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The call to radical forgiveness

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.” (Matthew 18:15, ESV)

  “And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’” (Matthew 18:33, ESV)

I can't help but notice how differently Christ views forgiveness than I do.

I am more likely to view forgiveness as the painful and humbling process that the transgressor must facilitate. They have done the harm, now they must do the work to bring healing and reconciliation.

Jesus sees it another way.

Jesus describes something so gracious that it's practically upsetting. He places the responsibility on the one sinned against to facilitate the process of forgiveness. In other words, if you've been sinned against, Jesus doesn't give you the luxury of waiting on the moral high ground for that wretched sinner to come groveling back. He tells us to go to our brother or sister and seek to make things right.

I don't think for a moment that this removes the responsibility from the transgressor to likewise seek reconciliation (e.g. Matthew 5:24), but the radical part for me is that the one sinned against is not released from participating. I see two reasons for that.

First, it's about loving our neighbor. If our brother or sister is in sin, they are not right with God. Regardless of the pain they've caused us, it is more important that they get right with God (e.g. Psalm 51:4). Truly loving our neighbor means looking past our hurt to see how their good might be accomplished. I think their repentance would likely dovetail with our good, but that's not the main reason to seek their restoration. We seek their good because of the second great commandment.

Second, God has always been the one sinned against and he has always been the one seeking our reconciliation. We see this most clearly in Jesus himself. Nailed to a cross and dying, he prayed for sinners: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." (Luke 23:34) The grace Christ calls us to show is a shadow of the grace he showed us on the cross.

Our bleeding Savior bought our forgiveness and reconciliation, may we likewise seek that same blessing for those who have sinned against us.

A helpful resource for truly forgiving others The Four Promises of Forgiveness


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