C.S. Lewis said, “We all agree that forgiveness is a beautiful idea until we have to practice it.” Isn’t that the truth? Last Sunday we finished our series on the life of Joseph by looking at the issue of forgiveness. The overarching question as Joseph’s life unfolds before us in Genesis is whether or not he will forgive his brothers. For us, the pressing reality is that forgiveness is an issue that will not escape any of us. Some will deal with extremely difficult situations where forgiveness seems impossible. Others will have to forgive over and over again. Therefore, it’s essential that we understand what the Bible says about forgiveness and how the gospel compels us to forgive.
One of the greatest resources on forgiveness and reconciliation is Ken Sande’s book (and subsequent ministry) The Peace Maker. Below Sande unpacks 3 key biblical principals from his book that help us understand and hopefully apply forgiveness to our lives.
1. You cannot do it alone –
“There is only one way to overcome these barriers, and that is to admit that you cannot forgive in your own strength and that you desperately need God to come in and change your heart.”
2. Forgiveness is neither a feeling, nor forgetting, nor excusing –
“Forgiveness is not a feeling. It is an act of the will. Forgetting is a passive process in which a matter fades from memory merely with the passing of time. Forgiving is an active process; it involves a conscious and a deliberate course of action.”
“Forgiveness is not excusing. Excusing says, ‘That’s okay,’ and implies ‘What you did wasn’t really wrong,’ or ‘You couldn’t help it.’ Forgiveness is the opposite of excusing. The very fact that forgiveness is needed and granted indicates that what someone did was wrong and inexcusable.”
3. Forgiveness is a decision –
“To forgive someone means to release him or her from liability to suffer punishment or penalty. Aphiemi, a Greek word that is often translated a ‘forgive,’ means to let you, release, or remit. It often refers to debts that have been paid or canceled in full.”
There is no forgiveness without the gospel. The gospel provides us with our sole motivation to forgive and our only hope of understanding true forgiveness. The more we understand what God has done through Jesus for us the more apt we are to forgive others of wrongs against us.
Regarding this motivation Tullian Tchividjian writes, “The fact is, however, that the only way licentious people start to obey is when they get a taste of God’s radical unconditional acceptance of sinners…The irony of gospel-based sanctification is that those who end up obeying more are those who increasingly realize that their standing with God is not based on their obedience, but Christ’s.”
“The law shows us what a sanctified life looks like, but it does not have sanctifying power. It’s the gospel (what Jesus has done) that alone can give God-honoring animation to our obedience. The power to obey, in other words, comes from being moved and motivated by the completed work of Jesus for us. So, while the law directs us, only the gospel can drive us.”
Long-term obedience, evidenced in our willingness to forgive, only stems from our understanding of the gospel. We forgive because He (God) forgave us. Simple as that. Do you want to know how well you understand the gospel? Look at how well you forgive – regardless of the circumstance, regardless of the amount of times.
 Ken Sande, The Peacemaker, 205-210