If you asked your kids to repeat what they know about Easter, they might say: “Jesus died for our sins. We ask for His forgiveness. Jesus rose from the dead!”
That is true. And it is a simple, yet incredibly profound series of actions that we do celebrate this weekend.
Christ, the initiator of our relationship with Him, died for those He loves.
Forgiveness—the seeking of it and the giving of it—is a necessary element of the Christian life.
But, if you are like me, some things make you wonder about the true experience of forgiveness that the Bible describes.
. . . Relationships with wrongs by others are hard to let go of.
. . . Mistakes made that are hard to break free of.
Maybe you find yourself asking . . .
What about when I have been truly wronged, even by other believers?
How does God want me to move forward, even when I’m living in the consequences of my sins and mistakes?
There are times when, if I’m honest, I find myself holding onto bitterness and anger towards those who have wronged me, or, regarding my own sin, treading water in a sea of regret.
A pastor friend of mine calls this “living in unforgiveness.” As we struggle with releasing wrongs against us and towards ourselves, we ultimately live in a state of “unforgiveness,” holding on to debts that God has already paid.
The Way of Forgiveness
So, what hope might Easter hold for us? What are we missing about something that seems so simple and potentially freeing yet feels so far outside our reach?
Easter is our celebration of God establishing His new covenant of life and forgiveness with us through Jesus. Forgiveness is not as much something we do or receive once in a while, but rather a gift and way of life that God provides, that we have to decide whether we will embrace. While forgiveness can be viewed as a singular act, as Christians, God calls us to embrace forgiveness as a way of life.
There’s no formula to it, but for the sake of practicality, here are the stages I often go through that lead me, ultimately, to living in the forgiveness God intends.
I have to start by asking myself some tough questions. As an entrepreneur who has stared down bankruptcy before, the Lord’s Prayer took on new meaning when I reflected on the words, “Forgive us our sins (debts) just as we have forgiven those who have sinned against us (our debtors).” I’ve learned to ask myself, “am I a debt-holder?” On Easter, God held bankruptcy court for all of us, wiping away everyone’s sins/debts. Am I going to say that what He did isn’t good enough for me? Am I holding debts, either from myself or others, that God has already forgiven?
God wants us to live in forgiveness, debt-free, fully experiencing the freedom of being unburdened by our debts and the debts of others. Living in forgiveness is a part of abiding with Christ that happens minute-by-minute, over and over. It is a surrender—there’s that word again—to what God has done and believing what He has for us is far greater than we can imagine. It’s getting to know God and the Holy Spirit within us, through the ups and downs of life. it is believing He is committed to our good.
Then, I have to deal with some roadblocks. Do you have a hard time forgiving yourself? I often do. Romans 8:1-2 (The Message) reminds us that, “Those who enter into Christ’s being-here-for-us no longer have to live under a continuous, low-lying black cloud. A new power is in operation. The Spirit of life in Christ, like a strong wind, has magnificently cleared the air, freeing you from a fated lifetime of brutal tyranny at the hands of sin and death.”
Are you struggling to let go of wrongs incurred by the hands of others? Paul, in the same passage, when conflict and the need for forgiveness arises, says: “Don’t hit back; discover beauty in everyone . . . Don’t insist on getting even; that’s not for you to do. ‘I’ll do the judging,’ says God. ‘I’ll take care of it.’ ”
Easter is a celebration of the fact that we no longer live under condemnation and can find freedom unavailable through any other means. Paul says in Romans 12, which The Message artfully sums up with a reminder that our “. . . everyday, ordinary life . . .” is what God wants from us, not what we think we need to do for Him.
Further, God doesn’t want us bearing the burden of bitterness and unforgiveness, and seeking our own justice. Rather, He says to embrace the freedom He offers in forgiveness and allow Him to take care of injustice. The challenge for us is whether we can take Him at His word and let go of our own desire for justice and revenge. As one of my friends encourages me when I struggle with this, “God is a lot better at justice than you are.”
Inviting others in is often one of the biggest helps along this journey. This week, share with your kids, alongside the story and visuals of the cross, that Easter wasn’t just this weekend but a new way of living that is only available through Jesus and a life with God. We establish a new life in the Spirit (if you haven’t ever dug into the role of the Holy Spirit, I encourage you to do that today in John 15). The act of communing with God, forgiveness, and promises fulfilled are as old as the Old Testament. Take Abraham in Genesis 12, and the reminder of our place in that story from Galatians 3:29. And, in John 7, when Jesus likens our relationship with Him and the Spirit to a river. It’s constant.
And last, I rest. Because we cannot reduce Easter and the idea of forgiveness to a single point. We get to live in an everyday experience of the goodness . . . and forgiveness . . . of God. So as you sit this week after Easter, with your family or alone in silence, my prayer is that you experience God’s love and goodness as reflected by the words of Psalm 145:8-21 (NCV, adapted):
The LORD is kind and shows mercy.
He does not become angry quickly but is full of love.
The LORD is good to everyone;
he is merciful to all he has made.
The LORD will keep all his promises;
He is loyal to all he has made.
The LORD helps those who have been defeated
and takes care of those who are in trouble.
All living things look to you for food,
and you give it to them at the right time.
You open your hand,
and you satisfy the desire of all living things.
Everything the LORD does is right.
He is loyal to all he has made.
The LORD is close to everyone who prays to him,
to all who truly pray to him.
He gives those who respect him what they want.
He listens when they cry, and he ·saves them.
The LORD protects everyone who loves him,
but he will destroy the wicked.