Forgiveness: Seeking Him Study Week 9
During the course of my lifetime, I have had some very cruel and dastardly people try to destroy my livelihood. The nature of politics is that sometimes you evoke the powerful hatred of enemies who will stop at nothing to see your demise. In the midst of these storms I have found that the gospel of Jesus Christ, and the realities entailed upon me by the cross He bore, to be great sources of comfort and perspective for me. In fact, all throughout the Bible we have rich testimony of the lives that God has miraculously changed. Hearts have been softened and people have been forgiven.
And it is to this subject of ‘forgiveness’ that we are turning our attention to this week.
C.H. Spurgeon said, “To be forgiven is such sweetness that honey is tasteless in comparison with it. But yet there is one thing sweeter still, and that is to forgive.”
Forgiveness is a major part of what it means to walk the Christian path, and there are four main points I want to cover this morning:
- God’s Sovereignty in Forgiveness
- Remembering Sin No More
- Forgiveness and the Gospel
- We Don’t Do This Alone: The Power of the Spirit in Forgiveness
For anyone who has lived even a short time upon this earth you know that there will come times when you will be or have been wronged. Furthermore, if you are a Christian, you know that how you respond to these situations says a lot about who you are, and what Christ is doing and has done in your life.
The study we are currently engaged in has focused our attention on personal revival. I think that at this point in the study (9 weeks in) we probably all recognize the importance forgiveness plays in having a right relationship to God and others. When we haven’t forgiven others, we end up obsessing about them and what they have done to us. Our lives are dominated by their actions and not our own purpose for living, which is undoubtedly to love and glorify God and love our fellow man.
God’s Sovereignty in Forgiveness
On page 176 of our study guide, the story of Joseph is given as an example of how one should live life without dwelling on the past sins of others. Joseph’s motivation for forgiving his brothers was that he didn’t consider himself worthy to be their judge (Gen. 50:20). Certainly he had a proper fear of the Lord, and it is evident that the Spirit of God had softened his heart to be able to (really miraculously) forgive his brothers. Joseph had one bad thing happen to him after another during his lifetime, yet because he feared God, and understood that God was sovereign, he could rest in the knowledge that God would take care of him – even as he languished in prison.
Perhaps the best example of forgiveness and acting with a godly heart in the Old Testament was David. His story has personally meant a great deal to me in recent days as I have gone through my own very painful battles of being wronged.
Here is a man who did nothing wrong, yet a crazy man who was filled with jealousy and hatred decided to make it his personal mission in life to crush David. He hunted him down like a dog. Can you imagine what David had to be thinking? Of course you can, because we have Scripture to tell us! Here’s what David wrote during his time on the run from Saul: Be gracious to me, O God, for man tramples on me; all day long an attacker oppresses me;  my enemies trample on me all day long, for many attack me proudly.  When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.  In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me?  All day long they injure my cause; all their thoughts are against me for evil.  They stir up strife, they lurk; they watch my steps, as they have waited for my life.  For their crime will they escape? In wrath cast down the peoples, O God!  You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book?  Then my enemies will turn back in the day when I call. This I know, that God is for me.  In God, whose word I praise, in the LORD, whose word I praise,  in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can man do to me?  I must perform my vows to you, O God; I will render thank offerings to you.  For you have delivered my soul from death, yes, my feet from falling, that I may walk before God in the light of life. (Psalm 56 ESV)
David felt that even though his enemies surrounded him on all sides, and he had done nothing to deserve this, yet the Lord would deliver him. He felt what it was like to be stripped down of all hope in his own power. He felt helpless. And yet his strength and hope was the Lord.
But not only did David draw strength from the Lord, he also found in God the wisdom he needed and the power to forgive the sin of Saul. David was given a special indwelling of the Holy Spirit. In the Old Testament, not everyone had this gift, but the Lord was with David and gave him the ability to forgive Saul – a truly supernatural gift.
David had faithful friends to help him and encourage him (1 Sam. 23:16), but it was the power of the Spirit working in his heart that stayed David’s hand from murdering Saul. Here is one such example from 1 Samuel:
When Saul returned from following the Philistines, he was told, “Behold, David is in the wilderness of Engedi.”  Then Saul took three thousand chosen men out of all Israel and went to seek David and his men in front of the Wildgoats’ Rocks.  And he came to the sheepfolds by the way, where there was a cave, and Saul went in to relieve himself. Now David and his men were sitting in the innermost parts of the cave.  And the men of David said to him, “Here is the day of which the LORD said to you, ‘Behold, I will give your enemy into your hand, and you shall do to him as it shall seem good to you.’” Then David arose and stealthily cut off a corner of Saul’s robe.  And afterward David’s heart struck him, because he had cut off a corner of Saul’s robe.  He said to his men, “The LORD forbid that I should do this thing to my lord, the LORD’s anointed, to put out my hand against him, seeing he is the LORD’s anointed.”  So David persuaded his men with these words and did not permit them to attack Saul. And Saul rose up and left the cave and went on his way. (1 Samuel 24:1-7 ESV)
This is how God works – he softens our hearts to spare even the most vile and horrible people who have wronged us greatly. In that moment, David chose not to “remember” Saul’s sins against him, and not to take vengeance into his own hands.
Remembering Sin No More
The biggest difference between us and our Creator when it comes to forgiveness is that He chooses not to remember (bring to mind) our sins once He has forgiven us. Listen to what He says through His prophet Isaiah:
“I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins. (Isaiah 43:25 ESV)
We, however, remember people’s sins against them. In fact, in our study guide there’s an indication that if we remember people’s sins and bring them up again verbally or mentally etc. then its possible that we never really forgave that person in the first place. In fact, they go so far as to say that if we can’t “thank God” for these people then we haven’t forgiven them.
I am not sure I’d go quite that far, but I think we need to be sure to truly forgive someone before just “moving on” and putting the matter behind us.
But also, if we find that we have sinful thoughts or slanderous words cropping up about people who we had forgiven years ago, it isn’t necessarily the case that we hadn’t forgiven them, but that perhaps we are “remembering” their sins against them again, and have opened up the wound. We need to forgive them all over again, it seems. This is the weakness of our human flesh – but its also the reason why we need the gospel and the clear teachings of our Lord.
Forgiveness and the Gospel
This brings us to final and most important point. Radical forgiveness is really only possible for us in light of the gospel and the Holy Spirit’s work within us. David relied on God’s character and sovereignty, but he saw veiled what we see plainly, namely the overflowing mercy of the Lord toward sinners.
When David was judged to have committed multiple sins, his reaction upon being confronted by them was to beg for forgiveness and praise God for His infinite mercy (ps. 51).
When we see what Christ has done for us at Calvary, it gives context to His command to forgive. Listen to what he told Peter:
Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times. (Matthew 18:21-22 ESV)
Jesus went on to tell the parable of the king who forgave much and the servant who didn’t pass along that same forgiveness to a fellow servant – even though the amount was a pittance compared to what the king had forgiven him. This is what He said:
“Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants.  When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents.  And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made.  So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’  And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.  But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’  So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’  He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt.  When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place.  Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me.  And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’  And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt.  So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” (Matthew 18:23-35 ESV)
It is not easy to forgive people who have done you so much wrong, and yet we are called to do just that and more. As I’ve dealt with my own trials as of late, I’ve found that forgiveness is just step one. Step two is to love your enemies. I’m not saying that I’m there yet, just forgiving feels as though its been an amazing feat, but I know that by the power of God working in me I can one day not only forgive, but love my enemies the way Christ did as he hung from the cross.
Listen to our Lord’s words:
Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him.  And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left.  And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments.  And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!”  The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine  and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!”  There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.” (Luke 23:32-38 ESV)
I can’t even begin to imagine the agony He was in at this moment. Set aside the physical agony for a moment, and think about the kind of love this man’s heart had to have to repel the fiery darts of the evil one at this moment.
In the acclaimed epic movie ‘The Robe’, which I recently saw for the first time, the protagonist is a Roman official named Marcellus, who was given the task of crucifying Christ. He was sort of thrown into the situation; in fact he was on his way out of Israel the next day to see his beloved. But something happened to him that day that would not let him go. Eventually, through a series of torments and trials, he finds himself back in the Promised Land and face to face with Peter the great apostle. He begins to see that Christ had transformed the lives of so many people, that genuine love flowed among them, and when he saw the forgiveness of those people for others he surrendered his heart to a new Captain. This is the exchange they had when Peter asked Marcellus to come with him on his next missionary journey:
Peter:…the night Jesus needed my most I denied him…not once but three times. I swore I never knew him…
Marcellus: I…crucified him…
Peter: I know. Demetrius told me.
Marcellus: Then you can forgive me?
Peter: He forgave you from the cross! Can I do less? Now does anything stand in your way? Can you be one of us?
Marcellus: From this day on, I’m enlisted in His service! I offer Him my sword, my fortune and my life. And this I pledge you on my honor as a Roman!
Martyn Lloyd-Jones said, “I say to the glory of God and in utter humility that whenever I see myself before God and realize even something of what my blessed Lord has done for me, I am ready to forgive anybody anything.”
My own heart has been pierced through by many of the enemies flamed arrows because I failed to hold up the shield of faith. I trusted in my own mind and intellect to get me through it. I say to myself “just push through” or “just ignore it” or “this won’t last long”…but then my thoughts turn south…my mind conceives of all that I would do to my enemy if he were in my presence.
Look how Christ was mocked to come down “if” He could. They had forgotten the words of Christ as He was healing:
And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” (Mark 9:23 ESV)
Therefore it wasn’t outside of His power to come down from that cross. But instead He stayed where He was and took the insults and the pain for you and for me in order that we could be forgiven for the insults and pain we hurl at others.
Lastly, I would ask you to look at the world now that you’ve looked at the cross…
The world tells you that you deserve to have your rights intact. The cross tells you to lay down your rights for the gospel.
The world tells you to take revenge and make sure people get what’s coming to them. The cross tells you that God is sovereign and will judge all men according to their deeds (in fact He judged Christ for your sins).
The world tells you that you’re a victim and that you deserve to be heard. Christ tells you to come and lay your burdens down at His feet and beckons you to be strong and courageous, fearing no man, and to live a victorious life!
The world ignores the depravity of all men and tells you that you’re better than those who hurt you and that some people are past being forgiven. The cross bears witness that your sins were so hideous and so heinous that the very Son of God had to be beaten, battered, and killed in a bloody mess because YOU slandered, murdered, thought evil thoughts, said evil things, and upheld your pride through it all.
One more thing…the world tells you that you are the one who was wronged. They’re right. Our Lord knows your pain and sorrow. But the cross tells you that we have ALL fallen short and by the mercy of God we have been saved from what we all deserve – namely hell and eternal punishment. Yet because of the cross, and because of the resurrection, you have been forgiven. Given the fact that your sins murdered the eternal Son of God, don’t you think it’s a good idea to forgive the people who have wronged you?
We Don’t Do This Alone: The Power of the Spirit in Forgiveness
So how is it possible, practically speaking, to forgive the way that Christ forgave us? Well the answer is by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is impossible to do anything without His help. He is the One conforming us to the image of Christ. He uses the Word to renew our minds, and convict us, and bring us into “all truth.” Listen to how Christ described the coming of the Spirit:
“These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you.  But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.  Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. (John 14:25-27 ESV)
It doesn’t make it easy, but it makes it possible. The power of God is an amazing thing. Trusting Him to do His work within us is the first step. We need to surrender our lives to His power, and place our faith in Him fully, trusting that He will complete that good work He started within us (Phil. 1:6) – that includes helping us to forgive others as He forgave us.
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience,  bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.  And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.  And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.  Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.  And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:12-17 ESV)
Finally, a personal note about this lesson…I have gone through some fiery great trials as of late. I have had my own personal “Saul” hounding me, hunting me down, though I have done nothing unrighteous. The process of forgiving this man has taken me through an excruciatingly painful month or so now, but by God’s grace He is working an amazing work in my heart. I appreciate the prayers and encouragement and wisdom that many of your have lavished upon me. This week I went from despairing of ever feeling love or praise for God or others, to recovering my joy as I forgave my offender. I say “I” but it was most certainly God who worked within me. And just this morning (Saturday) as I was singing a hymn with the kids did I realize fully what God had wrought in my hardened heart. The hymn was ‘Praise to the Lord, the Almighty’ and the verse was this:Praise to the Lord, who doth prosper thy work and defend thee; Surely His goodness and mercy here daily attend thee. Ponder anew what the Almighty can do, If with His love He befriend thee.
When I read, “ponder anew what the Almighty can do” my heart soared again, realizing that God had done a miraculous thing inside of me, and that He still had more plans for my life. He has helped me forgive, and start to love my enemies, and as my heart pondered these things anew, I once again began to rejoice in the sovereign, powerful, efficacious work of the Lord in my life.
Soli Deo Gloria!