In Matthew 6, Jesus tells us why forgiveness is so important. Our willingness, or unwillingness, to forgive others is directly tied to whether or not God will forgive us.
Look at Jesus’ exact words:
“For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
It’s that important to him.
But, what is forgiveness? Is it saying, “I forgive you?” Do we say the magic words, cross it off our to do list and, boom, we’re off the hook?
Or is forgiveness much more than just a couple of words? Do we have the very definition of forgiveness wrong?
Is forgiveness without the pursuit of restoration/reconciliation even possible?
Consider the thief on the cross.
Jesus knew every rotten thing that man hanging next to him had ever done, yet He forgave him.
But he didn’t stop there. He assured the man he was restored to right standing and relationship, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.”
In fact, the man didn’t even say the words ‘forgive me,’ but, as with us, Jesus knew his heart (1 Samuel 16:7, Jeremiah 17:10).)
What’s in our heart is more important than what we say.
Like the thief, the paralyzed man in Mark 2 didn’t ask Jesus to forgive him. He asked for healing, yet, Jesus forgave him first. But he didn’t just forgive him and then leave him hanging. He restored him. Physically and spiritually.
Restoration isn’t possible without forgiveness, but, again, is forgiveness possible without restoration?
Isn’t the restoration of relationship and fellowship the very heart of everything God pursues with us? He sent his own son to die in that pursuit.
That is radical love. It goes far beyond merely saying, “I forgive you.” It’s showing that we truly are forgiven.
But what if God was like us? What if God forgave like we do?
How would we feel if God said he forgave us, but didn’t restore fellowship? If He cut us off and didn’t restore our standing with Him, would you feel forgiven?
As followers of Jesus, living under the great commission, shouldn’t our ultimate desire for these people, even those who’ve hurt, persecuted and spitefully used us, be to see them reconciled to a right relationship with God?
In Luke 15, the father ran toward his prodigal son, unheard of in that culture. He recognized the act of his son’s return as the product of a contrite heart and couldn’t wait to extend forgiveness AND restoration. The truth is, he had forgiven his son, before he even returned. He waited with expectation and a soft heart.
As with love, forgiveness and the pursuit of restoration, is risky. The ‘prodigal father’ risked ridicule from his neighbors and peers, and further disappointment, hurt and betrayal from his son. His forgiveness and restoration was risky. It was going to cost him, but his love was greater than his fear.
Love without risk isn’t love.
The same is true for forgiveness, which makes sense because forgiveness is an act of love. Toward God, toward the other person, toward ourselves.
Can you think of a Biblical “hero” who messed up more than David? God didn’t just forgive him, and send him on his way; he restored fellowship to the point that he even called him a man after his own heart.
God doesn’t extend forgiveness without an offer of restoration.
In fact, restoration and reconciliation may be so integral to forgiveness that they’re actually part of the very definition of genuine forgiveness, not separate things.
How important is it to God that we restore our broken relationships? He doesn’t even want our offerings if our relationships with others aren’t right.
“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.”
Those verses are often used to illustrate the importance of forgiveness, but notice that Jesus doesn’t say, “make sure you say you’ve forgiven them.” He says “go and be reconciled.”
Of course, it’s up to the forgiven person to pursue that relationship and fellowship, as well. Romans 12:18 says “as far as it’s up to you.” We need to do all we can to “live in peace.” A half-hearted effort and “I tried” won’t cut it. We’ve gotta leave no stone unturned.
Listen, we’re all broken, hurting people, who hurt people sometimes. If we throw everyone who’s hurt us into a dark closet, deep inside us, we’re walking around with even more hurts and brokenness inside.
And we carry that with us. Everywhere. Always. Until, we allow restoration.
For most of us, there’s someone occupying space in the pit of our stomach. Someone we desperately want restored fellowship with, but won’t pursue it because we’re too scared of the risks.
But the bigger risk, is inaction. Its living with that ache in your heart, forever, and dying with the regret of not having tried hard enough.
See, real, complete forgiveness and restoration of broken fellowship with others isn’t just an act of love toward them, it’s a gift of freedom we give to ourselves.
God doesn’t tell us to do difficult things, like truly forgive, to punish us or put us through some sort of trial by fire, although, refine us it does.
God tells us to do it because he KNOWS it’s what’s best for us.
He wants our hearts broken for others, to be sure, but he wants our hearts and joy to be full.
Like a hoarder who fills all the rooms of his house with useless junk and is living in the one tiny open space left–that’s how we choose to live when we keep walling off sections of our hearts. We lose that capacity to love, and be loved.
With so many broken people who’ve hurt us locked up in those closets in our hearts, we find ourselves having to quickly open the door a crack, shove the next one in and trying to slam that thing shut before they all fall out.
Reconciliation and forgiveness aren’t easy, but they’re easier than what we put ourselves through otherwise.
When we choose unforgiveness, or shallow, empty forgiveness, our hearts not only shrink, in effect, but they harden. Living as judge, jury and executioner, in addition to warden to those people we’ve got locked up, takes a toll on us. It affects our relationship with God.
And it may affect our eternity.
In the context of relationships with others, specifically how we look at other people’s wrongdoings, Jesus tells us, “…in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 7:2.)
Did you catch that?
Jesus says that the way we treat others, in terms of the grace, patience and forgiveness we show them, is exactly what we’re gonna get in return.
This is consistent with the God given principle of sowing and reaping.
He expects us to extend to others the same love, patience, and unending forgiveness that He gives to us!
The parable of the unforgiving servant showed us this, as well. (Matthew 18:21-35)
So, back to my question. Is forgiveness enough? Can forgiveness be complete without a sincere pursuit of restoration?
I can only answer with another question. What kind of forgiveness do we want? From others? From God?
Are we okay with God saying, “Okay, I forgive you,” but leaving us separated from him for eternity?
Isn’t restored fellowship the natural and obvious end product of forgiveness, or even an actual component of forgiveness itself?
Would you truly believe that God had forgiven you if He still condemned you to eternal separation?
The song writer reminds us of God’s relentless forgiveness:
“A thousand times I’ve failed
Still your mercy remains
Should I stumble again
Still I’m caught in your grace…
Your will above all else
My purpose remains”
Thankfully, our God forgives. And restores! In Ephesians 5, the Apostle Paul tells us to, “be imitators of God” and to “walk in the ways of love.” And in verse 6 of that chapter he says:
“Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient.”
Let’s not be fooled with our own empty words either. Let’s put actions to what we say. Let’s follow His example and forgive, restore and love like He does!
Personal note: My prayer is that God help me to love like He does. That I forgive 7 x 70. That I have as much patience with you as God has had with me and always seek restoration, even with those I don’t deserve it. That I see everything through the lens of my divine purpose in this life, to point others toward Christ, and that I do all I can to leverage everything I have, surrender my pride and live for God’s glory and the good of others.
I pray the same for you.
I would love to hear your thoughts on this and would be honored to hear your stories of forgiveness and reconciliation. Reach out via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
From The Inside Out written by Joel Houston | Hillsong United.