It’s the Christmas gift you can’t afford and don’t deserve, but must receive before you can give.
When you receive God’s gift of forgiveness of your sins upon trusting and believing in Jesus Christ’s atoning death on the cross and miraculous resurrection from the grave, you’re empowered to forgive others as well as yourself. Forgiveness is the priceless gift that keeps on giving.
Micah 7:19 declares that God’s forgiveness buries our sin “in the depths of the sea.” Jeremiah 31:34 teaches us that when God forgives, He will “remember (our) sins no more.” He expunges them from our record as if they never occurred.
A heart of forgiveness does not come naturally. Forgiveness is God’s idea, not ours. Eighteen-year-old Shelby Yates said as much while speaking at the funeral for her father, a 21-year Texas police veteran who was shot to death on December 3 while responding to a domestic dispute outside of a grocery store in Mesquite, Texas, a suburb of Dallas.
“There has been anger, sadness, grief, and confusion,” Yates said. “And part of me wishes I could despise the man who did this to my father. But I can’t get any part of my heart to hate him. All that I can find is myself hoping and praying for this man to truly know Jesus. I thought this might change if the man continued to live. But when I heard the news that he was in stable condition, part of me was relieved. My prayer is that someday down the road, I’d get to spend some time with the man who shot my father, not to scream at him, not to yell at him, not to scold him. Simply to tell him about Jesus.”
Forgiveness is born of the Spirit of God indwelling a Christian. It’s the main reason God sent Jesus to Earth—to give us victory over sin and the grave through His forgiveness. A willingness to forgive others and seek others’ forgiveness is evidence that you are trusting in the finished work of Christ on the cross.
FORGIVEN TO FORGIVE
Think of the shape of a cross. One piece of wood is vertical and the other is horizontal. The vertical dimension of the cross symbolizes our relationship with God. God spared nothing— not even the death of His perfect and sinless Son—so that we could be forgiven.
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9)
Likewise, having received God’s forgiveness by no merit of our own, is there any offense or sin against us that we shouldn’t be willing to forgive? Notice that I used the word “willing” and not “able”? God just needs our willingness to forgive and then He will equip, empower and enable us with His Spirit of forgiveness.
The horizontal dimension of the cross represents our relationships with others. If Jesus, who is sinless, can forgive us, then shouldn’t we—who are sinners— be willing to forgive fellow sinners? Remember what Jesus said from the cross when He cried out, “Father, forgive them for they know no what they do.” We can’t be in a right relationship with God if we are not in a right relationship with others. Matthew 6:14-15 states this clearly: “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
It’s been said that, “Unforgiveness is like drinking poison and hoping the other person dies.” Quoting the late theologian Lewis Smedes, “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.”
FREE TO FORGIVE YOURSELF
Another facet of forgiveness that is easier said than done is to forgive yourself. I believe this is where Satan does some of his most crippling work. The enemy loves to whisper in your ear and remind you of your past sins, mistakes and failures. Remember, God’s Word calls the devil a liar, deceiver, thief and murderer. His primary mission is to rob Christ-followers of their joy, peace and purpose in Christ. If Satan can get you to camp out in the land of regret and remorse, then you can’t be God’s ambassador of reconciliation. It’s impossible to live victoriously in Christ while mired in shame and self-pity. When you’re focused on your past, you can’t fix your eyes on God’s vision for your future, or recognize the opportunities in front of you to serve and encourage others. When you’re mulling over your mistakes, you can’t move forward to accomplish all the good works God has prepared for you to do. And that’s precisely what Satan desires for you. He wants to make you feel inferior, inadequate, unqualified. But God doesn’t work through people who are self-qualified. He qualifies people for His work.
Before you can forgive others, you must first receive God’s forgiveness and then, if necessary, forgive yourself. Think about it this way: if God can forgive us, then who are we to refuse to forgive ourselves? If you’re struggling to forgive yourself, then it begs the question of whether you have first received God’s forgiveness. Knowing that forgiving yourself isn’t easy, God doesn’t expect you to make it happen by yourself. He first forgave us and promised us a helper in the person of the Holy Spirit, who is able to guide and direct us in righteousness. The next time Satan reminds you of your past, and he will, remind him that he is a liar and deceiver and that your Heavenly Father has cast your sins as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12). And furthermore, while you’re at it, go ahead and claim God’s promise in Isaiah 54:17: “no weapon that is fashioned against you shall succeed, and you shall refute every tongue that rises against you in judgment. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord and their vindication from me, declares the Lord.”
LET HIS LIGHT SHINE THROUGH YOU
When displaying Christmas lights, you might have experienced that when one decorative bulb goes dark, often, the entire string of lights goes out. Figuratively speaking, that’s what it looks like when the string of forgiveness is broken. Christ’s light will not shine in and through you if your heart is darkened by unforgiveness, and this can cast a long shadow on those with whom you interact and influence.
When King Solomon dedicated the Temple to God, as recorded in 2 Chronicles 7:14, God promised the Israelites a conditional blessing: “if My people who are called by My name humble themselves, and pray and seek my Face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” In this timeless covenant from the Word of God, the people of God are promised healing when they humbly seek God’s forgiveness.
Do you see the power of forgiveness in this promise? Yes, the promise of healing is predicated on Christians—not unbelievers—repenting of their wicked ways. As liberating and freeing as forgiveness is for those who are willing to receive and give God’s grace, the opposite is also true for those who aren’t willing to seek forgiveness or forgive others. In other words, an unwillingness to receive or give forgiveness could be the reason someone doesn’t experience God’s healing for themselves or the ones they love. May we never be the reason that God’s light is diminished because we weren’t willing to ask for forgiveness or forgive others. Giving and/or receiving forgiveness is the greatest gift exchange anyone could experience this Christmas or any other time of the year.