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How Forgiving People Helps Us Find New Life in God

One day, the story goes, a man in France was bitten by a rabid dog. Now, this was before a cure for rabies was discovered — so it was pretty serious for the man…

When it was determined the dog was indeed rabid, a kind doctor told the man he had only a short time to live. Upon hearing this distressing news, the man asked the doctor for some paper and a pencil — and started writing furiously.

After a few minutes, the doctor interjected. “It’s good to see you putting your affairs in order and writing out your will…’

The patient replied sharply,

“I’m not making out my will. I am listing all the people I am going to bite before I die!”

Most Christians understand and instinctively know that Christians are supposed to forgive. Even if we find doing so a bit harder. Jesus taught the value and necessity of forgiveness in Matthew 6:12. And it’s come down to us in the Lord’s Prayer that we say in most worship services.

“Forgive us our sins, as we also have forgiven those who sin against us.”

It’s one of the most well-known lines in popular speech — even for people who never darken the doors of the Church.

So, why do we find it so difficult to forgive people?

The message of Scripture is clear. If we want to experience life in Jesus, we must learn to forgive those who hurt us.


Yet we only have to look around any church community to find a whole bunch of people filled with bitterness, hate and unforgiveness.

I’m sorry if that sounds a little harsh — but it’s true.

In this situation, Jesus’ approach to forgiveness, found in Matthew 22, is still relevant.

Peter asks Jesus a fundamental and challenging question.

Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times

You might think Peter was a bit stingy with his mercy. But in Jesus’ day, religious leaders taught that God was willing to forgive you only three times.

It was literally a “three strikes, and you’re out” policy.

Knowing Jesus was merciful, Peter bravely doubled the number of times he had been taught to forgive someone — and even added one for good measure.

Jesus’ response shocked Peter and — tragically — most professed Christians today.

“I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.”

Most Bible commentators agree that Jesus wasn’t setting a literal limit. God’s mercy doesn’t run out at 490 allotments of grace.

It’s not like we should forgive someone 489 times but don’t need to if it runs to 491…

God is ready to forgive as long as we are willing to repent.

God’s reserves of grace and forgiveness are infinite — and we model our approach to forgiveness on Him.

Now, at this stage, I need to make a necessary clarification. Forgiveness does NOT mean we let offenders off the hook for bad behaviour.

Sometimes, people need to be held accountable for their actions — even to the extent of the laws of the land.

Nor does forgiveness mean we let people constantly use us as a physical or emotional punchbag. Forgiveness doesn’t validate abusive behaviour.

Instead, forgiveness is about giving up bitterness, resentment and the thirst for revenge.

It releases that bitterness and places the other person into God’s hands.

When we refuse to forgive others who hurt us, we give them permission to keep hurting us.

We continue to be bound by their offence — bound by what others have done to us and defined by what others have done to us rather than what God has done for us.

When we receive Christ’s forgiveness, it softens our hearts. We will have compassion for others, even toward those who have offended us.

In Ephesians 4:31–32, St. Paul writes,

Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.

Here’s an example from history that neatly makes this point.

The famous Italian artist Leonardo da Vinci was commissioned to paint a mural on a monastery dining hall in Milan, Italy. The result was The Last Supper, one of the world’s most recognised and beloved works of art. It depicts Jesus sitting with His disciples at a feast table just after He told them that one of them would betray Him.

When da Vinci was working on the piece, he got into an argument with another famous Italian — Michelangelo. The biographer Vasari wrote that they had “an intense dislike for each other.” The two were jealous of each other’s work and often made disparaging comments about one another in public.

Legend has it that when the time came for Leonardo to paint the face of Judas in The Last Supper, he got the sinister idea of using the face of his rival, Michelangelo, to be the face of the betrayer. He felt it was a great way to immortalise how he felt about his enemy.

People came by as he worked and gasped when they recognised the face of Michelangelo as Judas. Leonardo felt some temporary vindication.

But then came the last step in his grand artwork — painting the face of Jesus. As he tried to capture the image of Christ, he would paint His countenance but would feel dissatisfied and wipe it away. For the next few weeks, he did this over and over again. He had Jesus’ body completed, but he couldn’t create the right face — that magnificent countenance of mercy and kindness. In desperation, Leonardo prayed that he could paint the face that would express the love and compassion of Christ. “Lord, help me to see Your face,” he pleaded with God. Finally, a voice spoke to his heart, saying, “You will never see the face of Jesus until you change the face of Judas.”

Leonardo was convicted.

He thought about Jesus on the cross, praying for the forgiveness of those who crucified Him and about how offended he had been by petty insults. He erased Michelangelo’s face and painted the image we see today.

Only when Leonardo let go of his bitterness toward Michelangelo and removed the offence could he paint the image of Christ.

How easy do YOU find it to forgive others?


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