Forgiveness. It's a pretty big topic in the Bible; one of the top 3. I don't actually know that it's in the top 3, it just sounded right to me. Other than Love and maybe Holiness, I'm not sure what other topics can top it. One might argue that Love, Forgiveness and Holiness are intertwined. I might be inclined to agree. But, today's topic is Forgiveness.
Here's what Jesus had to say about it in Matthew 6:
"If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive you." (NLT)
All I can say is OUCH!! My forgiveness from God is dependent upon my forgiveness of others. But, that's confusing because in 1 John 1:9 it says: "But if we confess our sins to Him, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness." (NLT) That seems more like it right? I mean, this doesn't say anything about forgiving others.
Until today, I hadn't given much consideration to these 2 verses and what their coexistence might mean. I just figured that God simply refused to forgive people that were unforgiving. Seemed fair to me. Eye for an eye and all. But, 1 John 1:9 does give me pause.
Let's go to Luke 7. In this chapter, much like all the other chapters in the Gospels, Jesus says some mind-blowing stuff, the religious leaders are ticked, people are healed (brought back from the dead in this case), people love Him, people hate Him, more mind-blowing stuff and then chapter 8 starts.
Verse 30 reads: "But the Pharisees and experts in religious law rejected God's plan for them, for they had refused John's baptism." You could read this and think that's a bit over the top, I mean, the hows and whys and whos of baptism are argued to this very day. But I would submit to you that when Jesus said John's Baptism, He was referring to the process of repentance and, ultimately, God's forgiveness. John, who was known for his diet and fashion even before it was cool, spent a lot of time challenging people to "Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near." (Matthew 3:2). If people chose to repent, he would baptize them in the Jordan River and sins would be forgiven.
So, let's assume that the issue with the Pharisees was that they outright rejected the idea that they were sinful and needed forgiving. They rejected the idea of repentance, John's Baptism.
Later in Luke 7:36-50, Jesus has His feet anointed with tears and expensive perfume by a "certain immoral woman". The religious leaders were, once again, ticked. "Don't they know who is touching Him?" They asked.
Jesus' response? In addition to some other scathing reviews of their hospitality, Jesus says "I tell you, her sins - and they are many- have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love. But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love." Theologically, this is a weird statement to make. Didn't Jesus know that sin is sin? That all sin is equal and our righteousness like filthy rags? You'd think He would know that.
But, then I thought about how the religious leaders had rejected repentance. How, in that moment, they had only been forgiven of what they set to sacrifice at the temple. They stood in the presence of One that had the power to forgive all, yet they chose self-righteousness.
What does this have to do with God's refusal to forgive unforgiving people, you may ask. This is what hit me today. Now, please note that I am no scholar. I have no formal training, so a better learned individual may be able to pick apart my submission fairly quickly, and yet.
And yet, I really believe that God cannot forgive us in our unforgiveness because, perhaps, in our unforgiveness we are not truly repentant. Unforgiveness may be the best indicator of an unrepentant heart.
Look at King David, he was declared to be a man after God's own heart. Yet he was a man whose life was rife with sin. I mean he covered 40% of the Big Ten in one fell swoop.
But he was repentant.
"Have mercy on me, O God, because of your unfailing love. Because of your great compassion, blot out the stain of my sins. Wash me clean from my guilt. Purify me from my sin. For I recognize my rebellion; it haunts me day and night. Against you, and you alone, have I sinned; I have done what is evil in your sight. You will be proved right in what you say, and your judgment against me is just." (Psalm 521-4 NLT)
In an utterly honest moment like that, it would be impossible not to be overwhelmed with love for your God and mercy for those around you. David had both a repentant and forgiving heart and it showed in his dealings with Saul and Absalom.
God's position on the matter of forgiveness is pretty strong, but perhaps not because He would choose not to forgive, but rather that we would choose not to repent. True repentance produces overwhelming love, mercy and forgiveness.
"Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life." (Psalm 139:23-24 NLT)
God's Heart is found on a cross. The picture of absolute forgiveness fully dependent on absolute repentance. Let's be people after His heart.