The Church is a community of people who have been saved by grace though faith in Jesus Christ. We are a family of sons and daughters who have been eternally adopted by God and made to be joint heirs with Christ. Within this context of Christian community and by God’s design we are called to do life together in fellowship, to labor in the ministry of the gospel together, to serve one another, to depend on one another, and to love one another. With all of that being said, us walking the walk of faith together is not as tidy as we would like it to be. If we’re being honest here we can all admit that it is just downright messy sometimes!
Why is that?
As Christians we are all being conformed by God to the image of his Son by the inner working of the Holy Spirit according to his word and none of us have reached the end of this process. We still have moral imperfections and character flaws and this presents a challenge to all of our relationships because our spiritual maturity does not happen in isolation. As God is maturing us this happens in community. As each individual believer is matured by God the body of Christ as a whole is being matured by God. We are all connected to each other. So as we are growing together there will be times where we will sin against God and also sin against each other.
That’s why I believe one of the biggest threats to relationships within the Church is division caused by unforgiveness.
Division happens when there is a break down in our relationships caused by carrying offenses which leads to unforgiveness. Walking in forgiveness is really not an option or suggestion, it is a command. Jesus spoke very plainly on this matter. He said that if we don’t forgive others then we would not be forgiven. (Matthew 6:14-15) Now I know that there are times when we are genuinely wronged by other people. Sometimes these wrongs are very serious and even traumatic. In instances such as these we need to be surrounded by godly loving people who are used by the Lord to walk us through the hurt. We live in a broken sinful world where abuse, neglect, rejection, abandonment, etc. happen on a daily basis. In this world bad things happen to every one of us. But the truth remains that no matter what the situation may be forgiveness for the Christian is not an option. Please understand that I am in no way advocating the church covering up abusive situations. If the authorities need to be made aware of a crime that has been committed against someone I believe that we have an obligation to alert the appropriate agencies. I am talking strictly about extending forgiveness to others here.
So how do we walk in forgiveness towards others?
I believe the key to walking in forgiveness lies within the gospel. If we don’t understand what it took for God to bring us into right relationship with himself, we will never be able to build and sustain right relationships with other people. God is the creator and ruler of all things. He is absolutely righteous, good, holy, and just. We are described in Scripture as weak, ungodly, rebellious, and sinful. (Romans 5:6-11) As a result of being sinners and committed sins against God we deserve his righteous judgment which is his wrath. (Romans 1:18) The Scriptures use very strong and vivid language to describe God’s wrath but I still don’t think we get it. I mean just think for a second, we are talking about eternal punishment without even the slightest possibility of being released from it. (Revelation 20:11-15) That’s the wages of our sin and we are all guilty of sinning. (Romans 3:23)
The good news is that even when were without God and alienated from him because of sin, he graciously and mercifully saved us. We were recused not based on any merit of our own but solely by his grace. (Ephesians 2:1-10) As the redeemed of the Lord, none of us deserved redemption but due to God’s sovereign will and grace Jesus became our redemption. Not only did Jesus become our redemption, Jesus also became our righteousness. That means that God declares us right in his sight based on the obedience and sacrifice of Jesus. (Romans 5) When we repent of our sins and put our faith in Jesus, our debt of sin is canceled because Jesus paid it all on the Cross. (Colossians 2:13-15)
So when we experience God’s amazing grace in the forgiveness of our sins, we are set free to extend forgiveness to others. It is only by believing in who Jesus is and what he has done on our behalf that enables us to reject unforgiveness and bitterness. It is hard to hold someone else’s debt over their heads when we are being overwhelmed by God’s love in that he has released us from our own debt that we could have never repaid.