I don’t know about you, but I am glad to say goodbye to 2020. The year was a particularly rough one. It did provide, however, many opportunities for me to make some serious evaluations about my attitudes and the direction they were driving my life. The tests I faced were not always passed with flying colors. So once again, I am back at the drawing board of that self-improvement project called “my life.”
The New Year is traditionally a time for self-reflection and reconsideration of personal goals and plans to make meaningful changes. These resolutions usually involve adjustments to our health habits and personality traits.
Most of us sincerely desire to be a better person than we believe ourselves to be. Too often, however, we tend to overlook the deeper root causes of our imperfection, focusing our attention on details rather than on substance.
While we all want to be perceived as quality people, especially in the eyes of those we know and love, genuine change entails some difficult self-examination and a lot of effort. This is not something we are naturally prone to do.
Overcoming our natural tendencies to lapse into selfish behavior requires a great deal of attention and intention. Our natural sin nature is a constant drag on our willingness to conform to the image God desires for us.
This year I have determined that I will have only one resolution. With the Lord’s help, I will forgive everybody for anything, and everything said or done that offended me in any way.
This is a very tall order, indeed. It will demand determination, supernatural grace, and a whole lot of repentance. Nevertheless, I am compelled by the Word of God to be transformed by the renewing of my mind (Romans 12:2). Therefore, a conscious decision must be made to live in a resentment-free environment.
I fully realize that I will always be exposed to the abuse of other people that can give excuse for my anger and resentment. That’s life. The major obstacle to my spiritual growth is actually … me.
It is no secret that the most significant stumbling-block we must overcome to become better people is our own attitudes, our own thoughts, and our own feelings. We can never fully control all the circumstances in our life. But we do have the ability, with God’s help, to choose our responses to any of them. I choose to forgive.
My motivation is one of self-preservation, rather than one of personal virtue. Jesus was specific about God’s mandate that we are to forgive one another. Not to do so has dire consequences according to Scripture. Matthew 6:14-15 states that if we forgive men when they sin against us, our heavenly Father will also forgive us. But if we do not forgive others, our Father will not forgive us.
Mark 11:25 puts it this way: “When you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you.” When I read these, and other such verses it becomes uncomfortably clear that our eternal, everlasting forgiveness is not totally unconditional. Forgiveness from God depends on our forgiveness of others. That is not popular theology these days, but it is what the Bible plainly says.
We usually interpret “unconditional” to mean we do not have to do anything at all to get the benefits of our faith. God’s grace is certainly unconditional. He unilaterally provides everything we need to have eternal life. The testimony of Jesus Christ, his atoning blood, and the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit all make a way of salvation for us, but only if we accept those things and intentionally apply them in our lives. Mere intellectual assent to biblical truth is not really faith and counts for nothing in real life. We cannot merely talk about forgiveness; we must start forgiving.
The parable of the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18:21-19:1) tells the story of a man who was forgiven of a huge, unpayable debt. Unfortunately, he was unwilling to extend the same mercy he had just received to a fellow servant who owed him a much smaller debt.
The result was that his forgiveness was revoked. He ended up in prison and was tortured until he could repay his enormous debt. That sounds a lot like hell to me! Yet, Jesus says that this is exactly how the Father will treat any of us unless we forgive others from our heart.
The apostle Paul amplifies this imperative, strongly, and clearly admonishing us to bear with each other, to forgive whatever grievances we may have against each other and to forgive as the Lord forgave us … that is totally and without reservation (Colossians 3:13).
So, I surrender. I will save myself from the prison and torture of unforgiveness. I refuse to let a root of bitterness cause me to miss the grace of God (Hebrews 12:15). I must reject my own self-righteousness and refuse to hold others hostage to the pettiness of my own hypocritical ego.
Instead, I unilaterally and unconditionally forgive everyone from anything they ever said or did to harm me. Insofar as it depends on me, I choose to be at peace with every other person (Romans 12:18).
Yes, I would hope for some reciprocity, that others may have mercy on me and extend forgiveness for anything I said or did to cause them pain. I will try to be more loving to others in the future. Yet, my forgiveness toward others cannot be conditional upon theirs toward me.
From now on, when I feel offended, I will intentionally respond with the love of Christ, rather than to react with my own natural anger, resentment, or defensiveness, fully realizing that, apart from God’s empowerment, it is impossible.
Experiencing hurt is not all bad. It gives us opportunity for healthy self-reflection. When we are hurt by others, we have a chance to empathetically repent of our own hurtfulness. When we are on the receiving end of pain, it is helpful for us to consider how we may have done harm in a similar way to others in the past. It is like a taste of our own medicine. We end up getting what we have coming to us, being judged as we have judged and reaping what we have sown. God, our judge, is not mocked.
If we honestly believe this, then let us endeavor to bear with each other, even in our weakest moments, exercising the awesome ministry of forgiveness so that together we might be built up in Christ, and that He may be glorified in all the world.
Judy and I are grateful for your faithful prayers and support over the years. May this be a special year for you and those you love. As we begin a new decade, may the grace of God sustain us all in every way. He is bigger than any problem any of us will ever have. Happy New Year!
[LeRoy Curtis is a graduate of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and Asbury Theological Seminary. He served four years as a U.S. Naval Officer after which he became a pastor, Bible professor, educator, author, and missionary living in E. Africa for eight years where he and his wife developed a curriculum of biblical studies for untrained pastors in rural Kenya. His passion for training young church leaders takes him to various parts of the U.S., Latin America, and Africa. He and Judy are currently residing in Carrollton, Georgia.]