Forgiveness : What Are We Really Forgiving?


What’s one of the most common reasons we give for not forgiving others?

If you’re like many people, you might have answered that our forgiveness implies approval or tolerance of the behavior.

We read about it, talk about it, and teach it. Yet for most of us, forgiving others is one of the most difficult things we can do.

A recent conversation with a friend reminded me that one reason we may find it difficult to forgive is because we misunderstand what it is that we’re forgiving.

What if I told you we are not forgiving the sin?

Remember what David wrote in the Psalms? “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment” (Psalm 51:4 ESV).

Even the Pharisees of Jesus’ day understood that God alone can forgive sin. That’s why they pitched a fit when Jesus proclaimed the forgiveness of sins. In Luke 5:18-25 (ESV), we read:

And behold, some men were bringing on a bed a man who was paralyzed, and they were seeking to bring him in and lay him before Jesus, but finding no way to bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the midst before Jesus.

And when he saw their faith, he said, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.”

And the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, saying, “Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

When Jesus perceived their thoughts, he answered them, “Why do you question in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the man who was paralyzed—“I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And immediately he rose up before them and picked up what he had been lying on and went home, glorifying God.

Yes, only God can forgive the actual sin. And since Jesus is God, He demonstrated that He also has the authority to forgive sin.

Perhaps that’s one reason we struggle with forgiveness. We’re trying—and failing—to forgive something that we don’t have the right to forgive. We justify our failure to forgive by saying we don’t want to communicate a tolerance for the sin. Or that it’s not right for the other person to “get away with” what they’ve done.

So where does that leave you and me? If we’re not forgiving the sin, then what are we forgiving?

Consider that we are forgiving the offense. The offense against our rights. Against our values. Or our family. Against whatever it is that we hold dear.

Matthew 6:14-15 (NIV) tells us, “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”

By forgiving the offender, I’m saying that my rights are less important than freedom from bitterness and resentment. I’m saying that my job is not to forgive actual sin, but the offense against me. The offense that has trespassed my rights.

Could it be that the act of forgiveness is the ultimate act of admitting that I am not God? That in giving up my right to be angry and resentful, I am submitting to the authority God has to forgive sins?

Could it be that when we forgive others, we’re admitting an awareness that we are desperately in need of the same forgiveness? Because, let’s face it, it’s just about impossible to go through life without giving offense, whether intentionally or unintentionally. Sooner or later, we will need others to forgive our offenses against them.

Even so, forgiveness is not something we can even begin to do in our own strength. We need the prompting of the Holy Spirit to motivate us to surrender our rights (Galatians 2:20). And we need the power of the Holy Spirit to humble ourselves to actually forgive (John 14:15-17). Finally, we need the Holy Spirit’s comfort to know that God is a just judge (Genesis 18:25) and we can trust that He will make all things right in the end.

There’s a freedom in forgiving others. Freedom in knowing God is God and we are not. Most of all, freedom in offering what we, ourselves, need.

What are your thoughts?

Aging Gracefully . . . and Biblically

Aging Gracefully

Is it possible to age gracefully? What does that even mean?

Been thinking recently about aging. It may have something to do with the fact that I’ve reached another milestone birthday. In a culture that worships youth, I wonder how long it will be before I become a living relic of a bygone era—someone merely tolerated by younger people. Then I wonder if the future is now.

It doesn’t help that I find myself saying many of the things that once caused me to roll my eyes when my mother said them decades ago. Things I had determined never to repeat. Sigh. Never say never!

I’ve known people who have modeled what it is to not age with grace. Many had health issues and painful life experiences. Their response was to grow more cranky and unhappy with each passing year.

I’ve also had some wonderful role models who exemplified how to age with grace. People who determined their circumstances would not drag them down. Instead, they kept looking up. Up toward heaven. Toward their Savior. Toward the gift of each new day, despite their difficulties. And I hope I’ve learned something from each of them.

The pages of the Bible are also filled with positive role models—people who aged gracefully. Here are 6 people I want to be like when I grow up!

  • Enoch

Enoch’s secret to aging gracefully was to “walk with God” (Genesis 5:22, 24). I love the word picture of walking with God. To walk with someone means you don’t run ahead and you don’t lag behind. That’s how I want to live: walking with God.

  • Moses

Age is not an obstacle to God’s call on our life. Moses was 80 years old when God called him to lead ancient Israel out of Egyptian slavery. What an encouragement it is to know that regardless of what the calendar says, God can still use me. We also read that Moses was more humble than anyone else (Numbers 12:3). Hmmm…availability and humility: a combination I need to cultivate!

  • Caleb

Caleb was one of the 12 spies sent by Moses to spy out the promised land and bring back a report. He stood with Joshua when the other 10 spies sowed seeds of doubt among the people. Forty-five years later, at the mature age of 85, Caleb requested a portion of the land that would be especially difficult to conquer—a land of “fortified cities” (Joshua 14:12). He was successful because he “followed the Lord God of Israel fully” (Joshua 14:14). Someone willing to stand against the crowd who follows God fully: that’s who I want to grow up to be!

  • Elizabeth

Elizabeth was the wife of a priest. She was unable to conceive, a disgrace among women at that time. But despite her disappointment and her advanced age (Luke 1:6-7), she was described as righteous in God’s sight. And God chose her to be the mother of the one who would herald the coming of Christ. What a woman! I want to age gracefully like Elizabeth—someone who trusts God despite the disappointments of life.

  • Simeon

Although we’re not told Simeon’s age, it appears he was an older man. We can conclude this because the Holy Spirit had revealed to him that he would not die before he had seen the Christ (Luke 2:26). He was then content to leave this life, having seen the One who had been promised. I very much want to be like Simeon. Someone who is sensitive to the prompting of the Holy Spirit and follows His leading.

  • Anna

At 84 years old, Anna had been widowed for an estimated 60+ years. She spent her life serving and worshipping at the Temple “night and day” with fasting and prayer. When she heard Simeon’s pronouncement, she thanked God and spread the word to all who would listen that the Messiah had been born (Luke 2:38). I want to be like Anna as I age: someone who lives to serve and worship. Someone who lives with an attitude of gratitude. And someone who can’t stop talking about Jesus.

As the calendar pages turn and birthdays come and go, who are your role models for aging gracefully?


Easter Sunday is Coming!

The clichés abound. Life is a process. Life is a journey. Life is a highway.

Life is each of these and more. But as we move through the processes, in our journeys, and on the highways, what are we doing during these times? Especially during the times of waiting? Or times of pain? Or discouragement?


During this week leading up to Easter, I’m reminded of Jesus’ disciples. How optimistic they must have been after Jesus’ triumphant entrance into Jerusalem. They had invested more than three years of their lives to follow Him, live with Him, and learn from Him. They had seen the most amazing things: water made into wine, people healed, demons exorcised, the dead brought back to life. Who, but God, could do such marvelous things?

Yet on that Thursday night, they spiraled down from expectancy to hopelessness. They stood in shock as Jesus – the source of all their hopes – was dragged away by armed guards. With their expectations dashed, they slunk off into the darkness, confused, discouraged, even despairing.

When they thought things couldn’t get any worse, the next day the Romans executed Jesus in the most torturous and degrading manner possible. Overcome by fear and ashamed of their own cowardice, the disciples hid. Of the twelve disciples, only one was among those at the foot of the cross.

Saturday was a nebulous day. A day which they probably passed through on auto-pilot. What would they do next? After three years of following this Teacher, would they return to their old lives? Would they even have lives to return to?

Then came Sunday. Even with the report of Jesus’ victorious resurrection, they hesitated. Afraid to hope the circumstances of the past several days were not the end. Afraid to believe Jesus was indeed the long-awaited Messiah. Afraid to step out of the shadows into the light.

What about you? Is your life caught in Thursday? Are you dealing with the initial shock and despair of dashed hopes?

Perhaps you’re trapped in Friday, where your dreams have not only been dashed, they’ve been buried, too.

Or are you stalled in the waiting room of Saturday? Having to let go of the past, but not sure of the future?

Wherever you are, Easter Sunday is coming! By the grace of God, faith in Christ, and the power of His Holy Spirit, you can step out…

…from condemnation to restoration.

…from darkness to light.

…from resentment to forgiveness.

…from hopelessness to hope.

…from death to life.

Be encouraged. Sunday’s on the way!”

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