Forgiveness can be hard. I mean, it’s easy to forgive you when you step on my toe and I know (or can chalk it up) to an accident. But throw habitual sin into the mix and forgiveness gets tough. Some of us have dealt with the same sin over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over . . . and over again (It’s annoying!). How does a believer respond? It’s tough. For many, we want to draw a line in the sand and say, “This is the line. When you cross it, it’s over and I’m out.”
Put yourself in his or her shoes for a second. Imagine dealing with a drunk spouse, every night and day, for ten years. For ten years you have to answer your kids’ questions, take on a majority of the work, and deal with a drunk. Imagine dealing with an over-bearing and angry spouse. Even if there is no physical violence, the littlest things set him or her off the rails, and the yelling, quiet treatments, or hatred. Most of us could endure one night. But one hundred?
We live in a world of tipping points. “You cross this line one more time, I’m done.” This reasoning finds a home in unbelievers and the world. Why? Because unbelievers and the world does not understand forgiveness and grace. This world has lines and understands when you divorce your spouse for crossing it too many times. For a believer, unfortunately our hearts want to have lines too.
I’m sure by now, you’re thinking of Matthew 18, Luke 7, or Ephesians 4:32. “I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. ‘Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?’ (Matt 18:32-33). Luke records, “For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little” (7:47). “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:32).
These are appropriate verses for this situation. They connect our forgiving others to the forgiveness given to us. How much does the Lord forgive us? Everything. If we were to tally our sinful actions, it would look like pages of code from the Matrix: 10110000111 . . . (Now, I’m not a fan of tallying sin and thinking of it purely like an accountant sheet, our sin nature is so vile, its better to think of it as a quality issue, not quantity issue. Our nature produces sinful actions, not sinful actions produce our nature). The point is simple, we are so sinful, our actions abound beyond tallying. God forgives us of all of them. He chooses not to remember them and bring them back up against us. This doesn’t mean the consequences of our sins get ignored. It means He chooses not to bring them back up against us.
Now, how many times does He forgive us? Every time, without fail or requirement. Everyday you curse the traffic, every day the Lord forgives you for impatience. Every day our impatience is a sin against Him and yet He is faithful and just to forgive us. Every day we exhibit pride. Every day He forgives us, without fail. He doesn’t say, “I’m tired, I’ll forgive you when I see real change, so keep working on it.” No, he chooses not to bring it back up against us. But you say, “His sin is deplorable! You don’t understand what I have to put up with!” All sin is rebellion against the Lord, it personally offends Him. Do you understand how deplorable your own unforgiving heart is? And yet God forgives you for that too. God doesn’t draw a line in the sand and say, “One more time and I’m done.” Thank you Lord. Thank you for not being like us. We need to remember how much we’ve been forgiven.
So if God doesn’t draw lines, then why can we? Are we better than Him? I know these situations are difficult, hard, and seem unbearable. But the question remains, if God doesn’t have a “final” line, then why would we? Failure to forgive is rooted in pride. We are so tired of an action, we choose to exalt ourself because we are focused on ourself. When someone sins against us multiple times, we begin to think about how the action affects us personally. We start to focus on what we have to endure, the trials, the hardships, and how it puts us out. Usually we are frustrated because we cannot do what we want because of the other’s sin. We fail to think of the Lord. The Lord is the center of the universe, not me. He has asked me to endure this trial, “For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God. For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps” (1 Peter 2:20-21).
We are so focused on how we are ‘put out’ that we fail to ask, “How does the Lord want me to minister to his or her soul?” We get so offended we fail to realize the Lord has been offended and me, a believer, has an opportunity to be a peacemaker. We are so offended we think of our hardships, failing to think about our friend or spouse’s relationship and status with the Lord. We fail to realize showing kindness to someone who doesn’t deserve it, is an instrument to lead him or her to repentance. “Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?” (Rom 2:4). Forgiveness opens the door to the Gospel with the unsaved. It’s weird to the unbeliever.
Failure to forgive comes from pride. It starts when we are so focused on self we forget the Lord forgives us much. It would be a good practice for us to realize how putrid our sin is against Him. It’s far worse than anything someone can do to me. And He forgives me because of Christ and His sacrifice (Hebrew 10:10-18). I’m not forgiven because I’m great. I’m forgiven because Christ is great and His sacrifice is once, for all, for my sins, on behalf of me. He chooses to not bring my sins up against me any more. God does not draw a line in the sand with a, “One more time . . .” He forgives again and again. I benefit. If He can do that, who am I to not forgive?