Help for the Toxic Relationship
Jesus breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” John 20:22b-23
When I read this verse, something crooked in my heart nods its head and says, “See, you have a right to hold offense against such-and-such person!” After all, it seems like Jesus is giving us permission to withhold forgiveness, right? Like I’m given a scepter of special “God-like authority” that allows me judgment over someone who hurt me. Truly, (and I know you’re just like me!) there’s a sick part of my heart that wants the justice of God to side with me and my case and get that other person who offended me. (After all, I’m right, and the other person is disobeying God.)
Yet, how is the spirit of that attitude consistent with the rest of scripture? Yup, you’re right. It’s not. So maybe I’m missing something, huh?
In Matthew 18:21 Peter asked Jesus, “How often must I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” Apparently the person Peter was thinking about was in a sin pattern and kept doing it over and over again. That certainly gets frustrating. And as the years go by, living with a person with a sin pattern gets very frustrating. Tension can build inside of us, and we can become emotional pressure-cookers.
Jesus replies to Peter that we must forgive up to seventy-times-seven times. Our flesh cries out, “No! God, can’t I just cut him off?? I’m so done forgiving this guy again and again and again! It never changes!”
But through all the emotional intensity wiggles a word of truth, and my spirit-man hears God speak, “Aren’t you glad that I am not like you? How many times have you returned to Me for forgiveness? And how many times have I forgiven you?” More than seventy-times-seven, that’s for sure! And somehow God doesn’t live in emotional angst toward me. Yes, he’s grieved when I sin because His heart longs for unhindered connection to mine, and when I repent He freely extends mercy that I don’t deserve. It is his delight to show mercy.
No, God doesn’t relate to me through a chart of accounts. He relates to me through Christ’s payment for my sin on the cross. He keeps his heart open to me in mercy, despite my failures, because that’s His nature. I live and move and breathe in that grace every day, walking in the knowledge that I’m covered by the righteousness of Christ. I John 4:16 says, “Now we know and rely on his love.”
Seventy-times-seven requires that I keep my heart open to flow in the nature of God. You see, in that John passage He breathed on them His Holy Spirit — releasing His nature into their very hearts! This changes everything! I forgive because God Himself is in me, and He loves mercy. It is the nature of God to release mercy. It’s not easy. In fact, it’s painful to do because it requires our brokenness. A wrestling match in our hearts. We have to relinquish what we think we deserve. But I find it releases much of the emotional angst when I can truly forgive and turn justice over to God.
So, it’s true, “if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” It’s amazing, but we have been given this power! To deliberately withhold forgiveness is a choice we do have. But it makes us a slave to toxic emotions. And it quenches the Holy Spirit in our lives. Why, oh why in the world would we want to do that?!
Boundaries. Now that’s a separate story. God sets boundaries. That might help you keep your sanity, but that’s for another day.