Very recently I was praying for the Iranian pastor, Yousef, who has been sentenced to die because of his Christian faith. He is young and will leave a young family. He has endured a great deal. As I prayed for him, considering that he will die unless God intervenes, I asked the Lord to vindicate Himself on the people who would do this. Of course, I meant that the Lord would punish them. But almost immediately I heard in my mind, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” Honestly, that was not what I was thinking.
But it was what He was thinking. Vindication, revenge, punishment, forgiveness, and mercy are His concerns, not mine. It is not for me to tell Him how to handle His other children. He is the Lord and He will deal with them. At another time in my life I was concerned about an abusive leader who was ruining the careers of some friends of mine. I told the Lord that I would let Him deal with the guy. Now, I was expecting that the Lord would remove him from his position or somehow nullify his influence. But the conversation was so clear. I said, “Lord, you will have to deal with him.” The Lord said, “Or not.” I was shocked. This is not a normal thing for me, but it was clear.
So, what I have learned through these things and through answering questions from others is something you may find helpful.
Forgiveness belongs to the Lord. When you came to Him, you gave Him the right to all offenses against you. That may sound strange, but think of it as coming under His care. You died to the past and to all the things you held onto in order to feel alive. Instead, you found life in Him and He filled you with His life. All your sins of the past (and present and future) were forgiven in Him and washed away from you at that time.
Now, you maybe didn’t know all that happened. That’s okay. I think we will continue to learn and understand the things that happened as we entered into a real relationship with Jesus. The church does a poor job of teaching people things like forgiveness and freedom and victory, but that doesn’t make them less true. We are rooted in Him, drawing our life from Him, but we have a great deal to learn about Him and about what He has done for us.
So, we understand that He took our sins away from us but do we understand that He took the sins of others against us away from us also? I think that’s what the Lord’s prayer means when it says, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” It isn’t cause and effect—that we are asking Him to forgive us in the same way we forgive others. That would be a very difficult thing to pray. No, it is that both things happen in Him. He forgives us and He relieves us of the burden of the offenses against us. In Matthew 11, Jesus ties the two together and most teachers read it as though we will remain unforgiven until we forgive. But think about that. If our salvation is a free gift that we neither deserved nor earned, then how can our lack of forgiveness toward others hold back His love and work for us? Almost all believers agree that forgiveness is what salvation is all about. So do we have it or not? If we do, then it does not hinge on our forgiveness toward others. Instead, Jesus ties the two together. If you do not forgive, then you are not forgiven. Reverse those and you have something quite different: If you are forgiven, then you do forgive others.
I realize this is probably something you have never heard. Let’s say it this way. You are in Christ and Christ is in you. If the people who hurt you are in Christ, then their sins have been forgiven in Him. If they are not in Him, then He offers them forgiveness in Him. In neither case is it about you. When you came to Christ, you confessed your sinfulness. That means that you agreed with Him that what you did was wrong and you gave Him the right to deal with those things. He took your sins to the cross and washed them away from you. But this same thing happens in regard to the sins of others.
Now, I think this is a moot point, already accomplished, for believers. I think we can say we already forgave those who have offended us because we are now in Christ and He forgives. But I know that it doesn’t feel like it. So I suggest that you go to the Lord and tell Him that you understand He loves the people who hurt you and you agree with Him that all sins are really against Him. Then agree that He can deal with those people in whatever way He desires. Give the whole thing over to Him.
He has completely forgiven you—past, present, and future—and He bears the burden of the sins against you. Isn’t that amazing? Just think of the power that is taken away from the evil one when we understand this!