Gospel-based Forgiveness

Today I am posting another blog from my friend and fellow counselor Pastor Bruce Roeder. I will be posting some of his blogs from time to time on my site. Bruce and I were co-laborers in our previous counseling ministry. He is currently the Discipleship Pastor at Missio Dei Fellowship, in Kenosha Wisconsin. You can find his ministry blog at: broeder10.blogspot.com. I know you will enjoy his material.

Can a person understand the gospel and yet be unforgiving?

I ran into an old friend the other day and we spoke of another friend who was still estranged from part of their family. 

This mutual friend had asked for forgiveness from the part of the family they were estranged from and had been rebuffed numerous times. Not only that the estranged part of the family had been approached by other family members and I who encouraged forgiveness and reconciliation. All efforts were rebuffed.

The situation reminds me of what we find in Luke 7:36-50.
Jesus goes to the home of a Pharisee named Simon and while there a sinful woman of the city wets Jesus’ feet with her tears, wipes his feet with her hair, kisses his feet and anoints them with ointment. The self-righteous Pharisee is horrified and thinks to himself that Jesus is not a prophet because if he was he would have known what kind of woman was making this scene.

Jesus quizzes Simon and asks him a question based on a little parable:
[41] “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. [42] When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” [43] Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” [44] Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. [45] You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. [46] You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. [47] Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” Lk. 7:41-47, ESV

The teaching has some similarities to Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 18:21-35 where forgiveness is connected to the idea of debt.

In the above real life scenario the family who would not forgive were holding something against the person who asked for forgiveness. In other words they refused to cancel the debt and they forgot, or never knew that they too owed a debt they could never repay. The Pharisee likewise, could not comprehend forgiveness because he saw little need to ask for forgiveness himself because he did not see himself as a debtor.

Sometimes in our culture we call this refusal to cancel the debt wanting our “pound of flesh.” We’ll forgive, but only after we feel the debt has been paid.

In addition to being a fantasy this is the opposite way God deals with us. When we receive Christ we come to realize the debt we owe God for our many sins has been cancelled (Col. 2:13-14) and nailed to the Cross. Christ paid the debt as God’s wrath was poured out on Him for our sake.

This is basic gospel; yet it is astonishing. The vertical forgiveness of debt we receive then becomes the horizontal forgiveness of debt we practice with one another. This is called forgiveness from the heart and it opens the door to reconciliation.

It’s declaring, “you no longer owe me anything for I’ve cancelled your debt just as God has cancelled mine.”

Within that thought process there is an admission of one’s own sin and the willingness to see one’s own sin as the larger debt that was cancelled by Jesus’ death on the cross.

Jesus asks Simon who will love the moneylender more. Will it be the one who had a relatively small debt to pay or the one who had the larger? Simon says the one who had the larger debt cancelled will love the moneylender more.

Simon did not think he needed forgiveness or if he did it was only for minor infractions, that is, the small debt. The person who refuses to forgive from the heart also sees their own sin as minor debt if they see at it all. It is doubtful that they truly grasp the gospel given the pride and sense of self-righteousness that must lie underneath the attitude of unforgiveness.

Jesus says that the woman’s expressive and expansive love is an indication that she realizes her many sins have been forgiven. Her love is a result of a cancelled debt.

I feel sorry for that mutual friend for they have tried and tried to take responsibility for offenses both real and imagined. But I feel more sorry for the folks who will not forgive for the embittered heart is a terrible thing to live with and even more terrible to die with.