Why does a person refuse to forgive? There is one main reason, namely: "That sin was too big to forgive." They may say it with different words. “He hurt me too much,” or “She was not sorry enough,” or “He was just mean.” But they really boil down to the idea that the sin was too serious, too damaging, too malicious, too big to forgive.
But we should not forgive because the sin is small enough. That would mean that our ability to forgive does the work, limited by how much love we can muster.
Instead, Christians are to forgive based upon Christ and His riches. To find the strength to forgive what seems unforgivable, look to a crucifix. Your Savior hung in ultimate agony for all sins of the world. The Blood of God was shed for transgressions. The sacrifice of Christ is an infinite price for iniquities, so there is no limit to how much we are able to forgive.
How could we dare to say that someone’s sin is too big to forgive? That is to say that Christ’s death is not big enough, and His Blood not precious enough. How could we say that any sin was too big for Christ and the Cross? If we say that, then our faith as Christians is to be questioned. If we say that the Cross is not enough to forgive someone’s sin, then we should also say that it is not enough to forgive our own lifetime full of a multitude of sins. If we think that we are good enough for forgiveness and someone else is not, then we have warped and twisted grace into something it must never be.
May we never stubbornly refuse forgiveness, lest we push away forgiveness from ourselves.
To forgive, we first receive forgiveness. For this we earnestly pray in the Petition. We should yearn for the Word of absolution. When we hear the Gospel, we should recognize by faith that we are being released from a huge burden. The weight of what we carry should drag us down to hell. Instead, God sets us free in Christ His Son.
We could never desire to receive this gift too much. We could never receive it too much. We should unceasingly pray, “Forgive us our trespasses,” and then hurry to go get the very thing for which we have been praying.
When we see the enormity of the gift we have received, we freely forgive others. We love since He has first loved us. When it is our turn to speak the Word to someone who has wronged us, we are not ultimately doing the forgiving, but God through us.
Yet our hearts should be willing. We should not grudgingly or mechanically forgive, but do it “from the heart”, as Christ says in Matthew eighteen. It should be our pleasure to remove the sins of others by the word of absolution. We get to free them from heavy burdens, and open heaven for sinners by the power of the Gospel. What a great privilege this should be for us!
But we do not always find joy in speaking forgiveness. Sometimes we feel hurt too much. We may forgive, but we cannot erase the pain we feel. This is because of the weakness of our sinful hearts of stone.
We cannot completely remove this weakness in our earthly lifetime. Sometimes we must forgive with our mouths and trust that the Spirit will allow our hearts to catch up with the love we have spoken. Meanwhile, we ask forgiveness from God for our imperfect mercy.
In Matthew six our Lord also says, “If you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
True as Christ’s words are, there is a danger here for some Christians. We should not think that our willingness to forgive earns us forgiveness. That could never be, since nothing from us can earn forgiveness. Yet we may examine our imperfect hearts and think, “I forgave him, but did I forgive him enough?” If we examine ourselves too closely, we will see flaws in our forgiveness of others. We may hesitate before we forgive. We may forgive half-heartedly. We may speak the forgiveness and later wish we had not.
Considering these flaws in our mercy, we may think, “I guess my Father does not forgive me.” But Christ is not demanding perfect, flawless love to be saved, or else no one could reach heaven.
Yet we strive toward perfection. We are not satisfied with merely cold forgiveness, but endeavor to add the warmth of a forgiving heart to our words. Although we cannot reach perfection in this life, yet the Spirit aids us to do more than we can do of ourselves. Indeed, any true love comes from His work in our hearts.
Christ’s stern warning that the Father will not forgive unforgiving people must be taken against those who stubbornly refuse to forgive. Christians who cannot forgive certain sins at all are living in an unrepentant state of sin. This attitude is incompatible with faith, so we must guard against a stubborn refusal to forgive.
All that I have said so far applies to people who repent of their sins. You are obligated to forgive anyone who is sorry for their sin. But a person who will not repent should not be forgiven. Those who willingly sin without any resistance or sorrow should be sternly warned that they are heading for destruction, since there is no forgiveness for unrepentant sin.
Therefore I urge you to trust in the Cross of Christ as the only payment for your sins. See that your trespasses are most serious and wicked, and so be filled with sadness because of them. Yet turn all the more quickly to Christ and His Word of absolution that frees you from all your guilt. Yearn to hear this Word and receive it often, even as you pray for it often.
In the Name of this our most gracious and merciful Savior. Amen.
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