Jesus set a higher standard for us than we are able to live out, and He was far more divisive than Christians want to admit sometimes. He reserved his harshest words for legalist, and those who used religion for profit. He called the Pharisees a brood of vipers. He replied, “And you experts of the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry and you yourselves will not life one finger to help them,” (Luke 11:46).
For those who believe that God cares more about being nice than holy, forgiveness and reconciliation become confused with codependency.
Forgiveness is the central theme of the gospel. A Holy God who cannot look upon sin gives man the choice to love and obey Him, but we jump into sin with both feet abandoning the Source of All Life. As we come up for air, we find ourselves overwhelmed by the weight of sin, and who should come to our rescue? The God, we abandoned. He gave His Son to die on the cross IN OUR PLACE, so that we can be forgiven and reconciled with God. God paid the costs, so that we can be forgiven and reconciled to Him. The God who forgave so much commands us to forgive others as He has forgiven us. Now let me tell you a story.
Suppose your fun-loving, carefree neighbor asks to borrow a cup of sugar a few nights a week. Then this progresses to needing more groceries, and then she moves on to borrowing pots and pans that she returns scorched and broken. This neighbor always seems to have a great need, and you must fill it. What is the most loving to do? Forgive and forget? Keep giving until you have nothing left? Or perhaps you look a little closer at your neighbor’s need. Her greatest need is to learn to be responsible for herself. How can you respond to help her with her true need?
You forgive her. What does that look like? Forgiveness means she no longer owes you for what she has taken. You don’t keep a list of all the groceries and pots and pans. To forgive her, you pay the costs for what she has taken. Forgiving others always costs the forgiver. How do you respond the next time she asks for a cup sugar?
Draw a boundary. Actions always have consequences. When you refuse her the sugar, it doesn’t mean you haven’t forgiven her. You love her enough for her to experience the repercussions for the way she is living. Your pantry is no longer open for her use. There is a change in the relationship. This change doesn’t mean you have not forgiven. You let her know that you love her and forgive her, but the relationship has changed. In order for you and your neighbor to reconcile, she must have a change of heart.
The change of heart is your neighbor being convicted of the way she treated you. She comes to you in repentance, apologizes, changes her behavior, and perhaps replaces the pots she ruined. Now, you grow together in trust. You need a stick of butter, and borrow from your neighbor. She gives. She needs a cup of flour to finish baking cupcakes, and you give. There becomes a mutual relationship of giving and taking.
Forgiveness is hard and costly, but forgiveness doesn’t mean that the other person can continue to abuse you. In Matthew 18 Jesus gives us pictures of what forgiveness and reconciliation look like, and they are two very different things. “If they refuse to listen” becomes a key phrase in the process of reconciliation. Jesus gives consequences to those who refuse to listen. He gives a process of the wounded telling the offender of what they have done. If they repent, you’ve won your brother back! If they refuse to listen, take a friend. If they still refuse to listen, then go to the church. If they still refuse to listen, treat them as a pagan. This would mean there would be a break in relationship. Most Christians don’t practice this. Often, we want to be nice, keeping the peace and unity at all costs, even allowing others to continue to abuse us.
God doesn’t live this way, and He doesn’t ask us to do more than He. God is not codependent, meaning that He doesn’t live in a dysfunctional relationship with us, where He supports and enables us to continue to sin against Him. He allows us to experience the earthly consequences of sin, so that we may repent. We can be very sorry for having an affair. His forgiveness does not clear up the STD we got. His forgiveness doesn’t change our spouse’s heart. Forgiveness does not change the consequences.
How many times do I forgive? Peter asked the same question. 70 times 7. Jesus goes on to tell the parable of the unmerciful servant as a warning to us all. God has forgiven us so much. We have been forgiven so much and should not demand repayment from those who owe us less. We are to have mercy.
Forgiveness is an inner discipline of the heart. Reconciliation is the wounded and the offender coming together living in relationship with one another. This means that the offender has been convicted and tried to make things right. If the offender refuses to listen, the break in relationship remains.