On Wednesday I wrote about repentance, today I’m looking at forgiveness.
Repenting from sin and turning to God holds the promise of forgiveness of sin as Peter preached in Acts 3:19. Being restored to a place of unhindered fellowship with God is more than worth any humbling, grief or sorrow that repentance entails.
There is also an interpersonal aspect to repentance and forgiveness.
Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?”
Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.
(Matthew 18:21–22 ESV)
I think this incident was recorded especially for people like me. I not only sin and disrupt my relationship with God, but am also distressingly consistent at damaging my relationships with other people.
But I cannot expect forgiveness from people I have let down in the same way I can from God. People have smaller capacities to cope with such selfishness and failings than God does. There is also a need to earn trust again after letting people down. God knows us too well to trust us not to let Him down.
When I have put my selfish wants over consideration for someone I claim to love, they are rightfully skeptical if I say it won’t happen again. In this situation the roles of Peter’s question are reversed: ‘How often can I presume upon another’s forgiveness?’ Don’t try to tell me the response would be, “seventy times seven”!
From Matthew 5:23-24 it seems the answer would be more like, “Less than one time.” God is not happy to receive my worship until I have gone out of my way to be reconciled with the person I have offended. Also, I must take the initiative, as soon as possible (see Matthew 5:25). As much as it depends upon me, I must seek peace and reconciliation in all my relationships (Romans 12:18).
Finally, because my selfishness has most affected my wife, I am keeping in mind Peter’s word to husbands:
Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered. (1 Peter 3:7 ESV)
I’m not sure about the ‘weaker vessel’ bit, I’m pretty weak myself. The point is that a disrupted marriage relationship leads to problems with prayer (a topic for another day).
About the image: The Return of the Prodigal Son (Le retour de l’enfant prodigue) by James Tissot. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. I chose this image because the story of the prodigal son is the classic story of unconditional forgiveness and I particularly like this artist’s depiction of the father embracing his son.
Acts 3:19 Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, (ESV)
Matthew 5:23-24 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. (ESV)
Matthew 5:25 Come to terms quickly with your accuser… (ESV)
Romans 12:18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. (ESV)