Forgiving - On the Inside
- Written by Pete Phelan Pete Phelan
God is a God of forgiveness. Exodus 34:6 says, “Then the Lord passed by in front of Him and proclaimed The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in loving kindness and truth, who keeps loving kindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin.” He says, “I am the God of forgiveness that is who I am.” Solomon said, “It is a man’s glory to overlook a transgression,” (Proverbs 19:11). Man is never more like God than when he forgives.
In Luke 15, Jesus tells us of a father who had two sons and one of the sons was weary of being in the father’s house and wanted to go and live on his own and take all of his inheritance. And he did just that. He left the house, wasted all his substance in sin, and then when he reached the low point of his life, he wanted to come back and be only a servant in his father’s house because being a servant in the father’s house would be better than being what he had become. That son was not unlike many of us - greedy, anxious to get his hands on wealth he had not earned, so humanly foolish in the way that he spent it on fast living with those who exploited him and left him in misery when his money ran out. But slowly he came to his senses because he was dying of hunger in a pig sty that really mirrored his life. He said, “My father’s servants live far better than I. I will arise and go to my father.”
It seems the young man did not expect forgiveness. He only expected some kind of mild tolerance. All he wanted was the chance to say to his father, “I’m not worthy to be your son any longer, but could you just make me a slave? I know I forfeited ever being a son, but could I just be a slave? All I really want is a roof over my head and all I want is a little better food than pig slop.” And so he started on the road back. And it is then that Jesus teaches us how to forgive. The father didn’t even wait for the son to get there. He ran to the son when he saw him in the distance. His words were not unkind. The Bible says he fell on his neck and kissed him repeatedly. And so Jesus tells us what the heart of forgiveness is like. It is eager, not reluctant. It doesn’t even wait for the sinner to arrive. In fact, when you see him coming far away, you run to meet him and you embrace him and kiss him. And when he starts to say he’s sorry, you don’t even give him time to finish, you just embrace him, love him, and proudly invite everybody to come to the celebration of your son’s return. That’s how God forgives. That’s how He wants us to forgive.
The Lord also warns us that such forgiveness will be unappreciated. Such forgiveness will be misunderstood. The son who never went anywhere didn’t appreciate this at all and was angry with his father for being so forgiving. And there are a lot of us stay at home children who will pout and call you a fool for such stupid forgiveness and tell you you ought to send him back to the pig sty where he belongs. But the forgiving father can only say that he loves and he will always love, even the one who deserves no forgiveness.
From that story we learn how God forgives – eagerly, totally, lavishly. And is it any wonder, on the basis of that, when Jesus taught us to pray, the best words He could give us, who have so great a need to be forgiven, were the words “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”? Those words really put our feet to the fire. They tell us that God’s forgiveness of us is based on our forgiveness of others. James put it this way in chapter 2, verse13, “There will be judgment without mercy for those who have not been merciful themselves.” Or in a positive note, the Beatitudes say, “Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy.” If you want mercy, then give it. If you want forgiveness, then give it and forgive like God for you are never more like God than when you forgive.
Thomas Watson wrote, “We need not climb up into heaven to see whether our sins are forgiven. Let us look into our hearts and see if we can forgive others. If we can, we need not doubt that God has forgiven us.” Thomas Adams wrote, “He who demands mercy and shows none ruins the bridge over which he himself must pass.”
Mend those bridges with all your heart.
On the inside, Pete