Thursday, June 12, 2014

Just How Much??

Over the course of my life many of its circumstances have forced me to really wrestle through the concept of forgiveness. 

Friends have failed. Family has bailed.  How am I to respond?   

I’ve been wronged - should I forgive?
I’ve been abandoned - can I forgive? 
I’ve been betrayed - will I forgive?
I’ve been abused – must I forgive?

Forgiveness can be a tough teaching because, if I'm really honest, forgiveness goes against the grain of my nature.  

When you push me, my natural response is to push back.  
When you talk about me, my innate reaction is to talk about you.  
When you walk away from me my first reflex is not to walk towards you... 
     ...well, at least it’s not to walk towards you with Christ like love.  Sadly, if truth be told it may be to walk towards you with balled up fist much more than with outstretched arm!  

I often don't feel like forgiving.

Yet, in spite of my feelings, God’s Word tells me to forgive.  Over and over and over it tells me to forgive!
In response I ask, “Well, how much, God?  JUST HOW MUCH do I have to forgive THAT person who did THOSE things to me??” 
Or if more honestly stated, perhaps the real question is “just how little forgiveness can I get away with?”

Thankfully, Jesus didn't ask that question where I was concerned.  

As Jesus prepared to come to earth in order to live the sinless life that I can’t live and then to die the excruciating death that I deserve to die, He didn't ask: “Father, just how much do I have to forgive Lori Sealy and just how little can I forgive and still help her off the hook?”  No, Jesus forgave me FULLY and at GREAT cost to Himself  - the cost of Calvary's cross. I would do well to remember that as I am called upon to forgive others.

Instead of “just how much must I forgive YOU” perhaps a more clarifying question, a question that would put everything in proper perspective, would be “just how much has God, through Christ, forgiven ME?!”

Yes, people can be cruel and unkind and can sin against us in so many ways;  but the truth is, I can be cruel and unkind and can (and do) sin against others in so many ways – including the God who sent His only Son to save me. 

Yes, I have been wronged repeatedly but the reality is, I have wronged (and still wrong) others repeatedly – including my God who gave Jesus to set things right between us. 

How has God responded to my sins, and transgressions, and betrayals, and abuses?  He has paid the price to forgive me.

Mercifully, in Jesus I have been forgiven more than I deserve,  
     more than I can even fathom, 
          and more than I could ever repay.

I have not been treated fairly by Him, thankfully, 'cause do I REALLY want fair for my failings?  Do I REALLY want what I deserve?  Do I REALLY want what's coming to me?  

No, and thankfully God has not given me justice, instead he's given me MERCY - marvelous mercy, and GRACE – glorious grace! 

From His end, that gift of grace came at great expense.  The gracious gift of my forgiveness wasn't just a free pass granted by a whimsical wink of the Divine eye.  Oh no, a holy God never just winks at our sin.  That gift came at a deeply sacrificial cost.  The price of my pardon was paid on Calvary's cross by the life blood of the very One whom I've sinned against the most!

Wow!  I don't know about you, but that's a forgiveness very different from the kind I often try to pull off.

Jesus didn’t pursue the punitive against me.  
Jesus pursued pardon for me – and all at such sacrifice of self!

Oh, how could I ever be too haughty to be willing to forgive another who has never sinned against me (as great as their sins may be) as much I have sinned against the Savior?  

Yet, far too often I am haughty and my pitiful pride ever reminds me of my continuing need of Jesus’ help in this thing as in all things. 

This morning, my heart was pricked as I read J. C. Ryle’s thoughts on Peter’s famous question:  “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him?  Up to seven times?”  

To that question Jesus replied:   “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” 

Ryle writes:

"In these verses the Lord Jesus deals with a deeply important subject – the forgiveness of injuries.

We live in a wicked world, and it is vain to expect that we can escape ill-treatment, however carefully we may behave.  To know how to conduct ourselves, when we are ill-treated, is of great importance to our souls. The Lord Jesus lays it down as a general rule that we ought to forgive others to the uttermost.

Now our Lord does not mean that offences against the law of the land and the good order of society are to be passed over in silence.  He does not mean that we are to allow people to commit thefts, and assaults with impunity.  All that He means is that we are to study a general spirit of mercy and forgivingness to our brethren.

We are to bear much, and put up with much, rather than quarrel.  We are to look over much and submit to much, rather than have any strife.  We are to lay aside everything like malice, strife, revenge and retaliation.  Such feelings are only fit for heathens.  They are utterly unworthy and unbecoming of a disciple of Christ. 

What a happy world it would be if this rule of our Lord’s was more known and better obeyed!  How many of the miseries of mankind are occasioned by disputes, quarrels, lawsuits, and an obstinate tenacity about what men call “their rights!”  How many of them might be altogether avoided if men were more willing to forgive and more desirous for peace! 

Let us never forget that a fire cannot go on burning without fuel.  Just in the same way it takes two to make a quarrel.  Let us each resolve by God’s grace that of these two we will never be one.  Let us resolve to return good for evil, and blessing for cursing, and so melt down enmity and change our foes into friends.”

Oh Lord, I am incapable of such a calling.  I am rarely desirous of seeing my foes become my friends – but that is what you were desirous of with me, and You set out at great cost to see that it would happen. 

Help me to fall on You, my Savior, not merely as my example in these things (for I will fail in following) but as my very source of strength and substitution in living out these things.  Help me to live out gospel grace to those who have hurt me.

Make me to love others as I have been loved, 
     to forgive others as I have been forgiven, 
          and to pursue peace with people even if it means pain to my pride. 

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