In the last post we talked about being loved by God. One of the biggest acts of love God has done for us is to forgive us. How is forgiveness really possible? What are we asking for when we ask to be forgiven? As we head to our topic of justification, we are going to discuss two main aspects of forgiveness; forgiveness between people and forgiveness before God. I believe the struggle with forgiving others often comes because we don’t really understand the forgiveness we have received from God.
Much of this world tells us to “forgive and forget.” Remnants of this saying have even appeared in how I have taught my own children. I’m sure I have said more than once, “He said sorry, please tell him you forgive him.” This forgiveness is a lesson that we all need to learn. However, as we tell our children to forgive, if we don’t also teach them over time how to forgive, we are telling them that it just becomes okay. By not communicating the how, we communicate that when the “sorry” was said the problem just goes away. Our silence on the how suggests that what the other person has done must just be forgotten and dropped. The desire is to move on, forget our grudges. Yes, forgive and forget. But what about when we can’t forget? What if the hurt takes hold in our soul? What about when the pain doesn’t go away? What about when our heart calls out for justice? In this post, we will talk about how do we forgive and how have we been forgiven?
I have personally struggled with true forgiveness. As I mentioned before, I have also struggled with seeing my need for forgiveness. This blindness has affected my ability to forgive others. Sometimes holding the hurt seems to be our way of holding people accountable. I didn’t see that I was doing it at the time. However, I continued to hold on in unforgiveness. I felt like the person who hurt me must pay for what they have done and my unforgiveness was the only way I knew.
When I felt hurt and under-appreciated, I wanted justice. I may not have said it that way but I wanted what is fair and right. I didn’t want the guilty to get away with it. I wanted retribution and repayment for the wrong that was done to me. At the very least I wanted an apology. I lived like that for too long. I allowed my hurts from others to dig deep and take residence in my heart. I cried out for justice to be served but I didn’t know what I was asking for.
When this issue took the strongest hold in my heart, I still couldn’t see the depth of my sin. I could feel the hurts from others but I was unable or unwilling to look at myself and my own sinfulness. I didn’t see clearly that my sin is a debt. I still continued to think my sin wasn’t that bad. Look at the beginning of Romans 6:23 “For the wages of sin is death.” When we sin against God and when we sin against one another we have a debt, we earn and fully deserve death. It is when we feel we are the one owed the debt that we long for justice. We were not made to carry this burden and in fact, we are not able to make this debt go away.
FOR YOUR JOURNAL:
Can we just let the sin be put behind us or just go away? Is that what God did when He knew everything about us, He loved us and He forgave us? Can we live as a forgiven person but yet, by holding unforgiveness communicate that what another person did is too big to be forgiven? Can we demand justice for them but mercy for us?
What does justice mean? When we cry out for justice what are we asking for? Merriam Webster Learner’s Dictionary defines justice as: “the process or result of using laws to fairly judge and punish crimes and criminal” and “the quality of being just, impartial, or fair.”
Justice is making people pay their debt. It is taking action to make fair the wrong that occurred. Remember, child of God, that you were not given justice but grace and mercy. Let’s take a look at what truly happens with our sin if we are in Jesus Christ. Understanding how we have been treated will also help us understand how we can forgive.
Romans 6:23 tells us about this wage that is earned for our sin but it goes on to remind us that Jesus gave us a gift to change that. “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
God took what we earned. He took justice and gave us a free gift instead. He gave us mercy, love and forgiveness. He gave us Jesus. Our forgiveness is made possible because of what God provided for us through His free gift.
By ourselves, we can’t make it better. We can’t do the right thing to make up for what we have done. Romans 3:20 reminds us of this. “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.”
When I say I’m sorry and try and change my actions to kindness, this action doesn’t actually take away the debt. Only one thing does. Payment, judgment, and punishment- these are all words that describe justice. So forgiveness is actually at odds with justice because justice demands that wrongs will be paid for. Forgiveness as many of us know it “forgive and forget”- looks like it is withholding justice, however, justice was already fulfilled in God’s free gift. Let’s take a closer look at this God of justice and explore the depth of how He has served justice.
FOR DEEPER THOUGHT AND UNDERSTANDING:
While looking at the following verses note God’s characteristics.
“For the Lord loves justice;
he will not forsake his saints.
They are preserved forever,
but the children of the wicked shall be cut off.
29 The righteous shall inherit the land
and dwell upon it forever.”
4 “The Rock, his work is perfect,
for all his ways are justice.
A God of faithfulness and without iniquity,
just and upright is he.
As we look above at Psalm 37, we see the LORD, Yahweh, the I AM loves justice. This goes hand and hand in not forsaking the saints. If justice goes unserved, wrongs go unpunished someone else is “paying” for their wrong. The One that exists will not forsake His saints. He will not allow His children to suffer under the sins of others without justice. And He does not allow any sin to go unpunished. Whether it is committed by us or against us.
Look back at Deuteronomy 32:4, God is the one whose foundation is secure. It is He who is perfect and acts in justice. He is faithful, without sin and fair.
The truths found in the above verses bring us to the question- How could He be fair and not punish the wrongs that are committed against Him and against one another? This fairness, being just, has to include punishment.
So why doesn’t He pour out His punishment on us when we lie and fight and turn our backs on Him? Why can He forgive us? Why does He look on us with love and grace?
This Hymn says it so amazingly:
In Christ alone! Who took on flesh
Fullness of God in helpless babe!
This gift of love and righteousness
Scorned by the ones he came to save:
Till on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied -For every sin on Him was laid;
Here in the death of Christ I live. [i]
This is the amazing love of our God! The wrath of God was satisfied on His Son! Grace abounds because Jesus satisfied our payment. Justice (using the law to punish crimes) was poured out on Jesus instead of me, instead of you.
Romans 3:23-26 continues this understanding by describing Jesus. It says, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”
In sending Jesus to pay for the sin that we commit, Yahweh, the one that exists and whose ways are justice, can remain just and be the one that justifies those who have faith in Jesus.
God offered this gift to all who believe. John 3:16 extends this promise of God’s love for us. It says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
Who are we because Jesus took our place? We are justified before our loving God who sent His son to die for us. We are forgiven because our debt was paid by another! We can forgive because “the power of the cross is also for the sins done against us.” [ii] (I John 2:2)
God’s forgiveness was extended to us because justice was fulfilled in Jesus. When we rest in this reality, we can see that forgiving others is made possible because it is extending to others what Jesus Christ has already extended to us, justification. Justice has been withheld from us but not withheld. The payment for our sins that we deserved was paid for by another. Our peace with God and others is because it was purchased by Jesus.
With justice given to Jesus on my behalf, my standing before God is different. I am no longer required to fulfil justice but I become justified by His payment. My favorite definition of JUSTIFIED is Just as If I’d never sinned. It’s so simple – no need for punishment because no record of wrong.
FOR DEEPER THOUGHT AND UNDERSTANDING:
Colossians 2:13-14 “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.”
Where did our record of wrongs go?
Jesus, took our sin on the cross. He who knew no sin became sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21).
We already established that each person, no matter how good he or she may seem, is a sinner. Even if right now all you can think is “I’m not that bad, look at all the good things I have done.” Can the good outweigh the bad? Take a look at what Galatians 2:16 says on this topic, “yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.”
Can our actions (works) justify us before God?
Why can’t we be justified by the law?
Why was Jesus death sufficient?
Remember no one can keep the whole law. Think back to Jesus’ statement in Matthew 5:21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.”
Jesus’ death accomplished a payment for a standard we could not keep.
We keep revisiting Romans 3:23-26 because it says so much. As you read it again jot down any of God’s characteristics that stand out to you. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”
These verses tell us that Jesus is the answer to how God can be just and the Justifier! Praise God, we can be justified before Him, the Almighty God. Though we sin and have a debt there is no condemnation for those that are in Jesus Christ (Romans 8:1). The need from all of us is the same. Will you accept the gift, the payment on your behalf (Romans 3:24)?
I am Justified.
EMBRACING MY GOD GIVEN IDENTITY:
- Can you claim this for yourself? I, _______________, am justified.
- What does it mean to be justified?
We can be forgiven because God is just and the justifier. God doesn’t just make our sins go away but He holds Jesus accountable for them. When we accept His gift (Romans 6:23), He says your account is clear; there is no debt. We don’t have to live under condemnation. We can receive grace and mercy instead of punishment.
Accepting this place of grace and mercy brings us value because Jesus has saved us from justified penalty (Romans 6:23). The One who has no sin became sin for you and me (2 Corinthians 5:21). Have you accepted this gift?
When we are searching for significance and identity, our confidence can only be found in God. We don’t have to prove our value. We don’t need the world to tell us for our importance. We can rest our value in Jesus, the one that is just and the justifier. If we trust in Jesus’ payment on our behalf we are justified and have a clean slate before the I AM.
- If we believe this is true how should it affect our lives?
- What action should be spurred by this truth? Will you accept this gift of love and forgiveness?
- How does this aspect of who God has made us play out in a role/position you hold?
We don’t have to hold the burden of sin’s debt. We don’t have to live under the guilt of our failures nor under the hurt and disappointment of the failures of others. Knowing we are justified welcomes us into peace with God (Colossians 1:20). There is no record of wrongs that we must await punishment for (Colossians 2:14).
If we can see that God will forgive any sin that we confess (1 John 1:9), then we can see that this can be applied to those around us. When we can’t seem to forgive what others have sinned against us, we must bring this to the cross as well. Jesus paid for that sin too (I John 2:2). Knowing that we are free from the requirement of the law can help us remember to have grace for others shortcomings.
This forgiveness may feel shocking. To think that even when we feel hurt or angry, God can and is willing to forgive that person’s sin that seemed to cut deep. Can we then hold on to the anger and unforgiveness if God himself will separate that sin from them as far as the east is from the west? Alone, we cannot just forgive and forget but we can take the pain of the sin, the burden of the sin and lay it at the cross of Christ. We can rest in the fact that God “will not forsake his saints” (Psalm 37:28). His payment was for the “sins of the world” (I John 2:2).
Being justified should bring us to a place of humble thankfulness. We should live knowing that Jesus alone bore the weight of our debt, a debt that grows with each angry thought, each lie and each prideful action. May this knowledge grow our love for a Savior that died for us that we might be justified.
Father, Thank you for giving and accepting Jesus as a substitution for our debt. Thank you Father that any who believe in your son, Jesus, are justified through faith by His payment for our sin. Thank you that Jesus was willing to die that we might be justified before a just God. We praise you that we can be justified by His life and death. We praise you that Jesus paid for the sins of the world. Oh Father, may we be so forgiving! Help us to love with your love. May we not revisit the sins of others. Instead, may the fruit of your love be characterized in our lives. Thank you that we are justified. In Jesus name. Amen.
If this post encouraged you please pass it along to a friend and tell them of what Jesus has done for them.
This post is part of a series called Who I am and the I AM. If you haven’t been following along and want to catch up it starts here. Praying for you!
[i] In Christ Alone by Stuart Townend and Keith Getty
[ii] Comment above made my friend, Bethany Edget in a Discipleship with me. This statement, “the power of the cross is also for the sins done against us,” has helped me to understand forgiving others.