Let’s face it, sin is a problem in the world. In addition we all make mistakes and mess up from time to time. Some people are callous and don’t care, but most people try to find a solution to their mistakes. That is where repentance and forgiveness come into play. Repentance and forgiveness are the two outcomes of sin where a person is seeking to make amends for their wrongdoing. Repentance on the part of the person who did wrong and forgiveness on the part of the one who was wronged.
What is sin?
Sin is the breaking of God’s law. The apostle John wrote, “Every one who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.” (1 John 3:4) Every time a person breaks one of the laws of God as given by Moses (and there are 650 odd laws) they commit a sin.
More than that though, sin affects other people as well as the Lord God. Most of the sins that are laid down in the law of God relate to how you live your life in relationship with other people, as well as with God. So if you lie, cheat, steal or so on you are not just offending God but you are hurting others too.
What is repentance?
Repentance is a “religious” word that means to change your thinking. It means to turn away from the sinful way and turn to the Lord to seek forgiveness. Basically repentance is about trying to right a wrong. Repentance is about trying to rectify a situation and to turn it around to do good. It is a searching and longing for reconciliation and rectification of what is wrong with God and with the person who was wronged.
What is forgiveness?
Forgiveness is the recognition of the repentant person’s desire to do what is right. It is the acceptance of an apology or even the change in attitude of the person who did the wrong thing.
When a person seeks forgiveness they are appealing to God and the person or people who they wronged in the hope they will be forgiven. They are hoping the person wronged will overlook their sin and not hold it against them.
How often should we forgive?
Now in this section of scripture we see the Lord give us some guidance about repentance and forgiveness. It says, “Take heed to yourselves; if your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him; and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” (Verses 3-4)
The key to forgiveness is in the hands of the wrongdoer. It is up to them to repent and to seek forgiveness. As the Lord shows, if the wrongdoer goes to the one who they wronged and sincerely repents of their wrongdoing, then they should be forgiven.
In another scripture though we see the Lord does make this conditional. When he forgave the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11) he made the forgiveness conditional saying, “Go and do not sin again.” It is important when we do the wrong thing not to continue to do the wrong thing.
But then we see the Lord say that if your brother “…sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” (Verse 4) Elsewhere he increased this saying, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.” (Matthew 18:22)
There is another dimension of forgiveness for us too. If we do not forgive and if we hold a grudge, then it will eat away at us and turn to bitterness. You cannot live in accordance with the word of God when you are full of bitterness for it will consume you. But when we forgive from the heart, we are released from this bitterness and are freed. Thus for our own peace of mind we need to forgive.
So it is important that when someone comes to us in repentance and seeking forgiveness, no matter how many times in the day it might occur, we should forgive.
Why should we forgive so often?
Quite simply, because we to are not perfect. Each of us will do the wrong thing from time to time and in humility and repentance we will seek forgiveness. So if we desire forgiveness, should we not also offer the same to others when the roles are reversed? Absolutely!
And there is another reason too. We also seek forgiveness from God when we do the wrong thing against him. God in his grace has forgiven us of much more than anything another may have done to us, so if we expect to be forgiven we should also forgive.
(Photo sourced from stock.xchng www.sxc.hu/ taken by Linda Graindourze)