I’d like you to search your life for a moment you’d wish you could do differently: a behavior or an incident you’d like “do-over” or to get a “mulligan” on. Okay, while you are zeroing in on that.
Let me give you a little personal revelation: I grew up a Roman Catholic. My mom wore the spiritual pants in the family. We went to church every Saturday night. I can still remember my heart pounding leading up to communion. I also remember my first confession and sharing details of my life for actions I believed were “bad.” However, it wasn’t until years later when a friend jokingly told a story about sharing only part of his “bad” stuff and noting there was a loophole in the catholic sacrament of confession and absolution that you were forgiven for all the sins for the period of time since your last confession after you did the big penance (a few Hail Mary’s and some Our Fathers I guess.). I laughed at first but I too remember minimizing my behavior to the priest to get a lighter sentence. It’s funny to think about it now but I think ageless question since a subsequent Alpha group experience when an elderly man, whose father was a pastor, asked, “How many times will God forgive my sins in this life? When does His the forgiveness end?”
After a little bit of silence, I asked the group to recite the Lord’s prayer. We talked about the origins of the prayer in Matt 6 and Luke 11. In particular we discuss Jesus words, “forgives us our trespasses as we forgive others.” Interesting for its circular nature, but also it’s a command to forgive. Jesus dives in a little more forcibly in Mark 11: 25 when Jesus says, “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”
We then went into some another writing which has Jesus saying to Peter, “seven times seventy.” Basically equivalent to saying there is no limit (Matt 18:21-22; Luke 17:3-4). What an incredible message of hope this brings. Think about this, If Jesus told them there is not limit to the number of times we are to forgive, it only makes perfect sense our Lord would demonstrate the same behavior with us. All your trespasses, sins, debts, defects of character can and are forgiven when you believe in and live as He did. Jesus forgave sins! It’s one of the factors which really upset the Pharisees. Before this, it was believed only God could forgive sins so when Jesus forgave sins, they didn’t know what to make of it. They were bound by the rules of the day (the law) and couldn’t celebrate this good news that through Jesus this restraint was nullified. All now can be forgiven.
This has been a huge discussion with a friend for a number of years. She doesn’t believe all can be forgiven. It came to light one day when we were talking about some mass murder who was said to have found Jesus in prison before he was executed. I said,” if its true, and only Jesus can judge his heart, he will be in heaven with us. She was not buying it. The discussion turned intense – different levels of sins came up. I asked her to prove that through scripture. She couldn’t. We discussed consequences but also forgiveness. I brought about Judas who betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. Even as Satan entered Judas, Jesus said, “So Jesus told him, “What you are about to do, do quickly.” John 13:26 He didn’t back away expel him from his presence. Later when Judas came with the guards to the garden, Jesus said, “Do what you came for, friend.” Matt 26:50. Did you heart that Jesus said “friend”?
It’s utterly inspiring to think of how God forgives. He forgave His murders (Luke 23:24). He forgave Peter for denying him 3 times (Mark 16:7; John 21:15-19). He said “If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them.” Did you read any conditions? Should we add any? The answer of course is NO!
The word translated as “forgive” in Luke 17:3 is literally “to let off or to send away.” It requires your willingness and God’s grace. It’s also the reason many a biblical scholar and many sensitive souls will debate a scripture that does say there is an unforgivable sin. The scriptures in Matthew, Mark and Luke vary slightly but the basic text says “anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven either in this age or in the age to come.” Pretty intense, huh?
I believe Jesus is saying, if a man will not accept the forgiveness offered by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, he chosen not to believe in Jesus and therefore, has sealed his own fate. That is what the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit really is – a hardening of ones soul that makes the perception or inclusion of the spiritual realm impossible. It’s a sort of callousness that grows over time. It is not a single failure to do what is right or a single decision which is blasphemes. It’s a consistent turning away which creates the effect.
Jesus always forgave. And in it, the greatest joy is found in forgiveness (Rom 4:7). There is good feeling in forgiveness (Matt 9:2). And the more Jesus has forgiven us, the warmer our gratitude and live is for all His creation (Luke 7:41-43). There is rarely a place where we are so like God as when we are lifted up to His nature and enabled to for give one another as God for Christ’s sake has forgiven us (Eph 4:32). POJ p. 60
Who needs your forgiveness? With whom should you seek it?