“And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.” (Colossians 2:13–14, NKJV)
When the angel announced to the shepherds in the Judean countryside that he brought good news of great joy, he brought a message of peace. That peace involved forgiveness through the holy God reconciling sinners to Himself through the work of His given Son. That peace was not brought through brokered diplomacy but bought through the redemptive work of the Child who had been born.
Forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ serves as both motivation and model for His Church. We are to forgive one another as God in Christ has forgiven us (Eph. 4:32). Christ cancelled our debt of sin (Col. 2:14) and so calls us who are forgiven to forgive others in our debt (Col. 3:12-14).
Paul charts a trajectory for the Christian life driven and drawn by the cross. It moves forward. Like a streaking meteor it pierces the darkness as a spectacle of love and power. To the church at Philippi Paul writes: “[O]ne thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:13–14, NKJV).
In a broader sense Paul’s statement refers to the whole of the Christian life. While we find ourselves in this world we are no longer of this world. We were dead in sin; we are now alive in Christ. We are no longer of the flesh but of the Spirit. We belonged to the dominion of darkness; we now belong to the kingdom of Christ, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
In a narrower sense Paul’s statement in Phil. 3:13-14 has application to the outworking of forgiveness in our lives. The trajectory is forward, compelled by love, enabled by grace. To forgive as one forgiven is to forget what lies behind and press ahead in our upward call in Christ. The apostle urges us “to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:1–3, ESV).
In this Rooted in Christ column we begin 2020 exploring the meaning and mandate of forgiveness. Over the next seven weeks we will explore the subject by serializing a chapter I was asked to contribute to an upcoming Festschrift honoring Dr. Jay E. Adams. Under the title “From Forgiven to Forgiving,” we will move from exploring forgiveness displayed to forgiveness defined, closing with forgiveness delivered.
As we embark let us together make this our undertaking and our prayer: “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Col, 3:12–14, ESV).
- Why do you deserve God’s forgiveness? Why does anyone deserve your forgiveness?
- Examining your own heart, what toxins have made you resistant to forgiving someone who has wronged you (e.g., pride, ignorance, self-righteousness, vengeance, fear, lack of love, defiance)? What antidote to these toxins is found in the Colossians 3 passage quoted above?
Click here for a previous article on the connection between forgiving one who has wronged you and suffering as a Christian. For more on forgiveness as a basic doctrine of the Christian faith, see The Christian’s Creed: Embracing the Apostolic Faith. For more on the perspective and practice of forgiveness see Finding Forgiveness: Discovering the Healing Power of the Gospel.
Scripture quotations marked NKJV are from The Holy Bible, New King James Version, copyright ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Those marked ESV are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright ©2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.