Look to Forgive, Not to Judge
It’s no secret that the world deserves God’s judgment (Romans. 3.9). However, we must be those who seek to forgive. There isn’t a single adult person, culture, nation or group of people who claim righteous before God. Everyone who sinned deserves punishment for that sin.
This makes judging a little tricky. If we want people to suffer because they sin, then we condemn ourselves since we sin, too. We have to be careful lest we become our own executioner.
Instead of wishing judgment on people, we ought to pray and seek for their forgiveness and reconciliation. We should want everyone to be saved since that’s God’s will: “[God] desires all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2.4). If our heart is focused on God, then this should be our desire, too, even when someone wrongs us.
Jesus As the Model Forgiver
Also consider what Jesus says: “If you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive you your trespasses” (Matthew 6.14). If we don’t have a forgiving attitude, then we aren’t going to receive forgiveness. Notice, there is no legal prerequisite for this. Jesus didn’t say, “You better forgive after people ask.” He said to forgive people, apparently, without qualification. When someone wrongs us, they should be forgiven before they apologize – even if they never apologize.
That may seem like overstating the case, but, again, look at what Jesus said: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23.34). Jesus uttered those words while being crucified; he was praying for those who were killing him, and they never apologized to him.
“Well, that was Jesus, and the rules are different for us,” someone will argue. Let’s look at Stephen, an early follower of Jesus and see what he says. Stephen was the first person publicly executed Christian. He was given a mock trial, much like Jesus, and condemned for blasphemy. This is what he said while being stoned to death: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7.60). Stephen took his cue straight from Jesus; he forgave people before they asked.
Withholding Forgiveness Brings Judgment
People who hold onto grudges until someone comes begging for forgiveness are in for a rude awakening on the Day of Judgment. God will hold them to that same standard and refuse forgiveness until they come seeking it. We need to ask ourselves, “Is this really the way we want forgiveness to work?”
God is going to treat us the way we treat others (cf Matthew 7.1-5). If we require people to beg before granting forgiveness, then God will do the same to us. “No, problem,” someone will say. “Just make sure and ask God to forgive you every day.” First, this is a very legalistic way to approach faith in Christ. The Pharisees would be proud. According to this thinking, our forgiveness is no longer really conditioned on the sacrificial love of God but our ability to properly discern our faults and request an official waiver for sin. Salvation becomes less gracious than bureaucratic.
Secondly, this leads to a really big problem since we can’t ask for forgiveness unless we know we’ve done something wrong. Why is that a problem? According to the Bible, we can’t know all the wrong we’ve done. David asks, “Who can discern his errors?” (Psalm 19.12) If we aren’t completely capable of understanding how we’ve sinned against God, what hope do we have of asking for forgiveness? None. If we hold other people to the standard of requesting forgiveness first, then we’re all doomed.
Bitter People Hold Grudges
God is more concerned with your salvation than your personality, but following God’s plan typically makes us more likable. People who store hurt, anger, or resentment in their hearts allow those feeling to “mature into bitterness”, according to Leon F. Seltzer, a Ph.D. writer for Psychology Today. Not only can this lead to a whole host of health problems, but it makes people no fun to be around. Who, honestly, wants to spend time with a bitter legalist? It just doesn’t sound very festive.
Now we compound our problem. First, we fail to forgive and will likely receive God’s judgment for doing so. Secondly, we keep God’s forgiveness from other people, too. Imagine that you’re a nonbeliever. If you saw a bunch of grumpy, bitter, unforgiving people, would you want to become like them? Of course not! When we fail to forgive, we make Jesus look terrible. He seems like one of the worst possible options – which is the exact opposite of the truth. Jesus is the best and only option for our salvation (Acts 4.12)!
If we think our bitterness only affects us, then we’re sadly mistaken. Our bad attitude affects us, our families, our friends, and all the other people who interact with us. If you want to put a sour taste for God in people’s mouths, then hang onto grudges and let bitterness fester and take root in your life. It will be one of the worst decisions you ever make. There is a better way.
Conclusion: Let’s Be Forgiving
It’s amazing how well God knows us. The divine creator has promised that his commandments are “for our good always” (Deuteronomy 6.24). God knows the way our brains work and the adverse effects sin has on our lives, including legalistic unforgiveness. He has warned us against these things and called us to a better way. Let’s be those people who set aside our self-righteousness and self-importance. Instead, let us take up humility, gentleness, and forgiveness, just like Jesus did, and shine the light of God’s lives into the darkness.