Friday, January 21, 2011

The Gift of Forgiveness

Photo Courtesy of Kym McLeod

One of my favorite Bible stories is found in John 8. It's a story of forgiveness. Of being set free from the condemnation of others. Of being set free from the bondage of sin.

A woman is brought to the temple by a group of witnesses who wish to stone her to death. She's been caught in the act of adultery. The law requires she pay for her deeds. 

Jesus has been teaching. The people want to know what He has to say. They're looking for his faults, too. They want to find something to hold against Him. They don't like that He's stealing the attention, teaching things contrary to what makes them look good.

Jesus has no response, other than writing something in the sand. Again they question His authority. 

He finally responds with, "He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first." (John 8:7 NKJV)

Everyone walks away, leaving the woman alone with Jesus. He wonders where her accusers have gone. "Has no one condemned you?" She answers, "No."

Jesus says, "Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more." (John 8:11 NKJV)

Jesus came to save the world, not condemn it. (See John 3:17) He came to forgive us of our sins, not hold them against us. 

The people in the temple were like many people in our lives today, maybe even us. They wanted to look for the bad, the evil, the wrong, the sin in others. They didn't consider the good or what truly lay in someone's heart. 

While considering the pain of being picked on or bullied, ignored or pushed aside, I remember Jesus. Jesus forgave those who mocked Him, spit on Him, beat Him. He gave His life for those people...and me. And He continues to forgive me, every time I round the mountain of sin one more time, trying to find my own way off that path and onto His chosen path for me.

Every time my child comes to me and says, "Mom, they called me fat all day again," I turn him back toward Jesus. "Son, you must forgive them and move on." 

Peter came to Jesus and asked how many times he had to forgive his brother. Jesus replied, "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven." (Matthew 18:22 NKJV) 

Sometimes it's easier to forgive our enemies than it is those closest to us. Other times, it's difficult to let go of the pain of our past. I remind myself, my children, and my friends who seek my counsel of the importance of forgiveness. Forgiving someone not only sets them free from bondage, it sets us free, as well. 

When we hold anger or frustration against another person, they become a prisoner in our hearts. We torment them, going back to them throughout the day, wishing for revenge. But God says revenge is His. We need to let go of our grudge and move on with our day. Apologize for any offense we may have caused or admit we've been offended. This frees us and them to move forward in life and leave the past behind. Like Jesus said, "Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more." 

Forgiveness also allows us the opportunity to continue toward our goal of eternity with Jesus. God requires that we forgive others of their trespasses against us. Matthew 6:14-15 reads, "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." 

This is a difficult verse for many Christians. It's hard to forgive someone who has raped you, stolen from you, murdered a loved one, picked on you until you were depressed and couldn't face another day... But, it's required by God. If we are unwilling to forgive others, He is unwilling to forgive us. 

Should it be easier to forgive? One thing I've come to realize in twelve years of marriage is that forgiveness isn't a feeling. It's a choice. Just like love. Just like faith. It doesn't erase the memories. It doesn't make the pain disappear. No. Wounds leave scars. But it does give one the freedom to move on and continue to grow, to become more Christ-like in our attitudes, behaviors, and responses. It also becomes easier to lay down the grudges and freely forgive.

So as my child runs to me for the fifth time today to tell me his brother called him another name, I remind him of what Jesus said. "Forgive." When my husband gets upset with me and raises his voice, I remind myself of what Jesus said. "Seventy times seven." I know there's no way he'll offend me that many times in one day.

And when someone does something to intentionally hurt me or someone I love, I remember what Jesus said. "Forgive." And I wait, because God says, "Vengeance is Mine." And I am amazed when I watch God move on my behalf and the situation is righted. It's happened many times. I trust Him to take care of me. He watches my back, and I am grateful for forgiveness.

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