“I forgive you.” I can think of no words more beautiful. Each of us stands in need of forgiveness. Failure, whether intentional or unintentional, is the way of all flesh. We hurt one another and behave badly. We breach relationships and leave relational debris everywhere. Paul wrote the definitive word in the book of Romans, “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”
It is for this reason that Christ came into this world. He did not come just to be our example for a better life but to be our Savior. He came to die as the sacrifice for our sin and brokenness. When He died on the Cross, two things happened. Jesus became our scapegoat and took away our sin. He also became our blood sacrifice that covers all our sin. Because of the Cross, Jesus speaks those beautiful words—I forgive you—to all who come to Him. His forgiveness is so full and complete that He remembers our sin no more. What a Savior!
When we have been forgiven, He expects us to forgive others— and here is where the rub comes. We rejoice when Jesus forgives us but chafe under the responsibility to forgive others. I would suggest that the predominant and most flagrant sin in the church is the unwillingness to forgive others. When people fail in life—some very badly—we ignore the repeated demands of Jesus in the gospels to forgive them. Instead we hold them hostage to their sins and failure. We are ready to remind them and others about their sins and failures, even when they have repented and been forgiven by God.
I would propose that the church should be a culture of forgiveness. Nothing should have greater expression than the willingness to forgive brothers and sisters in Christ. Yet, many of our churches are crippled and divided because of our desire to demand a pound of flesh from those who have failed. It is the height of arrogance to reject the commands of Jesus to forgive others.
A friend who had gone through some difficult struggles and failures years ago sat down beside someone on a pew in a large church. The person recognized my friend and made a condescending remark about the failure, causing the hurt and pain of the past to well up inside my friend. It is interesting that the sermon that morning just happened to be on forgiveness—hope the person got the picture. Jesus forgives and so must we. Jesus transforms. He is in the business of taking people who have fallen and picking them up. So should we.
Another tough challenge for us is to forgive ourselves. The fact that others will not let it rest and will not offer forgiveness constantly reminds us of our failures. Satan has few weapons greater than his constant bombardment with replays of our moments of brokenness. I am convinced that the only way to overcome our failures and delete the tapes of the mind is by using the weapons of spiritual warfare. They are mighty to demolish strongholds. We cannot accept the reality of our forgiveness without the Spirit taking every thought captive and bringing it under obedience to Christ. Then and only then can we appropriate the full pardon and forgiveness of Jesus through the Cross.
As we approach Easter, we who have experienced Christ’s love can rejoice in the victory of the Cross. It is also a time to remind ourselves that we are to offer to others the same kind of forgiveness we have been granted through the Cross of Christ.
Anthony L. Jordan is executive director-treasurer of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.