For the last two weeks I have been teaching on communication and conflict resolution in the marital relationship. Few things make me feel like a complete fraud like this subject matter. I’m hardly an expert in how to communicate effectively with my husband, or even how to resolve conflict when we have a fight. I know the principles, but putting them into practice isn’t my strongest area. I have a hard time letting things go. Actually, I have a really hard time forgiving and moving on. My vivid imagination and long-lasting memory make the process all the harder. But in reality, I’ve learned that it is actually my own selfish desires that make this biblical command extremely difficult. What I’ve learned about myself in the preparation process these last few weeks is that I hold on to the bitterness and anger because I want to continue punishing my husband (and others) for the pain they have caused me. I don’t like accepting their forgiveness because I fear that acceptance means minimizing how they made me, the pinnacle of my own universe, feel.
Now do you see why I felt like a fraud? How could I teach these biblical truths accurately while I harbored so much internal resentment and pain for past hurts? How could I explain what forgiveness is if I don’t like to forgive others?
Thankfully, God’s word penetrates sinful, stubborn hearts like my own and teaches me as I teach others. Ephesians 4:32 says, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
How did God forgive us? It’s the question I asked myself and my students. And the answer is precious every time I hear it. He forgave us abundantly and completely through the atoning death of his son, Jesus. When he sees me, he doesn’t see horrible, sinful Courtney. And not because of anything I have done, but because of the perfect righteousness of my Savior. You see, God’s forgiveness of me, and you, is not because of our own good effort. It’s based on the merit of another, the good work of Jesus. This means that even the vilest of sinners can find forgiveness at the cross because his life, death, and resurrection can pay for it all. It’s that amazing.
But it’s also our basis for forgiving others. When we forgive we aren’t forgiving someone because they are great and perfect. We aren’t even saying that their sin against us doesn’t matter. We are actually saying that it matters a great deal, especially to a holy God. But he already did everything necessary to pay for that sin, and if someone is an unbeliever, he will deal with that sin one day when he judges the sins of the world.
When I fail to forgive, I am essentially saying I don’t believe that Christ’s death for your sins is sufficient. Forgiveness is trusting in the merit of another, not the merit of the one seeking forgiveness. If we based our acceptance of forgiveness on anything but the righteous work of Christ we would be left with insufficient forgiveness. Every sin must be paid for, and the Old Testament is proof that mere words, animal sacrifices, or human effort will never be enough.
So the next time you struggle, like me, with accepting another’s forgiveness remember your Savior. He accomplished everything necessary to pay for your sin and the sin done against you. And that is good news.