What is forgiveness? Here's a definition: "canceling a debt, pardoning an offense, releasing an offender from guilt."
You loan me $2000 interest free because you think I'm a dependable guy and you are a very nice person. You're not wealthy, so it's a stretch. A few months later I do some electrical work on my house and I blow the thing up. I know, I know, I should leave that to the professionals, but I don't. Now I'm in a heap of trouble and have even more financial woes. You decide, again because you are a nice person, to forgive – cancel the debt.
More serious: You invite me to your house I have no place to live or eat, (remember I blew up my house). As I pull into your drive way, I run into your classic car. A car that has all original features from bumper to fenders to upholstery. That dent means it will no longer be original equipment. I have damaged it in a way that can never be corrected – repaired, yes, but not corrected. I can't tell you how bad I feel. I'm devastated as I walk into your house to confess, offer to fix the car and give you the $2000 someone loaned me. But no matter what I do, the car will never be the same because the fender will not be original. I beg you to forgive me. Though you are deeply hurt, you forgive. You forgive - pardon my offense. It does not go back in the past and make it never happen, but you no longer hold me guilty.
Even more serious: Your child is driving when another driver has a mechanical failure, crosses the center line, hits your child and kills him. The most devastating experience ever. Through no fault of anyone, the child is taken from you. The driver comes to you devastated, begs you for forgiveness, sobbing in sorrow. Not because you feel it (forgiveness is not about how we feel), you choose to pardon the offense, to release the offender from guilt. THAT IS FORGIVENESS.
Most serious: Someone sees your child, stalks and targets her for no reason, follows and brutally murders your child. Senseless. Heartless. A child taken from you and nothing will ever make it right. The murderer is caught, tried, convicted. While in prison Christ gets hold of his heart and he is miraculously transformed. He comes to you, sincerely expresses his sorrow and regret and then asks for forgiveness.
"Herb", you might be saying, "What kind of hurtful picture is that?" THAT is exactly what we did with God. We deliberately chose to turn our backs on God, go our own way and the price was the death of His Son. By our sin we brutally murdered Jesus.
Deeper and stronger: Back to the saved, repentant stalker - the time comes for the death sentence to be carried out for the murderer of your child. You meet the executioner and murderer in the hallway to the room where the lethal injection will occur. You stop them, take the handcuffs off the murderer, put them on yourself and walk into the death room to take the murderer's place. That is what Jesus did for us. Not only forgives when we ask, but before we even knew to ask, He took our place, writhing in the punishment we deserved, paying the price for our offense and offering deliverance.
Romans 5:6 (NIV) "You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly."
Here's the formula of forgiveness, whether it is us with God or with another person, whether we're on the giving or receiving side of forgiveness:
Offense Ú pain Ú responsibility Ú choose to release from guilt
For me and you: An offense occurs (I hit your car) Ú pain follows (for me and for you) Ú someone has to take responsibility (me to fix the car, you to hear out my apology) Ú you have to choose to pardon, to release me of guilt or hold on to the hurt, anger and unforgiveness
For God: we sin (the offense) Ú causes pain for God (Jesus has to suffer and die, we experience the damage of sin) Ú God takes responsibility to pay for our sin with Jesus' death Ú God chooses to offer us forgiveness, pardon, release us from our guilt before we even ask.
So what do we do? Accept it. It is free, but it is not cheap or easy. It cost God everything. It will cost us ownership of our lives. If we truly believe Jesus gave everything for us, the only way to receive the forgiveness is to do the same in return.
I hope you will.
(To listen to Herb via the internet go to http://www.newsongpittsburgh.org/sermons.htm )