Then Peter came to Jesus and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.”
Matthew 18:21-22 NKJV
In the verse above, Peter thought he was being very kind, even generous, in forgiving someone seven times, which is more than Jewish tradition counted as enough- only three times. I am certain Jesus’ response caught Peter by surprise, and he likely thought 490 times was a bit excessive! However, while Peter may have desired to count the offenses of others, Jesus is indicating that forgiveness does not keep score. Nor does forgiveness keep count of its mercies and grace. Is not this the very heart of Jesus?
Ephesians 2:4-5 echoes this truth, “But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.”
Forgiveness is the heart of Christianity, the nucleus of our faith.
I once thought of forgiveness as having to be earned. I felt a sense of superiority over any personal offender and I was going to inflict as much emotional pain as I could to show them how much they hurt me. In essence, I acted as the judge and jury, determining the sincerity of any apologetic words or deeds.
Now I see forgiveness as a gift. I have accepted and treasure the free gift of God’s complete forgiveness for my sins and shortcomings; therefore, I must freely give the gift of forgiveness. Of course, forgiveness is not indifferent, it is not lacking conviction, and it is surely not being a doormat for those wishing to take advantage. On the contrary, it is allowing God’s abundant grace to saturate your mind and heart to the point that it spills over and out from you. It is giving the Rightful Judge the burden of injustice and permitting the Author of Mercy to work compassion in our stubborn hearts.
In our forgiving of others, our hearts become stronger in taking less offense, our confidence in Christ expands, and our burning resentment diminishes. In this issue Troy and Dionne Ray share their insight on forgiveness in the context of marriage; Rich and Geri Campbell express the love of Christ in their ministry; and Candy Abbott offers ways to handle difficult people.
If you find the topic of forgiveness unsettling or you just cannot let go of the list of offenses against you, it is my prayer that this issue will provoke heartfelt contemplation on the Gospel of Grace.