ve been able to study grace at my leisure because it keeps coming back to me.
If we all understood more about our own sin, we would see, not that others’ sins aren’t as grave in comparison, but that God’s grace is so great as to cover over all of them!
Like a Child
And so what if I am being naive? I was reading in Mark recently about how the disciples were quarreling over who was the greatest, and Jesus called a child to Himself and exhorted them to be like this child. He could just have said, “Be more childlike,” but He wanted them to see an actual child sitting in their midst. This child wasn’t thinking about how to impress the disciples. But he also didn’t hang back because they were all grown-ups, talking about things he didn’t understand. Jesus called him and he came, and that was that.
Jesus didn’t make the child study theology before calling him. Heck, Jesus didn’t make him study it after, either! He just asked the child to obey, and to come, and to trust.
God wouldn’t call us to forgive one another if He didn’t also intend to give us the strength to do it.
Murderers at Heart
So, we know that hating our brother is like killing him in our hearts. But would you forgive him if he died to atone for that sin? If he said, “You’re right; I was wrong. I deserve to die,” and pulled out a long, scary knife, you’d probably hastily reassure him that, no, you really do forgive him; it’s all good.
Don’t forget that somebody did die for that sin. Jesus died in order to pay for that sin. How can you take a sin that Jesus died to pay for and then demand that this person pay you for it when it’s already been purchased?
Well, it’s easy to do that, actually, because we’re sinners. We exact payment when we have no authority to demand it. We take what isn’t ours. We usurp the authority of God and make ourselves judges over others.
But you know what? Jesus died for that, too. Do you believe that God has conquered the sin of unbelief? Do you believe? Do you believe???
Love Hopes All Things
It can be tempting to view the repentance of the offender with suspicion. But God didn’t grant us forgiveness on the condition that we would never sin again. He knew that we would. When you forgive someone, can you do so even as you operate under the assumption that she will fail you again? And when she does, can you believe her when she says that she really wants to grow in this area and is trying to change? Even those who genuinely repent will fail as they are being sanctified.
Can you hope all things in love for this person? God hopes all things in love for us. And His hope is not empty; He knows what He will do, and He has promised to sanctify us. We can hope all things in love for others because He hopes all things in love for us.
She Loved Much
When the sinful woman who came and anointed Jesus’ feet, He said that she loved much because she had been forgiven much. Whom did she love? She didn’t love Simon. Her focus wasn’t on him at all. She loved Jesus. She was consumed with thoughts of Jesus.
Don’t obsess about forgiving the person who’s offended you. Trying to force obedience that way doesn’t work. Instead, fill your mind with thoughts of Jesus. Love Him much, dwell on Him and the beauty of His grace. You won’t be able to extend His love to someone else if you haven’t been filled with it first.
In so many cases, we become so worried about doing what’s right that we forget to do what’s foremost: worshiping Christ. It doesn’t matter whether or not we forgive that person if we fail to worship Christ first. Love Him, and you will remember that you have been forgiven much by a God who will fill you with His very Spirit.
Precious Savior, I love You. I love You because You first loved me. I’m breathless from thinking about Your forgiveness. And I’ve only barely tasted it.
I can’t wrap my brain around the fact that You wanted to have a relationship with me. You love me! I can’t believe it, yet I know it to be true. I’m so glad, Lord; so glad! Thank You!! Thank You for forgiving me!
Your cross is beyond beautiful. Your gospel is so sublime! You are the very definition of the word!
And You have said that You will make me like You. I can’t wait! Thank You for helping me to understand more about forgiveness today! I long to be so full of Your Spirit that I’m able to forgive as You do.
I’m thankful that I can ask You with confidence: please forgive me for withholding my love from others. Forgive me for my petty prejudices, the million ways in which I judge people for not being like me, which I seem to think is the unforgivable sin. Forgive my pride and my critical spirit. O Lord, that You would take these sins from me! I long to be free of them! Would that I could wake up tomorrow and think only kind thoughts of people!
Thank You for showing me what a dummy I am. It’s been hard having to face my inadequacies at work and at life in general, but You have humbled me and brought me low so that I might see the heights of your love and grace! Do it again, Lord; do it again! I love standing in awe of You; bring me still lower, until all I can see is Your majesty!
Help me to believe that You can make me like Christ. Help me to believe that You can give me victory in this area. And help me to believe that You’re coming soon.
I love You, Jesus. Thank You for letting me dwell with You today. Thank You for refreshing my spirit with Your love. May I drink as deeply of it tomorrow.