Have you pulled out the tree, the lights, and the wrapping paper yet? Most of us have. What about your Christmas gift giving list? If you think you have everyone on your list, you may have forgotten one important person and a very special gift. This gift would benefit the recipient in immeasurable ways, while also liberating the giver from increasing bondage, providing vivid testimony to the gospel, and showcasing Christ-like love to the unsaved world. What gift could do all this? It’s the gift of forgiveness.
In his book Unpacking Forgiveness, Chris Brauns helps us understand that forgiveness is not only right (in that it glorifies God by obeying His will), but it is also best. God, as the standard of holiness and goodness, will only require of His people those things which are best for them. Our joy is completely full only when we live in submission to God’s design for our lives. And part of God’s good design for us is forgiveness to those who’ve sinned against us. Forgiveness is not a bitter pill to swallow; it is the doorway to maximum joy and peace.
Our ability to forgive others is a result of God’s forgiveness of us, and our desire to forgive others is based entirely on His forgiveness of us (Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:13). Brauns highlights three ways in which our forgiveness must mirror God’s forgiveness of all those who’ve been redeemed:
1. Forgiveness is gracious (Eph. 2:8,9; 2:4; I John 4:10).God’s forgiveness toward us is a gift motivated by His love for us (Eph. 2:4). But though this gift is graciously offered to all, this gift wasn’t free: God paid for it with the blood of His Son’s death (I John 4:10). In the same way, our forgiveness of others must be freely offered even though it is costly. There is nothing that we have done or ever could do to receive God’s forgiveness; He graciously offers it because He is gracious. Our offer of forgiveness toward others must not be dependent upon their efforts, their remorse, or anything else we want them to do, feel, or say. And it will be costly. We will need to die to ourselves, our desire for revenge, and our pride.
2. Forgiveness is conditional.God’s forgiveness is graciously offered to all, but it’s only given to those who repent and believe (Acts 20:21). God’s forgiveness is dependent; it is conditional. Like any present, God’s gift of forgiveness in Christ must be accepted, or “opened.” As we graciously offer forgiveness to those who have legitimately wronged us, we pray and plead that they will accept it by humble repentance, just as God pleads with all to accept His forgiveness by repentance. Forgiveness is conditional in that both parties involved must be committed to the new life together. Forgiveness is not possible where humility is not present.
3. Forgiveness is a commitment. When God’s gracious offer of forgiveness (that is motivated by His love and costs the death of His Son) is accepted through repentance and faith, God justifies that person. He commits that He will no longer hold that person’s sin against them. There is a legal transaction that frees that person from the condemnation and punishment that was deserved. When we forgive another individual, we make a similar commitment. We enter into an agreement that, though wrong was done, we will no longer hold that sin against that person. Our forgiveness has freed them from the debt that they had accrued.
And this commitment is not temporary or insignificant. True forgiveness means that we are committing to never bring up the offense again – not to that person, not to another person, not to God, and not to ourselves. This is the commitment that God makes to us in Christ. He commits to remove our sin “as far as the east is from the west” (Psalm 103:12). What tremendous hope is found in this truth! “If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness…” (Psalm 130:3,4a)
Of course, forgiveness does not mean that all consequences of wrongdoing are immediately eliminated. Because sin affects others, consequences of sin must sometimes be carried out. And it is in this very process where forgiveness can be most sweetly displayed: Those who are truly repentant and have been forgiven are most ready to accept the consequences of their sin.
Forgiveness frees us from the captivity of revenge. This world tells us that revenge is our right, and that we ought to get even with those who’ve wronged us. But this is in direct contrast to God’s Word. See, in God’s economy, those who forgive others are carrying out the very essence of the gospel. Those who have been forgiven are to be the ones who forgive, and they are to forgive in the very same way they’ve been forgiven. As a result, joy and peace will flood into our lives.
So, what is forgiveness? As author Chris Brauns has said, it is “a commitment by the offended to pardon graciously the repentant from moral liability and to be reconciled to that person, although not all consequences are necessarily eliminated.” This Christmas, consider giving that gift to some family members, coworkers, neighbors, and friends. You just might be the greatest benefactor of the gift you give another.
How to be Thankful When Life is Tough
We see often see in Scripture the saints of God in times of suffering. Adam and Eve suffered the murder of their son by his own brother. Job suffered the loss of almost all he had. The faithful Christians in Revelation suffered and even in Heaven seem to question why they were not being avenged for their suffering. Hebrews 11 has a whole list of suffering saints. We are faced with the question of why God’s children suffer if an all-powerful God loves and cares for them. Though that seeming dilemma is not the point of this article, a few quick notes may lead you to further help and study.
1. Sin. We live in a sin-cursed world. Romans 8:22 reminds us that all Creation groans because of sin. In addition, the consequences of our own personal sin often bring pain. The sins of others can bring heartache, too.
2. Strangers. We are strangers in this world. Hebrews 11:13 reminds us that this world is not our home. This is not our place of rest. We can’t expect to be too comfortable here. Heaven is our resting place.
3. Sons. We are sons of God. Therefore God, as a loving Father, brings suffering at times to discipline us in order that it may yield the “peaceable fruit of righteousness” in our lives (Hebrews 12).
4. Satan. Job 1 allows us to see that Satan and his minions are allowed by God to bring about hard times for God’s children in order to bring glory to God. Always remember though, that God’s glory and the good of his children are eternally bound together. Our good does not suffer to bring God glory.
5. Selfishness. Although a derivative of #1 above, it still should be mentioned, because the selfishness of those we love (as well as those we don’t even know) can cause great pain.
So, Here Are The 5 Ways We Can Learn to Give Thanks Even When Life Is Hard
1. Relinquish control to God’s sovereign plan, knowing that He is never out of control. Even with the problem of sin and evil, God overrules and works all things for our good as we become more like Christ.
2. Rest in God’s wisdom and love. God is all-wise. He knows the end from the beginning and is always acting in love toward us, His children. We often cannot see that when in suffering, yet we can understand it when we compare parenting to God’s love. As a parent allows a non-understanding, crying baby to undergo surgery, an immunization shot, or other pain for ultimate healing or good, so God does the same. As the parent would not love the child if he/she stopped the pain, so God would not fully love us if He did not allow what was best.
3. Run to His Word. God’s Word, the Bible, contains “all things that apply to life and godliness.” We open it to find the truths we need, and we depend upon His Spirit to lead us in applying it to our situation and to our hearts personally. Click here for a topical reference to various Bible verses or download our Bible Promises e-book below.
4. Reach out to others. In the midst of our pain, it is helpful to serve others. Serving helps us get our focus off of our suffering. It is an encouragement to know that we have helped others and been used by God to bring joy to them. Even during Jesus’ suffering on the cross, He was mindful of His mother’s needs.
5. Share your burden. Don’t substitute fellowship with others for time with God; but if at all possible, find a close Godly friend who will faithfully listen and point you back to God’s truth when your faith begins to waiver. Confide in your church family to find healing and strength. God works through the body of Christ, the church. If you don't have a church home, we would love to fellowship with you and strive to encourage you during these hard times.
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Author & Editor
Articles are written or selected by our Pastor Keith Carnahan