"Forgive Us Our Trespasses" (Part 4 of 4)
From the sixth lecture in the audio seminar Praying Biblically
Do you know the story of Corrie Ten Boom? She and her sister Betsy were sent to Ravensbrück concentration camp near Berlin, where her sister died. Years later Corrie ministered in Germany where she preached about the power of forgiveness. The forgiveness that God extends to us in Christ.
Do you realize how many times you have offended God? Forgiveness is nothing more than being willing to imitate God—because he is willing to forgive you, you must be willing to forgive others. Corrie was preaching this forgiveness to the German people, and afterwards among the people who came up to shake her hand and to thank her was one of the SS guards that had abused her at the concentration camp. When she sees his face she immediately knew who he was. He came up to her and he said to her: “dear Corrie how grateful I am for your sermon tonight, to think that as you have preached God has washed away my terrible sins.” He had repented unto God and his sins had been removed, and now he came to Corrie and thanked her for preaching this message.
She said: “Suddenly it was all there, the room full of mocking men, the heaps of clothing, Betsy’s pain-blanched face. His hand was out to shake mine. I who had preached so often to the people in Germany the need to forgive kept my hand at my side. Even as the angry vengeful thoughts boiled through me, I saw the sin of them (the sin of her thoughts—this is the power of the Holy Spirit). It is not wrong to have the feelings, it is wrong to have your conduct being dictated by the feelings rather than by the kingdom of God. I had the feelings and I knew they were sinful. Jesus Christ had died for this former SS officer. Was I going to demand more of him than Jesus did? I prayed: Lord Jesus forgive me, and help me to forgive him.”
If Jesus’ teaching is to be taken seriously his answer to Corrie’s prayer was bound until she was willing to forgive. She states: “I tried to smile, I struggled to raise my hand but I could not, I felt nothing, not the slightest spark of warmth or charity.”
Forgiveness is something extraordinary, it does not come naturally. There may be times when you have to wait and let the pain subside before you can go to someone and seek forgiveness, but if you wait until your feelings tell you to do it, you will never do it. Corrie had no natural inclination to do this, everything in the natural brought up resentment, anger, even hatred. So she did what we all must do, she depended on the power of the Spirit of Christ to do what she was unable to do in the natural. In Paul’s language: “when I acknowledge my weakness, God is made strong.”
So she prayed a silent prayer: “Jesus I cannot forgive him, give me your forgiveness. As I took his hand a most incredible thing happened, from my shoulder along my arm and through my hand a current seem to pass from me to him, and into my heart sprang up a love for this stranger that almost overwhelmed me. And so I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness anymore than on our goodness that the world’s healing hinges, it is on Jesus’ goodness. And if he tells us to love our enemies then he gives us along with the command the love itself to do it.”
There is so much more that could be said about forgiveness. There are questions that we all have. One being: what do we do in this matter? The first thing you must know is that there is no single answer to every situation. You always have to be guided by the Spirit and by the counsel of your community. But what you can say for a certainty is if I am to err, let me err on the side of forgiveness, kindness, generosity and love, because I want God to tip the scales in that direction for me, and I am able to do it because he has done it for me.
When it comes to God’s holiness, there is no degree of profaning it—to profane it is to profane it. We all have to pray: “God forgive us as sinners.” And in the power of Jesus’ shed blood we are made righteous. The power of love can conquer all things. There are times when a church needs to take discipline—1 Corinthians 5. And yet in 2 Corinthians 2 he turns around and says: “okay that is enough, come back in.” There are times when love demands that you need to confront and be honest with a brother/sister. There are times when love forgives. We always need to take the biblical perspective, not the natural perspective. The reason we seek the forgiveness of others is for their benefit, not ours. This is what is so radical about the kingdom of God. Everything in the kingdom of God is God-centered, not self-centered. The reason you seek forgiveness and extend forgiveness is because like Jesus you want to set every captive free. Corrie Ten Boom set that man free in a way Jesus could not, because it was Jesus in her doing it.
There are people you and I can set free if we are willing to forgive, and then to restore. If you refuse to forgive then you will be lead by anger, pain and hatred. You are going to be controlled by negative memories, you are not going to act freely. You will be one who has to control situations and people out of your fear and hurt. Your life will be filled with tension and stress, and maybe even shortened by your unforgiveness. Your relationship with others will be strained and your fellowship with God will be hindered as you live with unrelieved guilt and feelings of little self-esteem.
The great paradox is that in the humbling of ourselves and extending forgiveness and setting others free, God sets us free and strengthens our self-image. Some of you, like me, come to church and go through the religious ritual, and yet there is a defiling reptile in your hand. What is it; who is it? How should it be dealt with? How do I practically go about doing this? Will you under the influence of the Holy Spirit resolve two things?
Will you resolve that as the people of God, for the welfare of the community of God and for the sanctifying of God’s name, by God’s help and to the best of your ability to walk from this moment on in the power of forgiveness? God help us do that. Will you resolve that if God has brought some specific situation to your mind—someone, some matter—that to the best of your ability, soon you will seek to do the right thing about it. To do the right thing by biblical kingdom standards, not by worldly standards.
Will you resolve to do that? If you do, you honor God and you will set the captive free.
* This is an audio transcript, listen to the original message here.