We've all been hurt. We've all hurt others. We all need the forgiveness that cancels debts owed by us and to us.
Debt? What has debt got to do with forgiveness?
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In Luke, chapter eleven, Jesus used the word “debt” in describing sin. He equated sin with debt. So let’s talk about debt. No one goes into debt without making some sort of contract agreeing to repay what has been borrowed. The borrower becomes indebted to lender. The Bible says borrowers become slaves to lenders. The Bible also uses the same terminology when describing the effects of sin in the lives of believers, saying we become slaves to sin.
Maybe someone, through sinning against us, has become indebted to us. Regardless, Jesus does not give us a choice in the matter. In order to keep our lives from becoming debt-ridden, we must both ask forgiveness and extend forgiveness to others. This is a continual cleansing process for all believers.
Part of praying according to the will of God, is asking forgiveness for our sins. And part of receiving forgiveness of sins is extending forgiveness to those who have sinned against us.
That is easier said than done.
But no one denies that the effects of unforgiveness often far out-weigh, and do much more harm in terms of spiritual, emotional, and physical health, than the effects of the sin that was perpetrated against us to begin with.
When Christians refuse to turn from sin [yes, Christians do sin], this grieves the Holy Spirit, and the Heavenly Comforter withdraws fellowship from us. Those who walk closely with Jesus, will know when this happens and take steps to restore fellowship with the Holy Spirit. Fellowship with God can only be restored when we repent and forsake that which causes him grief. All sin grieves the Holy Spirit, including the sin of withholding our forgiveness to from those who have harmed us.
A brief word about forgiving those who have harmed us: Forgiveness does not require us to continually place ourselves in harm’s waythrough associations with unsafe people. And people can be unsafe either emotionally, or physically, or both. But forgiveness does necessitate giving the hurt to God, forsaking hatred, and bitterness, and leaving justice to him. No more hashing and re-hashing the offense in our minds.
If we chose to stay in relationship with those who have betrayed our trust, forgiveness does not necessitate extending immediate trust to those who have proved themselves untrustworthy. Trust, once betrayed, must be earned back. It is Ok to require that, but without bitterness.
Because of what happened in the Garden of Eden, we are all born owing a debt of sin that we are incapable of repaying. That is why our Creator paid it for us. He did this, when he died on the cross and then rose from the dead. But, if after we are born again, having received forgiveness from God, we refuse to ask forgiveness of others for trespassing against them, or to forgive them for their indebtedness to us, Jesus said, in Matthew 18, that we are in deep trouble.
Even secular mental health programs, particularly addiction recovery programs, involve both forgiveness and asking others for forgiveness when we have harmed then, and making restitution where possible. This biblical concept is acknowledged even among unbelievers, as a vital part of living emotionally healthy lives.
But there’s more. Unpaid debt always takes a toll, not the least of which erodes the credibility of those in default. And the toll of unpaid sin-debt is progressive, when allowed to run its course. The unpaid debt of unforgiveness, and refusal to turn from known sin, is no different. Sin is a greedy thief, that robs us in many areas of our lives and can ultimately steal our very souls (see James 1:12-16 and Hebrews 6 & Hebrews 10 for more study on this).
The writer of Proverbs said, “They who cover their sin shall not prosper.” This effects spiritual, emotional, physical, and even financial prosperity. In Third John 1:2, John wrote to Gaius, that he wished above all things that he be in health and prosper even as his soul prospered.
Here we see both the physical and the spiritual referenced. Keeping in mind what it says in Proverbs 30:8-9, we can conclude that John was writing about the impact of our spiritual health on our physical health, as well as on our spiritual and emotional well-being, and temporal prosperity, which includes, among other things, finances.
Sin-debt is real debt. And it undermines every form of prosperity. Jesus said, “Owe no one anything except to love them.” Jesus paid our sin-debt, knowing we would sin again. In doing so, he made it possible for us to live truly debt-free lives on every level.
But remaining debt-free is a continual process of relying on the Holy Spirit for help in living lives that are pleasing to God, asking Heavenly forgiveness for our sins, asking others to forgive us when we sin against them, making restitution where possible, and forgiving those who are indebted to us as well. Forgiving the sin-debt of others, is an absolute prerequisite for receiving forgiveness ourselves.