’Tis the Season for the Gift of Forgiveness
You’ve visited your go-to web sites. You’ve found the individual items you’d like to have sitting under your tree on Christmas morning. You’ve worked through your budget to squeeze your finances together to pay for a festive Christmas. You’ve braved the crowded one-way aisles of your local Meijer and Kohls, making sure that you have the best gifts for each person you love.
Even amidst a pandemic, those things were easy compared to what comes next…
For many of us, Christmas gifts us with the most stressful time we face each year. Welcoming family members and loved ones who’ve sinned against us, hurt us, offended us, or even ignored us into our home can be incredibly difficult. I can’t think of a time of year that requires more forgiveness and grace than the holiday season that typically begins with a big turkey dinner.
What are we to do with the pain of past hurts with parents? What can we do to handle the sting of ongoing strife with siblings? How do we overcome the challenge of a child whose heart is far from home? How are believers to navigate these emotional situations around the holidays?
These are questions that many of us wrestle with around the holidays. Often, we wrestle with them deeply and in silence. Thankfully, as followers of Christ, we don’t need to suffer. We can turn to Jesus — the one who knows more about the cost of forgiveness than anyone who ever experienced relational pain. We can turn to our Savior because He is the only source of our forgiveness, and He also offers guidance on how His followers are to follow His example.
1. Receive — God’s Grace to You
At some point on our faith journey, every believer comes to recognize the significance of his/her sin. That’s when we turn to God in repentance and faith (Mark 1:15, Rom. 10:9). This is that life-changing moment when we receive God’s amazing grace! The moment we experience God’s unmerited favor. The moment when we enjoy the benefits of God’s forgiveness for our past, present, and future sin.
As recipients of this amazing kindness of God to all who believe, we are then challenged to offer forgiveness to those who have sinned against us. Repeatedly in the New Testament, the forgiveness we receive from our holy God provides the foundation for the forgiveness that we are to give to others.
“Be kind and tender-hearted to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ forgave you.” Ephesians 4:32
“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” Colossians 3:12–13
Christ calls His followers to offer forgiveness, not from the goodness of our own heart or for any self-serving motive. Instead, we do so because Jesus granted forgiveness to His people by grace.
“God expects Christians to forgive one another in the same way that He forgave them,” writes author Chris Brauns in his book Unpacking Forgiveness. “God’s forgiveness is a commitment by the one true God to pardon graciously those who repent and believe so that they are reconciled to Him and will one day be glorified. This serves as the blueprint for how all forgiveness should take place.”
2. Give — Your Grace to Others
Receiving God’s grace and forgiveness is easy. Offering grace and forgiveness to someone else, especially someone who’s hurt you, is far more difficult!
Because people have hurt us deeply, done things that have scarred us, and seemingly paid no price for their actions, the last thing we want to offer freely is forgiveness. The truth is, most of us want justice for those who’ve wronged us — not grace. This is why forgiveness only flows from a heart posture of humility that allows us to surrender, fighting for what we think we deserve.
Instead of fighting, we humbly strive to follow the example of our Lord.
“Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Ephesians 5:1–2
This humble action is motivated by love. First, love for God, then, a Christ-like, sacrificial love for the person we’re forgiving. This sacrificial love is why humility is required because we won’t be able to muster up this sort of goodness from a heart that seeks justice or revenge. Forgiveness must come from a heart of genuine humility.
But this is often where we get ourselves into trouble. Because we falsely believe that humility demands low self-esteem. Not true. Humility isn’t thinking less of yourself, rather thinking of yourself less. This mindset helps us offer forgiveness more freely. Rather than focusing on our desires, our plan for justice, or our plan for revenge — our heart is more likely to respond as Jesus did — by offering grace to a repentant soul.
As you gather with family this holiday season, may God grant you the freedom to experience forgiveness for yourself and the humility to offer forgiveness to someone else.