The badge of the Christian

What do you think I’m talking about? I can see you all in my mind’s eye, raising your hands, shouting out answers…

Faith! Gentleness! Love!

And you would all be wrong. It is forgiveness.

I am learning a lot about forgiveness lately. When I say lately, I mean over the past seven years. I remember a conversation back then that started to turn my thinking around. My husband and I were leaving a church service in Michigan, where we lived at the time. It had been about forgiveness, and the Huz asked me if there’s anyone I hadn’t forgiven. I quickly responded with the name of my old boss at a PR firm where I used to work. This guy had been mean with a capital M. I think he terrorized people just for the sheer joy and power it brought him. I often heard him yelling at people down the hall from my office, berating them for what any other sane person would call a job well done. I’d heard stories of him throwing staplers at people. Firing people on the spot. I had only had two run-ins with him personally. The first was about 10 or 11 months into my tenure there, and his sites had been set on me, the quiet one cowering in the corner, finally. He brought me into his office, and began screaming at me. For what, I do not remember. I sat there calmly listening to this five-foot-nothing of a man try to shake me. And then I looked him in the eye and told him he was to never speak to me that way again. I got up and left and went back to my office. Shortly after that I had my second run-in with him. It was to tell me that I was being “let go due to down-sizing.” This may sound like a very mild run-in to those seasoned folks out there. But to a twenty-something, fresh to the work world, this hurt. A lot.

So, back to that day walking out of church with the Huz. I responded, “No, I haven’t forgiven That Guy. And I never will. He doesn’t deserve it.” To my astonishment and chagrin, my dearly beloved then pulled up this verse:

For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions. Matthew 6: 14-15

In all my years as a Christian up to that point, I had somehow managed to never hear that verse. Or successfully avoided it. Or figured a way for it not to apply to me. Whatever the case, it lay on my shoulders a heavy weight. I was in a bit of a conundrum. How could I forgive That Guy for being such a jerk? Not just to me, but to every person he’d ever come into contact with?

Well, since then, there’s been many a situation that has arisen in which I’ve asked myself that question time and time again. And each time I have reminded myself that if I do not ask the Holy Spirit for His help to forgive, then I am setting myself up for a broken relationship with my Father. Staring that fact in the face, I start down the road (usually begrudgingly) of forgiveness.

I’m reading a book right now called “Unpacking Forgiveness” by Chris Brauns. I started reading it because Dan and I (the aforementioned Huz) had recently found ourselves once again discussing forgiveness. This time it was not just I, but both of us, struggling to forgive. And not just forgive but to actually describe what forgiveness even means. There are SO MANY definitions of what forgiveness is. What it’s supposed to look like. It gets confusing.

I think Chris Brauns has nailed it. He says forgiveness is “a commitment by the offended to pardon graciously the repentant from moral liability and to be reconciled to that person, although not all consequences are necessarily eliminated.” He goes on to further explain that this definition of forgiveness is modeled after the kind of forgiveness that Christ offers us. This forgiveness includes the following elements:

1. God’s forgiveness is gracious but not free. While salvation is a gift, God bought it at an infinitely high price.
2. God’s forgiveness is conditional. Only those who repent and believe are saved. Even though the gift of salvation is offered to everyone, only those who open the gift through repentance and belief are saved.
3. God’s forgiveness is a commitment. It is His promise that He will never hold that sin against the forgiven party.
4. Forgiveness lays the groundwork for and begins the process of reconciliation. Salvation and new birth are inextricably connected to reconciliation. You can’t be forgiven by God without being reconciled to Him.
5. Forgiveness does not mean the elimination of all consequences. The outcomes of our sin will happen. There’s a ripple effect to our choices. However, these consequences are not punishment but how God trains and teaches.

I have not finished Brauns book, but I do believe he is taking me down the right path. It is certain that forgiveness is incredibly difficult. It is at a high price. It is for those who are repentant. It takes a conscious commitment. Forgiveness drives us toward reconciliation, but consequences also are part. I also see that forgiveness is the nature of God. His entire plan was just so He could offer forgiveness to us. If God is so big on forgiveness, how can I not be?

If God is so big on forgiveness, how can I not be?

I’ll leave you with this quote from Brauns book:
Christians should always have a disposition of grace toward those who offend them. This is what Jesus modeled on the cross when he prayed,”Father forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). Even while he was dying an excruciating death, and before there was any repentance on the part of those who crucified him, he offered grace. We are to follow his example.

So, let’s pray for each other. I confess there are people right now that I am struggling to forgive. I fear making myself vulnerable in that way. I wonder if it’s really worth it to open myself up. Can I really trust that person again? But the beauty of forgiveness is that it does not hinge on the other person’s reactions or lack of them. Forgiveness is offered by me to them. And the effort is powered by none other than the Master of Forgiveness, Himself. “I can do all things through Him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13).

Who do you need to forgive today?