Grace always flows from the inside out. Our God-honoring actions will never truly honor God if he does not hold the place of honor in our hearts. This is why forgiveness is the key that opens the door to freedom in the Christian’s life. The more truly forgiven by God we feel, the more desperate we will be to release others from paying us back for their wrongs against us.
This is always the flow of obedience: from the inside out.
Obedience does not beget forgiveness. Forgiveness begets obedience.
We all reach a point in our stories when something must shift to reach the resolution. A Christian can walk an awful long time in the same circle, rearranging their behaviors enough to fool themselves and others without any real transformation.
Not until a force stronger than our desires and more complex than any subjective truth smashes into us will we be traumatized enough by grace to believe who we are in Christ.
Forgiveness is this trauma.
Forgiveness is the decision to let another person off the hook of our need. It’s the painful choice to look at our offender or attacker, that mean girl, our betrayer, parents, or friend in the face of our deepest wounds and say, “I release you. I release you from apology, acknowledgment, remorse, or payback for the way you have wronged me.”
Forgiveness like this has no quick-release trigger. It often begins with the simple awareness that something is weighing us down. That something looks different for all of us. Maybe you want to be free of paralyzing fear surrounding a dream you’ve always hoped to pursue. Perhaps you want to be free of nagging guilt or shame over past choices. I think it’s safe to say we all want to be free of insecurity and the traps of comparison.
Your need to forgive someone could be as vague as a nagging feeling in your gut or as layered as an unresolved parking-lot throw-down between wife and mistress that occurred years ago. Perhaps it feels like a daily choice to look past an offensive personality at work or the rebellious choices of your children.
Regardless of what has led you to this moment, choosing to absorb one another’s debts (all at once, over the course of years, or all day every day) is the joy that enables us to face anything without sinking or crumbling. Our reserves of forgiveness overflow from the assurance that God has also forgiven us. And this gift traumatizes us with the reality that everything really can be forgiven.
Everything. Like, the worst of the worst.
“As the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (Col. 3:13 ESV).
Not until we receive God’s grace and forgiveness for ourselves are we able to give grace and forgiveness to anyone else.
My entire life has played out exactly as it was designed to—expertly orchestrated to help me receive the forgiveness that had always been mine in the first place.
Do you see it?
We need God’s grace first. Otherwise, we’ll spend the rest of our lives turning on ourselves and each other.
Oh sure, we may find happiness for a time. We may be healed for a season. We may be at peace for a moment. But without claiming the gift of God’s unconditional love for us, we will never be whole.
This is the gospel, the good news that God’s love will always interrupt the most intimate places of our hearts to share in a whole relationship with us. In the Old Testament, God’s presence dwelled inside the most holy place of the tabernacle, accessible only to the high priest, who made sacrifice to atone for the people.
But when Jesus died, “the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom” (Matt. 27:51) as he became the once and for all sacrifice. Now, our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit within us (1 Cor. 6:19) and Jesus, the Son of God, is our great high priest!
Because he enters through relationship, for relationship, we have the confidence to draw near to him in order to receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need (Heb. 4:14-16).
God sent himself that we might be integrated with who he is and what he is doing not just here and now but forevermore.
God doesn’t want us to be just healed, just redeemed, just saved, obedient, faithful. He wants us to be whole. He wants our motives to match our thoughts to match our behaviors, over and over again, until our confidence is so strong in him that we, “being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:17-19 ESV).