When the church is permissive with sin, people will not be clean from sin. Forgiveness is not a reality where sin is permitted. The Corinthian church once permitted an incestuous man to remain in the fellowship. It was during this time the man continued without repentance, remaining unclean before God. When the church repented and confronted the man about his sin, then he repented. What happened next is astounding--the church did not forgive the man nor restore him to the fellowship.
One component of forgiveness is restoration. Paul says to forgive the one who repents (2 Cor 2:7). Hold nothing against him. He repented, received forgiveness by God; now, do the same. The key here is that forgiveness does not come without repentance. What is forgiveness?
First, forgiveness is NOT a feeling. Remember this scene?
Yes, the clip also provides a discussion about faith, but focus on the 1:10 mark and following. Forgiveness is not a feeling that wells up inside us. Forgiveness is a willful decision, but only as it is the fruit of a God-changed heart toward the repentant; Christ-given grace; love that stoops, humility toward another. Forgiveness comes from a Spirit-transformed mind about how we will or will not think or talk about the one who caused hurt. Forgiveness is a God-infused decision that changes feeling. If I forgave based on how I felt, I would not be doing much forgiving.
Second, forgiveness is not forgetting. Time never erases crime, so waiting for forgetfulness is a waste of time. Forgiveness is a deliberate action, rooted in God’s deliberate action. “I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; And I will not remember your sins.” (Isa 43:25) God is not saying he cannot remember but that He will not remember. When He chooses to forgive, He chooses not to bring up our sins again because of the sacrifice of Christ. When we forgive, we draw on God’s grace to intentionally decide not to think of talk about what others have done to hurt us. The effort is tremendous as long as the offense is still in our mind. We don’t stop dwelling on sin passively, but actively, deliberately.
Third, forgiveness is not a “front”; that is, we do not excuse sin. Excusing says, “That’s okay,” which translates to “what you did wasn’t really wrong,” or “You couldn’t help it.” Forgiveness is really an authentic exhibition, the polar opposite of excusing. The fact that forgiveness is needed and granted shows that what someone did was wrong and inexcusable. This is how we should approach God first concerning our own sin. ii. Forgiveness says, “We both know that what you did was wrong and without excuse. But since God has forgiven me, I forgive you.” FORGIVENESS IS NOT NATURAL BUT SUPERNATURAL. Forgiveness deals honestly with sin, bringing freedom that no amount of excusing could ever hope to provide.
Finally, forgiveness is costly. Forgiveness does not simply happen because it is expected or demanded. Once cannot stand before a judge and be let go for crimes committed, so expec that God is the greater judge! The Swedish diplomat Dag Hammarskjold (1905-1961) said, “Forgiveness breaks the chain of causality because he who ‘forgives’ you--out of love--takes upon himself the consequences of what you have done. Forgiveness, therefore, always entails a sacrifice.”
We should Praise God for his gracious gift of forgiveness to us! (Eph. 4:32) says “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” You will probably have an opportunity to extend forgiveness this week. When you do, try to remember what forgiveness is not, and fix your eyes on the full and gracious forgiveness that God has given you in Jesus Christ.