While I don’t love to admit it, sometimes I have a bit of a temper. If you rub me the wrong way, I can become passive aggressive and snarky. Fortunately, God always gets ahold of me and I apologize. I may say “I’m sorry” and usually the recipient of my wrath replies “It’s okay.”
But it’s not okay.
It isn’t okay to lash out at people. It isn’t okay to be selfish. It isn’t okay to sin against people.
However, for some reason, we’ve been conditioned to reply “it’s okay” instead of “I forgive you.” Yet, I’ve noticed the difference as both speaker and hearer of those words.
In the parable of the unmerciful servant found in Matthew 18, Jesus explains that we have been graced with incomparable mercy as God forgives our impossible debt. Despite that forgiveness we receive, we often go to those who have wronged us and demand “Pay what you owe!” (Matt. 18:28). The thing about saying “it’s okay” when we feel legitimately wronged is that we don’t believe it’s okay. We feel bitter, but because they said sorry, we feel obligated to excuse their behavior. But excusing is not forgiveness. In fact, I believe excusing behavior is harmful in many ways as it increases resentment in our hearts and decreases accountability in theirs. We, then, become the unmerciful servant because, while we say “it’s okay” out loud, we are prosecuting them in the courtroom of our hearts. It’s a passive aggressive display of punishing them.
Hearing “it’s okay” is great because you feel like you can move on and don’t need to think about it. But, when someone says “I forgive you” it’s an acknowledgement that they were hurt and there is something to forgive. You have to face the fact that you are not always a kind or good person. You are forced to admit that there was a debt that had to be paid. But by their choice to forgive you, they choose to pay your debt by taking on the hurt that you earned by your offense.
As Christians, we are called to forgive unconditionally– yes, without any conditions or stipulations. Why? Because our God is the God of the Old Testament:
“Who is a God like You, pardoning iniquity and passing over the transgression of the remnant of His heritage? He does not retain His anger forever, because He delights in mercy. He will again have compassion on us, and will subdue our iniquities. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:18-19)
And he is the God of the New Testament:
“The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery…’ [Jesus replied] ‘Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her… Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you? …Then neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin'” (John 8:1-11).
If you read my posts regularly, you may have noticed I like to quote C.S. Lewis. I’ll continue the trend as he has a spot-on commentary on forgiveness. Lewis says, “Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea until they have something to forgive.”
That’s the truth. We all want our sin to be excused. We’ll take forgiveness. But when we become the person who has to say, “I’m not going to punish you. Instead, I will extend the olive branch because God did so for me and for you. What right have I to have a higher standard for forgiveness than God?”
The reality is that forgiving someone doesn’t even require their apology. Those are frequently the hardest times to forgive. Forgiveness is an act of your will by the power of the Holy Spirit. It’s you choosing to give up the anger, bitterness, and resentment for the sake of love, mercy, and grace. It is choosing to submit to God as your judge instead of your own self-governing.
And can I just encourage you by saying it’s worth it? Forgiveness is costly. That’s true. But the fruit of forgiveness is a life of FREEDOM. You are freeing yourself from the shockingly heavy burden of anger and hatred. You are freeing yourself to a life of joy and peace. You have so much more energy when you’re not carrying the burden of other people’s sins!
“Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, and He will have mercy on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon” (Isaiah 55:7). And “if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you” (Matthew 6:14).