Forgiveness is what Christ calls His followers to when they are wronged. What about when we are the one who has wronged someone else?
Many times our first response when we have wronged another is guilt. We feel a weight, a sense of having failed, a deep inner knowing that we have not been or done who or what we are at our best. We know that we have acted out of the worst in us and that knowledge can be a heavy burden.
How do we commonly respond to this sense of guilt?
1. Sometimes we blame others. The weight of our own failure is too overwhelming, so we seek to blame others, to share the weight of failure or even shift it completely to another. We hope that this will lift the feeling of guilt, but at best it only appeases our guilt for a time.
2. Sometimes we seek to punish ourselves, to lighten the load of guilt by punishing ourselves. By mentally beating up on ourselves, or even sometimes physically harming ourselves we hope that we will pay the debt of our failure and release ourselves from our guilt.
3. We might also do penance to offset our wrongs. We do good things for others, good things that will make a difference in our world to help bring the scales of right and wrong back to a place where the rights outweigh the wrongs.
4. Or, we might anesthetize our guilt through any of a variety of things - food, drugs, alcohol, sex, entertainment - anything that will take the edge off, anything that will give us relief from the pain of knowing we failed, that we hurt someone, that we acted out of the worst in us.
What is Christ's solution to guilt?
The Apostle John wrote: "If we confess our sin, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sin and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:9)
When we fail, when we act out of the worst in us, we sin. Over and over in His ministry Christ called people to repent and that is still His call today, still His solution to sin, to personal failure. He calls us to recognize our failure, recognize our sin. Rather than wallow in guilt, He asks us to confess our wrong doing, both to Him and to those we have wronged. HE promises to forgive us. HE promises to remove our sin from us as far as the east is from the west. HIS response to our confession is sure and steadfast. HE will always forgive.
The response of those we have wronged is not as sure and it is beyond our control. The best we can do is to do our part, to confess, to go to those we have wronged and tell them what we have done and to apologize and hope for forgiveness . . . but we'll talk more about that in part 3.
Lastly, Jesus asks us to turn away from the behaviors and patterns that brought about our failure, that caused us to hurt others. In the beautiful story of Jesus' encounter with the woman caught in adultery, we often focus on Jesus' response to the woman. Truly His response is powerful when he tells those gathered around her, "He who is without sin, cast the first stone." That is part of the story worth focusing on, but it is not the end of the story. Jesus also tells her to, "Go and sin no more." Part of repentance is turning away from the behaviors and patterns that have led us to our sin. God will forgive us regardless, but He knows that it is for OUR GOOD to not only confess and seek forgiveness, but also to see a new way of living.
Stay tuned for part three . . . restoration.