The following is an adaptation of the sermon ‘Power of Forgiveness’ preached by Pastor Mike White on Sunday, 4/27/2014, at CityLight Church. To listen to the full podcast please click here: http://bit.ly/1fNRael
Forgiveness is one of the most useful tools any of us can have, and one of the most useful actions we can ever perform. Forgiveness has the ability to restore broken lives, and erase negative emotions like doubt, guilt and shame. Google dictionary defines forgiveness as ‘canceling an indebtedness or liability, giving up all claim on account of a debt or obligation, granting pardon for an offense, [and] granting pardon to a person.’
Forgiveness can apply to a specific action, or to a specific person. When we forgive ourselves for having experienced something harmful, and forgive others for putting us through it, there is a tremendous release that takes place. Nine out of ten times when I meet with a church member for counseling, the conversation moves to forgiveness. What feelings of resentment, doubt and unforgiveness might you be harboring that are preventing complete healing and restoration from taking place?
Professionals who make a living out of dispensing wisdom and advice, from secular therapists to the most conservative pastors, all maintain that forgiveness is essential for health. The therapeutic effects occur in every sphere of our lives: emotional, physical and spiritual. The Stanford Forgiveness Project, directed by Dr. Frederic Luskin, has found far-reaching benefits for people who forgive. Forgivers hurt less, experience less anger, feel less stress and suffer less depression. They become more hopeful, optimistic and compassionate. People who forgive even have fewer issues with physical health: fewer symptoms of stress (backache, muscle tension, dizziness, headaches and upset stomachs), and improvements in appetite, sleep patterns, energy and general well being.
As Christians, we can’t just forgive when we feel like it. We need to live a lifestyle of forgiveness. But before we can do that, we need to understand that God has already offered us complete and total forgiveness through the Cross of Jesus Christ.
You Are Forgiven
When Jesus Christ suffered and died on the Cross, he made payment for all our sins: past, present and future. When we understand that we’re forgiven we suddenly experience immense freedom. On Calvary, God forever answered the question that can plague our thought lives if left unanswered: is God mad at us? No! We are forgiven when we rely on Jesus Christ for salvation. When we know we’re forgiven, we know we’re loved. The purpose of forgiveness is so we “…might serve [God] without fear” (Lk 1:74).
Forgiveness gives us space to be who God has called us to be. The 7th chapter of Luke’s gospel illustrates the powerful effects of understanding that God has forgiven us: the result of personalizing the Cross and applying it to our lives. In Luke 7, a Pharisee named Simon invites Jesus to dinner. During His visit, a woman comes in with an alabaster flask of fragrant oil – an incredible gift of great value. She begins to weep and washes Jesus’ feet with hear tears. Then she wipes His feet with her hair, kisses them and anoints them with the expensive, fragrant oil.
Meanwhile, Simon the Pharisee is sitting and wondering why Jesus would ever allow such a sinful woman to touch Him. If Jesus was really a prophet, Simon thought, He would know just how sinful this woman was and not allow her to tough Him! But then Jesus reads his mind. He sees Simon’s sinful thinking and replies:
“Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has washed My feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head. You gave Me no kiss, but this woman has not ceased to kiss My feet since the time I came in. You did not anoint My head with oil, but this woman has anointed My feet with fragrant oil. Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.” Then He said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” – Luke 7:44-48
Forgiveness allows us to understand the depth of God’s love for us. God hates sin, but He still loves sinners. Because of her sin, this woman knew she should never be forgiven: yet Jesus Christ was offering her forgiveness! Because of that forgiveness, this woman understood just how deep Jesus’ love for her must be. He who is forgiven much loves much. Understanding just how much we are forgiven frees us to love as much as we possibly can!
Forgiven & Forgiving
It’s infinitely important to understand that we’re forgiven. It’s just as important to learn how to forgive. Forgiveness demonstrates the power of the Cross to non-believers. It allows us to show the people around us Who Jesus Is. You might be the only Jesus some people see, especially if you live in a section of the nation or the world where the Gospel isn’t preached openly and Jesus isn’t widely known. When we show people unconditional forgiveness, we give them a glimpse of God’s love for them.
But offering forgiveness is just as important for you as it is for the person you’re forgiving! Jesus cautioned His disciples against harboring resentment in the Sermon on the Mount. You’ve probably heard the section of that sermon where Jesus compares thought-life adultery to physical adultery: if you even so much as lust after a man or woman in your heart, you’re just as guilty as someone who’s committed the physical act of adultery. But did you know that Jesus compares unforgiveness to murder in the same way?
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire. Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” – Matt 5:21-24
How can we, having been forgiven for everything we’ve ever even thought about doing, withhold forgiveness from the people around us? Jesus compares resentment to murder, and cautions us that is we do not forgive, we’re failing to follow the model laid out for us by Jesus Christ.
When we harbor unforgiveness, we actually take on the sins of others for them. John 20:23 says, “ If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” When we refuse to forgive the sins of others, who retains their sins? We do: the person who does not forgive. The person who fails to offer forgiveness is actually negatively affected just as severely – if not more so – than the person to whom they are denying forgiveness.
Satan wants to trick you into thinking you shouldn’t forgive the people around you. Why? Because when we refuse to forgive other people, it gives the enemy a foothold. When we forgive, on the other hand, we allow God to instantaneously take full control over the situation. In one instant, with total forgiveness, we can wrestle control out of the enemy’s hands and remove any foothold he has in our lives.
Since the beginning of time, God has been in a dilemma. He has committed to maintain two unfailing yet conflicting attributes. On the one hand, God is fully loving. He desires to forgive us and restore us to our rightful place at His side. After all, the whole reason we were created in the first place was to enjoy fellowship and relationship with Him for all eternity. On the other hand, God must maintain His holiness. He can never allow sin in His presence.
One of the characteristics of love is free will: giving the people we love the freedom to choose if they will love us back. If we were forced to love God, it would not be true love: it would be automation. God gives us the choice to love Him back because He truly loves us. Yet one of the consequences of free will is that some human beings will not choose to love God. Some people will choose sin over love.
Here we see the trap created: truly loving us allows sin, but sin prevents us from truly being loved. So how can God stay fully loving and fully holy at the same time? Jesus Christ. Jesus released the trap of unforgiveness. God loved us so much that He sent His Only Son to suffer and die on our behalf. God offered Himself as a sacrifice to atone for our sins. In one profoundly simple act of love, God satisfied payment for all our sins, and paved the way for forgiveness and reconciliation to take place. God restored us to right relationship with Him through forgiveness. He loved us so much that He died and earned forgiveness for us, knowing full well that we could never deserve it on our own.
Many times, we find ourselves caught in a similar trap. We want to forgive other people, but we feel the need to preserve our character. We don’t want to let anyone walk all over us or take advantage of us. But we shouldn’t forgive other people because they deserve it; we must forgive them because Jesus deserves it! If we truly want to follow Christ and learn from His example, we must forgive.
The Gospel lays out a powerful template for us. God didn’t wait until we acted like sons and daughters to treat us like sons and daughters. He didn’t withhold forgiveness until we proved we deserved it. He demonstrated His forgiveness so that we could go out and live in light of it! What incredible freedom! What great love!
God has given us freedom and salvation by forgiving us, even though we don’t deserve it. We must give the same freedom to the people around us by forgiving them. We must demonstrate to our spouses, our children, our families and our friends, that we are willing to forgive them. Then, and only then, will they be empowered to go out and live in light of that forgiveness.
– by Pastor Mike White
© Michael D. White and CityLight Church, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael White and CityLight Church with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.