If you're reading this, it is probably close to our Thanksgiving holiday. You probably also have much for which to be thankful. Allow me to share with you briefly something about which every true follower of Christ ought to be eternally thankful - forgiveness.
Where would you be without forgiveness? What type of relationship would you have with your family, your spouse, your parents, your siblings, etc. if it were not for forgiveness? What type of relationship would be possible with God if it were not for his offer of forgiveness? One of the great treasures of our faith as Christians is the biblical teaching that, when we seek forgiveness, we seek it first and foremost from God, who is willing to forgive every sin, even if our human counterparts will not extend that grace. Sin is always against God (Ps. 51:4), and therefore forgiveness is always needed from God first. Thankfully, he always offers it to those who know him and who seek him through faith and repentance. That's good news!
A problem creeps in, however, when we fall into the unbiblical trap that says we also must forgive ourselves. As if God will not forgive until we've also managed to find inner peace and let ourselves "off the hook." This clearly adds a human element to the gospel. If we are going to be saved, it will be all of God's doing (Eph. 2:1–9). When God forgives and offers peace to us, that peace is real. It may take us some time to wrap our heads around it, but it is not contingent upon our own psychological mindset that says, "I've forgiven myself." When God says our sin is forgiven, we can bank on that, not on some additional add-on that we throw in to make ourselves feel better. It's like having someone you love pay off your home mortgage for you, yet you decided to write a check of your own to the bank to seal the deal. It makes no sense to pay for something that has already been purchased. Jesus accomplished it all on the cross; you cannot sweeten the deal for God.
What about forgiving others, is that necessary? Yes, it is - but not as a prerequisite to the gospel hope we have. Offering forgiveness to others is part of a demonstration of repentance and obedience to God that we are proclaiming. In other words, when Jesus tells us that God will forgive us if we forgive others, but will not if we refuse to do so (Matt. 11:14–15), we understand this to refer not to our initial justification by God (being saved and declared right with God), but in terms of our relationship with God after our justification. Justification and forgiveness are gifts from God; they are not based on any action of our own (biblically, even repentance itself logically follows the gifts of grace and faith). Our offer of forgiveness to others is part of our sanctification (becoming more like Christ). We cannot hope to have a good relationship with our Father in heaven if we refuse to offer to others the forgiveness that we ourselves have been freely given. When true Christians refuse to grant forgiveness, they inevitably find themselves under conviction by the Holy Spirit. Some call it a guilty conscience; the Bible calls it the work of God in sanctification. We love others because we have been loved by God. We offer forgiveness to others because we have been forgiven by God.
So, with that little lesson behind us, I join with you this Thanksgiving holiday in giving thanks to God for his free gift of salvation and forgiveness from our sins. I have many other reasons to be thankful, but they are simply icing on the cake. Forgiveness is the great gift.
Blessings to you all this Thanksgiving holiday!
Grace and peace,