“The Gift of Full Forgiveness”
“For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
Imagine someone you love has given you a package artfully wrapped in shiny green paper and tied with a bright red bow. A tag dangles from a golden thread and on it you see your name scrawled in a tidy script. It looks promising! It looks special! What could it be? You finally tear into the paper and open the box only to find that the package is empty. How upsetting would that be? What a let-down!
We would never think of giving anyone an empty box as a present but we may be giving such "gifts" more often than we realize. Forgiveness is a gift that costs us something. It is a true sacrifice. The words "I forgive you" are just the packaging that holds the real gift of mercy. Sometimes we wrap up our gift of forgiveness in pretty words but it turns out to be empty, void of any tangible, heartfelt mercy.
When our brother approaches us with an apology we may say we forgive him but the next time we see him do we bring up the very thing we said we forgave him of? Do we decide not to have much to do with him because, we think, he's the kind of person who does that kind of thing we said we forgave him for?
Now, consider if you confessed your sin to God and he responded like that. "I forgive you but I just can't ever get close to you again." Such forgiveness would be rather empty, wouldn't it? "I'll forgive you but things will never be the same between us." We would be devasted if God responded to our apologies in these ways. That's why we are to model our forgiveness of others after God's forgiveness of us in Christ (Eph. 4:32). According to Jesus, we forfeit God's mercy if we fail to show that same mercy to others (Mt. 6:14-15; 18:21ff). Consider the words of Psalm 103:2-3, 8-12 on the subject of God's forgiveness:
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits,
who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases...
The Lord is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always chide,
nor will he keep his anger forever.
He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
God will never dwell on your forgiven sin – (v.9b) God leaves forgiven sin in the past, not to passively forget about it but to actively leave it behind, choosing never to dwell on it again.
God will never use your forgiven sin against you – (v.9a) God will never bring up our forgiven sins in conversation to hurt us or to win an argument. He does not use forgiven sin as a weapon or as leverage.
God will never talk to others about your forgiven sin – (v.9) God never gossips about our forgiven sin to others. He does not define us as sinners any longer but as recipients of mercy, redeemed from sin.
God will never punish you for forgiven sin – (v.10) While we must deal with the earthly consequences of our sins, forgiven or not, all of sin's death-dealing power is swallowed up in God's mercy. The eternal debt of sin has been paid by Jesus on the cross.
God will never let your forgiven sin come between you and him – (vv.11-12) In mercy, God removes the barrier that once separated us from himself (Isa. 59:1-2). Only through his forgiveness can we enjoy full restoration of fellowship with God.
We must strive to model our forgiveness of one another after the kind of forgiveness which we have received from God in Christ.