Character Traits of the Spiritual Life: Forgiveness
We, as Christians, are to be imitators of God (Ephesians 5:1) and are also to follow the example of Christ Jesus (1 Peter 2:21; 1 John 2:6). One way that we follow our Lords example is in forgiveness. Paul writes, Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you (Ephesians 4:32). In another place, the apostle says, . . . forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you (Colossians 3:13). We should forgive as Jesus has forgiven us.
The Lord Jesus tells us how vital it is that we forgive others. When He was teaching His followers to pray, He said, Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors (Matthew 6:12). The term debts here refers to sins or moral and spiritual debts. The Lord then tells us how important it is that we have this forgiving attitude: 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 (vv. 13-14; cf. Mark 11:25).
Jesus says that if we forgive others, God will forgive us; if we refuse to forgive others, God will not forgive us. He also gave us instructions on how to forgive (Matthew 18:15-20; Luke 17:3-4) and presented us with a long parable of forgiveness, with the conclusion stated that God will punish the one who does not forgive his brother from [his] heart (Matthew 18:21-35). We need to be forgiving people!
Our very lifestyle should be one of forgiveness. Jesus said, Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, I repent, forgive him (Luke 17:3-4). We must be forgiving people.
We take as our model of forgiveness the Lord Jesus Christ. We might think that when he hung on the cross and experienced the extreme pain of this inhumane torture, He would only think of himself. Instead, his love for others was demonstrated when he cried out to God, Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing (Luke 23:34). He wanted the Jews or the Romans to be forgiven of this heinous sin of the crucifixion. Christs prayer was answered when Jews did repent and come to the Lord in baptism (Acts 2:36-41).
Stephen, a faithful disciple of the Lord, had a similar response to his persecutors. As they stoned him, Stephen prayed, Lord, do not hold this sin against them! (Acts 7:60). Are we willing to forgive our family, our friends, and all others?
(See also the article, “Forgive–and Be Forgiven!”)