Do you forgive those who have wronged you–genuinely, from the heart, as you would want them to do for you? Do you pray for them, that they may know Jesus better and “…come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will?” (2 Timothy 2:26) Or, are you finding it harder and harder to let go because their offense seems so long-standing or severe, or because they are so unworthy of our forgiveness?
“My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you.” (Galatians 4:19, NIV)
If you follow Jesus–if you claim to belong to Him and love Him–you exist for God’s glory; the goal of the Holy Spirit in you is to conform you to the likeness of Christ. Not externally, of course, but in who you are and how you handle life. This process involves submitting our sinful will to the holy standard of our Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer God–and it is not always easy. To the contrary, it is frequently quite hard, especially when someone has wronged us.
We often imagine that the process of sanctification, of Christ being formed in us, involves reading the Bible, praying, and going to church–and it does, but it is so much more. These behaviors influence our thoughts in the right direction, but God is also concerned with how we handle the issues of life on a much more intimate level. With Him, there can be no rooms of our responses and emotions into which we do not let Him enter, no doors we will not open. We must allow Him access to all, including our greatest pain. And, we must allow Jesus to help us let go and forgive–even if those who wronged us do not seek forgiveness.
The problem with holding grudges and refusing to forgive is actually a faulty presumption on our part. It usually involves our rationalization that the offender is unworthy of forgiveness–which may be true. Our mistake, however, lies not in our estimation of our offender’s guilt, but in our own before God. We clearly see his sin; it is our own we cannot see quite so well.
“Wait a minute!” you may say. “I didn’t kill anyone, I didn’t rape, I didn’t molest! I wasn’t unfaithful, I didn’t cheat!” That may be correct, but your objection misses the point. Our problem, in attributing guilt, typically lies in our failure to correctly assess the utterly unapproachable and holy standard of God. It is through Jesus alone that we can approach Him, and that is only because when the Father looks at those who trust Jesus for forgiveness and salvation He sees the holiness of the Son rather than our own transgressions–our own affronts to His holiness. And that is the point.
We, not covered by the work of Christ on the cross, are an utter affront to the holiness of God–regardless of “how much” or “how little” we’ve sinned. It isn’t that some sins don’t have a greater impact than others–that they don’t hurt others more than the “smaller” sins: they do. It’s just that it’s all evidence of how totally and completely lost we are without Jesus before a holy God.
1) It helps to imagine the one who’s offended us as someone’s little child–because, once upon a time when they were little, they were. And they were probably loved, and someone most likely had great hopes for them, before their sin-nature and the evil around them began its work in them. 2) Now extrapolate that image to our Heavenly Father’s family. This person, regardless how wicked, is a prodigal son or daughter; they were created by God (as we all were) and His desire is to reconcile them to Himself!
3) Lastly, imagine this person having come to a full and complete knowledge of God–not just off the hook for their sins, so to speak, but knowing, living, and breathing the holiness of God through the power of Christ in them. That is restoration; that is healing. This is God’s goal, and it is part of what we pray for when we ask, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven!”
We may not honestly wish such a degree of restoration for them, but that is just evidence of how far we ourselves have yet to come before “Christ is formed in me.” Remember the story Jesus told about the man who owed trillions forgiven, who subsequently would not forgive a pittance? The issue, of course, is who has been sinned against. Our sins before God, because of how how holy and great He is, are so much more offensive than anything anyone could do against me, regardless of how experientially awful. If we look at sin through God’s eyes, we will see that while some hurt more than others, our own offenses before Him are such that we could never justify or atone for them before Him–yet He has forgiven all through Jesus. Can we not do the same to others?
Dear God–whom I claim as Lord of my life,
Help me to forgive–to release–those who have sinned against me. I now do, through the power You give. Bring them, too, into a full and complete knowledge of You. Thank You that You reconcile all things to Yourself through Jesus. In His name, amen!