“Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one 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.” (Philippians 3:13–14, NKJV)
Renew and Replace
Forgiveness is not a period; it is a comma. It sets up a transition, a new way of relating to the one who wronged us. Dentists not only remove decay from a tooth—they also must fill it with something capable of restoration and function. That building material in relationships is the exercise of love. Paul juxtaposes this removal and renewal. He first speaks of uprooting bitterness that can infect the heart and jaundice our outlook: “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.” He then speaks of replanting with the fruits of love: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph. 4:31–32). All this in pursuit of Christ’s mission statement: “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you 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).
As we’ve seen, we are not only to let go, we are to give grace. The Puritan pastor and theologian William Perkins well describes the turnaround: “We must forgive others by withholding revenge, mortifying anger, cultivating love, and rendering good.” He charts the course from the revenge that accompanies a lack of love for a neighbor (Lev. 19:18) to the cultivating of love that works itself out in doing good rather than evil (Rom. 12:21). The ship is turned and new coordinates are cast, away from the waves of division to the calm seas of peace.
But who is capable of such love?! How can we even begin to be inclined to love those who have wronged us? Only be immersing ourselves in the love of Christ. Only by abiding in Him who loved us and gave Himself for us can we find what is necessary for such love divine. We must engage with tutorials like John 15 and 1 John 3 to learn the character of such love. Such love is cultivated in communion with Christ (1 Pet. 1:8-9) and through prayer that explores the reaches of that love and the power at work within us (Eph. 3:14-21), governed by the direction of God laid out in His Word.
Another aspect of forgiving love may be addressing the sin of the offender, if we are able to do so. In forgiving we do not lose the ability to deal with a brother’s sin. That sin can be brought up, not to accuse but to address in love. In the accounting of forgiveness there is a sense in which each offense is new because the slate has been wiped clean. But in another sense there is a tally. Jesus speaks numerically of seven times and seventy times seven. There is an awareness of a first offense and a seventh offense. The difference is this: forgiven sin has been disarmed of its destructive power. As Jeremiah says to God, “You forgave the iniquity of my sin” (Jer. 33:8; cf. Psa. 32:5). The sin has lost its condemning power. Like a shell casing emptied of gunpowder, it has been defused, disarmed of its ability to destroy. Rather than sitting on opposing sides of a table to argue about the sin, the two can sit on the same side, working together to overcome it in the spirit of bearing one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:1-5).
Granting forgiveness is not something done lightly or easily, but it belongs to new life in Christ. When our Lord says that we must forgive from the heart, He brings us to the workmanship of His grace. We must continually cry out to God for help, saying, “I do forgive; help me in my unforgiveness.” Forgiveness is not merely a function of self-will, it is ultimately a fruit of the Spirit in expression of love.
- How does forgiveness flow from love? How does love flow through forgiveness?
- Read Colossians 3:12-17. What building blocks do you see that give forgiveness its urgency and power?
Father, keep me from the motions of forgiveness, from seeking to honor You with my lips while my heart is far from You. Help me to consider, to contemplate what it is that You want of me, and grant me grace to forgive from the operating system of grace into which You have established me in Christ.
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.