Forgiveness is not something natural to the human experience. What’s natural is to think that when there is failure or hurt that someone owes us, that someone must pay. We want to be paid back for what we lost, what we suffered, how we were hurt. In stark contrast, forgiveness releases someone paying back. It lets the offender off the hook. It frees them from having to having to emotionally restore what they did to us.
Forgiveness is something that is natural to God. It’s what He does. He doesn’t have to strain at it, wrestle with it, or force Himself to forgive. He sent His Son into the world to pay what was owed. He took a payment upon Himself that was not His. He had done nothing wrong but so that we could know forgiveness, He paid what we could not.
This unbelievable work of redemption and forgiveness restores the heart of man to God. It also becomes the very basis for how man is to express and experience forgiveness in personal relationships. The New Testament says it this way:
Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you. Ephesians 4:32
We learn how to forgive based on the way that God forgave us. As we experience what He did for us, we pass on that same experience to others who fail, sin against, or hurt us. The Bible describes 4 ways that God forgives us. These serve as the pattern for our relational pattern of forgiveness.
1. He forgave before we asked
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8
The forgiveness of God happened for us while we were unaware and still sinning. It happened before we had recognition of what we had done. It happened before we were born. It happened before we asked for forgiveness. The day we recognize what we have done and accept forgiveness, we are changed by it. But as the Scriptures describe it, Christ died for and gave forgiveness while we were unaware.
Often we think of holding on to what others have done to us until they ask for our forgiveness. We hold on to the pain, resentment, and requirement that they pay before we release them. That is not how God forgave. He invites us to something more freeing, more wondrous, something that flows from forgiveness, just as He forgave us.
2. He forgave joyfully and willingly
In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace which He lavished on us. Ephesians 1:7-8a
God does not have to make Himself forgive. He doesn’t have to give Himself a guilt trip, make Himself feel bad, or threaten Himself before He forgives. The Bible says that He willingly and joyfully lavishes us with forgiveness. He takes great delight in it! Love and forgiveness flows from His essence into the face of hurt, failure, and sin. The letter to the Romans in the Scriptures says that where there is great sin, there is even greater grace!
As we take in the wonder of that kind of forgiveness for our very personal and private sins, we discover the desire to give that same kind of forgiveness growing within us. The more we let go of expecting others to owe us, requiring others to pay us back, we actually find a new heart growing within us. It’s the very heart of God that pulses with desire to love, release, and let others go from having to owe us.
3. He released us from owing
Now where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin. Hebrews 10:18
Part of the absolute wonder of what Jesus accomplished on the cross is that there is no longer needed any sacrifice for sin! There is no need to pay back or to owe God for what we have done wrong or for what He had done for us. He does not require payback. He does not send bills. He cancels the debt. Nothing is owed. Sadly, many believe that even after they have become Christians that they must spend the rest of their lives attempting to pay Him back for what they owe. They live with a sense of duty and obligation. They fear what will happen if they stop. They expect greater blessing from God because of their attempts. They live un-free. They don’t take in that they are free from owing and as a result they turn around and expect others to owe them when they are hurt. And it all grows out of not knowing what it means to truly not owe God anymore.
4. He does not hold our sin against us
God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. 2 Corinthians 5:19
The heart of man is gifted at remembering when someone hurts us. We remember the emotional pain, the loss, and the details of offenses done to us. We also do well at remembering what we think others now owe us. We keep meticulous mental ledgers of what each person owes us. If we give a favor, we expect that favor to be returned. If we are taken advantage of, we want to be compensated. And we’ll hold on to that ledger as long as we live.
Receiving forgiveness can change all of that.
The more we take in the overwhelming reality of what Christ did for us, the more power we gain to forgive just as He forgave. Because of Christ, God no longer holds our sins against us. He removes the ledger of accounts against us. He releases the debt that was owed. He holds nothing against us.
Let that soak in.
Release from owing.
You can now live free in the wonder of being accepted, loved, forgiven, and made one with God because of what Jesus Christ accomplished. Let that unlock gratefulness in you. Let that spark love in you. Let that overwhelm you. As you do, you’ll find something new happen. The next time you’re hurt you’ll discover a new desire ignited within you. It will be the expression of forgiveness. You’ll be shocked. You’ll question it. You’ll have it because you took in forgiveness from God.
These thoughts are part of a message from Encounter Church.
For an expanded audio version:
Related audio message:
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