TITLE

UNFORGIVEN

 

By John R. Funk

 

Not too long ago Clint Eastwood was awarded an Oscar for directing and acting in “Unforgiven” which will always be viewed as a classic western drama.  It was a great movie, especially for those of us who are enthusiasts of this era but the underlying theme of the movie was terribly depressing.  Essentially, the main character (Will Munday) tried valiantly to become a law-abiding citizen despite his prior reputation as a deadly gunman but he was ultimately unsuccessful.  He remained unforgiven not only by society but he also failed to forgive himself for his past.  This state of condemnation haunted him for his entire life.

 

Typically, as Christians, we talk about the love of Christ and His sacrifice on the cross when we talk about being forgiven.  We understand that the forgiveness of God predicated upon repentance and acceptance of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior covers all of our sins.  Even though we are undeserving, Jesus came and offered Himself as the perfect sacrifice to atone once and for all for all of mankind.  That gift of forgiveness was offered due to the love of God Who desired none to perish, but all to come to Him eternally.  That being the case, it has to be easy to forgive those who offend us, right?

 

When Jesus was asked by His disciples to teach them how to pray, He gave them a model prayer.  It was not elaborate but it was elegant in its simplicity.  In that model prayer He incorporated the idea of asking for forgiveness from God.  It is also interesting what He had to say about forgiveness being granted.

 

Matthew 6:12-15

** American Standard Version

King James Version

12 And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.  13 And bring us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil (one.)  14 For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

 

12 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.14 For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: 15 But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

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When we ask for forgiveness, it presupposes that we forgive those who have offended us.  Jesus went on to say that if we fail to forgive others for their trespasses, then God will not forgive ours. 

At first blush, this seems to present a problem.  If the sacrifice of Christ on the cross was a complete and perfect sacrifice for the atonement of sin, then we are forgiven for all of our trespasses, past, present and future after we ABC as my kids call it (admit, believe, confess).  If that is the case, then what is this all about?  The answer is that we are forgiven for our sins from a salvation viewpoint when we accept Jesus as our Lord and ask Him into our lives; however, we still continue to sin even after we become Christians due to our sin nature.  It is necessary to ask God for forgiveness when we sin not because our salvation is somehow jeopardized but rather, it is due to the fact that our relationship with Him has been damaged.  When we ask for forgiveness from sin, it is because we want to re-establish that relationship.  God forgives us in order to re-establish the relationship that we have with Him; it is not because that we somehow need that forgiveness to get to heaven.  Jesus Christ paid that price long ago and I take Him at His word when He said, “It is finished.”

 

For example, think about what happens when your own child disobeys.  You do not love the child any less but the relationship has been damaged.  It is restored when the child recognizes his or her failure, demonstrates remorse and apologizes for the offending act.  That acceptance of responsibility and subsequent apology provides the basis for a restored relationship. 

 

The issue of forgiveness comes into play when you are not the one who has offended but rather, the one who has been offended.  Peter was concerned about this particular issue and brought it to the attention of Jesus.  In fact, he thought he was being extremely generous when he asked the following:

 

Matthew 18:21-22

** American Standard Version

King James Version

21 Then came Peter and said to him, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? until seven times?  22 Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times; but, Until seventy times seven.

 

21 Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?

22 Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.

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Peter was going far beyond the requirements of the law when he suggested that he forgive his brother seven times; however, Christ stated that forgiveness should be granted as often as necessary.  (No, it isn’t 490 times; the use of “seventy times seven” is illustrative of continuing forgiveness).  The verses that follow thereafter (Matt. 18:22-35) provide a parable which teach about the forgiveness of God (ten thousand talents) and the failure of the wicked servant who fails to forgive the meager debt of one hundred pence.  The end result was punishment for the wicked servant who failed to forgive.

 

Luke, in his Gospel, also recorded the importance of forgiveness in everyday life.  The idea of forgiving those who sin or trespass against you was apparently a difficult concept of that day just as it is today.

 

Luke 6:37, 17:3-4

** American Standard Version

King James Version

37 And judge not: and you shall not be judged: and condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: release, and ye shall be released:  * * *

3 Take heed to yourselves: if thy brother sin, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him.

4 And if he sin against thee seven times in the day, and seven times turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him.

 

37 Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven: * * *

 

3 Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him. 4 And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him.

 

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The idea of forgiving another who sins against you goes against many things that we are taught from early childhood.  “Don’t get mad, get even” is the rallying cry that we carry throughout life.  “You’re not going to let him get away with that, are you?”  “What are you, a man or a mouse?”  We have heard these expressions all our lives and it is clear that the people of Jesus’ day had similar beliefs.  Therefore, this idea of forgiveness was a complete paradigm shift from what had been the typical course of action when dealing with an offending party.  It should be noted that forgiveness was to be offered when the brother repented, i.e. turned away, from his offending or sinful act. 

 

Jesus didn’t just talk about forgiveness; He exhibited it under the most stressful of circumstances.  Following His triumphal entry into Jerusalem when the crowds gathered waving palm branches and laying them in His path, Jesus was railroaded, legally speaking, by the religious leaders of His day.  The same crowds that welcomed Him now called for His crucifixion.  Jesus was then nailed to a cross for the entire world to see after enduring what no person should ever have to endure.  His words, while on that cross, were filled with love, compassion and forgiveness for those who had put Him there.

 

Luke 23:34

** American Standard Version

King James Version

34 And Jesus said, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And parting his garments among them, they cast lots.

 

34 Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And they parted his raiment, and cast lots.

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Following the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the concept of forgiving those who sinned against you did not vanish.  The idea of forgiveness became a duty of the believer due to his position in life; this duty was now assumed not just because of the love of God but also because of the sacrifice of Christ on the cross.  That sacrifice on Golgotha was a sacrifice of forgiveness enabling the lost to be saved.

 

Col. 3:12-13

** American Standard Version

King James Version

12 Put on therefore, as God's elect, holy and beloved, a heart of compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, longsuffering;

13 forbearing one another, and forgiving each other, if any man have a complaint against any; even as the Lord forgave you, so also do ye:

 

12 Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; 13 Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.

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It is easy to talk about forgiving those who sin against us but it is quite another matter to actually put it into practice.  Each of us has had someone “sin” against us in some way.  Some of those offending acts or remarks might be relatively inconsequential while other things happen that carry dire consequences.  Likewise, we have each said or done something to someone else that was offensive or sinful.  It is two sides to the same coin.  Taking responsibility is tough as is forgiving someone for a sinful act that gives offense.  After taking responsibility and asking for forgiveness, we should not forget to forgive ourselves. 

 

Forgiveness is not limited in its scope.  Christ forgave those who were murdering Him and He forgave the thief on the cross who was deserving of death.  That was the example that He gave to us.  Therefore, there is no limitation on this idea of forgiveness. 

 

What happens when we forgive?  It not only evidences the love of Christ but it frees us from harmful emotions.  One of the leading causes of death in our day can be traced to stress.  Stress arises from a variety of situations but it certainly can manifest itself when we fail to forgive.  Carrying the burden of a grudge or hurtful feelings harms the person who is carrying the burden; it does not harm the person who was the offender. 

 

The common example is the one pertaining to the motorist who cuts you off in traffic.  You yell and shake your fist while he goes merrily down the road completely unaware of what he just did.  You talk about it all day to your co-workers; it interferes with your concentration and affects your demeanor; you carry it home with you at the end of the day; and finally, you kick the dog that accidentally got in your way and he didn’t even know about the motorist who tried to kill you that morning.  When it is all said and done, the person who cut you off in traffic has no idea that it happened and it did not affect him at all; on the other hand, due to your inability to forgive and go on, you let the situation control and affect your life and the lives of those around you.

 

As discussed herein, forgiveness is not just a spiritual matter; it is also a physical and emotional matter.  While the most important reason for forgiveness is because we are to become more like Christ, the direct benefit to us is less stress, less tension and more enjoyment in life.  I can see the ad campaign now:

 

Do you want to decrease your risk of heart attack, stroke and high blood pressure?  Try something different today - Forgive.  Try it.  You might like it.  And your heart will thank you for it (spiritually and emotionally).

 

 

** A modern language quote is provided for readability, but every effort should be made to understand the accompanying KJV version believed by many to be a more accurate representation of the original scripture.

 

Comments or questions may be directed to the author at jrhett58@yahoo.com.