Bitterness, anger, revenge, hate, jealousy, hurt, depression, and pain. These are all familiar emotions which stem from the same root: unforgiveness. It's not in our nature to be forgiving. We're all molded in the same sin nature and because of this default setting we struggle mightily with grace toward others who have wronged us. Therefore, we need a source of power in order to forgive and that power source is Christ.
Jesus is not only our power source for forgiveness, but He's also our standard. C.S. Lewis once said, "To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you." What a profound statement full of truth and wisdom. Forgiveness is not a suggestion, but a commandment from God. In light of what Jesus has done for you and I, who in the world are we to withhold forgiveness from anyone? The Apostle Paul backs this up in Ephesians 4 as he writes to the church and says in verses 31-32 "Let all bitterness, and wrath and anger, and clamour and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice: and be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you."
So, the question is how does Jesus model this forgiveness for us? The first way He does so is by teaching us that forgiveness starts in the heart. Did you know you don't have to be a criminal to live in the prison of unforgiveness? In fact, Christ teaches us that the love of God penetrates our heart to change its nature and motivate forgiveness. Pain and hurt have deep roots and only through the power of forgiveness can they be dug out and replaced with grace. It's what I like to refer to as the "18-inch Battle." What I mean by this is that it's roughly 18" from your mind to your heart. In that short distance we often talk ourselves out of God's divine design of forgiveness and bow the knee to selfish, stubborn, and hostile decisions. Instead of following the teachings and actions of Jesus we cave into our sinful nature and rebel against God by harboring unforgiveness.
The second way our Lord models forgiveness is by showcasing to us that forgiveness has requirements. Jesus reminded His disciples in Matthew 6:14-15 "For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: but if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses." This is a powerful lesson to all God's people that forgiveness must be free, full, and final. We don't get to pick and choose which parts we will forgive and which we won't. Forgiveness isn't a buffet line, but it is a funeral. We must have the burial for our unforgiveness towards others once and for all, never to be brought up or used again. These requirements may seem unrealistic, but they're not because the power doesn't rest on our ability but on the humble strength of Jesus.
Years ago, as the American Civil War was coming to an end there was a group known as the Radical Republicans who were pushing for severe punishment for all returning Confederate soldiers. Some were even calling for capital punishment. As President Lincoln weighed the process in the balance he was prodded for answers by the harsh political lawmakers of the day. With a clear understanding of Biblical principals, Lincoln replied by saying, "We'll treat them as if they never left." Isn't that what our hearts long to hear from God as well? We are all in desperate need to experience the unfailing forgiveness and mercy from not merely a country's president, but the King of Kings.
The final lesson to learn from our Lord concerning forgiveness is that it gets results. I wonder how many of our prayers go unanswered because of unforgiveness? Jesus said in Mark 11:25-26 "And when ye pray, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses." Simply put, unforgiveness is a weight you and I cannot carry. We don't have the capacity, wisdom, or power to take on such a mighty burden and still live a life dedicated to Christ. The results of such a life would be disappointing at best. After all, your situation may be unique, but you are not. What I mean by that is everyone has unique details in their own personal experiences which lead to bouts of unforgiveness, but none of us are exempt from the standard God sets. We may feel as if we've been wronged unlike anyone else, but ultimately we must understand we're not the first person to battle in the arena of pain and bitterness.
Here's the good news, we can overcome the war on unforgiveness. We can see better days ahead. We can break out of the chains of anger and hatred. All of this is possible by the power of Christ. He and He alone is our source of power to defeat the foe of unforgiveness and set us back on the solid rock of God's grace. The same forgiveness which you and I are forgiven by is the same mercies the Lord uses to grip our hearts and melt them into a reflection of our Savior. Pray, have faith, and allow Jesus to do the work which only He can by restoring joy to your soul and mending broken relationships through the power of forgiveness.