Sermon Manuscript . . .
The Test of Forgiveness
Louie Zamperini was born in 1917 to Italian immigrants in Long Beach. In high school, he discovered track and field and fell in love with running, recording the fastest mile ever by a high school student at 4:21. At the age of 19, he qualified for the 1936 Berlin Olympics, running the 5000 meters. He finished 8th in the Olympics, and it is rumored that before he left Germany, he climbed a flagpole and stole Hitler’s personal flag. He returned from the Olympics and spent the next four years at USC.
After finishing college, he enlisted in the air force and went to World War II. While on a search and rescue mission, his plane, the Green Hornet, which had a history of mechanical issues, went down 850 miles off the coast of Hawaii. He and two other crew members survived and spent 47 days on an inflatable raft, living off of rain water, birds and small fish which they ate raw. Expected to be the first runner to break the 4-minute mile, he now weighed less than 100 lbs and could not even walk.
They drifted over 2,000 miles, until one day they heard the sound of an airplane. Looking up, they saw a Japanese bomber flying toward them. Louie fired two flares and waved frantically. The pilot circled, put them in his sites and began to fire. To avoid the bullets, they plunged over the side of the raft into the water, only to quickly pull their weary bodies back into the boat to avoid the sharks that were circling below. The plane flew off, leaving them alone once again.
Eventually they were captured just off the coast of Japan and transferred to a POW camp, where he was put under the control of a merciless guard nicknamed The Bird. This man was ruthless and took great joy in torturing the prisoners. He beat men everyday—fracturing windpipes, rupturing eardrums, shattering teeth, and often leaving men unconscious. He ordered one man to report to him to be punched in the face every night for three weeks. He was an evil man.
Due to his positive attitude, lionhearted spirit, and his fame as an Olympian, Louie was singled out and subjected to horrible torture at the hands of The Bird, who abused him on a daily basis and made his life even more miserable. If you would like to know more about his story, you can read the biography, titled Unbroken–its’ a fascinating story. But then the war ended, and Louie was released. He had been declared Killed in Action–and so when he returned home, it was to a hero’s welcome. He was paraded across the country for America to see. An Olympic athlete turned soldier, a prisoner of war turned hero.
Yet as a free man, he found himself imprisoned by his anger and hatred toward those who had abused him. His days were saturated with alcohol, his nights were riddled with nightmares of the nameless faces of those who tortured him without mercy. Unable to let it go, unable to move on, he dove deeper and deeper into despair, hatred, and misery. He refused to forgive. He could not let go of the offenses and pain he had suffered. The wrongs suffered were so severe, the hurt was so deep.
Have you ever felt that way? Hurt by another, you choose not to forgive. Instead, you rationalize and justify all the reasons you shouldn’t have to. I get it–the story of Louie Zamperini is an extreme example. His pain is more than most and yet some in this room have suffered tremendously. It doesn’t take much to reopen the wounds of your past. You have been lied to, betrayed, even abandoned. You tell yourself that you have broad shoulders, thick skin and it’s water off the ducks back. But deep down inside, pain turns into anger, anger into hatred and you choose not to forgive.
No one is immune from being hurt. We have all experienced pain at the hands of an enemy, a friend, and even our own family. Maybe you are like the man who said, “I wish that all of my enemies had three cars parked in front of their house–an ambulance, a fire truck and a police car.” Or like JFK, who said, “Forgive your enemies, but never forget their names.” Or Ulysses S. Grant, who said, “The art of war is simple enough. Find out where your enemy is. Get at him as soon as you can and strike him as hard as you can.” Some of you would embrace that philosophy.
Oh it might not be that you wage a direct war on them, but how many have given someone the silent treatment, or stopped responding to their texts, or stopped inviting them places, or started talking about them behind their back. These cold wars go on every day. Maybe a close friend or an old boyfriend has hurt you so badly that even today, the wound remains open. When you think of that person, your blood pressure rises, your teeth grind together, the hair on the back of your neck goes up. There is no love lost.
This morning, we come to the final test in our test series–it is the test of forgiveness. The simple reality is that we struggle to forgive. When our pride is wounded or something precious is taken from us or something evil is done to us, we act in a way to preserve and protect ourselves. Often this means cutting that person off, ignoring them, seeking revenge, or just plain hatred in our hearts. Let’s just put it out there right at the start. Forgiveness is hard. One man said, “Forgiveness is a lovely idea, until you have something to forgive.”
And yet, as those who have been forgiven, we have been called to forgive others. In fact, forgiveness is a mark of whether or not you are truly saved. Or said a different way, whether or not you forgive is a test of your salvation. Jesus said in Matthew 6:14 and 15, “For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.”
So this morning, we are going to tackle this topic. Our thesis for the morning is forgiveness is always right. Let’s look to the Word of God and take the test of forgiveness. Open your Bibles to Ephesians 4 and let’s read verses 31 and 32. This will serve as our text for this morning. “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.”
1. The Struggle is Real Verse 31
Can I just start by saying, relational conflict is a part of life. We all experience it. Some are dealing with it right now. The unresolved tension that lingers after some altercation, disagreement, or dispute–it exists in our homes, in our workplaces, at school, and even here in our church. And we would be happy to avoid it altogether, but it seems that wherever we go, conflict follows us. And the reason for that is because relational conflict is not caused by something or someone out there, it comes from inside of us.
I’m sorry to break it to you, but the root cause of the problems in your life is you. I know you’d like to blame your parents or your siblings or gluten, or the size of your carbon footprint–but the issues in your life are a direct result of the sin that is in your own heart. In Ephesians 4:31, Paul lists six sinful behaviors that create conflict in our lives. These originate in the heart of sinful men and women and affect our relationships with others. Let’s walk through them quickly to get a better understanding.
Bitterness—is an unpleasant, even nasty disposition, the cold-hearted closing of your heart to another. The word has a physical aspect to it, as we know what it is to eat something bitter or to have a bitter stomach. Bitterness remembers wrongs, broods, and has a spirit of irritability that turns into a sour and even venomous temperament. Hebrews 12:15 compares bitterness to a weed and gives us very clear instruction. “See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled.”
To illustrate this, my weed whacker has been broken for a few months and I finally got it repaired a couple weeks ago. So after I finished mowing my lawn, I went to edge and to my surprise, there was crabgrass everywhere. It is defined as an opportunistic weed that is difficult to get rid of. Well, I don’t have time to get rid of it properly–so instead, I grab my newly repaired weed whacker and I go to work.
I hit it from every possible angle. I cut down the grass part. I take out the stem. In fact when I am done with this thing, there is no sign that crabgrass ever existed on my property. Feeling good about my accomplishment, I went on with my trusty weed whacker, only to slice through a water line, only to have to fix that. As my friend AJ Woodsum once said, “It is never a good sign when projects beget other projects.” Anyway, it’s been a couple weeks and guess what–the crabgrass is back. Why? Because I didn’t eliminate the root.
And that is what Hebrews 12 is telling us. Bitterness bores deep into our hearts–and once it gets in there and finds a home, it is hard to get out. It defiles others, it causes trouble, it wreaks havoc on our relationships. There are some bitter people in this room. You are jaded, cynical, sarcastic, distrustful, even suspicious of the motives of others, because of some past wrong. Like a weed, you’ve got to get to the heart of that thing and dig it out. The next two words are related and we will handle them together.
Wrath–is rage or fury expressed in the heat of the moment. It comes quickly with an intense and explosive nature. This is passion expressed in an uncontrolled, hotheaded, impulsive manner when you lose your temper. Proverbs 14:17 says, “A quick-tempered man acts foolishly.” And Proverbs 29:22 says, “A hot-tempered man abounds in transgression.” In contrast . . .
Anger–is an internal smoldering like hot coals on a fire, not a minor frustration or irritation but a deep and settled anger. It doesn’t erupt like a volcano, but simmers, festers, rehashes wrongs done, plots revenge, and refuses to forgive. While Ephesians 4:26 says, “Be angry and yet do not sin,” this is sinful anger. “But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; 20for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God” (James 1:19 to 20). Are you more like a landmine or a pressure cooker?
The landmine–your fuse is small, your temper is large, and like a landmine, you have no problem detonating on anyone who steps on you. You are like Anger in the movie Inside Out. If anything or anyone provokes you, you explode. You blow up on your kids, or your spouse, or your subordinates at work. Does this describe any of you?
The pressure cooker–you keep everything inside. You bottle it up, hold grudges, keep lists, and let skeletons lurk in your closet. You don’t like to deal with conflict, so you just sweep it under the rug where it festers and grows. Most of the time, you don’t tell the other person that you are angry with them. Anyone here more of a pressure cooker?
The pressure cooker and the landmine are two extremes, and more than likely you fall somewhere in between. The struggle is real. When someone does something to offend, we get angry and either explode on them in an ungodly demonstration of anger, or we bottle it up, leaving it in the dark where it can fester and grow. There are two more words here that we will group together and both have the idea of verbal expression.
Clamor–is a verbal outcry, a loud scream or shout. Rising like the tide, our irritation overflows in harsh words, raised voices, and even yelling to make sure we are heard. It is a verbal outpouring of an angry heart that has lost control. In Matthew 12:34 Jesus said, “For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart.” And in that moment, the heart airs its grievances.
Slander–in this context, it is used for those who speak evil against another. It is to cut another down with your words. It is a character assassination, where you sit as judge and jury, handing out a verdict of guilty to the one who has offended you. Fueled by an angry and bitter heart, it seeks to harm or injure the reputation of another.
Proverbs 18:8 paints a picture of the slanderer. “The words of a whisperer are like dainty morsels, and they go down into the innermost parts of the body.” We enjoy slander and gossip like a piece of chocolate. But Proverbs 10:18 says, “He who spreads slander is a fool.”
In Psalm 101:5 God says, “Whoever secretly slanders his neighbor, him I will destroy.” And yet we struggle to control our tongues. James 3:8 and 9, “No one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. 9With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God.” We can sit in this room on a Sunday morning, sing songs of praise and adoration for God–and then get into our cars and before we are even down the hill we are tearing down others. “Did you hear what he said to me? . . . Can you believe she ignored me? . . . She walked right past me and didn’t even say hi.” We are a quick draw and a crack shot with our tongues. We know exactly how to use them. The old saying is true, “The tongue is the only tool that gets sharper with use.” This brings us to the final word . . .
Malice–this is a general term for wicked, evil actions. It is a broad, all-encompassing word that serves as a catch-all–the junk drawer of evil, if you will. In case anything was missed, Paul wraps it into this word. So let me put all of this together and drive it home. Relational conflict is a part of life and the reason that it follows you around is because your heart is filled with bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and slander, along with all malice.
I want you to think about a relational conflict in your life–get it in mind. Now think about how you responded to the injury, the hurt, the pain. I would wager you were angry, said unkind words, and have had a bitter spirit. We immediately get defensive, throw up a protective wall, and blame others for the issue. We are so quick to see the faults in others and so slow to see our own shortcomings. With a selfish and limited perspective, our response is so predictable. This is where we naturally gravitate. The struggle is real.
And so God gives us instruction in this verse. It is a command. He says–look down at verse 31, “put it away.” That is to say, get rid of it–be done with it. Every ounce of bitterness is to be put away. All feelings of anger are to be eliminated. All sinful speech is to be quelled. Once and for all, be done with these things. They were yours before Christ. They are not yours any longer.
Do you see that little modifier that Paul uses twice in verse 31? The word “all”. Hold onto no past pain, no past hurt, no desire to hurt others–harbor no resentment, no dwelling on, no going back to, no reopening the wounds of the past, no feasting on the injury in your mind. Put it all away in totality–in completeness. Be done with it. These are the things that split churches. These are the things that ruin friendships and tear families apart. Get it away from you.
Recently, we were coming home, driving down the I-15 late one night and there was an old white truck in the center lane in front of us who was drifting left, drifting right, all over the road. The driver was clearly under the influence. At one point, he drifted onto the shoulder and almost clipped a CHP officer who was leaning into a car to help a stranded driver. He swerved at the last second and missed him.
I called 911 and the dispatcher said they would send someone. About three minutes later, I get a call from a 951 number–it is the CHP officer who was on the side of the road and I told him, “Bro, that guy almost clipped you.” He said, “Are you still following him?” I told him, “No, at the first opportunity, I went around him and got in front of him.” Why? Because I didn’t want to stay in that situation. I didn’t want to get caught in the devastation that was about to unfold if he caused an accident. I would have been right in the middle of it. So instead, I got in front of him and put it in my rear view mirror.
The same is true for us. If we remain in these sins, allowing these things to control us, then when something goes wrong, and it will, we will be stuck in the devastation and effects of our sin. We are called to put these responses, these sins, in the rear view mirror and live differently. Once we have put them away, what are we to do?
2. The Resolution is Radical Verse 32
Paul turns from what we are to put off to what we are to put on. From six vices, he moves to three characteristics of those in Christ. And as we look at the hurt that has been caused, the pain that has been endured–we are called to act in a way that is fitting with our new nature, to be kind, to be tender-hearted and to forgive one another. These are powerful words. They are difficult words. They go against the norm.
Like a fish swimming upstream, these take conscious and active effort, because in verse 32 the pendulum is swung all the way to one side, and in verse 32 it swings all the way to the other side. In the flesh, in the Spirit–natural response, godly response–let’s look at these three words in turn.
Kind–it is to act in a mild, pleasant, friendly, and good way. It is to have a gracious and sweet disposition. One commentator defined it as love in practical action. Mark Twain said, “Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.” Young women are called to be kind in Titus 2:5. And of the Proverbs 31 woman it says, “The teaching of kindness is on her tongue,” in Proverbs 31:26. We are called to be kind to those in the church in Ephesians 4:32, and in 2 Timothy 2:24 we are to be kind to all. Micah 6:8 says to love kindness. Luke 6:36 says God is kind to ungrateful and evil men. Romans 2:4 tells us it was the “kindness of God that leads us to repentance.” And in Titus 3:4, the kindness of God is what saves us.
In light of this, Proverbs 3:3 and 4 say, “Do not let kindness and truth leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. 4So you will find favor and good repute in the sight of God and man.” This biblical term has made its way into our modern vernacular. In fact, practicing kindness is a very popular cultural concept right now. In an effort to help people in their practicing of kindness, one website gave the following suggestions–“use your manners, smile at a stranger, let someone go ahead of you in line, buy doughnuts for someone, don’t be stingy with hugs.” These are all good things but the biblical concept of kindness goes much deeper.
How do you respond when someone is mean to you? How do you respond when someone intentionally leaves you out? How do you react when someone hurts your feelings, when someone says a harsh word or talks about you behind your back? What happens when your ideas aren’t listened to or your opinions don’t matter? The predictable response is bitterness, anger, and slander–the desire for justice and revenge. But here we are to be kind–a continual command. Continue to put on kindness. To become kindness. To wear kindness as a garment, to those who are ungrateful to you, to those who have wronged you and offended you.
Do we practice random acts of kindness? No. We practice thoughtful, consistent, proactive, radical acts of kindness–those that are the exact opposite of what your flesh tells you to do. Swallow your pride. Forget about your ego. Stop thinking of yourself as more important than you ought and be kind. It is true that guys are brutal to each other. But women are downright ruthless. This is a struggle for many of you. Women are quick to ostracize someone who doesn’t fit. Women are famous for cliques. Women are quick to backstab, quick to gossip, and quick to harbor resentment and grudges against others.
Galatians 5:22 says kindness is a fruit of the Spirit–that is to say, kindness is a direct manifestation of the Holy Spirit’s work in your life. A lack of kindness then is a lack of the Spirit having sway in your life. So, when someone is evil toward you, when someone is even an enemy, when someone responds to you in an ungrateful way, even hurts you, purposely offends you–you are to respond in kindness. Next, Paul gives us . . .
Tender-hearted–it means compassion or sympathy, to have mercy or empathy usually in response to the infirmity, grief or miseries of others. In the Greek language, it refers to the healthy function of the bowels and came to reflect the feeling you get in the pit of your stomach–the pain you feel when someone is suffering. It is to see the emotional turmoil, grieving, and hurt in another and to have concern. Interesting that bitterness takes us one way toward a sour feeling in our stomach, and compassion toward empathy.
In Luke 15, the father of the prodigal son has this type of care for his wayward son. Verse 20 says, “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.” Being tender-hearted is not a trait that men naturally gravitate toward. From an early age, men are taught to be strong, bold, confident–don’t expose the soft side. Don’t show too much emotion. Don’t really care. You are supposed to be a rock. a man’s man. But men, the gruff exterior, the lack of smiles, the tough guy persona–sure it has its place. But we are called to be kind and tender-hearted. Christian men, men of FBC, you should be marked by a tender heart–a compassionate care for others. I am not saying you need to get all sappy and watch Hallmark movies. I am saying that you need to be men who care for the hurts of others, who bear the burdens and are associated with the pain in another, as if it is your own. The final trait in verse 32 is . . .
Forgiving–there are two main words in the Greek New Testament that are translated as forgive. One means to pardon or to send away and remove the guilt associated with the wrongdoing, as in Luke 5:21, “Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
The word used in Ephesians 4:32 is different. It comes from the same root as the word grace and it means to freely give favor or deal graciously with another–to act in grace towards another. In this context–it is to look at a wrong suffered and instead of holding someone to it, making them feel the pain of the error, you treat them graciously. It is not to consider the wrong done, but rather to respond with a selfless, considerate love. One commentator wrote, “Christian forgiveness insists on nothing when wronged, freely lets the wrong pass, and thus for its part ends it at once.”
“Real forgiveness means looking steadily at the sin that is left over after all allowances have been made, and seeing it in all its cruelty, is nevertheless wholly reconciled to the man who has done it” (C. S. Lewis). At the moment of offense, I must forgive the other. I cannot harbor, I cannot indulge, I cannot hold onto the wrong done. I do not get to act as judge and jury–I must forgive.
Luke 17:3 to 4, “Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. 4And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.” Wow. The principle here is that we forgive and we keep forgiving. In fact, the command in Ephesians 4:32 is a continual command–keep on forgiving. It is not a one time deal–well, I will let it go this once. No, it is the constant state of the heart of the Christian.
Turn to Genesis 50:15–Joseph’s brothers said, “ ‘What if Joseph bears a grudge against us and pays us back in full for all the wrong which we did to him!‘ ” Then in verse 18 to 19, “Then his brothers also came and fell down before him and said, ‘Behold, we are your servants.’ 19But Joseph said to them, ‘Do not be afraid, for am I in God’s place?‘ ” Am I the judge? Is it my job to deal out retribution? No–even though he had been so badly mistreated by those whom he loved, he had forgiven them a long time earlier. He had years as a slave. Not knowing the language in Egypt, I am sure he had a lot of time to think. Then a lot of time in prison to stew, to bake, to really let this fester. He could have grown in bitterness, in wrath, in anger, in clamor and slander. But he didn’t.
After his release from prison, he is married and has a son. And Genesis 41:51 says, “Joseph named the firstborn Manasseh: For he said, God has made me forget.” Wow–that is amazing. Long before the famine in Egypt, Joseph had forgiven his brothers. And so in Genesis 50 he says, “ ‘As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive. 21So therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones‘ ” (Genesis 50:20 to 21). So he comforted them and spoke kindly to them. This dude is a boss.
How about Stephen? As he is being executed as the result of a sham trial and mob justice in Acts 7:59 to 60 it says, “They went on stoning Stephen as he called on the Lord and said, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!’ 60Then falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them!’ Having said this, he fell asleep.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the pastor who suffered and died in Nazi Germany said, “This is the supreme demand. Through the medium of prayer we go to our enemy, stand by his side, and plead for him to God.” And what is that prayer? “Father, forgive them.” They need Christ.
In Matthew 5 Jesus said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” And the abuses and the insults and the injuries don’t just come from out there. They come from in here–from our brothers and our sisters in Christ, from our friends, from those we love most in our families. Notice that 4:32 says “forgive each other.” Thisis a mutual exchange of forgiveness. Today, you offend me and I forgive you. Tomorrow, I offend you and you will need to forgive me. It is who we are as Christians.
Don’t you see? It’s not all about your little world and how offended you are. Stop being a victim. Stop seeing this as an us against them mentality. Stop cutting others off and making your circle of trust smaller and smaller until it only includes your immediate family. No, we are all in this together. And you will be hurt and so will I. And when it happens, and it will–God calls you to forgive, to let the offense go, to actively look at that person and drown the sin in a sea of kindness and compassion and forgiveness.
No church is split, no friendship is ended, no marriage is dissolved based on the original sin. All broken relationships are caused by a second sin–the sin of unforgiveness. Listen, we naturally respond according to verse 31–that is our programmed response. The pendulum is naturally swung all the way to that side. But in Christ, there is a different response–a radical one that, by the power of the Holy Spirit, allows us to forgive. Forgiveness is always right.
3. The Motivation is Amazing Verse 32
If you are like me, there is a question still lingering. It is the question, “Why? Why should I forgive? You are saying that I need to forgive. I have been stepped on. I have been injured. I can’t even look at that person. The very thought of them gives me a visceral response.” But verse 32 ends with an amazing statement. It is our reality. It is bedrock trust and is all the motivation we need–because God in Christ also has forgiven you. Let’s unpack this phrase by answering some basic questions about the forgiveness of God. Really quick–who, what, when, how, and why does God forgive?
Who does God forgive?
Look back at 32. He forgave you. Who are you? Straight A student . . . accomplished musician . . . great cook . . . business owner . . . amazing mom . . . talented writer . . . gifted athlete . . . principal . . . teacher . . . pastor . . . executive. Unfortunately, these things don’t carry any weight in God’s eyes. Your title, your bank account, your social media following, your accomplishments account for nothing.
You are a ruined sinner, a fallen son or daughter of Adam. Scripture does not describe you as the best of the best, but as contemptible and weak, unworthy and wretched–an enemy, the greatest of sinners, the least of these, the blind, the lost who is a hopeless, damned, child of wrath awaiting judgment. Who does God forgive? He forgave you, an unworthy sinner.
What did God forgive?
Every thought, word, and deed that has fallen short of His perfect standard, every infraction against His holiness, every attack on His sovereignty, every question of His goodness, every doubt of His love, every worship of another god. The big sins, the little sins, the public sins, the private ones. Your favorite sin, your most shameful sin. The deliberate sins, the sins of omission, the one-time offenses, the repeated offenders. Sins committed before you were a Christian, done in ignorance and darkness as an unbeliever. Sins done in the light, after your conversion as a child of righteousness. All sin–past, present, and future have been forgiven by God.
How does God forgive?
This is the divine dilemma–God must be just, yet He desires to save His people. In the words of Charles Spurgeon, “How did God make mercy and justice kiss?” In the words of Paul, “How can God be both just and the justifier?” Out comes the sacrificial system–animals dying in the place of man, a picture of the consequence of sin. But the blood of bulls and goats can never take away the sin of a man–more was required.
And so, at the right time God sent forth His own Son, given to the world He created. He came in humility as the suffering servant. Like the animals of the Old Testament, He too would take the place of man. But unlike the animals of the Old Testament, He was a worthy substitute. As a man, He could bear the sins of men. Hung on a cross, the Giver of life gave up His life. Isaiah 53:5 says, “He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities.”
Listen carefully. Forgiveness isn’t free. There has never been a higher price paid for anything. Your forgiveness was purchased with the precious blood of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. First John 1:7 says, “The blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.” Where did mercy and justice kiss? At the cross of Jesus Christ. How can God be both the just and the justifier? By pouring out His wrath on His Son, He extends mercy and forgiveness to the undeserving.
When does God forgive?
The forgiveness of God comes to a sinner at the moment of salvation. In the divine courtroom, a hammer falls and a declaration is made–innocent. The sinner has been justified–declared righteous. The debt has been paid, sin is removed, it is over and all the promises in Scripture are yours in Christ.
Listen to what the rest of Scripture says. Micah 7:18 says God will tread our iniquities under His foot. In Isaiah 38:17, “For you have cast all my sins behind your back.” And in Isaiah 43:25, “I will remember your sins no more.” Micah 7:19, “You will cast all their sins into the depths of the sea.” And finally Psalm 103:12, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.” At the moment you came in faith, bowed your knee and submitted your life to Christ, He forgave you completely, continually, freely, eternally. As the hymn says, “Because the sinless Savior died, my sinful soul is counted free. For God the just is satisfied to look on Him and pardon me.” Who, what, when, how, and last . . .
Why does God forgive?
Let’s let Scripture answer this one. “For God so loved the world that He gave His Son” (John 3:16). “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10). “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). God forgives because He loves. He felt kindness, pity, and compassion toward us and took us while we were still sinners and made us alive in Christ.
So let’s go back to our original question–why should you forgive? Because God in Christ also has forgiven you. How should you forgive? The same way that God in Christ also has forgiven you. Are you holding onto an offense? Are you still grinding over some issue from the past? My friend, as one who has been forgiven, it is time to forgive. The issue is not between you and them. The issue is between you and God.
“Run, John, run–the Law commands, but gives us neither feet nor hands. Far better news the gospel brings, it bids us fly and gives us wings” (John Bunyan). This truth gives us wings to fly. Get away from the muck and mire of personal injury and the petty nature of your response to the hurt caused by others. Set your eyes on Christ and the forgiveness He offers and fly. God has freely forgiven you an insurmountable debt–how can you not forgive another whose offense to you is much less than your offense to God? The principle is simple–those who are forgiven will forgive others. Forgiveness is always right. As we wrap this up, let me give you . . .
Three Responses to the Forgiveness of God
1. We fall on our faces in gratitude, as we are undeserving of it
2. We stand to our feet in worship–thanksgiving overflows into worship and praise
3. We offer forgiveness to others, modeling what Christ has done for us
Certainly there are some in this room who have never been forgiven by God–who are even now under the weight of their sin. Those who feel the shame and guilt of past regrets, ruined relationships, and a life lived apart from God, and here you sit wondering if it is too late. Are you beyond the grace of God? Can your sins still be forgiven? Is God willing to forgive you?
As an ambassador of Jesus Christ and one who has been forgiven of a mountain of sin, it is my great privilege to tell you that God’s offer of forgiveness in Jesus Christ extends to all guilty sinners, even to you. If you have questions about how you can be forgiven in Jesus Christ, then please talk to the person that brought you or come to the front after the service ends.
As I mentioned earlier, when Louie Zamperini returned home from World War II, he was never the same. The nightmares and the drinking continued, as did the anger and desire for revenge for his former captors. At the pleading of his wife, he attended a Billy Graham Crusade in 1949, and at the age of 32 he found forgiveness for his sins and salvation in Jesus Christ. The transformation in his life was radical. The drinking and the nightmares stopped immediately. But his seething anger and the desire to avenge the wrongs done to him were as strong as ever. He had been so badly mistreated and had vowed never to forgive.
But slowly over time, God changed his heart and he forgave those men for what they had done to him. The following year, Louie flew to Tokyo to visit a prison where many of his former captors were imprisoned for their war crimes. He sat with them, telling them that God had forgiven his crimes, the crimes he had committed against God. And how all of his sin had been removed through the saving work of Jesus Christ, who gave His life so that all could be forgiven. He went on to tell these men, the same men who for over two years had tortured him without mercy, that because God had forgiven him, he was now seeking to forgive them for what they did to him.
As a result, many of those men gave their lives to Christ. What a testimony of the grace of God. Louie Zamperini loved his enemies, forgave them and sought to win them with the Gospel. May we go and do likewise because forgiveness is always right. Father, thank you for loving and forgiving unworthy sinners like those of us in this room.