Forgiveness is a central part of Christianity. Christ's forgiveness extended to us and our forgiveness extended to ourselves and others. The grace and forgiveness we find in Christ is incomprehensible and unparallelled. 1 John 1:9 states, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." The word "sins" is not qualified. Whatever the sins, however reprehensible they may be – we can find forgiveness through the shed blood of Christ Jesus.
Although we may have trouble understanding the grace and forgiveness extended to us through Christ, we have come to accept this truth. However, it seems that we may struggle with extending forgiveness to ourselves and others. There are times, in this Christian walk, where we can become so frustrated with choices that we make, hurtful words that we say which can never be unsaid, and many other sins we commit – that is may seem we hold a grudge against ourselves. We must understand that if Christ has forgiven us for the sin we committed and we refuse to forgive ourselves, we are implying that our standards are more holy and right than Christ's standards – which is definitely not the case. If we refuse to accept forgiveness and allow that forgiveness to internalize, then we are refusing to walk in the freedom which Christ gave His life for us to have. Let us not allow His dying to be in vain in our lives, but may we accept the gifts of grace, forgiveness and love He has afforded us.
Lastly, we must forgive others. This is not optional. The mandatory forgiveness we must extend to others is not based on the severity of the sin, the number of times someone hurt us, how bad it hurt us or the people we love, or even if the offender has asked for forgiveness. In Matthew 6: 14 & 15 we are told, "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." The forgiveness we extend others is a requirement of God's forgiveness to be extended to us. God has grace, mercy and forgiveness that are ours for the taking, but He will not indulge our hypocrisy if we refuse to forgive others as He so graciously forgives us.
Take a moment to read this awe-inspiring story about forgiveness in the aftermath of South African apartheid, as related by Desmond Tutu and his daughter Mpho in The Book of Forgiving:
“He had many wounds.” She spoke with the precision of a coroner. “In the upper abdomen were five wounds. These wounds indicated that different weapons were used to stab him, or a group of people stabbed him.” Mrs. Mhlawuli continued her harrowing testimony to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. She spoke about the disappearance and murder of her husband, Sicelo. “In the lower part, he also had wounds. In total, there were forty-three. They poured acid on his face. They chopped off his right hand just below the wrist. I don’t know what they did with that hand.” A wave of horror and nausea rose in me.
Now it was nineteen-year-old Babalwa’s turn to speak. She was eight when her father died. Her brother was only three. She described the grief, police harassment, and hardship in the years since her father’s death. And then she said, “I would love to know who killed my father. So would my brother.” Her next words stunned me and left me breathless. “We want to forgive them. We want to forgive, but we don’t know who to forgive.”
Such powerful words from such a young soul. Bottomline is this: We must forgive others regardless of the offense and only when we do will we find freedom from the unforgiveness which has us bound.