“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Luke 23:34 The first of seven phrases from Jesus on the cross is a prayer, not for Himself, but for His executioners.
Now, you think of someone you need to forgive. But remember, we forgive people, persons, (individuals) not institutions or groups of people. You forgive what they have done, not what they are. And you can only forgive someone who has done something to you directly that has wounded you.
1. It breaks the chain of “ungrace” Only grace breaks the cycle of retribution. If Jesus had prayed, “Father, give them what they deserve” there would be no forgiveness- no grace. Do you forgive others who are “executing/crucifying” you? You see forgiveness has that maddening quality of being undeserved, unmerited, unfair. But as I forgive, as you forgive, we break the law of retribution- the chain of ungrace is broken.
2. It sets us free from anger Often we think, “I have justifiable pain!” This is simply another way of saying, “I will not forgive.”
3. It sets the offender free Forgiving does not remove our scars any more than a funeral takes away all of our grief. We often carry a scar even after the wound has been healed. But if we continue to have resentment over time, we are “feeling again” the pain caused and our response in hatred. “Forgiveness” in the Greek means, literally, “to release, to hurl away, to free yourself”. You know you have forgiven the person when you release the person to God- and even hope for good.
4. It heals the relationship Forgiveness brings life to the relationship again. But, not always- Jesus forgave but not every one was reconciled. Forgiveness doesn’t always mean reunion or reconciliation. Sometimes we pay for our sin by being shunned, let go- we are left to our desires and pay the consequences.
5. It sets us free to love again One of the best books I’ve read on forgiveness is Lewis Smedes’, “The Art of Forgiveness”. In it he writes, “When we genuinely forgive, we set a prisoner free and then discover that the prisoner we set free was us.”
“Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”- Colossians 3:13
Theologically, the Gospels give a straightforward answer as to why God asks us to forgive: because that is what God is like. We are never more like Christ than when we forgive. Why? Because Christ has forgiven you. We are to forgive “AS” HE has forgiven us. How has He forgiven you? Completely. Unconditionally. You cannot fully forgive until you’ve been forgiven. Was Jesus’ prayer answered? Every prayer He ever prayed was answered. You have been forgiven so that you might be one with God.
You and I cannot muster up forgiveness on our own. We must allow Christ to transform us from selfish, prideful, unforgiving people into those who extend grace to others. But it begins when we embrace the One who is Perfect, the Giver of grace.
“The object of my faith is not personal change. It is the unchanging perfection of another Person.” Byron Yawn
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