Forgiveness (Going Deeper Still)

Sometimes “going deeper” means exploring the theological depths of an idea with our minds.  However, at other times it will mean apprehending an idea like forgiveness with our hearts, taking full ownership of it, and having it change our daily lives.  Going deeper may open areas where forgiveness has been buried—where wounds still hurt and where anger, bitterness and fear have taken root.

Wrongful Actions:

We know what it feels like when we’ve been wronged, but are some sins more serious than others?  Elsewhere I’ve used the analogy that sin is like…pregnancy.

A woman is either pregnant or not pregnant.  Either a person is sinning or he/she isn’t.  There are no in-betweens or categories.  Every sin is a departure from aligning ourselves with God.  Whether just a little off the mark or way out in left field, sin means we are not aligned with God’s ways.  Just like an arrow can be only a little off when it is released from a bow but can miss the target completely later on, sin can be something rather minor in our eyes but it becomes something way off God’s narrow path of holiness down the road.  Any sin is off the straight road…whether by a little or a lot.

Why is this important?  Well, if some sins were really quite minor and therefore humanly fixable, we could be our own savior and not need the one God supplied:  Jesus. 

We don’t take sin seriously enough in modern times.  Our offenses are not just against one another…they are also against an Infinite Being…and therefore have enormous consequences even for the most minor infraction from our viewpoint.  It takes a God-given Savior to heal a violation against an Infinite God…even when it was “just a little white lie.”

The High Cost of Sin

Even if some sins seem minor and that all sins are a simple departure from God’s way of holiness, the cost will be commensurate with the damage caused.  In other words, the consequences vary with how much harm we’ve done to others –God’s Image Bearers–in addition to God Himself.  

What is an appropriate counter punishment for an offense?  The “eye for an eye” type of legal code (called lex talionis) is something we see notably in the Code of Hammurabi.  Precise reciprocity is very clearly in mind.  But with sin, we only see the tip of the iceberg.  The ramifications of the wrongs we do extend well beyond those initially offended.  Similar to “second hand smoke” where innocent bystanders can be affected, our sins not only reap consequences today but in the lives of our children and the victim’s children. 

Additionally, some sins are complicated violations of trust and relationship, adding to the cost of the damage done.  That’s why pastors, teachers, and leaders are held more accountable.  That’s why those who lead children astray are held more accountable.  Consequences can vary depending on the number of people one leads astray, the innocence of the ones led away, the lingering hurts and betrayals that stand in the way of their accepting Jesus as their Lord and Savior. The Internet can take a small sin from one person’s laptop to global problem.

It’s just staggering to realize the magnitude of wrong one is capable of doing. 

Teachers don’t take sin seriously enough.  Pastors don’t take sin seriously enough.  Leaders don’t take sin seriously enough. But every example of hatred in the public square, sin against a congregation, public sins paraded in the newspaper, child abuse scandals, taking money from widows, etc…these all have a higher cost because of the sheer number of people harmed.  When those actions fuel hatred of Jesus–our only source of true forgiveness–the consequences of those actions increase exponentially.

If every pastor (leader, teacher…person!) stopped to think soberly about the consequences of his words and actions as being offenses against an Infinite God whose image is carried by even the smallest child, we’d all grieve over our sin more than we do.

Peace with God

The only way to pay the high cost of sin is to pay an infinitely high price.  This is the point of Matthew 18:21-35.  When we recognize the high cost of sin and our own sinfulness, we’ll cherish forgiveness and peace with God more profoundly.  When Peter asks Jesus in Matthew 18:21 “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus doesn’t respond with a calculation…because it’s not “an eye for an eye” but a mind-boggling concept of how much sin grieves God.  Jesus answered Peter saying, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times” (verse 22).  In effect He was saying, if you’re counting, you’re missing the point entirely.  Forgiveness is not an individual act—it’s a way of living.

Jesus then tells the parable in Matthew 18:23-34 and explains His right to set the payment and to forgive it.  Regarding our forgiving one another, Jesus concludes the parable with the terrifying idea that forgiveness needs to be seen through the lens of God forgiving us.  Jesus summarizes, “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart” (verse 35).


So what does it mean that our debt has been paid by Jesus?  What does it mean to be pardoned?  It means everything for peace with God for those who believe.  But it means no benefit at all to those who still hold onto grudges, whose hope is for personal vengeance, who trust in their own inherent goodness, or who think that sin is just a matter of personal preference.  Those who don’t want to believe that the pardon applies to them remain in prison and slavery to their sin.  Maybe they think they don’t need a pardon because they haven’t been that far off the mark, or they don’t want a pardon because of what it would mean for changing the way they live and forgiving others as they have been forgiven.

When we truly understand what it means to be a redeemed people, we will take sin seriously, avoid it wherever we can, ask for forgiveness when we’ve harmed another, and offer forgiveness knowing how much we have been forgiven.

Ironically, most of us go through our days feeling pretty good about who we are…only because we just don’t realize what we’re doing.  In Luke 23:34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

Takes on a whole new meaning, doesn’t it?

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Categories Articles | Tags: | Posted on March 4, 2011

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  1. by Teri

    On March 8, 2011


    This is so beautiful…I went on the site to try to figure out how to subscribe to the lenten devotionals and found this gem…thanks for blessing my day. So many people drown in depression and I believe most of it is due to lack of forgiveness, along with fear of looking at our own part in all of this…so hard. You are so wise and your words are so healing. Keep up this vital ministry!! Love, Teri

  2. by seminarygal

    On March 10, 2011

    Thank you, Teri. You’re absolutely right: Forgiveness is hard. Lately I’ve been pondering the idea of forgiving oneself and whether that’s even possible. If our actual sins are also sins against God, it seems to me that we cannot forgive ourselves. God’s forgiveness comes first–and it comes by way of pardon at Jesus’ expense. But knowing that God has forgiven us, why do we even question whether we will forgive ourselves?

    Holding a grudge against ourselves (i.e. forgiveness held hostage in order to self-inflict maximal damage) seems even more wrong. For those of us prone to recalling every shortcoming, oh great, there’s more for me to feel guilty about! I wonder if unconfessed sin may be less of an issue for some of us than RE-confessed sin?

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