“Well this is it. She’s going to tell me off and be done with me.”
Those were, according to a dear sister in Christ, the words she spoke to her husband before leaving to meet me for a coffee date. Little did she know the Lord had broken my heart over sin in my life and was about to work His restoration and peace between us! Little did I know, I still had more sin to discover — the sin of unbelief.
I went that morning full of sorrow and wanting whatever it took to make us right again. My friend was so quick to forgive and I was glad to receive it. Or so I thought. But then repeatedly I found myself wanting to apologize again! My poor friend was glad to move on while I kept looking back and rehashing old debts. Without realizing it, I was rejecting the forgiveness freely given. (Not to mention taking the spotlight off Christ and putting it on myself!)
This experience with my sister helped me realize, I do the same thing with the Lord. Do you? Do you read or hear the Word of God, see sin in your life, confess it, and repent of it, only to confess and repent again and again in later days? Or try to find ways to make up for it?
Yesterday, my husband brought up the subject of forgiveness, specifically, the idea that we need to forgive ourselves. In the course of our conversation, he stated that the idea doesn’t actually make sense when you truly understand what forgiveness is. I countered that I think people just mean that we need to be willing to let go of our own sin instead of beating ourselves up over it. We expect ourselves to be perfect and are unhappy when we see our failures. At least this is true for anyone who is a perfectionist like me! His response was that he agreed that may be what people mean, but that is actually unbelief, not unforgiveness. And he is right!
As I pondered our conversation, what I know from the Scripture, and my own experiences with both God and people, the parable of the unforgiving slave, came to mind. But I was not thinking about the slave’s unforgiveness at the end. I was thinking about the king’s mercy at the beginning of the story.
For this reason, the kingdom of heaven can be compared to a king who wanted to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began to settle accounts, one who owed 10,000 talents was brought before him. Since he had no way to pay it back, his master commanded that he, his wife, his children, and everything he had be sold to pay the debt.
“At this, the slave fell facedown before him and said, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you everything!’ Then the master of that slave had compassion, released him, and forgave him the loan.
Did you notice the slave’s first response? He claimed that he would repay the debt. But 10,000 talents was a huge amount! There was no way possible the guy would ever be able to pay that amount back. Don’t I do the same? I ignore the true gravity of my sin and I seek to make restitution for something I can never make right! I try to make up for it by confessing enough times, being sad enough over it for a long enough period of time, giving enough of my time, service, money, etc. This response cheapens the forgiveness I’ve been given and shows that I really don’t grasp the reality of the heinous nature of my sin.
But God!!! In the parable, the master looked at this groveling, foolish slave, had compassion, and forgave him! The guy clearly had no regard for how dire his situation was. He begged to repay a debt that he knew he would never be able to repay. He was outright lying and just trying to save his skin, but he was offered forgiveness anyway. It makes me think of Romans 5:8 — “But God proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us!” This master held out forgiveness just as the Lord looks on us in our sin, has compassion on us, and offers us His complete forgiveness. What a beautiful picture of mercy –incredible mercy so deep that I can never fully grasp it!
There’s more to the story and this isn’t Jesus’s point in telling the parable. He goes on to show how the slave proves he never truly received the king’s forgiveness by his own unwillingness to forgive.
But I’m diverting from the story from that point because this is about my response to God’s (and others’) forgiveness. When I put my efforts into making my sin right, am I not refusing the forgiveness of God to me? I’m actually saying that His forgiveness isn’t good enough to pay my debt. And that says that Christ’s brutal death on the cross wasn’t good enough, either. That thought brings me to my knees in sorrow.
And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.
Forgiveness says that the debt is paid. I no longer owe it! If I continue confessing, apologizing, or making up for it, then, just as my husband declared, I’m walking in unbelief. I’m not believing that God is who He says He is (mercy, love, compassion) or that he’ll do what He says He’ll do (in this case, forgive — forgetting my sin, casting it to the bottom of the sea, and setting it as far as east is from west!). And that unbelief is sin because it declares God a liar. It really could be counted as a form of blasphemy or even idolatry as I make my image of God based on lies instead of His Word.
I’m not suggesting that it’s not good to make restitution when you have wronged someone. But am I making restitution to make myself right and pay for my sin or as an overflow of God’s love in me? Zacchaeus is a great example of god honoring restitution. When Jesus changed his life, he repaid everyone he wronged four times what he extorted from them! Christ’s words indicate that his intent was not as much to make up for what he had done, but was his natural response of love to Christ’s gift of salvation — His forgiveness!
Another sad result of living in this unbelief is slavery to the very sin that has been forgiven. Even though I may not be continuing in that particular sin, I’m living under condemnation from it that keeps me from Christ’s full joy! As I keep my thoughts on my failures, I miss opportunities to love and serve others. I miss seeing the blessings of His grace. My eyes should be fixed on things above (Colossians 3:1), but I remain wrapped up in what is dead so the meditations of my heart can’t be pleasing in His sight (Psalm 19:14).
This is just the tip of all the thoughts and Scriptures I’ve looked at on the subject, but then entire books have been written on living in God’s forgiveness! Maybe one day, I’ll be able to sit undistracted (Go Heels!) and put pen to paper more fully on what I want to express. For now, I’m just really excited to head rapidly towards Resurrection Sunday and truly rejoice in what Christ did for His Church! Tomorrow morning in our gathered worship service, we will be participating in communion and I’m quite sure it will be the most wonderful cracker and grape juice I’ve tasted in some time because I am thrilled to be forgiven! For this moment, I truly am not looking back but pressing on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
His offer of forgiveness is for you! Join me in walking in the freedom of His grace!