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Forgive as Christ Forgave You!

There are times when someone hurts us so severely or so repeatedly that we feel we cannot forgive them. We feel justified in not extending them forgiveness, because what they did was so awful, so despicable. If the offending person is our spouse, his or her cruel or thoughtless act may have been repeated so many times that we no longer trust them. We withhold forgiveness because if we do forgive them—again—we cannot trust that they won’t do this awful thing again.

Our forgiveness, however, cannot be based on trust or on the likeliness that the offender will not hurt us again. Instead, our forgiveness must be based on the character and example of God Himself. In three primary passages of the Scripture on forgiveness, every one of them draws attention to God’s character and His example of forgiving us.

In the Lord’s prayer, Jesus modeled the phrase, “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” After the prayer he commented on that phrase, “For if you forgive others when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:12, 14-15) Our heavenly Father is our example. He has graciously and mercifully forgiven us and asks us to do likewise. We are His children and He wants us to be like Him and act as He does.

A second passage that demonstrates the character of God in forgiveness is Matthew 18:21-35. Here Peter thought he was being generous in offering to forgive others up to seven times. Jesus responded, “No not seven times, but seventy times seven!” (Matthew 18:22 NLT) Then Jesus told Peter a parable about a servant who owed his master an incredibly large debt, so large he could never have possibly paid it back. But mercifully, his master forgave him his debt completely. This is what God is like toward us.

But the forgiven servant went out and found one of his peers who owed him about ten bucks and demanded payment. When his peer could not pay, this forgiven servant had him thrown into prison. When the servant’s master found out about his servant’s wicked actions, he had him jailed and tortured. At the end of the story, Jesus commented, “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.” (Matthew 18:35)

Our heavenly Father is magnanimously generous with his forgiveness toward us—we, who owe him a debt we could never pay. Now he expects us to be generous with our forgiveness toward each other both because of and in demonstration of God’s great mercy toward us.

Finally, in Ephesians 4:32 we read, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Once again, God is our example of forgiveness. Just as in Christ He forgave us, so we should forgive each other. Paul concludes, “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children.” (Ephesians 5:1)

©2011 Rob Fischer