2 Corinthians 7:9-10. As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. 10 For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.
2 Corinthians 2:7-8. so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. 8 So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him.
Something happened in Corinth that required repentance and forgiveness. Paul’s ministry there faced intense opposition, and he called on the church to deal with the leader of this opposition, which they did (2:5-11). But before they did, Paul had written a “severe letter” to the church threatening to dissolve his relationship with them. What we see in 2 Corinthians 7 is that the letter worked. The church repented. Paul forgave. The church forgave the one who opposed Paul. The gospel worked!
Like the Corinthians, we have a very hard time repenting and forgiving, don’t we? The roots of self-justification run so deep in our hearts. Admitting wrong is seen as weakness. And so is forgiving wrong. We fear looking like a hypocrite or a failure. But our union with Christ is what actually empowers us to repent and forgive. To admit failure. To take responsibility. To absorb pain. To restore someone. Repentance and forgiveness are possible because there is good news, and to experience restoration is to experience that good news.
You may remember Jesus’ disciples asked the question about forgiving. “How many times must we forgive?” Jesus’ answer was lunacy. 490. Or forever.
You see, for those who are in Christ, forgiveness is not something that we muster up. It is not a work of righteousness. It is a state of being. We live in grace. The Spirit of Christ has produced kindness and compassion in us. We are perpetually in a state of forgiveness. Even before there has been repentance, there can be forgiveness. This is what your union with Christ empowers. This is the nature of God and his Son.
Romans 2:4. Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?
Luke 23:34. And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
Forgiveness is not an overlooking of the offense. It is not “forgiving and forgetting.” It is not a state of denial. Forgiveness includes calling evil, evil. But the grace of God that indwells us through the life of Christ allows us to absorb the evil that has been done to us, and use it to produce in us a greater glory. A reconciliation.
Forgiving can feel like you are simply choosing to live with your loss. It can feel like defeat. And in a sense it is. It is a denial of the self that makes room for the grace of God to do its work in you. Grace and forgiveness will crush your self-justification and your natural self-protection. How? Because grace is unconditional forgiveness. And unconditional forgiveness allows you to be ok with never receiving anything in return. No reciprocation. No amends. How is this possible? Because in Christ there actually is no loss. Whatever you have lost through the offense has and will be restored to you in Christ, in eternity. Now forgiveness is an act of faith, not guilt (“I should forgive because Jesus forgave me”).
Some see forgiveness in contrast with justice. But without forgiveness there is no justice, no righteousness. The goal of God’s justice is always restorative. To restore the individual and the community. Forgiveness allows restorative justice to occur. Forgiveness allows the offender to be brought back into the community. Without forgiveness their is only retribution or isolation. Not healing.
But what if there is no repentance? What if the offenses continue? Can there be forgiveness without restoration? Yes. Paul has modeled this for us in Corinth. He had always forgiven the church. And yet he was prepared to break the relationship with the church had they not repented. This requires faith. Faith that allows God to deal with hearts without our own vengeance getting in the way.
Yes, forgiveness is risky. It takes courage. The battle is for hearts and souls. Even the heart and soul of your offender. The battle is for your own heart and soul. Freedom is found in being forgiven and forgiving. Forgiving from a position of grace – before repentance has happened and even if it never happens.
“To live is Christ” unites you to the heart of Christ and his forgiveness. It means your heart is full so that no one can rob you of your reality in him. This is the power behind real forgiveness.
How do you see forgiveness? Have you struggled to forgive someone? To restore them? How can your union with Christ empower you to forgive from grace and faith?
Tomorrow: Restoration Part 2: Real Repentance