December 03, 2016


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).

Christians often forgive too easily! Really! We rather blithely let the words "I forgive you" slide off our tongues without seriously considering what we are forgiving.

In these verses Jesus instructs us that WE ARE TO FORGIVE....

.....when, first of all, there exists a clear REALIZATION of what is wrong or sinful. In the preceding verses Jesus mentions "stumbling blocks." These are what make a brother stumble and tumble. These are sins that disturb, thwart and hurt others. They take us away from God and the "straight and narrow." If my brother throws a stumbling block in my way I am to identify it, make sure it is what I think it is, view it in the light of Scripture, gather the facts and then proceed to the next step in order to deal properly with it. Sin is sin! We must not sugar-coat it, ignore it, pretend it doesn't exist, skirt around it or naively look the other way. Sin is real and causes great harm. It is what plunged the entire human race into untold agony when Adam and Eve went contrary to God's direction. It must be recognized for what it is!

.....We are to forgive when, secondly, we follow Jesus' admonition for CONFRONTATION. This is in order to surface the sin, acknowledge it for what it is, confess it and seek the Lord's forgiveness. We are to "rebuke" a fellow sinner. This is to be done thoughtfully, never out of anger but straightforwardly, lovingly and with Scripture. We do this as velvet covered truth arrows. We aim for the mind and the heart. And, Christians must be open and humble enough to respond and admit that from time to time we all need such face to face honesty. The Apostle Paul did this when he confronted Peter, a friend and co-laborer, who at Antioch compromised the pure doctrine of grace. Peter wanted the Gentiles to be saved but shied away from loyalty to them when Jews came on the scene. Paul says, "I withstood him to the face." I'm sure he did this in love because he's the one who said we are to be always "speaking the truth in love" so that we "may grow up into him (Christ)in all things" (Ephesians 4:15). Do note how such confrontation is associated with "growing up" in our Christian experience.

.....Also, we forgive granting EXONERATION or forgiveness when steps 1 and 2 have brought to pass a confession of sin. In fact, this granting of forgiveness should be immediate and very commonplace. We all sin frequently. We repeat our offenses. We are weak in the flesh even when our spirits enthusiastically seek the way of holiness and disdain the sins which so easily beset us. That's why Jesus declares, "And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him." Repentance pertains to a change of mind wherein, though previously a sin was not acknowledged for what it is, that sin is now seen in a new light. Its wrong is now realized for what it is, and, most importantly, it's offense against the Lord and the brother doing the confronting admitted. The Word of God and the Holy Spirit, along with the proactive confrontation of a brother in the Lord, bring this to pass.

.....Finally, we forgive when with REITERATION we are humbly ready to forgive again and again and again, if necessary. Once upon a time Peter came to Jesus saying, “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). We all do err often! We prove our sinner-hood so frequently that we surely do not have to be convinced thereof. And so, we are admonished that "if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted" (Galatians 6:1).

Remember, this outlined program is the Lord's. He enjoins it upon us. Beware of easy forgiveness. It accomplishes little and does nothing to effectually overcome wrong. What this writing addresses is horizontal forgiveness, brother with brother. It make take effort and time. It will necessitate much prayer and courage. Some are obstinate in sin and may not quickly embark upon this God-given program and others being confronted may not respond quickly. But never give up! Keep trying! It's a beautiful moment when reconciliation happens. Where two or three are gathered, the Spirit is at work and Jesus is present, and such Divine presence can make what seems impossible a reality. Jesus declared, "For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them" (Matthew 18:20). The context for this pertains to this process Jesus prescribes for forgiveness.

While the horizontal aspect of forgiveness may take much time and effort, vertical forgiveness must always be practiced immediately. This is when the offended gives to God a sinner and his sin. We turn such over to Him even as Jesus on the cross did when He said, "Father forgive them for they know not what they do." This forgiveness is based upon a deep understanding of the sinner and his sin and the availability of Christ's atoning work whereby God the Father forgives immediately. "To him (Jesus) give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins" (Acts 10:43). And so, with this understanding, we too forgive immediately in the sense. We give the offending brother and his wrong to God, realizing God has made provision in His Son whereby sin can be forgiven. God's grace, expressed by the accomplishments of Jesus in His death, burial and resurrection, give us to believe in the availability of forgiveness for all sinners, and so, verticallly, we forgive at once and proceed to horizontal or face to face confrontation and eventual forgiveness. Both aspects are important. 

Someone remarked, "We are most like beasts when we kill. We are most like men when we judge. We are most like God when we forgive." However, we must do so on the horizontal level in keeping with Christ's instructive words. His way is always the best way.

- Dick D. Christen