Although forgiveness is a familiar theme to Christians, the Bible exhorts us to expand the theme to redirect the forgiveness we have been shown by God and show it to others.
A well-known illustration of forgiveness is the encounter of Corrie Ten Boom with a former guard who was present when she and her sister were humiliated and abused in a German concentration camp. As she relates, “Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart.” She made the choice to raise her hand to grasp his in forgiveness, and as she did, she said, “This healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.”
We are ultimately responsible to the Lord for the sins we commit against Him, just as others who sin against us are fundamentally committing an offense against Him. To claim harm by someone else’s unthoughtful action at the expense of surrendering it to the Lord’s judgment is an arrogant claim to undeserved authority.
And as others are responsible to the Lord for their transgressions, so we are responsible for the forgiveness—or lack thereof—that we show. (Matthew 6:15) Our personal responsibility to forgive is completely disconnected from the person who has done wrong. Because our responsibility is our own heart’s response, we must forgive others without exception—even if we never get resolution from the offender.
But we’re not just supposed to forgive big transgressions. We may encounter big boulders of transgressions to climb over, but the most common mercy we are called to give is to the stones we kick at our feet. Your friend is late to an important event. Your classmate didn’t do their part in the group project. A stranger cuts in line during grab ‘n’ go. A food service worker messes up your order.
These everyday blunders are strewn across our daily path, and the faithfulness we show in processing these abrasions signals how committed we are to allowing the grace of God to thoroughly flow through our actions. (Luke 16:10) It is not enough to surrender boulders to the Lord; He wants every single stone. To gather up offenses and hoard them for the sake of our own obsession or justification for future personal shortcomings is to deny the work of Christ within our own hearts. We cannot pretend that we are fully submitted to God’s will if we do not reflect the very forgiveness He affords to us.
Think of the thorough nature of the Lord’s forgiveness. To Him, every sin is a dark blot. It’s not our perception of the sin’s gravity or the abundance of sins that matters because even one transgression breaks God’s law and tarnishes our standing before God. (James 2:10) The Lord not only covers our major transgressions with His blood, but also completely forgives every sinful thought, motivation and private action. If His forgiveness is not contingent on the perceived weight of the sin, ours shouldn’t be either. And if His forgiveness is not based on whether it’s merited, ours shouldn’t either.
God’s people should be marked by a sweet, unassuming love toward others. (John 13:35) As 1 Peter 4:8 says, “And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins.” Whether a result of a major transgression or minor inconvenience, bitterness from unforgiveness does not belong in the heart of a Christian.