The Power of Forgiveness
“I forgive you” are three of the strongest words we can ever hear another person say, second only to the words “I love you.” I know what is like to long for both of these to be said to me. We all fail and desire to know that we are forgiven and loved in spite of our failures.
We may intellectually know we are forgiven and loved, but what does it mean to live like it?
First, we must understand the bad news.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is a ministry of mercy and reconciliation. Mercy is not getting what we deserve, at the top of that list is a relationship with God. We have all sinned against God (1 John 1:8) and are utterly incapable of repairing that relationship on our own. God is holy and just, therefore he must hold in consequence and contempt those who have disobeyed or failed His standard. He is perfect is His justice, just as He is perfect in His goodness.
Yet, all too often, humans add to the justice of God by seeking consequences as if we don’t trust that God will carry out an adequate punishment. It is for this reason that God said over and over, “Vengence is mine” or “Do not judge, lest you be judged.” He knows what we did and He carries out His wrath perfectly. God never said, “Please help me by keeping me accountable to be just adequately and wrathful fairly.” He doesn’t need our help.
To add the need for man-made justice and consequences cheapens the message of the grace God offers us. Jesus died on the Cross to save us from the ultimate punishment we deserved. If the death of Jesus was enough for God’s righteous wrath to be appeased, then it is also enough for us to forgive ourselves and to be forgiven by others.
I have seen many people feel the need to hold on to their shame as a form of punishment. I have counseled those (and have been those) who seem to think that they have to add punishment on themselves (or others) for past sin. This is a small view of the Gospel — and a small view of God. He is perfect in his wrath but also perfect in His goodness. Most of all, His Son was perfect to appease God’s wrath and make us righteous if we believe (Romans 1:17).
If God has forgiven you, who are you to not forgive yourself? If God has forgiven you, who are they to say or act like you are not? Our sin is first against God, and His Word of forgiveness is most powerful and most lasting.
I am well-rehearsed of the self-condemning messages my heart and the enemy preaches to me daily. There is not a day that goes by where my hope does not wain under the weight of my shame. I have to preach the more powerful Gospel message to myself every day to drown out the lies that I believe along with the other people in my life who treat me like I will never be fully forgiven.
Paul knew our hope would be zapped every day; This is why he speaks of our hope having to be renewed regularly in 2 Corinthians 4:1-6. He writes, “Do not lose heart!” which insinuates that we can lose heart, but by the truth of the Gospel and the power of the Holy Spirit, we must press on.
So then, when we know we are forgiven by God, how can we live that way, even if our heart or others tell us or treat us differently? I want to identify the thinking and actions that come from knowing you are forgiven by Christ.
Living As One Who Is Forgiven
First, let’s be clear, there is a progression of repentance that leads to the fruit of repentance. If a person is forgiven, then he or she has repented of their sin by swearing to God and others that they will no longer carry on as they once were. But following that verbal confession and promise is the proof of genuine godly sorrow, evidenced in a sustained change in thought and action. A repentant and forgiven person will be striving for righteousness instead of walking in the way of the wicked (Psalm 1:1-4). This evidence of repentance and forgiveness should show its self in confident living in Christ. These are some of the benefits that come from knowing you are forgiven:
1. Your prayer life is more intricate to your everyday survival. You may have prayed in the past, but when you understand you have been forgiven, your prayer life doesn’t simply return to what it was before. Now you understand better to whom you are praying. A forgiven person internalizes the mercy he or she have received in such a way that when they pray, they know they don’t deserve to be heard. We count it all the more a privilege to be able to approach the throne of grace and do so often (Hebrews 4:16).
2. You long for God’s Word — specifically the Psalms — like you never have before. As I walk in the forgiveness of God, I can’t get enough of God’s Word. The time I get in the Bible is sweeter when I understand my dependence on it. As it relates to God’s mercy over my mistakes, the Psalms seem to have the perfect words to help bring healing and fuller confidence in Christ. The duty of reading God’s Word as a daily discipline becomes an anticipated delight in my routine.
3. Your confidence is not found in yourself. I don’t believe in “self-confidence” but I do believe in “Christ-confidence.” As a follower of Jesus Christ, my identity is no longer in myself. I am made new in Christ and derive my confidence in Him (Jeremiah 17:7). When people criticize me or talk of what a grandiose sinner I am, my posture is to agree with them, not defend. I will be the first in line to build a case against myself — I am the chief sinner I know because I know my sin the most. FOr that reason, I have resolved that finding confidence in myself is a useless waste of time; I will always fail myself and others. Christ will never fail me.
4. Your actions are humble and caring toward others. A forgiven person is kind, tenderhearted, and forgiving toward others because he or she understands that they are forgiven first by Christ Jesus (Ephesians 4:32). If a person is harsh, hard-hearted and lacking empathy or care as a fellow sinner, then he or she may not understand the magnitude of forgiveness that Christ has offered to them. If a person does not accept their weaknesses and Christ’s forgiveness for them, they will not be able or quick to give this kind of forgiveness to others. They will be critical, quick to accuse (Mattew 7:3), and judgemental. Don’t be such a person.
5. You find freedom in what is true Christ, and not in what could be in your circumstances. Our circumstances tell us the daily story that life is brutal and out of control. If we are trying to find peace from the right setting or surrounding, we may find it for a moment — like in a beach chair in Fiji — but that won’t last for a lifetime. Our freedom and joy are not found in circumstances, but it is found only in Christ (Philippians 4:5-7). If you are dealing with feelings of anxiety or depression over your past mistakes, perhaps you have not fully accepted the Grace of Christ in your life. Live like a forgiven person and stop trying to control circumstances to bring you peace.
6. You walk with your chin up and your smile on. The countenances of a forgiven person are bright. A forgiven and glad person will show it on his or her face. Prov 15:13 says, “A glad heart makes a cheerful face.” A forgiven person will smile, laugh and show that they have accepted the forgiveness of Christ. This is not trite, it is the result of genuine forgiveness.
Will he or she still have their critics who hate when they smile, laugh and go on with life? Yes. I certainly do. But those critics don’t control the forgiveness of Christ, nor should they control my countenance over what Christ has given me.
Struggling to live forgiven, as you are, try one or all of these things:
- Find 10 verses about forgiveness and write down what they mean to you.
- Memorize Ephesians 4:32 and realize that you have been forgiven much, so you can forgive much — including yourself and others.
- Read the Psalms and look for verses that show the great mercy of God toward you, if even your enemy chose to not forgive you or come against you.
- Listen to some hymns. Some of my favorites are “In Christ Alone,” “His Mercy is More” and “He Will Holy Me Fast.”
Confessions of a Great Sinner
Saint Augustine of Hippo was a man who was keenly aware of his brokenness. His book, Confessions is a recorded private conversation with God about his brokenness. I love all of his writing, but one of my favorite quotes is this:
“For great are you, Lord, and you look kindly on what is humble, but the lofty-minded you regard from afar. Only to those whose hearts are crushed do you draw close. You will not let yourself be found by the proud, nor even by those who in their inquisitive skill count stars or grains of sand, or measure the expanses of heaven, or trace the paths of the planets.” —
For further reading, consider reading one of these books:
- Putting Your Past in Its Place by Steave Viars
- Unpacking Forgiveness by Chris Brauns
- From Forgiven to Forgiven By Jay Adams
- Accepting God’s Forgiveness by C. John Miller
I am giving you this PDF entitled, “Embraced by Forgiveness” which is a homework sheet I use in Biblical Counseling. I admonish you to do this exercise if you are struggling with grasping forgiveness. It is refreshing to the soul.