I like forgiveness quite a bit, don’t you? I like for my wife to forgive me when I’ve been rude or unkind. I like for my kids to forgive my impatience. I like others to extend heaps of forgiveness to me when I need it. I especially like God’s forgiveness. As believers, we revel in the fact that God doesn’t hold sin against us . . . that he removes our sins from us “as far as the east is from the west” (Psalm 103:12).
We like that.
But there’s a part of forgiveness that’s not as easy to enjoy. Jesus mentions it near the end of his model prayer: “and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12). And to make sure we didn’t miss that little phrase, he adds this postscript: “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (vv 14-15).
“Forgive us our debts”—we like that.
“. . . as we also have forgiven our debtors”—not so much.
I’m not sure why it’s so hard to forgive others, but it might be that withholding it gives us a little power over them. We can use it against them at some point—“Do you remember when you . . . ?”
Or maybe it’s that we think they don’t really deserve it. They might not be completely genuine in their repentance. Maybe they’ll do it again. They ought to get what they deserve.
But Jesus calls us to a higher road, of course. He asks us to forgive as we’ve been forgiven, which means that we can’t forgive only those who deserve it. Remember—we don’t deserve God’s forgiveness either.
It means we can’t be concerned about their getting properly punished, because we don’t get the punishment we deserve. And it means we can’t hold a grudge over their heads, because when the Lord forgives us, he never brings it up again.
Are you holding something against your spouse? Are you nursing a grudge against a friend? Do you have something against someone at church? Is your relationship with one of your kids strained?
Relationships are always complicated, but the first step you might take is to forgive, to let the past go, to drop the grudge. It probably won’t be the easiest part about your walk with Christ, but it’s crucial.
We forgive because we’ve been forgiven, and we forgive so that we will be forgiven.