It’s one thing to say you believe that God forgives. It’s quite another to internalize that forgiveness into a very personal and real experience. To illustrate the difference Jesus told a story that is listed for us in Matthew 18. A king decided to settle accounts with servants that had accumulated debt. A man was brought in with a debt so large that it would be impossible to ever be paid. The king demanded that the man be sold along with his wife and children into slavery. They would spend the remainder of their lives with their lives as payment for their debt. They would never have it paid off. They would never be free.
The man fell down before the king begging for time to pay the debt. He thought somehow he would be able to come up with the insurmountable amount of money and free himself and family. The king had pity on the man and in a stroke of great love, forgave the man of his debt. He didn’t give a delayed payment plan. He didn’t reduce the interest rate. He didn’t cut the principle. He completely released the man from ever owing a dime.
The man left the presence of the king with new motivation. However, his motivation is not one of gratefulness and love for others. Instead he finds someone who owes him and demands with great ire that the debt be paid. When the debtor asks for patience, the forgiven man refuses and instead places the man in prison.
The king’s officials see what has happened and report the incident to him. The king calls the man in for questioning. Instead of responding with brokenness, the man is silent. He is insistent on repaying the king. He is consumed with what others owe him and what he thinks he owes the king. In frustration the king has the man put in prison until the debts owed to him are paid.
Jesus says this is how God deals with man and how many in turn respond. There is a wealth of lessons to learn from the story of Jesus. Some of the lessons describe
- You live thinking you still owe God
The servant fell on his knees before the king. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay you everything!’ vs. 26-27
When the man was faced with the reality of his debt, his first response was to pay it back. He assumed he could and that payback was what the king wanted. Nowhere does the Bible say that God’s desire is for us to pay him back. Thinking we can, shows we have misunderstood the greatness of Holiness, the greatness of what we owed, and the power of what Jesus accomplished on the cross. The Bible says that He gave His life as a ransom for our sins. He paid the debt we owed. He removed the charges against us. We are invited to accept and experience the reality of that forgiveness completely by faith. When we do, we experience the freedom of no longer owing! We find we are free! We find there is no more sacrifice necessary to be given for our sins! Jesus paid it all!
- You live thinking others owe you
Then the man went out and met one of his fellow servants who owed him a few dollars. Vs. 28a
Those who think they still owe God live thinking others owe them. They hold on to every hurt, every moment they were taken advantage of, and every injustice they suffered. They remember them and they are passionate about making sure they get what they deserve for what they experienced. They see every moment that they are taken advantage of and hurt as an occasion to make others pay.
- You have aggravated anger toward those who have hurt you
He grabbed him and started choking him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he said. Vs. 28b
A “you owe me” heart is easily aroused to anger – especially when it sees those who have hurt them or even hears their name. In that moment instead of patience, mercy, understanding, or forgiveness, there is an angry demand for instant payback. That anger often demonstrates itself verbally, emotionally, and physically.
- You are driven to make others pay
His fellow servant fell down and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back!’ But he refused; instead, he had him thrown into jail until he should pay the debt. Vs. 29-30
The “you owe me” heart not only wants to see others pay up, it wants to be the one who makes them pay. The person with this heart wants to see others suffer until they have determined that it has been enough. They measure the vengeful pain. They determine when enough is enough and they measure by how much a person suffers.
- You see no way possible to ever forgive those who hurt you
So he called the servant in. ‘You worthless slave!’ he said. ‘I forgave you the whole amount you owed me, just because you asked me to. You should have had mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you.’ Vs. 32-33
The king offered the man a hearing. He confronted him with what he was doing. In that moment the man did not respond with sadness or humility. Instead he was even angrier. The king even described how forgiveness was intended to flow through him. Though the man heard the words of the king, he could find no way for that kind of forgiveness to enter his heart and flow to those who owed him.
- You live in a self-consuming prison of anger, resentment, revenge replaying what was done to you
The king was very angry, and he sent the servant to jail to be punished until he should pay back the whole amount. Vs. 34
As a result of not being able to accept forgiveness, the man was locked up in a prison. The jail time was not for his debt. That debt had been forgiven! He was put in jail until the debts owed to him were paid. He missed the brilliant offer of the king! Forgive the man what he owes you and you could be free! Instead he chose the prison.
Many people today who claim to know the forgiveness of the King show by their inability to forgive others that they really not had a personal interaction with that forgiveness. They live in a heart and relational prison filled with anger, resentment, and a determination to make others pay for what they have done to them.
They may claim they believe God forgives. They may say they believe God has forgiven them. The real proof of belief will be seen when we are faced with opportunities to forgive.
What does your heart and life say about your belief?
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Related blog post: 10 Things That Reveal You Believe Others “Owe You”