Forgiveness is a word that we often throw around, but do we understand what the word really means? Do we understand the impact that the word can have on our lives? Do we?
Sure, we could spend the entire blog talking about how we need to ask God for forgiveness from our sins. We could even spin down a couple of different theological pathways in trying to understand this single word – but instead of trying to see how difficult this subject can be, let’s spend a few minutes trying to uncomplicate it.
Oxford dictionaries says that forgiveness is a noun and is defined as “the action or process of forgiving or being forgiven.” Forgiving is a verb defined in at least three ways, “to 1) stop feeling angry or resentful toward someone for an offense, flaw, or mistake; 2) cancel a debt; 3) used in polite expressions as a request to excuse or regard indulgently one’s foibles, ignorance, or impoliteness.”
Let’s go back to grammar class for a few minutes and remember that a noun is a person, place, or thing. Since forgiveness is neither a person or a place we can determine that it is a thing. A state [of being], if you will.
Continuing our grammar lessons, a verb is an action word. When we offer to forgive, or when we have been forgiven, those are actions. In fact, those are decisions that we make that allow us to take the actions that lead to the state of forgiveness.
Here is a thought regarding the first definition of “forgive.” We often talk in terms of “forgiving and forgetting,” but that isn’t really what most of us experience. Most of the time, when we make the decision to forgive we still have to deal with the memories and the pain of the offense. I think it is the memories that plague us and often cause us the most difficulty in the area of forgiving and forgiveness.
It is important to note, and maybe even set a constant reminder, that forgiveness is a decision and not an emotion. You will often not feel “forgiven” when it has been granted to you, and you may have to combat your own feelings when you forgive someone that has caused you grief, injustice, or pain. In either case, your feelings must not be allowed to determine your actions…that’s why you made the decision ;>)
Scripturally speaking, the 2nd definition is where the rubber meets the road. This is the forgiveness that is demonstrated by Jesus’ actions in order to reconcile us to God. It’s the real ‘catch’ to forgiveness. It always comes at a price. When you forgive someone you cancel a debt. The debt is not fulfilled, it is canceled. The debt is not paid in part or in full, it is canceled.
When you pay off your mortgage or your car loan, that debt is fulfilled. It is paid (or repaid) in full and as a result, you receive a lien release and a “free” title. When you forgive someone (or when you receive forgiveness), the debt is not paid it is canceled. There is a huge difference between paying something back (and earning a clear title) and having a debt canceled.
The super tricky part about forgiveness is that it can be lost. We don’t really like to talk about it, but Jesus explains this concept very clearly in Matthew 18. Take a look at the parable of the unmerciful servant to see what Jesus taught.
The other tricky part about forgiveness is that in order to keep it, you must give it away. Again, this idea comes straight from Jesus’ own words. Have you paid attention to the Lord’s Prayer? “…and forgive us our sins as we have forgiven those who sin against us?”
Let’s be clear. 1 John 1:9 tells us that if we confess our sins, God is faithful to forgive us and to cleanse us. But once we have received that forgiveness, once we begin to live in and enjoy that forgiveness, we are required to share it with others.