Forgiveness - Another Thought

Back on November 4th, I posted some thoughts about forgiveness. It must have touched a nerve - I got several emails about it.

Last week in our small group Bible study, the topic of forgiveness came up and this question was raised: When Jesus forgave us, He restored our relationship with Him. Does that mean for us to forgive others like Christ forgave us (Colossians 3:13), we have to treat them like nothing happened?

What do you think?

It's easy to spout off an answer this question when the worst sin you have ever experienced against you is someone gossiping about you behind your back. But what about when someone really sins against you - they abuse you or someone you love, do you some kind of serious irreparable physical harm, or literally ruin your life? If a biblical principle applies to the smaller sin, it has to apply to the larger one as well because the Scriptures don't separate them.

So, does biblical forgiveness mean the relationship has to be restored to what it was before the sin occurred? I don't think it does.

It is true that Jesus has forgiven those who trust in His death and resurrection (Ephesians 1:7). It's also true that Jesus has restored us to a right relationship with Himself (Romans 5:1). But it isn't just forgiveness that allows that relationship to be restored.

Forgiveness erased the debt we owed God, but it only brought us back to a zero balance. Relationships exist on more than a zero balance.

When we trusted Christ, our debt was cancelled. But we were given more than a zero balance. Christ's righteousness was given to us as well (2 Corinthians 5:21; Romans 5:17). It is the combination of forgiveness and righteousness that allows our relationship with God to be restored. I think that's the crux of Paul's point in 2 Corinthians 5.

It takes right standing to have a relationship. We can forgive a person - cancel their debt to us - without them having a right standing before us. Forgiveness means we don't pay them back, or seek revenge, or attempt punishment, but does not mean we have to pretend there is a balance when none exists. That balance may have to be regained.

We should always pursue reconciliation with others because God has provided for us to be reconciled to Him. But reconciliation is not automatic just because we forgive.