I very much enjoyed going through a series on the Ordo Salutis and am somewhat sorry it is over. The problem with ending one series is figuring out what to do in the next. I thought it might be helpful to take a look briefly at the subject of forgiveness. There is a lot of confusion surrounding forgiveness and I think it would be good for us to take a quick look at the issue.
What is forgiveness? Unfortunately, the catechism doesn’t give us a good answer to that question. It does in terms of our salvation, but not as we practice forgiveness with others. So I submit the following general definition of forgiveness from the Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms: “Forgiveness – Pardoning or remitting an offense. It restores a good relationship with God, others, or the self after sin or alienation.” God has reconciled us to Himself by forgiving our sins by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Forgiveness with God is a one-way street, because God never needs our forgiveness. That is not so for our other relationships. As I am fond of saying, we need to remember that we are sinners who have been sinned against. Therefore we need to forgive others just as we need their forgiveness.
If you are a believer in the Lord Jesus that concept shouldn’t be foreign to you. However, it is surprising at times how unforgiving believers can be. I don’t get the privilege of sitting under live preaching very often, but this past Sunday I was on a commission to install a new pastor within our Presbytery. As part of that service of installation I heard one of the best sermons on forgiveness that I have ever heard. The pastor spoke from Matthew 18:21-35. It is a sermon about extreme forgiveness and subsequent un-forgiveness. It is about the gospel and living in light of the gospel. Peter asks how often should we forgive the brother that sins against us and Jesus answer with the word picture of a parable. It is a familiar parable, a servant owes his master the equivalent of billions of dollars, a sum no one could ever have the hope of paying off. The master takes pity on the servant and forgives the debt. Think of such a huge debt being forgiven. It will have a serious impact on the financial affairs of the master. It will be a costly forgiveness for a long time if not always. Yet the master had compassion and chose to absorb the debt even at such great cost to himself. The servant then turns around and goes out and demands another servant pay his debt of about the equivalent of 6,500 dollars. It is a lot of money, but it is possible to pay it. The first servant shows no compassion and has the other servant thrown into debtor’s prison until the money is paid. The one who received mercy showed no mercy. Who are you in the parable? Jesus invites us to walk in the shoes of the unmerciful servant, because he is the one we are most like. It is a painful look in the mirror. We’ll take another look at this parable and the whole idea of forgiveness next month. Until then, may the Lord bless you as you practice forgiveness.