Coffee Break: Forgiveness!

Oasis ChurchCoffee Break

Pete Bardwell holding a coffee mug

At the bottom of our stairs, by the front door we have the following words in big letters on the wall which serve to remind us as a family, and hopefully inform any guests, of our value for love and grace:

In this house…
We do real
We do mistakes
We do I’m sorry
We do second chances
We do fun
We do hugs
We do forgiveness
We do really loud
We do family
We do love.

The story of the prodigal son found in Luke 15:11–32 is stunning. The grace demonstrated by the Father flows through the story from beginning to end to both boys; the younger son’s inappropriate and offensive request to have his inheritance early (which was essentially the boy saying ‘I wish you were dead!’) was met with incredible generosity.

Despite his son’s appalling behaviour, the father loves and forgives him (v20) and restores him as his son (v22) and celebrates his safe return (v23). The grace towards his son was not dependent on his son’s acknowledgement of his wrongdoing: It was freely given.

There is mention of repentance on behalf of the son (‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ ‭‭Luke‬ ‭15:21‬ ‭NIV) but the ‬‬son didn’t imagine that being restored as a son would be possible—or even in his Father’s heart.

I wonder if this is something which can still affect us today? Are you living as a fully forgiven son or daughter?

We can know the theories on grace and sonship and be ‘so close and yet so far’ because we have never truly let go of our past or perhaps present sin and disappointments and received his forgiveness and restoration.

Forgiveness is a multilayered thing! There is God forgiving me, me forgiving others and me forgiving myself (which is basically me agreeing with God’s forgiveness of me). Then there is me needing to remind myself of the forgiveness I’ve received when I forget and then realise I’ve been watching those old ‘worst moment’ movies in my mind again! Unforgiveness in these three areas can be hindrances to us enjoying life in relationship with our Father and with other people.

I remember when Leo and I were newly married, receiving advice from ‘seasoned couples’ at the time… ‘keep short accounts with each other’. What they meant by that was ‘resolve problems well; admit our mistakes, forgive each other’. This is great advice both for our marriages and probably any healthy relationship/friendship—including our personal relationship with God.

Resolve problems well.
Problems, hassles, trials and difficulties—large and small will always come along. Jesus even said that they would (John 16:33). Our value for the relationship must always be bigger than our perception of the problem. It has to be. The relationship won’t last if both parties are not convinced. Also there is no relational difficulty for which Jesus does not have a solution for. I know, I probably haven’t come across every relational problem and eventuality but I do know that Jesus is ‘the way’, so I believe there is always a way through if we are prepared to be led by him.

Admit our mistakes.
The son in the parable admitted where he went wrong—his shortcomings, his sin. There is no sense of cover up. No passing the buck… he owned his stuff! Confession takes humility but authentic relationships are not possible without it. Psalm 51 gives us one of the most incredible examples of a contrite heart: King David’s admission of his sin following his adultery with Bathsheba.

Leo and I work hard to take responsibility for our thoughts, words and behaviour which may damage our marriage, admittedly adultery and murder have not been challenges for us to work through as they were for David and Bathsheba, but the seeds of those those things—hardness of heart, impatience, taking each other for granted can take root if we allow them to.

‘Keep short accounts’—don’t leave things! If we feel that prompt of the Holy Spirit to address something it’s way easier and less painful to deal with things when they are small than leaving them to grow. Let’s not be so proud that we can’t admit when we are wrong. Just the other day I said something in front of my family which I didn’t need to say and was unhelpful and wrong. We don’t celebrate mistakes but we don’t attach guilt and shame to them either. We absolutely do celebrate putting them right.

Part of that process is forgiveness. This is a huge topic, so for the sake of this blog I’m simply going to focus on one aspect; our past sins (or present sins) and disappointments as blockers to enjoying God’s grace.
Offering forgiveness starts with an internal decision of the heart, before it becomes words and actions. It is an inside job before it becomes an outside one. It is for you, and it was and is for God. I say ‘was’ because you have been forgiven and I say ‘is’ because you still are! Romans 5:8 says “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (NIV) He made a decision to forgive you—before you even sinned let alone repented!

Firstly, if you have a present sin issue in your life, take it seriously and stop it! It’s not OK. If you believe in Jesus, you are a brand new creation—a brand new type of person. Jesus went to the cross to set you free from ‘having to sin’ (Romans 6:17). I’m not saying that we are free from temptation, but we are powerful not to sin! If sin issues are a problem, seek out a trusted friend to chat it through with, confess – repent – decide together – be accountable. It takes the drama out of our sin, brings it into the light and enables us to receive the forgiveness God has for us. Receiving anything is an active thing, not a passive one. Maybe to feel forgiven, we need to visualise ourselves like the son in the parable… receiving the embrace and the kiss from our Father! Such a powerful image. RECEIVE IT!

Now to be restored… the best robe, the ring and the sandals. Feel them around you—gifts of grace!

Past sins, regrets, shame, guilt and disappointment can be huge blockers to us enjoying God’s grace and moving forwards in life, which is so sad and such a waste because they really don’t have to. Sometimes forgiving ourselves, or coming into alignment with God’s assessment of who he says we are (which is really the same thing)—a forgiven son or daughter is a huge challenge. Good questions to ask is ‘have you walked away from the sin? (Repentance?) and then did you take the time to actively receive His forgiveness as described above?

If not, it’s not too late… take the time now.

I’m really sympathetic with those who struggle with this, however, it is also a form of disobedience and rebellion against God; to think differently about ourselves than God does! I don’t mean to add to the woes you may think you have, but you may just have another thing to repent of and receive his forgiveness for! He says you are clean.

King David understood this—pre-Jesus!

“Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”
‭‭Psalms‬ ‭51:7, 10‬ ‭NIV‬‬

We understand this from a place in the new covenant, in union with Jesus! You needed the slate wiping, he made you a new slate.

Here is what the Father said after his prodigal had returned home: “For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate” (‭‭Luke‬ ‭15:24‬ ‭NIV‬‬). Forgiveness with God is experiential! There is a feast! It’s time for you to join the celebration. Your heavenly Dad is waiting to throw a party with and for you. Come on… I’ll come too!