I was raised in a household that was relatively consistent and God-focused. We had rules, we had expectations, we had family devotions, and doing the right thing – the God-honoring thing – was praised. I experienced the loss of a few friends in High School, and learning how to process death and eternity only helped me to develop a more eternal focus as a young person. The grace of God was praised and understood to be the greatest gift possible, but it was not until I was in my mid twenties that I first-hand understood the expectation, ability and grace of extending the grace that had been given me.
In order to become a Christian, in order to “be saved” or to “be born again”, we must first understand that we are sinners and the eternal consequence of our sin is death and damnation. That is the very reason that we need a savior. We will understand that fact on various levels when we come to faith. A child might understand that disobeying his mother and lying to his friends is sinful and that God is angry about that sin. An eighty year old man might carry the weight of a lifetime of one particular sin or set of various sins ranging from pride to theft, adultery or even murder. Regardless of our life experience or age, we must understand the simple fact that we are hopelessly separated from God because of our sin. This is why Jesus said,
“I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”
– Luke 5.32
Jesus is not stating here that there are righteous out there, He is making the point that there are none who are are righteous on their own and His purpose is to draw sinners to repentance. No matter what sin, no matter what age. If you feel the conviction of the Spirit in your life pointing out sins and drawing you to change, then you are a child of God. Jesus’ death and substitution in our place is adequate to cover any and all sins, we need only confess them and repent from them.
As we grow in our faith and get to know God more intimately, we will realize progressively the depth of our sins. Even the eighty year old man who understands a lifetime of sin will walk through a process of maturation and understanding with God after he repents of his sins and begins walking in faith. And the more we understand our guilt, the more we will understand God’s grace and the depth of His forgiveness. To this experience, Jesus states:
“For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.”
– Luke 7.47
If you do not understand your sin, your sinful state, and the punishment you deserve, then the grace of God is of little or no consequence to you. It is no big thing for God to welcome you into Heaven eternally because you think you deserve it, or you only committed small offenses which God could overlook or forgive easily. The one who is forgiven little loves little. This means he cannot love God, and he cannot love others. He will be unwilling to forgive others who offend him, he will be unwilling and unable to offer grace, because he himself has not received it.
The one who has been forgiven much, conversely, loves much! This person recognizes his sin guilt, is amazed at the grace offered, and responds in gratefulness and love. This person, in return, can turn to others and graciously love and forgive others who offend him, because he understands the grace that has been given. And the more deeply we understand the weight of the cross, the depth of our sin, and the measure by which we have been forgiven, the more deeply we will love and forgive others.
“To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.”
It is not every day that someone sins against us in what we would naturally consider an “inexcusable” way. Different cultures respond to offense differently, and while there are some who tend to harbor grudges and allow feuds and multi-generational hatred develop, every culture and every person has forgiven someone something on some level. Perhaps someone stepped on his foot, told him a white lie, ate his left overs or borrowed his car and did not fill up the gas tank. These are easily forgivable offenses for most people.
But consider that God calls our focus and service to self adultery. He has forgiven us the sin of adultery. How many people would forgive their spouses the sin of adultery? And not just a one-time offense, but serial adultery?
God, being holy in nature, cannot overlook any sin, and all sin is punishable by death and damnation. Adam and Eve brought the curse upon all of creation by eating a piece of fruit that God had forbidden. Have you ever eaten a forbidden cookie? God’s holiness will not excuse that, it will only punish it. If you have confessed your sins and asked Jesus to place that sin under the fountain of His blood, then that sin has already been punished and you are considered redeemed. All sin will be punished. Either in eternity through damnation, or in the death of Jesus Christ. We cannot and should not seek to add to God’s wrath. Rather, we are commanded to love as He loved us.
Thus, C. S. Lewis states that it is not an option for us to love and forgive, but it is the very mark of a Christian. If you have been forgiven, Jesus says, you will forgive and love in like manner.
So how is your grudge level today? How is your forgiveness level? Are you resting in and praising Jesus for His grace and forgiveness? Are you pouring out grace and forgiveness in the same manner you are receiving it? Let us learn to love like Jesus, so much so that we will be known by our love and forgiveness.