Grace All The More
This past week, I sat in a courtroom looking into the eyes of the two defendants responsible for breaking into my car, stealing my identity to commit fraud, and causing such stress, anxiety, and fear for me these last few months. While panicking, waiting for the judge to address the courts, I was reminded of the words Jesus prayed on the cross for the very ones crucifying Him, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
While the circumstances are undoubtedly different, the Spirit still impressed on me the miracle of forgiveness and the power of His grace. I so often long to be part of great comebacks--to be "more than a conqueror" over my fears, my doubts, and my brokenness; yet, in order to be a conqueror, I had to redefine the fight I was facing and let the Lord do an incredible refining work in me (Romans 8:37).
The love of Christ is never more understood and experienced than when we are standing before Him in complete surrender, complete restoration, and complete freedom from sin because “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more!” (Romans 5:20) In order to experience the love of God, we must deal with the holiness of God by radically and intentionally dealing with our sin. He reveals His heart to us and brings us to our knees in humility and awe as a result of our raw, real honesty of who we are before Him. The stronghold I’ve been struggling to relinquish, the sin that’s paralyzed me in deep depression, calloused me from pressing on in Christ, and immobilized me from pursuing freedom has been the sin of unforgiveness. But in my intentional surrender, God’s given me an incredibly different understanding of His undeniably beautiful, healing grace.
One of my pastors recently shared with me the passage in Matthew 18 about the unforgiving servant who strangled his offender after he himself had been forgiven of an even greater offense. This parable vividly came alive in my life as I, ashamedly, was that unforgiving servant. God opened my heart to see the bitterness impeding my entire perspective on life, isolating myself from Godly fellowship, and distancing myself from the loving, freeing arms of my Beloved. My now very exposed confessed sin brought me to a point of desperation—a desperate need for His healing, cleansing grace.
Most often, unforgiveness has less to do with the magnitude of the offense and more with the proximity and closeness to the offender. It’s always different when it’s someone you love, someone you trusted, someone close. The wounds of those closest cut the deepest…but that must not be our justification or excuse for not dealing with our bitterness. We must not let it escalate into the rage, into combative anger, into malice or slander (Ephesians 4:31). We must dig up the roots of bitterness with the shovel of forgiveness.
I’ve realized that forgiveness is a miracle of the Holy Spirit, and it’s only through His Spirit that I can experience His forgiveness and show others mercy. We must realize this because forgiveness is canceling a debt; it’s choosing not to inflict the price for the offense and excusing the penalty, but it's also offering pardon by showing grace, mercy, and love as a result. Forgiveness is forsaking revenge, relinquishing their control over you, releasing them from your wrath and liberating you from the bondage of sin against Christ.
Whoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends. Proverbs 17:9
Forgiving someone does not mean you must trust them again and reconcile the relationship. Trust is lost quickly and gained slowly. Your future with them will not look like your past was even after you’ve forgiven them. You might not seek to be their friend again because an adjustment needs to be made. After all, what friendship can be restored if your trust has been severely severed? However, you must let love prosper by forgiving your offenders and emptying your heart of animosity.
Forgiveness is not covering up sin or excusing what was done to you. It doesn’t deny or diminish the sin. It was a big deal, a very big deal. It was such an offense that Christ had to die on the cross for it. No one has been sinned against greater than Christ. He took every offense, every single sin—theirs and yours. One sin would’ve been enough to hang Jesus on the cross, yet He took on every sin for all mankind. Are people’s sins against me worse than my sins against God? Of course not! And rather than getting bitter, rather than leaving us in our sins, He chose forgiveness. It’s a choice. We can choose to deny the freedom of Christ by strangling our offender with our bitterness or we can relinquish our desire for justice, our desire for control and simply let them go.
Jesus said to Simon, “Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for he loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” Luke 7:47
The most tragic consequence of unforgiveness is the inability to love. A bitter person cannot genuinely love anyone else, nor can she receive love. If you cannot allow yourself to love or be loved for fear of being hurt, then you cut off the most important aspect of the Christian life. God is love. His love for us goes beyond anything we can imagine. Many people who have suffered deep hurts truly believe that they have opened their hearts to the love of God, but they haven’t—not really, not fully, not completely. They have been hurt so deeply and so many times that even when they do crack open the door to love, they refuse to open it wide and without hesitation.
My favorite words of C. S. Lewis are a faithful reminder to myself of the risks of love. He says,
To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully ‘round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.
These are difficult words to swallow and even harder to put into practice. To love someone is to expose yourself, to give someone the power and opportunity to hurt you, and to inflict tremendous pain. But C.S. Lewis drives the point home: Love is a heavenly, Godly, beautiful gift we must not fear or delay but passionately and wholeheartedly pursue. To forgive someone and to be forgiven yourself is to love, be loved, and experience the unconditional love of Christ, “who shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
How can you practice forgiveness in your life?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Hannah is a twenty-something Tucson native saved by the overwhelming grace of Christ. She has a bachelor’s in Chemistry from the University of Arizona and currently works in a research lab while also pursuing her master’s degree. Hannah loves creating videos for her church, listening to country music, camping and hiking, binge watching Gilmore Girls and spontaneous road trips. Her favorite days consist of a great cup of coffee, a good book, and a comfy chair watching the rain pour. She longs to see young women thrive in their relationship with Jesus, knowing He always has immeasurably more in store for us.