A decade is far too long a time to be locked up. From 1984 to 1994 I spent every single day – morning/noon/night – incarcerated. During those years I went to school, attended raucous parties, traveled in and out of my home state of Georgia, earned a living, took vacations and poured my life into reckless pursuits. Nonetheless, my soul was garbed in an orange prison jumpsuit and there seemed little hope for my pardon. My crime was Unforgiveness in the 1st degree and my sentence was carried out in the cell-block of bitterness. Most every day of those suffocating years I was longing to be free but I had neither the will nor the ability to forgive others so I would lay my tired head down each night on the cold, steel bench of a hardened heart and wake up to another day unchanged and unhappy.
When God’s grace honed in on me like a laser and I acknowledged my own sins against Him in 1994, I experienced the transforming power of redemption. Sparing you the details, let it suffice to say that I was immeasurably relieved to learn that the God I had doubted, resented and spited was willing and able to bury my past and make me new in grace and mercy. His Son, Jesus Christ, had served my sentence on my behalf and was willing to open my cell and usher me out. I found forgiveness – comprehensive, life-altering, lavish and stunning pardon from God became mine in Christ. What I now know doctrinally is that, along with my own forgiveness, came the power and command to forgive all others who had failed me. In those early days when I was still ignorant of what the bible taught, I experienced the joy of finding something to be already active and true in my own life before reading the scriptural foundation for it. When I scanned the pages of my bible and saw what was said about our call to forgive one another I was able to inwardly declare, “I’m already doing that!” His word was alive and had penetrated my soul and consequently set me free from…me.
“The ability to forgive is one of the surest signs of having been forgiven. It is part of the proof that we have received God’s grace… Those who are truly forgiven, truly forgive. The sins they commit are of greater importance to them than the sins they suffer.” – Philip Graham Ryken
If you still sense that there is an oppressive, claustrophobic element to your life I’d like for you to inventory your heart and learn if there is a need for you to forgive someone. One grudge, one self-permitted axe to grind, one sniff of unwillingness to pardon another can completely sour your travels here below. The spiritual foundation for this reality is that we who have been forgiven by God for our sins against Him have no right to withhold full forgiveness from others for their comparatively lesser sins against us. I encourage you not to waste another second rationalizing your right to remain bitter – there is no escaping the clear command of Christ for you to set that person free. If you protest your ability to do this I would merely ask you whether or not you have been forgiven by God; if you have, then it is an issue of fear and obedeince that you are wrestling with. If you have not been forgiven by God then I would agree that your struggle to pardon others is legitimate…for it is hard for those with shackled hands to place a key in the lock of another’s shackles and turn it to liberate them. It appears that your own chains are the larger issue to consider.
Don’t settle for a theological confidence that you have been justified through faith in Christ. Hunger for the experience of liberty in the fullest. There are bright blue skies behind those dark clouds you always sense above you; those clouds need merely to be parted by grace and you will find light that you have denying yourself for quite some time. We lie to ourselves when we believe that our forgiving others will hurt us too deeply. We fail to believe God’s truth when we excuse ourselves from every Christian’s calling to give mercy and grace to those who have wronged us. How long will we don the orange jumpsuit, seek to manage our chains, spend another season incarcerated and offer a hollow smile to the warden of our souls staring back at us in the mirror? Forgiveness is freedom…and it is most definitely a two-way street.
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