Every journey begins with taking the first step, right?
I disagree; I believe that every journey begins with someone choosing to take the first step. Bilbo’s journey didn’t begin until he had the courage to sign the dwarf’s contract and leave the comfort of Bag End. And so it is with every journey we take.
But the journey I speak of is not one of wandering foot, but of the state of the heart.
But how is this a journey? Because in order to walk in true, God-like forgiveness, you must make some very tough choices and you must see yourself for what you really are when you choose not to forgive.
This week, as part of a Bible study my husband and I are doing with friends, I read an excerpt from John chapter 8. This is the story of the woman who was caught in adultery and thrown at Jesus’ feet for His judgement. Often we remark the pride of the accusers and the graciousness of Jesus. Both are true. Normally, I identify with the woman in this story (it’s easy for us to side with the victim, isn’t it?). But this time, I saw myself as the accusers. What?!?
The whole story is about forgiveness. Jesus’ forgiveness of a woman who had indeed sinned. He was in fact the only person in this situation who was willing to forgive. By Jewish the law the woman (and the man) should have been stoned to death. But Jesus chose to forgive; that’s who He is, it’s His nature.
But wait! Hold the phone! How could you possibly see yourself as the accusers, the ones about to hurl the stones?
Easy, I was refusing to show grace and forgive someone.
By refusing to forgive this person, I was taking the side the accusers and not of Jesus. As I began to let that sink in, God began to remind me of several Bible verses.
Ephesians 4:32, “Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.”
I asked myself a few questions: Am I being kind and tenderhearted towards this person? Have I really forgiven them; I mean the kind of forgiveness that completely let’s them go free?
That’s what Jesus did for the woman caught in adultery. After the accusers were convicted (as I was), they dropped their stones, one by one, and turned and walked away. Why? What would cause these men who were so passionate in their judgement to just walk away?
John 8:7, “They kept demanding an answer, so [Jesus] stood up again and said, ‘All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!’”
I don’t know about you, but I don’t fit in the “never sinned” category. Back to Ephesians 4:32, the writer tells us that we need to forgive each other the way God, through Christ, has forgiven us. When God forgives, He forgets, He restores, and He comforts (Psalm 103:12, Psalm 51:7, 2 Corinthians 1:5).
To forgive as the world forgives is like a criminal record being expunged. Someone who has committed a crime can seek to have the records of their crime sealed and hidden so that they can live their life free of that conviction. The crime is concealed and the person can live as if it never happened. The problem with this type of “forgiveness” is that there is still a record of it somewhere. Courts of law and law enforcement officers still have access to this information. It may be hidden, but it is not erased.
Back to the story of the woman and her accusers. After they had all left Jesus said just five words that completely altered her future, “…Go and sin no more,” John 8:11.
That is the example we must follow when forgiving others who have hurt us or offended us. We must not only tell them we forgive them, but we must live out that forgiveness with our actions.
An easy mission? Absolutely not! A journey worth taking? A resounding, YES!
And it is a journey. A journey by definition will take time, commitment and energy. We must choose to forgive each and every time we are offended (Matthew 18:22), keep no record of the event (that means don’t bring it back up; 1 Corinthians 13, Proverbs 10:12) and begin treating the person with kindness, love, mercy and compassion (Ephesians 4:32). That is, after all, what God has done for us, is it not?
Can you muster the courage to boldly go on this journey called true forgiveness?