Jack Graham - The Freedom of Forgiveness
I believe the message that I have for you today is one of the hardest, and yet most helpful challenges in all of the Bible. It's found in Luke chapter 6, the words of Jesus on forgiveness and the freedom that we find in Him to forgive. Now you recall that in our last time together in Luke's Gospel, our WHY BELIEVE? series, we were talking about the counter-cultural, revolutionary, radical change that Jesus makes in the lives of those who follow Him.
Now what you have here is an additional message similar to the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5, 6 and 7. This is most likely not the same message redone, but it is a different message that Jesus delivers directly to His disciples. It is not on a mountain or the side of a mountain but it is on a plain. And in that sense this is the Sermon of the Level. Jesus is leveling with us about life in Him; what it means to truly be a follower of Jesus. Now when it comes to forgiveness, really there are two great emotions that we all experience in life and these emotion can war against the soul. One is condemnation and guilt.
So many people live condemned by their past; guilty and filled with shame regarding their past or even their present. There is such condemnation and many people live in this condemnation. And that's a toxic, damaging, destructive emotion that can be destructive not only to yourself but to your relationships because these spill out on others. The other emotion that I'm talking about would be that, not of condemnation and guilt, but rather of unforgiveness and bitterness. the hostility and even hatred that lives inside of so many people today.
And we see it everywhere. We see political hate; we see racial hatred and hostility; we see national and international. And, of course, on the personal side there is so much rage and vitriol and even violence in the hearts of people like you and me, and includes those of us not only outside the church who would not be followers of Christ, but we all deal with this subject of offense and how to handle offenses and conflict and resolving the rage that is within. Every day as a pastor, literally every day I see the effect of damage done by unforgiveness. whether it is in families or friendships or homes or churches.
I believe the number one cause for divorce is bitterness and resentment and anger. The prime suspects have always been economy, money, or adultery, but it's my viewpoint as a pastor now for these years that the primary reasons that marriages breakup and breakdown and families are fractured and relationships are ripped apart is the very subject that we're talking about today; it is the issue of forgiveness. Now, thank God, the way to get over guilt and to get passed guilt is forgiveness! We can be forgiven by God! Romans 8:1 "And therefore there is now no condemnation to those who are in Jesus Christ". We no longer live in the sin and, therefore, we must not live in the shame of the past! We've been set free!
And the answer for bitterness and resentment and rage and hatred and all of those kinds of emotions is also forgiveness, because when we have been forgiven, we learn how to forgive. When we have experienced the grace and the mercy of God, when we have embraced grace, we are able, having experienced grace, to give grace to others. And this is how we live, as Jesus people, as kingdom people. It's exactly what our Lord tells us in the passage that is before us beginning at verse 27. And verse 27 of chapter 6 of Luke says this: "But I say to you who hear". In other words He says, "Alright, listen up! Are you listening? Listen to our Lord". "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold him your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back", that's different, isn't it? "And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them. If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them".
You see, we have very little problem in forgiving our family and friends... loving our family, loving our friends, loving people who like us and loving people who we like. But our enemies? Our foes? Not just our friends, not just our family; we are to love everyone even those who hurt us; even those who hate us? Jesus said in verse 33: "And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? Even sinners do the same". Anybody can do this, He's saying. "And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount". And I might add, "And then some"! But then Jesus says: "But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for He is kind to the ungrateful and the evil", here's the bottom line, "Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful".
I told you this was hard, and yet it is so helpful because this so real. Yes, it's radical, but revolutionary! Whoever said the Christian life was easy, anyway? The Christian life is impossible! This seems so unnatural, so impossible, doesn't it? To love enemies? To bless those who curse us? To turn away when people strike us? To walk away when people abuse us? That we are to forgive when people offend us and sin against us even of the most horrendous and horrific kind of sin? Why? Why should we forgive like this? Why should we be different than anyone else? One, because we have been forgiven! God has been merciful to us!
Lamentations 3:23, "His mercies are new every morning. His faithfulness". 1 John 1:9, "He is faithful and true to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness". He has given us grace; that when we could never deserve! And, therefore, because we have been forgiven, we choose, according to Christ, to forgive others, even our enemies. You can't give what you don't have! But if you are forgiven and you have His grace than only a believer can truly really forgive. We learn to forgive from our Father.
Secondly, we forgive not only because we have been forgiven but because we want to be forgiven! Jesus in teaching us to pray, taught us to pray in Matthew 6:14-15: "For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses". First of all, if you are unforgiving and relentless in your unmerciful spirit towards others... if your heart is a headquarters for hate, that is a strong indicator that you don't know the first thing about forgiveness yourself. But it's possible that a true believer can cut him or herself off from the fullness and the freshness of the freedom of forgiveness in their own life, because when I harbor hate or resentment or rage or anger or bitterness, all these kinds of emotions... if I hold these to myself, then I put myself in a prison of darkness, cut off from the light of His grace and His goodness to me!
We want to forgive because we have been forgiven, and because we want to be forgiven. We want to live in that forgiveness. We want to know that we can be forgiven everyday. But thirdly, we are to forgive like this because we want to be free. We want to be free. Unforgiveness, a spirit of unforgiveness will put you in bondage. It will introduce you to personal harm and grief, physically, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually. This wages war against the soul! Anger, animosity held onto, turns to resentment, which moves on to bitterness. Bitterness is anger turned inward. And the Scripture warns us about the bondage of bitterness.
Hebrews chapter 12, verse 15: "See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God, that no root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble and by it many become defiled". Not only is it damaging but it is defiling because at the bitter root every bitter fruit, every consequence of holding on to our anger, our rage has at its root a bitterness, and therefore, a bondage. And let me tell you something: a little bitterness goes a long, long way. Just a little. Add bitterness to any situation: a family, a church, a business, add bitterness to any situation and suffering is sure to follow. Bitterness! And because we don't want to live in the poison and the toxic waste of bitterness, we want to be made free. I want you to bring this to your life. I want you to pull up the person who is your enemy.
Jesus said, "Love your enemies". Well who's your enemy? You say "Well, I don't have any enemies". Think about it. That business associate who cheated you, who stole from you; that employee or employer who took away your livelihood by firing you. The husband or the wife who was unfaithful and betrayed you, the parent who abandoned you... left home, left you, wondering, "What did I do wrong"? For many people the fact that their father left them behind has scarred them for a lifetime of wondering what happened! That friend who broke a confidence, that friend who cut you out of the group! Or let's dig a little deeper. That drunken driver who took the life of your child! Or that family member or trusted friend, advisor, person in a authority who stole your innocence and abused you physically or sexually! Or for me, the man who murdered my father. He took my dad from our family.
So you see I'm not talking about something that's out there somewhere. Some people dare to even suggest that these kinds of passage are for the kingdom that is to come. That we can live like this when we all get heaven, when we live in the kingdom on earth. No, this is real world living right now! We don't get an escape clause. This is not an exceptional clause for some; it is for all who are followers of Jesus. Look, I know that sometimes forgiveness makes no sense! Especially when the crime or the offense or the hurt is so horrendous, so terrible! The natural response, of course, when we are offended is anger. Anger is described as a natural physical and emotional reaction to injustice. And when it comes to anger, remember there is such a thing as Godly anger.
Did you know that God can become angry? As a matter of fact, when the word angry appears in the Old Testament, it appears 455 times... anger in the Old Testament. And 375 of those times have to do with the anger and the wrath of God! You say, "Well, that's what I thought". God of the Old Testament is an angry God. Well, Jesus said, when He saw the temple being violated and so much hypocrisy and greed, He took up a whip and angrily drove out the moneychangers from that temple. God hates sin and injustice! And so should we! Any time we see it there should be a righteous anger! Psalm 97:10, "You that love the Lord, hate evil", says the Scripture. But most of our anger is not justified. Most of the anger and the rage that we feel is not an anger... Most of the anger I feel is not anger that honors God. In fact, it's not only sinful, it's stupid.
Proverbs says, "Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly". It's just silly. Downright stupid. So much anger is either arrogance or ignorance or both, and that's a bad combination. But we often spill out angry emotions on others, including the very people that we love the most! Sometime anger is so down deep, it is such a bitter root in us that it is subconsciously disrupting our lives! Some people have the idea if they suppress their anger or if they just hold on to their hostility and never confront it, never say anything, that that's the same as forgiving. It is not the same! Holding on to hurt, holding on to hate is never the way of Christ. Jesus gave us a way to master our emotion. Rather than living a life in which we're constantly exploding and unloading on people or the other extreme where we're burying and carrying our offenses, we can find forgiveness and freedom in that forgiveness! And by loving our enemies and praying for them and turning away from their vitriol, we can let go!
How are we then to forgive? We're to forgive quickly... be in a hurry to forgive! Jesus said in Matthew 18, verse 15, "If your brother sins against you, go", and that literally means go immediately, right then, "and tell him his fault, between you and him alone". Don't make a public deal out of it! Don't make a show out of it. But go to the person alone, and if he listens to you, you've gained a brother. You say, "Well, I would forgive, but he hasn't asked me to forgive him"! It doesn't say wait till someone asks you to forgiven them. It says if there is something, some offense between you and someone else, you as a believer, a follower of Jesus, go! And try to work it out. Forgive quickly! Because remember, what happens if you hold it in, what happens? Infection, infestation, it grows deeper and deeper, a cancer that becomes more difficult to heal.
So don't wait. Don't say, "Well, time will heal this thing". Time's not going to heal your hurts. You ought to know that by now. Pray now! Let it go! Let this be the last day that you hold on to this! Forgive quickly! And then forgive completely! In other words let it go. When God forgives the Bible says He forgets. Now that doesn't mean that God has heavenly or holy amnesia. God is omniscient; He knows everything! But He chooses to remember it no more. In other words, He doesn't bring it up again. When we are forgiven, He doesn't put us in double jeopardy. First John 1:9 "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness". He is faithful and just to forgive and to cleanse.
So it is complete and it is continual. God chooses to move on. Maybe you haven chosen to move on, but God has moved on! What God has done is to delete your file and that's what you need to... You know some people have long lists... files of offenses, things that happened. Delete that file by forgiving and loving and blessing and praying. Our Savior, our God of grace teaches us to give grace to those who don't deserve it. You say, "Well, he doesn't deserve it! She doesn't deserve it"! No, and neither do you! "But Pastor, you just don't know! You don't know what happened to me. You don't know how much she hurt me or he did this to me, and..." I don't, but I do know that God's Word through and through says again and again and again, "Forgive, forgive, forgive, forgive, forgive"! Let it go!
You say, "I can't let it go"! Let me show you how you can. Philippians 4:13, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me". He is your forgiveness, your freedom! You have supernatural power to become more and more like Jesus! And you're never more like Jesus, your God and your Savior, when you are living and forgiving! You can live again! You can love again! You can get rid of this thing in your life! You can be alive again! No longer in the prison but set free by the power of His love! Let it go and set yourself on the pathway of blessing. Jesus said, as the passage closes, He said, "And you will be rewarded". "Great will be your reward in heaven". You see, you can either be right or you can be rewarded.
You say, "I'm the one that's right in this deal! I've always been right; always will be right"! You can be right or you can be rewarded. Jesus said those who forgive will be rewarded! Not only with potentially a restored relationship, but certainly rewarded with the freedom that comes from setting the prisoner free, including that prisoner yourself. And in the presence of God with clean heart, clean hand, knowing that you've done the right thing. You've done the God thing, the Jesus life in your life. I'm telling you today as I'm looking across this congregation that there are many hurt people, holding on to your hurt. You at some level have turned that hurt into hate. You're living your life with clinched fists. Let it go. Let it loose. Give it to Jesus. Love, live in the freedom of His forgiveness.