Would you invite a child molester into your home? How about a smooth-talking con man who prowls about looking for a point of entry? Or on a different note, would you leave an infection in your body untreated, allowing it wreak havoc?
That’s pretty much what we do when we allow anger or its derivatives, bitterness and resentment, to fester in our hearts. A root of bitterness can spring up not only to defile us, but impact others as well including contaminating the body (of Christ). Bitterness fosters spiritual malaise and impairs the functioning of the body.
God alerts us to what life will be like in a fallen world when He warns Cain: “sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it” (Gen. 4:7). Peter tells us that our “adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8).
While Satan has no right of access (Col. 1:13-14), we open the door to him and his nefarious activity when we refuse to deal with anger. An offense against us can become the wedge that props open the door of our heart at which our spiritual adversary is crouching. The apostle warns us: “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil” (Eph. 4:26–27).
How do we remove the wedge that keeps the door from being secured? We do so by forgiveness. As Paul suggests to the Corinthians: “Anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive. Indeed, what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ, so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs” (2 Cor. 2:10–11).
Forgiveness belongs to the DNA of the new birth, and shows up as a trait of the child of God. It is essential to personal integrity and to the health of the communion of saints. But forgiveness raises a number of questions that must be addressed for understanding it rightly and applying it properly. Here are 12 such questions, in no particular order.
1. Is it biblical to “forgive and forget”?
2. Why do we need to confess our sins if they are already forgiven?
3. Does Jesus’ parable of the unforgiving servant teach that God’s forgiveness can be rescinded?
4. Is it hypocritical to forgive if we don’t feel like it, especially when Jesus says we are to forgive from the heart?
5. Why does John say that God is faithful and just to forgive us when we confess rather than faithful and merciful?
6. Does God forgive sins simply because a person confesses them?
7. When Jesus says “if your brother repents, forgive him,” is He making repentance a prerequisite for granting forgiveness?
8. What are the nuts and bolts involved in forgiving someone?
9. How is asking for forgiveness different from apologizing?
10.How does forgiveness relate to reconciliation?
11.What does God’s forgiveness of us teach us about our forgiveness of others?
12.What does the terminology of forgiveness teach us about its tone?
These questions are addressed in my new booklet Why Must We Forgive?, part of Reformation Heritage Books’ Cultivating Biblical Godliness Series. Aimee Byrd gives an orientation to the booklet in her review for the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals.
Perhaps there is no matter more salient to the gospel and essential for its practice in our relating to God and others in the name of Christ.