"If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:19, NIV).
What wonderful news! We are more than "just" forgiven!
Have you ever asked someone to forgive you for something, and though they said they did, you still feel that the relationship has been damaged? Or perhaps you might have "forgiven" someone for a wrong, but you still hang on to the memory (and hurt) of it? I know I have.
There was an anti-bullying email that circulated a few years ago in which the story of a school teacher's lesson is shared. Apparently, she gave each of the students a blank piece of paper. She then told them to crumple the paper up, put it on the floor, and stomp on it. She then told her students that this is how the victim of bullying feels. She then told her class to pick up the paper, and say "sorry" to it. She then pointed out that the "sorry" didn't change much in the state of the paper. Finally, she asked her students to try to make it better. They proceeded to try to open up the paper and smooth out all the creases. Obviously, though the paper was better, it still retained the scars of the abuse it endured.
Relationships can be like that paper. Once abused, it is virtually impossible to restore them. The victim always carries a scar from whatever incident damaged the relationship. When we sin, we are abusing our relationship with God. John tells us that when we confess those sins God is graceful, and forgives us, but He goes so much further than that. He "purifies us from all unrighteousness!" It's as if He not only smoothes out the paper, but gives us a whole new paper. Our relationship with God no longer bears any scars of our past wrongdoing. That's awesome!
We no longer have to carry around the guilt and shame of past sins. How cool is that!?!?
Of course, there's more to the story. We, having been recipients of such grace, must endeavour to be as graceful with our fellow man. Oh, that's a tough one. I used to foolishly say that I will forgive someone readily, but if he persists in wronging me, I will save him from needing repeated forgiveness by keeping my distance from him in the future. So I have been forgiving, but not forgetting. Now before you say that we are not commanded to forget, take a look at what Jesus taught: "Then Peter came up to Him and said, Lord, how many times may my brother sin against me and I forgive him and let it go? [As many as] up to seven times? Jesus answered him, I tell you, not up to seven times, but seventy times seven" (Matthew 18:21-22; Amplified)! He wasn't saying we only forgive 490 times. He was saying 10 times the square of whatever you think enough is. In other words, when we think we've really forgiven someone enough, we've only scratched the surface.
How were we taught to pray? The Amplified version exposes a nuance in the Lord's Prayer that is missed in other translations. "And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven (left, remitted, and let go of the debts, and have given up resentment against) our debtors" (Matthew 6:12; Amplified, emphasis mine). The purification of which John speaks was understood by the early church as being a natural part of forgiveness. If we want the purification that God offers us, it seems to me that we had better make every effort to offer that same purification to those whom we have to forgive. In fact, Jesus tells us as much: "For if you forgive people their trespasses [their reckless and willful sins, leaving them, letting them go, and giving up resentment], your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their trespasses [their reckless and willful sins, leaving them, letting them go, and giving up resentment], neither will your Father forgive you your trespasses" (Matthew 6:14-15; Amplified).
God grant us the strength to love our neighbours the way that He loves us.
By Guest Blogger: Waldo Rochow
Photo Credit: Pink Sherbet Photography, Flickr Creative Commons