Forgiving like God

Pastor Michael Bowman

“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Ephesians 4:32

Over the past several months we have worked through all kinds of texts from scripture that reveal something about the character of God with special focus on what his forgiveness looks like. Moving forward, we will be looking at what forgiveness should look like in the life of the believer. To begin, we look at the text quoted above. As you can see, if you are a Christian, you are commanded to forgive others just like God has forgiven you, through the work of Christ. This has implications that will take hold of every area of your life.

You are supposed to forgive others like God has forgiven you. That raises the question once more, “How has God forgiven me? What does his forgiveness look like?” It’s definitely not an exhaustive list, but here is what has been covered about God and his forgiveness in this series so far:

  1. Forgiveness is a totally different way of looking at the world that can only come through first being forgiven in Christ. 
  2. Forgiveness is part of the character of God. 
  3. Forgiveness means God doesn’t treat us as we deserve.
  4. Forgiveness means that God has removed our sins from us.
  5. Forgiveness means that God as a Father doesn’t allow sin to define how he treats us.
  6. God is ready, willing, and quick to forgive our sins if we will turn to him. 
  7. Forgiveness means that God has trampled sin under his feet on the cross. 
  8. God’s forgiveness is bountiful and abundant. He is rich in grace. 
  9. God forgives for his own glory.
  10. Forgiveness redeemed us from the domain of darkness and was the central promise of the New Covenant that Christ brought through his blood. 
  11. Forgiveness is not earned but is a gift from God. 
  12. Forgiveness was costly, it took God giving of himself, dying on the cross. 
  13. Forgiveness should lead us to repentance and faith. 

If you are to forgive others like God, then it has to come out of a place of true forgiveness. What I mean is that if you look at this list, the reality is that you simply can’t accomplish these things on your own. You do have to first be forgiven in order to start truly forgiving others. If that has happened to you, then you have the opportunity to live as Christ to your family, friends and neighbors, even your enemies. In fact, you don’t have the option any longer.

Colossians and Ephesians were written by Paul around the same time period and have a lot of overlap in content. This is how Paul puts a similar idea in Colossians 3:12-13, “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.” Forgiveness isn’t optional for you as a Christian. You must forgive as you have been forgiven. This is a central piece of obedience. What that means is manifold but following the list above it at least means that following:

  1. Having been forgiven you will have to look at the world and those who sin against you in a new and different way then you would like to by nature. 
  2. This has to come from an internal work of the Spirit as your character is changed and renewed in the image of Christ. 
  3. You will not always treat people as they deserve but rather reach out to others in grace even when they have sinned against you. 
  4. You will have to forget the sins of others covenantally speaking and not allow it to define the way you relate to them.
  5. You will have to be ready, willing and quick to forgive others when they confess their sins to you. 
  6. You should have a heart of forgiveness and be overflowing with grace for others.
  7. Your forgiveness in one sense should not be earned because it has already been purchased by Christ.
  8. Forgiving others will often be costly for you. It is not cheap or flippant and may be quite difficult.
  9. You should forgive with the desire that it will lead others toward greater repentance and faith toward God as it points to Christ’s forgiveness.
  10. All of this should be done for the glory of God not your own glory. 

That might seem like a tall order. That’s because it is. Remember though that this isn’t done in order to earn the forgiveness of God. That’s why we started by looking at God’s forgiveness. It starts there. Forgive as God in Christ has forgiven you. You have been given the greatest of all gifts, forgiveness of all your sins which deserve the eternal wrath of God. So now on that basis you should also be forgiving those around you. We will try to work out each of these items in more detail as we look at what we are called to as believers, but for now meditate on this command, “as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”