When We Forgive, That’s When We Are Most Like God
by Gil Mertz
Forgiveness is one of those rare subjects that impacts everybody. Whenever I teach on forgiveness I often ask how many in the room have been hurt by someone else and needed to forgive them? And then I ask how many have hurt someone else and needed to be forgiven? It’s always unanimous because forgiveness affects every life, every relationship, every marriage, every family, every church, every business, every culture, every country . . . every one of us.
Forgiveness can transform empty lives, restore broken relationships, reconcile hopeless marriages, heal hurting families, unite divided churches, rebuild entire nations and change the whole world. And the reason it has so much power is because when we forgive, we are most like God.
In fact, I contend that there is nothing more important to God than forgiveness. The first step to eternity with God begins with forgiveness. The reason Jesus left heaven and died for our sins was forgiveness. The main mission of the Holy Spirit is to draw people to forgiveness. The central theme of the Gospel is the message of forgiveness.
Redemption is the very first glimpse we see of God from the first chapter of Genesis when He dispelled the darkness that engulfed the earth as His Spirit moved upon the face of the waters. Think of it . . . the first recorded words of the Alpha and Omega of the universe brought order and peace from chaos and confusion. He can do the same in our lives today when we release the power of forgiveness.
We further see God’s redemptive nature when He confronted Adam and Eve after they sinned in the Garden of Eden. He had created the entire universe and everything in it. How difficult would it have been to erase Adam and Eve from existence and simply start over again? With every possible choice at His disposal and the power to make it happen, God chose forgiveness.
To fully understand the value God puts on forgiveness, look at the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:9-13. Jesus prayed for just three things: “give us this day our daily bread” (sustenance), “lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil” (holiness) and “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us” (forgiveness). Jesus knew we need food to live. We need holiness to commune with God. And the other thing Jesus knew we needed to live a full and joyful life is forgiveness.
But isn’t love more important than forgiveness? In the thirteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians, which is the classic definition of love, the Apostle Paul concludes by saying that love is the greatest. However, unless love is expressed, it is meaningless. In fact, Paul wrote in this same chapter of the Bible that if we could speak like an angel, know all the mysteries of God, have enough faith to move mountains or gave everything we owned to the poor, it would all be worthless if we’re not expressing love.
If God just claimed to love us but didn’t demonstrate it, what good would it be? So then, how does God express His great love for us? We see it through His magnificent creation, the revelation of His word in the Bible, His endless compassion and His ever-sufficient grace for all our needs. However, there is one way that God expressed His love to us that far surpasses every other demonstration and it has forgiveness written all over it.
John 3:16 (NIrV) describes it this way: “God loved the world so much that He gave His one and only Son. Anyone who believes in Him will not die but will have eternal life.” Eternal life was always God’s design for His creation, but our sin became an insurmountable obstacle. God gave us His Son because it was the only way to bridge the gap that sin had created. The sinless life and sacrificial death of Jesus in our place was what created the opportunity for forgiveness with God and helps empower us to forgive others.
Paul echoes this expression of God’s love in Romans 5:8 (NIrV): “But here is how God has shown His love for us. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” What makes this grace so amazing is that Christ died for us “while we were still sinners” even before we asked for forgiveness. God didn’t give us justice; He gave us mercy. He looked beyond what we deserved and gave us what we needed to express His great love. God chose forgiveness.
Inspirational author Roy Lessin, who co-founded DaySpring cards, provides this classic summary about the need for God’s forgiveness in our lives which inspires and motivates us to also forgive other people in our lives:
If our greatest need had been information, God would have sent us an educator;
If our greatest need had been technology, God would have sent us a scientist;
If our greatest need had been money, God would have sent us an economist;
If our greatest need had been pleasure, God would have sent us an entertainer;
But our greatest need was forgiveness, so God sent us a Savior.
Yes, God is love, but the greatest demonstration of His love comes to us in the expression of forgiveness. It was true from the very beginning and it is still true today. If I want to learn more about God, I need to understand more about forgiveness. If I am seeking intimacy with God, I need to practice the characteristic that is closest to God’s heart. If I want to demonstrate the love of Christ to others, I need to be committed to a lifestyle of forgiveness.
Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Forgiveness is not an occasional act. It is a permanent attitude. We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power of love.”
Gil Mertz has been involved with full-time Christian ministry for more than 40 years. He has served as a pastor, writer, public speaker, and radio host. To learn more about Gil and Forgive Your Way to Freedom, check out gilmertz.com.
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