HOW DO CHRISTIANS GROW & CHANGE? PART 5
Does Jesus teach Gospel-centered, grace-motivated growth and change? In previous posts, I showed that among the many ways He motivates His followers to holiness, one of the ways He did so was by reminding them of God’s grace. Was that a one-time thing, whereas His normal way of motivating was fear, guilt & shame, or something else? Let’s find out!
Peter wanted to know how much forgiveness he should show those who sin against him (18:21), and he thought 7 times was very gracious (the rabbis said it was wrong to forgive someone more than 3 times). Jesus response: His followers should forgive the same person “seventy times seven” times, meaning without limits (18:22), and then to illustrate what He meant by this, He told the above parable (vv. 23-35). Can you see His Gospel-centered motivation for holy living in the following verses?
“Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents [= billions of dollars today]. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii [=10s of thousands of dollars], and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt [billions of dollars worth] because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart” (Matthew 18:23-35 ESV).
What’s the point? If through the Gospel, God’s forgiven you an incomprehensible amount of sin (one talent was equivalent to 15 years of paychecks, so 10,000 talents [v. 24] equals a truly massive amount of money, regardless of your occupation) then His grace obligates you and should motivate you to rid yourself of every excuse for not forgiving any sin against you (a denarius was what a worker earned for one day of work, so 100 denarius [v. 28] is not a small amount, showing the sin against you, though quite significant, should still be forgiven).
In fact, God commands and grace produces love & mercy for your enemies, even your worst enemies (see Matt 5:43-47, Luke 6:27-36), while Mark 11:25 shows that your forgiveness shouldn’t depend on someone asking you for it. Also, harboring unforgiveness towards anyone because of how bad they hurt you is so sinful that various texts suggest an unforgiving heart may be evidence that a person is not saved (Matt 6:14-15, 18:32-35; seen in a lack of love 1 John 2:9-11, 3:14-15, 4:20-21).
Gospel-centered, grace-motivated holiness, seen in forgiving those who have sinned against you, is so clearly taught by Jesus that Paul reiterates both His teaching and His method of motivation when he wrote “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph 4:32) and “forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you (Gospel truth), so you also must forgive (Gospel expectation)” (Col 3:13).
Why should Christians forgive? What should motivate us when it’s really hard to forgive? Is the answer, fear, guilt and shame? According to Jesus and Paul, what should motivate us to forgive anyone who’s wronged us is the forgiveness we’ve experienced coming from God through the Gospel. To withhold forgiveness, either shows a lack of belief in the Gospel (i.e., not saved) if unforgiveness is a way of life for you, or it shows a need for more blending of the Gospel with your life and thinking.
Your Need to Forgive
To wrap things up, do you struggle with forgiving someone who has sinned against you? Have you stopped struggling with it because you’ve become settled in your unforgiveness, which is sin? When commanding yourself to forgive fails. When will-power is met with horrific memories of the one who caused your pain, remember the mercy, grace, forgiveness & love of God as proclaimed in the Gospel. Meditate on it.
Think about it, you’ve never been sinned against more or worse than your sin against God, and you could never forgive someone more than God’s forgiven you. Remembering the Gospel and then forgiving will likely not be a one-time act that fixes everything, especially when the sin is very deep and painful, so it is something you must do repeatedly as those memories resurface. Ask God, all the time if you have to, to use His grace to soften and cleanse your heart against those who’ve sinned against you, and then keep on forgiving.
John Owen (1616-1683): “Holiness is nothing but the implanting, writing and realizing of the Gospel in our souls” (Works 3:370)