This week is our final look at the advent of Jesus and how he ushered in an era of forgiveness. Today, we will look at the idea of mandating bilateral activity for forgiveness to occur. There is a concept which holds that for person A to forgive person B, person B must repent, and perhaps even ask person A to grant that forgiveness.
You Can Go It Alone
I understand the bilateral argument well because it is an argument I used to make in my discussions of forgiveness with others. As I wrestle with forgiveness in my own walk with Christ, I have come to understand it as something I can offer unilaterally, regardless of the actions and attitudes of my offenders.
Nothing is required of my offenders for me to be able to pray for them, to work for good in their lives, to release them from any obligation toward me. It is not a requirement that my offender ask for my forgiveness for me to speak well of him or her. It is not a prerequisite that my offender repent for me to petition God to pour blessings upon him.
Conversely, an offender can repent while I stew in the morass of my anger and bitterness. My refusal to forgive does not trap the offender in their sin. He or she can carry that directly to God as I scowl and lick my wounds.
My refusal to forgive because my offender hasn’t asked or repented, ties me to them with an umbilical that nourishes my bitterness and misery. The ultimate tragedy in this is that the offender may never repent. They may even die leaving me with a gaping wound that cannot be healed, because I have tied my healing to their coming on their knees begging my forgiveness.
It’s Better Not to Go It Alone
Even though forgiveness and repentance can occur unilaterally, we do well to bear in mind that reconciliation is always preferred. Consider Jesus’ comments here:
Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering. – Matthew 5:23-24, NASB
In context, bringing one’s gift to the alter is the equivalent of saying “When you come to worship…” We cannot come to God in a posture of worship when we carry a briefcase of injustices against our fellow man. We have a God-mandated duty to pursue reconciliation with others when we have caused them injury.
So strong is this truth that Jesus says, “Don’t even come to me with worship while you have these issues unresolved.” Reconciliation trumps worship. This may help explain the sensation of emptiness we sometimes carry away from our devotions. We are attempting to worship while refusing to repent and reconcile.
It is worth noting that the charge is not to ask God to forgive me, but instead to go to the one against whom I have sinned and do whatever I have to do to be reconciled. This reconciliation will almost certainly require me to swallow my pride, to humble myself before one against whom I have sinned, to ask for their forgiveness, and possibly to make restitution if there has been some loss. It may even be that the other party is unjustifiably sore with me. Go anyway. Be reconciled. Engage in what David Dockory calls “a greater righteousness.”
If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. – Matthew 18:15, ESV
Just as Jesus taught that I am to go be reconciled to my brother when I have sinned against him, Jesus also taught that I go to be reconciled when I have been sinned against. In each case, the onus is upon me to initiate the reconciliation, what Lange calls “an assault of love” upon the heart of this brother or sister in Christ.
As we continue through Advent, embrace these concepts of forgiveness and reconciliation. Practice them. It is then that we can pray with confidence, “Father, forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us” (Matthew 6:12).
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Victoriously in Christ!
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