At Christmastime every man, woman, and child is thinking about gifts. My kids are pretty good children. They earn good grades, and they generally do what we ask of them. For the most part, they have servant hearts. I know there are some things that they want; and if I can give them a couple of things they enjoy, it makes me happy. Matthew 7:11 says, “If you, then, though you are sinful, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” You see, God wants to give us good things. The problem is that our idea of what is good doesn’t necessarily match God’s understanding of what is good.
Growing up in a family of four children, I really didn’t have grandiose expectations of Christmas; because I knew my mother and father couldn’t afford expensive things. I knew that if I was going to get expensive things, I would need to pay for them myself. I received my favorite gift as a child when I was ten years old. My parents had me open the two or three gifts that were under the tree for me, which amounted to socks and underwear. I took my gifts to my room thinking, “Why did my brothers and my sister get so many things and I got only the necessities?” After placing my gifts in my room, my dad asked me to take out the garbage. When I opened up the back door, there sat a brand new 10-speed bicycle. It was freezing cold outside and quite icy, but I bundled up and took it for a spin anyway.
Like many kids this Christmas, I’ve been thinking about gifts. I’ve been thinking about what gifts God wants to give to us. Many people refer to Jesus as the greatest gift that has ever been given. We really need to unpack this idea for it to make perfect sense. For me, it is God’s capacity to forgive that is the greatest gift expressed in Jesus. Forgiveness is the ability to look past an offense. Forgiveness is a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or a group who has harmed you. Forgiveness is a decision that is made regardless of whether the person or group actually deserves to be forgiven.
Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” God’s forgiveness is not based on our worthiness but on God’s choice. God chose to offer us the gift of forgiveness so we would know of His love for us. By this act we learn how we are to deal with the wrong choices of others. We don’t need to wait until someone cleans up their act in order to forgive them of the wrong they’ve done to us. Forgiveness is not offered based upon merit, but upon the gracious choice of the individual to no longer hold onto to feelings of hurt, frustration, and anxiety that are the result of someone’s actions.
Colossians 3:13 says, “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” Our forgiveness of others and ourselves is to be our witness of how we see God’s forgiveness expressed to us. I’m afraid that many of us either don’t fully understand the lengths God went to in order to forgive us, or we are resistant to extend this graciousness onto those around us. God has asked us to forgive because literally it is what is best for our body, mind, and spirit.
Forgiveness brings the forgiver peace of mind and frees him or her from corrosive anger. Forgiveness involves letting go of negative feelings. Forgiveness empowers you to recognize pain that you have suffered without letting that pain define you. Forgiveness enables you to heal and move on, while also allowing the offending party to heal and move on as well. Research suggests that forgiveness makes us happier. It’s obvious that when we let go of feelings of anger, frustration, and irritation that we will be happier.
Some of the greatest threats to our mental health are unresolved relational difficulties with those to whom we should feel close. Therefore, those that forgive others will see great improvements in depression and anxiety. Holding grudges and dwelling on them causes our blood pressure and heart rate to spike, which in turn causes damage to our body. When we forgive, our stress levels drop and our blood pressure and heart rate return to normal levels.
Human relationships will always leave us hungering for more. Every human relationship is destined for conflict, because all human beings have sin in their lives. People who hold on to past hurts are less likely to cooperate with others and are likely to have trust and commitment issues, which leads to other relationship breakdowns. Forgiveness repairs our relationships and sets a standard for future conflicts. One long-term study involving newlyweds found that participants forgiving their spouses formed more satisfying relationships across the board.
An understanding of how God has forgiven us in Jesus Christ can literally change the way we live and relate to those around us. People who forgive are seen as more kind and connected in the relationships they maintain. When we do this out of an understanding of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ, we become the witnesses God wants us to become.
Forgiveness begins with an understanding that God has released all of the debts our sinfulness has incurred. God has done so not because we did anything to satisfy them, but because of God’s sovereign choice. God chooses to be a gracious forgiving God, because that’s who God is. In turn, God wants us to let go of the inward anxiety caused by our past sins and to learn to let go and forgive ourselves. Psalm 103:12 says, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has God removed our transgressions from us.” If God removes our sin so far that it literally cannot be found, then who are we to keep digging it up in the recesses of our minds?
Forgiveness is a behavior that we learn improve over time. We choose to be more forgiving and to go against the accepted “norm” behaviors of the world around us. As we begin to forgive ourselves and those closest to us, it becomes easier to forgive others because it becomes part of our character. Forgiveness literally becomes a part of who we are, and this is our witness to nonbelievers about the power of Christ that can change the world. Forgiveness is the gift we can receive that we can also give!