In Christian circles you hear a lot about belief and faith. There is a certain body of knowledge that a person has to accept as true in order to become a Christian. When teaching – even when going verse by verse through a book of the Bible – it is easy to just concentrate on facts. For example, these are the attributes of God; the church at this or that place was having this particular problem; Jesus said such and such. However, James points out that true faith is much more than acknowledging facts. Faith is acting on what we say we believe. We must apply what we know. But faith goes much further than that. It is necessary for us to take the principles we find in the Bible and change the way we think and live according to those principles.
Today we’re going to take a look at an area which, I suspect, is very difficult for a lot of us. It’s the topic of forgiveness. This is something even Jesus’ disciples had trouble with. At least Peter did. Please turn to Mathew, chapter 18. We’re going to start reading at verse 21.
[Read Matthew 18:21-35]
From Jesus’ parable we can learn several things about forgiveness.
a) Forgiveness always takes place in the context of wrong. If nothing was amiss, there would be no need for forgiveness. The example Jesus gave was of people who owed, but could not pay.
b) Another thing we learn is that there is a cost to forgiveness. There is a price to pay. In the parable, the servants who owed might not have had to pay – but the master did. He lost the money which was due him because he chose to forgive.
c) A third thing we can learn is that true forgiveness is complete. The master didn’t offer to merely reduce the debt – he wiped it out entirely.
d) Another thing we learn is that being forgiven obligates the one who is forgiven to also forgive.
Of course, you already know the parallels. Each one of us needs forgiveness because each one of us has wronged God. We certainly haven’t lived up to His expectations.
God’s forgiveness is not cost-free. Oh, we like to talk about the free gift of salvation – and on one level it is true that salvation is free. Yet, we should never forget that there is a price, a terrible price that had to be paid for our forgiveness. Jesus paid our debt for us.
God’s forgiveness is also complete. One of my favorite promises is in 1st John 1:19, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (NIV) God wipes it all out – not just the stuff we know about, but everything.
Being forgiven by God also obligates us to forgive one another. Paul writes, “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (Colossians 3:13 NIV)
You would think that we’ve been forgiven of so much that we wouldn’t have any trouble remembering our hopeless condition before, and that we would be willing to extend forgiveness to others. But, just like the unmerciful servant in the parable, we do forget. We forget the terrible price that had to be paid to cover our guilt. We forget how much we’ve been forgiven. We forget that whatever somebody owes us doesn’t even come close to what we owe God.
I think this is one reason why Jesus asks us to remember His sacrifice each week. The bread and juice we eat and drink remind us of the debt He paid so that we can be forgiven.