A casual glance at social media and television will reveal how popular therapists or motivational speakers champion the power of forgiveness. Our world places a value on forgiving one another, but unfortunately, this practice leaves the gospel out of the equation entirely. Paul emphasizes this point in Ephesians 4:32: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” In Christ, we have complete forgiveness of our sins through his blood. God chose to wipe our slate clean even when we mistreated him, blasphemed his name, and rebelled against him time and time again.

Sometimes, while doing pastoral counseling, people will tell me that they struggle to forgive someone who has wounded them deeply. They will say things like this: “Well, I just don’t feel like God has called me to forgive that person.” In response, I gently tell them that they have no option. Forgiving one another is a command. It is not optional. We cannot choose whether or not we want to obey the Lord. Don’t get me wrong. It is excruciatingly painful because many of us have some deep scars from people who have treated us horribly. When we think of the cross of Christ, we can rest securely in how Jesus forgave us as motivation for us to forgive others.

Corrie ten Boom, a woman of great faith, survived the Nazi concentration camps in Ravensbruck during WWII. After the war, she traveled around Germany sharing the gospel of God’s grace in forgiveness. As she was sharing her testimony in a church in Munich, a balding, heavy-set man approached her after the service. As he moved toward her, she remembered the atrocities she endured at Ravensbruck at the hands of this ruthless and hardened man. Corrie’s message that night was on God’s forgiveness and how he casts our sins to the bottom of the ocean. As the man reached out his hand to her, she froze in fear, not knowing what to do as the terrifying memories came racing back to her at that moment. This former concentration camp guard had now become a Christian and experienced God’s full forgiveness, but he also wanted to hear it from her mouth as well that she would forgive him.

This was the most challenging thing Corrie could do, so she asked for the strength and the Lord provided her the grace to extend her hand in forgiveness. As tears welled up in her eyes, she said, “I forgive you, brother! With all my heart!” In our power, we can’t possibly offer forgiveness to a person who has hurt us, but in Christ, we can. We look at the cross and see his extraordinary love for us. We have hurt him beyond measure with our sin, and yet he died for us while we were still sinners (Rom 5:8).

We sometimes do a lousy job of forgiving others biblically. For example, when we ask a person for forgiveness, often he or she says, “That’s okay.” Saying “That’s okay” falls short of practicing gospel forgiveness. In reality, it’s not “okay.” If I have sinned against someone, I need to confess that sin and ask for forgiveness. If all the person says is “that’s okay,” then he or she has minimized my transgression by brushing it under the carpet. Instead, we need to say, “I know you’ve sinned against me and it hurt deeply, but in Christ, I accept your confession, and I forgive you just as Christ forgave me.”

In the cross, the Father did not just say to sinful humanity, “It’s okay!” If our rebellion was simply “okay” then why did his perfect Son have to die a brutal death to pay for these sins? We committed actual transgressions against a holy God, and Jesus needed to offer himself as a definitive atonement to pay for these offenses. When we forgive one another, we need to make sure that we acknowledge sin instead of brushing it off. Then we must offer forgiveness to one another through the power of the gospel in our new identity as those forgiven in the Son.


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