How Jesus enabled me to forgive

Steve Fuller » God Counseling Atonement Gospel

When we’re hurt, our hearts are miles from being able to forgive.

At the beginning of our church plant, I was working an outside job. One client used a lot of my time but then fired me to get a better deal with another agent. This ended up costing me time, money, and reputation among others in my field, and I was angry and bitter. No way was I going to forgive, I thought.

But when Peter asks how many times he should forgive, Jesus’ answer is “seventy times seven” —that’s 490 times (or 77, depending on your translation). Either way, it means we should forgive and never stop forgiving.

But that sounded impossible to me because forgiveness in this instance would mean,

  • Letting go of the harm this client caused me,
  • No longer desiring them harm,
  • Only desiring them good.

But my heart was miles from that. So how could I forgive?

A parable of I-O-US

In Matthew 18:21–35, Jesus describes a servant who is angry because he is owed 100 denarii, which is 100 days wages, according to D.A. Carson’s commentary on the Gospel of Matthew. Imagine someone owing you $20,000 and not paying you back. That would hurt.

But this same servant owes his master 10,000 talents—over $1 billion, according to Carson. So, because he can’t pay it back, he’s going to be sold into slavery along with his wife and children. But he pleads with his master to give him time to repay, and his master does the unthinkable and forgives the billion-dollar debt.

Anger and pride had blinded me.

Imagine: at one moment you owe a billion dollars so you and your family will be sold into the horrors of slavery, but the next moment you owe nothing and you and your family are saved.

But then what does this slave do? He finds the slave who owes him 100 denarii (roughly $2,000) and threatens to throw him in prison if he doesn’t pay up. When the king hears what this slave did, he throws him in prison until he pays back the billion dollars. And Jesus concludes: “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from the heart” (v. 35).

The first slave was out a couple weeks’ salary. That’s a lot of money. And yet the first slave should have forgiven the second slave, because of the billion-dollar gift the first slave received from the king.

Biblical gains and losses

This parable teaches how Jesus enables us to forgive. When I am angry with someone, it’s because they have caused me loss. This sense of loss hurts, and makes me want to even the scales: since the anger is caused by my loss, the only way to get rid of the anger is to ease the pain of the loss with a huge gain.

Imagine that after my former client fired me, I won a billion dollars in the lottery. Would I still be angry with them? Not at all. Because my joy in the billion dollars would more than make up for the loss they caused me.

To forgive, the Holy Spirit had to change my heart.

And Jesus says I have received a billion-dollar gain—in him. The forgiveness of my sins, being adopted as God’s son, and having God’s heart-satisfying presence forever—this is the billion-dollar gain that more than makes up for the losses my former client cost me.

So what enables us to forgive is seeing that the billion-dollar gain we have in Christ more than makes up for the losses others have cost me.

But if that’s true, then why was I still angry with this former client? Because at that moment, I was not seeing what I have in Christ as a billion-dollar gain. All I saw is the loss of time, reputation, and money they cost me. My anger and pride had blinded me to what I have in Christ.

Ways and means to forgiveness

So the only way I could forgive was to have the Holy Spirit change my heart so I once again could see the billion-dollar gain I have in Christ that would so make up for my loss that I would be able to forgive.

So here are the steps God used to change my heart.

Step 1: I turned to trust Christ

I did not try to change my heart first. Instead I turned to him just as I was (bitter and angry), saying “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Luke 18:13).

Step 2: I confessed my sin

My unforgiveness was sin, because I had let my ex-client’s actions blind me to all I had in Christ.

So I confessed my blindness. I repented of how I was not seeing Christ as the billion-dollar treasure he is. I asked him to forgive me. I thanked him for his death, which paid for my guilt, and his perfect life, which covered all my sin.

Step 3: I prayed for the Spirit’s heart-changing work

Apart from the Spirit’s supernatural work, my anger would keep blinded me to all I had in Christ. So I asked him to enlighten the eyes of my heart so I could see and feel all that I had in Christ (Eph. 1:18).

Step 4: I set my heart on God’s Word

So I set my heart on verses describing Jesus Christ, and asked God to help me to see and feel the massive gains of:

  • Knowing a God who is fullness of joy forever (Psa. 16:11),
  • Forgiveness of all my sins past, present, and future (Rom. 4:6–8),
  • A Savior who satisfies every heart thirst in himself (John 6:35),
  • An eternity beholding God’s glory (Rev. 21:21–23).

Step 5: I continued until my heart changed

I kept praying over those verses until I slowly felt my heart change. My sense of Christ’s worth grew. My feelings of loss were comforted and then overshadowed by the gains I had in Christ.

My heart went from feeling empty, to feeling full—overflowingly full—in Christ.

And when my heart was full of Christ, I saw that my anger had gone. I no longer desired revenge. I actually felt compassion.

Jesus had enabled me to forgive.

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