How do you know you’re a Christian?
That’s a simple question but one many answer in different ways.They may say they are a Christian because they walked an aisle or said a prayer one day. Others will look to the time they went forward at Children’s or Youth Camp. Still others will say they are Christian because they attend church each week, teach Sunday school, are a Deacon, or give to the church. These are all activities Christian do, but are they the activities that you should look to for assurance of salvation?
Non-believers can do all these activities as well. It is possible to walk an aisle, say a prayer, go forward as a child or a youth, attend church, give to the church, even teach a Sunday school class or become a deacon and you not be a Christian. If both Christians and non-Christians can do these activities, what other actions can we look to that show we are a true believer?
In Matthew 18:15-20 Jesus teaches about reconciliation. Specifically, Jesus teaches us how we are supposed to seek reconciliation with one another. He tells us that if someone sins against us, we are to go and tell them how they have hurt us. If they don’t listen, we take two or three people with us as witnesses to the conversation. If they still don’t listen, we are to tell it to the church and the church is supposed to call them to repent and be reconciled to their brother or sister in Christ. If they still don’t listen, we are to treat them as an outsider, as a non-believer.
The process Jesus lays out, teaches us that forgiveness and reconciliation matter to God. It matters so much that He provides step by step instructions as to how we are to seek reconciliation with one another. If a person refuses to reconcile — they show themselves to be non-believers.
What does it mean to forgive someone?
When we forgive someone, we are absorbing the debt a person owes us. We are taking their debt upon ourselves. Someone has to pay the debt. When we forgive someone, we absorb the debt they owe us. Once we absorb it, we absorb it. We stop rehearsing what happened in our minds. We stop talking about it to others. We stop being angry and resentful. We stop seeking revenge.
To forgive means we cancel the debt the person owes us — whether that debt be money, position, status, pain — whatever that debt might be, we cancel it. We “ keep no record of wrongs”, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13.
It is here we have to use some wisdom because forgiveness and ultimately reconciliation revolves around repentance. In the section before today’s parable, Jesus is teaching us to seek reconciliation. Reconciliation revolves around us “gaining our brother” or other translations say “you have won your brother over” (NIV84). Winning over or gaining someone back involves us coming to an agreement that they have wronged us. Likewise, it may also mean that we come to the realize that we have wronged them. We repent.They repent. We both seek to not wrong each other in the same way again. The relationship has been restored. That is great. That is exactly what is supposed to happen.
I say we have to use some wisdom and be cautious here because a lot of people just want to sweep another person’s sin under the rug. They want to forget about it and move on like nothing happened. Certainly, that is part of forgiving someone. We don’t hold their sin against them. We forgive their debt. We allow the relationship to move on.
But what I am afraid is that we are often quick to claim forgiveness not for the sake of the offending brother or sister, but for our own sake. We don’t want to do the hard work of seeking reconciliation. We don’t want to go to another person who has offended us and seek to win them back. We don’t want to have to take two or three people with us as witnesses. We don’t want to have to tell it to the church. That is messy. That requires emotional energy. That requires work. We would rather not have to deal with.
I believe that is why many churches are unhealthy. They aren’t willing to deal with conflict. They would rather sweep it under the rug because it is easy. But that is not what Jesus tells us to do, is it? No, He tells us that we are to seek reconciliation with others. When we or the church stop short of the process Jesus outlines for us in Matthew 18:15-20, we not only do the offended party a disservice, but we also do the offender a disservice. When the church is not willing to walk out the steps of reconciliation, or what you might refer to as church discipline, it leaves things in limbo. It makes it hard for the church to operate in a unified way. It tarnishes the reputation of the church in the community. It hinders the church’s mission. It doesn’t glorify God.
Not only that, but when the church stops short, the church allows the offender to deceive themselves into thinking what they did was right and good. That they are not in sin. While that might be easy, it is not what is best for the person.
When it comes to this idea of forgiveness, we have to use wisdom, we have to be cautious. We shouldn’t just sweep a major sin under the rug because it is easier to do so. Doing so doesn’t actually result in true forgiveness.
When you have done that — I am sure you have — when you have swept someone else’s sin under the rug instead of confronting them, in most instances, you have not forgiven them. Deep down in your heart bitterness, resentment, revenge, and the debt they owe is still there. It hasn’t been forgiven. It hasn’t been cancelled. It still exists. That is why Jesus teaches on the subject of reconciliation before He teaches on forgiveness. That is why Jesus outlines steps for reconciliation before teaching on forgiveness. He knows we must seek reconciliation with someone in order to truly extend forgiveness to another. Yes, reconciliation can be much much more difficult. It is emotionally costly. It is taxing. It can be hard and messy. But it is not an option Jesus has given. It is a command. We are to seek reconciliation as a means to extend forgiveness.
Forgiveness is cancelling the debt someone owes us. It is laying it aside. It is absorbing that debt ourselves.
The forgiveness we receive in Jesus should also spur us on to forgive others.
I like what author Jerry Bridges says regarding forgiveness: “The basis of our forgiving one another, then, is the enormity of God’s forgiveness of us. We are to forgive because we have been forgiven so much.” (JC Ryle, Expository thoughts on Matthew, 186.)
When we look at it like that, “Our neighbors offenses against us are [next to nothing] compared with our offenses against God.” The forgiveness we experience, should cause us to forgive others.
When we are unwilling to forgive, we show we haven’t truly understood, nor have we experienced the mercy, grace, and forgiveness of God. If we had, we would be forgiving people. Forgiven people don’t hold a forever grudge against someone. They will not seek vengeance. They will be willing to not only seek to gain their brother, as Jesus tells us to do in Matthew 18:15-20, but they will also be willing to extend forgiveness to others.
Are you are forgiving person?
I’m not talking about a “sweep it under the rug” forgiving person, but a truly forgiving person. If you are, you can be assured of your salvation. You can be assured of your place in the kingdom because forgiven people are forgiving people.
If you happen to be having trouble forgiving someone for their sin against you, meditate on the grace and mercy of God. Allow it to warm your heart to a forgiving state. If you need to seek reconciliation in order for forgiveness to be real, allow the reconciling actions of God to spur you on to seek reconciliation with others. Jesus left His throne in order to seek reconciliation. Allow that to spur you on to seek it with others.
Church, don’t leave the process of reconciliation undone. Do your part. Help bring others to a point of reconciliation and forgiveness using the process Jesus provides. The glory of God and the salvation of others is worth the difficulty.
Forgiven people are forgiving people. Forgiving people are assured of their salvation