Every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer, I am always struck by these words: “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Matthew 6:12, KJV).
Really? Do you really want God to forgive you in the same way you forgive others? I didn’t think so; neither do I! But what I do desire is to be able, by God’s amazing grace, to live out this truth in every area of my life. And this should be the desire of every Christian, because Christianity is all about forgiveness.
You see, we are commanded to receive the vertical forgiveness that comes to us through our Lord Jesus Christ and then expand it out horizontally to all those who have offended us. In other words, we are to model — albeit imperfectly — the amazing grace God has shown us so that others may see it.
The key to living this out is to recognize just how much we have been forgiven by God. And the only way to begin to plumb the depths of this truth is to know what the apostle Paul knew about himself: “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners — of whom I am the worst” (1 Timothy 1:15).
What did Paul know about himself? First, he knew the truth about who he was: he knew he was a sinner by nature, having been born in trespasses and sins. But he also knew the truth that he was a sinner by habit, repeatedly doing things he did not want to do and not doing the things he knew God was calling him to do. Paul eloquently explained this paradox in Romans 7. And because he understood these twin truths, Paul understood that the forgiveness he had received from Jesus (and that he continued to receive every day) was simply immeasurable. Paul knew he was in need of God’s forgiveness — not only in the moment when he was saved but every day thereafter on his way to the Celestial City.
Do you know this truth? Only those who truly recognize that even their so-called righteous acts are no more than filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6) can “forgive as they have been forgiven.” They can forgive those who slander them. They can forgive those who wrong them. They can forgive those who hurt them. They can forgive those who betray them at the deepest level.
Forgive and forget
In addition, those who understand the truth about the depth of their forgiveness know that it is also imperative to forget . . . just as God forgets our sins. “I will forgive their wickedness,” he has declared, “and will remember their sins no more” (Jeremiah 31:34). Now, we know God does not really “forget” anything. But he has deliberately chosen not to recall them. Isaiah exulted to God, “You have cast all my sins behind your back” (Isaiah 38:17 NKJV). What this means is that God chooses never to remind us of our past sins. He never brings up old trespasses and sins.
To forgive as we have been forgiven is to forgive and forget. We are not to rehash past wrongs that have been done to us. When we forgive, we are to lay the offense down at the foot of the cross and give it to Jesus. We are never to say (as far too many in the church do), “I forgive you, but I will never forget what you did!” That simply is not biblical forgiveness. Is that the way you would want God to forgive you?
God refuses to remember any of our past sins. He tells us that they are as far from us as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12). You know how far that is don’t you? It is a distance than can never be bridged. You can travel east forever and never once be headed west.
So . . . is there anyone in your life right now who needs your forgiveness . . . forgiveness as God has forgiven you? One anonymous writer opined that “Every person should have a special cemetery lot in which to bury the faults of friends and loved ones.” The Christian’s “special cemetery lot” needs to be a little larger: it must have room to bury the faults and failings, not of just our “friends and loved ones,” but of all those who have wronged us.
If you’re struggling with this — as so many of us do — let me leave you with one last golden truth from Scripture: “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. Never forget that…Amen!
Tommy Boland is senior pastor of Cross Community Church in Deerfield Beach. He blogs regularly at tommyboland.com.