Here is my latest contribution to the local paper’s Pastor’s Column.
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As the hectic holiday season comes upon us, we will be interacting with a variety of people we don’t normally see during our average week. Relatives and acquaintances, friends and foes, will scurry in and out of our lives in the upcoming weeks. Some connections will be joyfully embraced while others will be moderately endured (at best). Because of some unaddressed sin (our own or the sin of others), we barely tolerate the presence of some people.
We struggle with relationships because we struggle with sin. We generally don’t know how to deal with the sins of others as well as our own sins because we don’t really know how God deals with sin. In Ephesians 4:32, the apostle Paul reminds the Christians in Ephesus that they are to be “forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you.” The forgiveness is part of the demonstration of kindness and tenderheartedness God commands in the first part of the verse.
Now the context is obviously about how Christian people in a congregation ought to treat one another. The standard for their practical, interpersonal forgiveness of each other is how God forgave each of them in Christ at the moment of salvation. The standard seems impossibly high from a human perspective. But let’s break it down into smaller bite-size pieces so we can digest it easier.
First, there must be recognition of the holiness of God against Whom we have sinned. We have willfully violated His standard and deserve whatever penalty He deems appropriate because He is the Judge. We must admit our guilt and our sin. Second, the Judge has graciously paid the penalty for our sin by sending His eternal Son to die in our place. As someone once said, He paid a debt He did not owe, because we owed a debt we could not pay. Third, we must repent of our sin and turn to Him in faith, calling on the name of Jesus Christ as the basis for our forgiveness. In other words, there is no forgiveness without asking for it. It is not Biblically accurate to claim to forgive everyone no matter what, whether they ever ask for forgiveness or not. God’s forgiveness is qualified by our asking. “For whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Acts 2:21; Romans 10:13) There must be a calling for forgiveness.
So, in our horizontal relations, the process is the same. People must acknowledge their guilt and sin before we can grant forgiveness. Saying “I’m sorry” is simply acknowledging our emotional response and is not enough. Saying something akin to, “I was wrong; I sinned; will you forgive me?” is the Biblical approach. This puts the ball in the other person’s court. They now have a choice to either forgive or not forgive.
Two questions: first, have you experienced God’s forgiveness? Second, have you imitated God’s forgiveness?