It’s Christmas! Well, actually, by the time you read this article Christmas will be over and some of you will probably have already taken down your Christmas decorations! But in my home it is still Christmas. We keep our decorations up until at least January 6th, the feast of Epiphany as well as being the 12th Day of Christmas (according to the song).
The sad thing about the celebration of Christmas is that it has become a bunch of hype over a single day or day and a half—if you include Christmas Eve—that was originally meant to remind us of the greatest gift we ever received, the gift of the Son of God who would give His life for us that we might receive forgiveness. You see, if Christmas is just about the baby, then we’ve missed the point. It is about the same thing as Easter—God who became human and gave His life so we could receive forgiveness.
Last week I said that an attribute of God was giving, and this week I’m adding a few letters. God is a FORgiving God. The Bible is replete with examples of God’s forgiving actions, but to understand that, we need to understand what forgiveness really is.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary says to forgive is to stop feeling anger toward (someone who has done something wrong); to stop blaming (someone); to stop feeling anger about (something): to forgive someone for (something wrong); to stop requiring payment of (money that is owed). It goes on to say that to forgive is to give up resentment of or claim to requital for; to grant relief from payment of ; to cease to feel resentment against; pardon.
There are several very important verses regarding God’s attribute of forgiving, not the least of which is found in Isaiah 1:18: “Come now, let us reason together,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.”
Another passage that speaks of God’s forgiving nature is found in Psalm 103:
“The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (vv. 8-12).
To further evidence God’s forgiving nature, Jesus related the purpose of His coming this way: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”
It is in God’s nature to forgive us, to redeem us, and therefore, once we have received that forgiveness, God expects us to follow through, passing on that forgiveness to others. (By the way, if you haven’t received forgiveness from God through Jesus Christ, please know that it is available to you and that you can come to speak with me about it anytime!)
Jesus instructed his followers to forgive. “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins” (Matthew 11:25). Jesus expected us to forgive, as Luke records in the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us” (Luke 11:4).
So how do we live with this expectation? How do we reflect this attribute of our God in our own lives?
First, we realize that we ourselves are sinful beings who don’t deserve forgiveness or redemption. It is imperative that we recognize the gift given to us was just that, a free gift by the hand of a gracious, loving God through the Son who gave His life for us. When we realize how needy we are of forgiveness, the transgressions of others may seem much smaller.
Second, we make a conscious effort to forgive those who have sinned against us. This is where the hard part lives. We say, “I’ll forgive, but I won’t forget.” If that is your attitude, then you haven’t forgiven. Peter asked Jesus how many times we must forgive, to which Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (Matthew 18:22). The King James and New American Standard Versions translate this “seventy times seven.” In either case, a forgiving attitude, one which is willing to restore the transgressor again and again is a true model of God’s love for us.
Having trouble forgiving? Ask God for a forgiving spirit then spend time in God’s presence so that you might develop the fruit of the Spirit in your life and be known as one who truly reflects God’s forgiving nature.