In the last post, we looked at authentic apologies that truly exhibit repentance.
So what happens when others express an authentic apology to us – when they repent?
Our response to authentic repentance is meant to be forgiveness.
What is forgiveness? It is relinquishing the right to get even (retribution, revenge), choosing to pardon and releasing the person from their burden of guilt. It is choosing to let go of the bag full of resentment that you carry, the right to retaliate, or at least to hold the wrong over the head of the other.
Forgiveness is a huge theme in the New Testament. Usually when you find something spoken of frequently in the Bible it’s because the issue is something people really struggle with. Again in the Sermon on the Mount we find Jesus including the act of extending forgiveness in something as important as the pattern for our daily prayer, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” I want you to notice what you are praying when you pray the Lord’s Prayer. You are literally praying, “Lord, please forgive me in the same way and to the same degree that I’ve forgiven those who’ve wronged me.”
That is a dangerous and frightening prayer! If you are prone to withhold mercy you are inviting God to withhold mercy for you. The word for trespasses is actually the Greek word for debts – someone wrongs us, they owe us, just as we wrong God and owe God recompense. In this prayer we pray for God to let go of the obligation justice makes for us to repay our wrongs to the degree that we release the debts others owe us.
In Matthew 18 Peter asks, “Lord, how should I forgive? Is seven times enough?” To which Jesus replied, "Not seven times, but I tell you, seventy-seven times." Other ancient versions have seventy times seven times. In essence, how many times do you want God to forgive you when you’ve sinned? Do you want his mercy to ever run out?
Now, let me mention that you might be called to continue to forgive, but that does not mean there are no consequences. I had a friend who I learned through experience could not keep a confidence. I still love the guy and I no longer trust him with my confidences. Likewise you might forgive an abusive spouse, but that doesn’t mean that you must stay in an abusive situation.
In Colossians 3:13, Paul says it this way, "Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive."
I read this Scripture at every wedding because it is impossible for a marriage to succeed unless both husband and wife come to demonstrate the grace Paul is talking about. This is why three of the most important words in life are not only I am sorry, but also, I forgive you.