Everyone needs forgiveness.
That’s an easy thing to write but a much tougher action to embrace – particularly as I’m writing this some 36 hours after the bomb at Manchester Arena which killed 22 people and injured scores of others. A terrorist organisation has claimed responsibility and the UK Government’s response is to raise the threat of terror alert to the highest level possible. Armed Police and Military personnel now guard what are considered as the UK’s primary targets.
Can we, should we, find a way to forgive those who perpetrated such a terrible crime? Does forgiveness have its limits, especially when the people involved see nothing wrong in embracing violence to further their political ends?
Incidents of this nature invariably provoke a sense of outrage and it is hard then not to seek revenge. Even if we are not directly involved in the incidents, the rolling news bulletins draw us into the conflict as we witness at first hand the response of those affected.
To think about …
- How does unforgiveness affect the workings of the body (the church)?
- What sins do you consider as unforgivable (see Matthew 12: 22 – 32)?
- What barriers must be overcome before we can forgive?
In our natural human state we are not capable of living the kind of life that is pleasing to God. Genesis 3 teaches us that humankind has fallen as Adam and Eve, typifying the whole human race, chose to do what they wanted rather than obey God.
In the Old Testament, the main way that God’s people could receive forgiveness was through sacrifice, either performed by the priests on behalf of the people or by the people themselves. God established this system through the covenant when He brought His people out of Egypt. The problem is that this had to be repeated time and again – it was not a perfect sacrifice as the attitudes of the people were often wrong and they just kept on sinning.
What was needed was a perfect, complete and eternal sacrifice. The New Testament shows us that through Jesus our sins are forgiven and because of this we can be accounted right before God.
Having the right attitude
- Please read Isaiah 1: 10 – 20. Why was God so angry with the people of Israel? Why does it matter how we approach Him?
- What is God’s response (then and now) to insincere worship and superficial repentance? (see vv. 10 – 15)
- What is the solution to our problems? (vv. 17 – 18)
- What are the consequences of the choices we make? (vv. 19 – 20)
Christ is the only way to real forgiveness – He is the perfect and complete sacrifice that pays the penalty for our sin and opens the way for forgiveness. (The book of Hebrews explains this in much greater depth comparing the offering of Christ to the sacrifices of the Old Testament: see chapters 9 & 10 in particular).
Doing the right thing
- Please read Matthew 6: 9 – 15. What is this prayer all about?
- How is forgiveness something we receive as well as something we are invited to offer to others?
- Think of an occasion when you have found it hard to forgive. What was it and what is it that enables us to finally make the step and deal with the problem that exists between us and another person.
In thinking about forgiveness, remember that the act of repentance (saying and meaning we regret our words, attitudes or actions) is not the whole story. If that were the case, forgiveness would be something we could control: forgiveness is a grace of God, a gift, an expression of God’s loving kindness towards us.
Having the right heart
- Please turn to Matthew 18. This chapter has a consistent theme linking the events of vv. 1 – 9, the parables in vv. 10 – 14 and vv. 21 – 35 and the teaching of vv. 15 – 20. What do you think it is?
- Please read Matthew 18 verses 15 to 20. What is the aim of this teaching? How does support our understanding of forgiveness?
- What stages in dealing with problems between believers are described here and how might this help with the process of forgiveness?
Pause for thought
Remember that forgiveness is governed by love, not subject to rules and laws.