The Justice of Forgiveness
The world is out for revenge. These days, every major Hollywood star has their own revenge movie, or is about to release one (Denzel Washington, Keanu Reeves, Sylvester Stallone, Liam Neeson, Nicolas Cage, etc)
All these Hollywood heroes are “out for justice.” They’re going to pay the bad guys back for their sins. But, is this really the ‘just’ thing to do? Can we find justice through revenge, or do we find it in forgiveness?
Forgiveness = Weakness?
Forgiveness often seems unfair. It looks like weakness and it feels like defeat.
We want to see justice served, yet Jesus commands us to forgive (Mk. 11:25). We want to be victorious, but Jesus tells us to “turn the other cheek” (Matt. 5:38-40). This raises many questions about justice, like:
- Who is going to punish the bad guys?
- Are we supposed to let the bad guys off the hook?
- Do we let people walk all over us?
- How is unconditional forgiveness fair?
Let’s look at three answers that the Gospel can offer to these questions about the justice of forgiveness.
Who Deserves To Be Punished?
Answer #1 – Everyone is a bad guy (sinner). We all commit the same sins and are equally guilty before God. We all deserve punishment for our sins.
According to the Gospel, we all have done horrible things (Rm. 3:10-18). We desperately need forgiveness. The Bible repeatedly pictures the amount of forgiveness we need as an insurmountable debt. (reference) Our evil deeds are a moral debt that we can never pay back (Matt. 18:21-25).
But, it gets worse . . .
Because we are all sinners we have no right to pass judgement on others (Rm 2:1-4). The evil we complain about others doing is the very evil that we ourselves do. (v. 1) We are no different in God’s eyes. Our crimes require a punishment of death. (Romans 6:23). We all deserve death row (Romans 5:12-14).
Out For Blood
The second that his family member or loved one is murdered the Hollywood hero leaps into action. The good guy decides that he must now avenge his loved one. He doesn’t really want to kill anybody, but in order to for justice to be served, he is now out for blood.
We eat these stories up because deep down we know that bad deeds deserve to be punished. Nobody has to convince us that the good guy deserves justice for the death of his loved one.
But, Jesus turned this ‘eye for an eye’ ethic upside down on the cross.
Answer #2 – Jesus came and suffered the punishment that we, the bad guys, deserve. He paid the death penalty we deserved.
The only innocent person that we have wronged is Jesus. In the Hollywood movie of life, we are the bad guys in the story and God is the good guy. When we sin, we sin against the character of God. We wrong God Himself.
This is why the Gospel is so radical. We sinned against God, who did nothing to deserve it, and yet . . . instead of seeking revenge, the Father sent His only Son to be punished for our evil deeds.
Jesus didn’t come like Liam Neeson in Taken, seeking revenge. Instead of punishing us (the criminals) Jesus, the Righteous Hero, took our punishment. Because of this, the one who unjustly paid our penalty can now justly pardon us. He has served the sentence for our crimes so we don’t have to.
Justice has been served by Jesus through His sacrificial death on the cross.
BUT! Who will punish the bad guys?
(I’ll give you a hint . . . it’s not Ryan Gosling)
Answer #3 – At the end of time, the only Righteous Judge (Jesus) will return and punish everyone who has refused His free gift of forgiveness. All bad guys will pay the price for their crimes, if they haven’t accepted Jesus’ payment.
Even in Hollywood action movies the bad guy gets punished at the end. In the good movies the criminal doesn’t get away with it. So too, at the end of time, all the bad guys will be punished. Nobody will get away it. Nobody.
No Right To Avenge
Do you see now why revenge and vengeance is unjust, in light of the Cross?
Because, Jesus has offered unconditional forgiveness to everybody who wronged Him, we too must offer forgiveness unconditionally to everybody who wrongs us.
The person who hurt you is somebody for whom Jesus died. You want them to pay! Yet Jesus has already offered the payment for their crime! They (and you) have a choice. They can either accept Jesus’ payment or they can refuse it. If they refuse to accept His payment, then they will pay the price for their crimes.
The Gospel forces us to choose between our personal justice or God’s justice. Either the bad guys answer to us or they answer to God. Therefore, we have no right to seek vengeance when people wrong us. Vengeance doesn’t belong to us, it belongs to God.
“Friends, do not avenge yourselves; instead, leave room for His wrath. For it is written: Vengeance belongs to Me; I will repay, says the Lord.” – Romans 12:19
The vengeance that we seek has already been satisfied by Jesus. So Paul writes;
“Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive. – Colossians 3:13b
What If They Refuse to Apologize?
But what if the person has not asked for forgiveness? What if they won’t admit that they’ve done anything wrong? We do what Jesus did. Romans 5:8 says,
“… God proved His love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us!”
We don’t get to wait for them to apologize. We must forgive like Christ forgave us. Even before they repent, like Christ did for us, we must offer them forgiveness. That person must choose (just like us) whether they will accept the free gift of forgiveness, acknowledge their sin, and ask for forgiveness.
We can do this because Christ has done it already for us. We have no right to withhold forgiveness, because we have been freely forgiven. We can rest, knowing that their deeds will not go unpunished. They will pay in full; either through Christ’s blood or through their own.
Because of this . . . the only just thing to do is to forgive people.
What If We Refuse?
Forgiveness is so important that if we refuse to forgive someone, Jesus says . . .
“If you don’t forgive people, your Father will not forgive your wrongdoing.” – Matthew 6:14-15
What? Can we lose our salvation if we refuse to forgive somebody? What does this mean? How is our forgiveness toward others tied to the Father’s forgiveness toward us?
Join us tomorrow as we continue our series and address the question of, “What happens when we refuse to forgive?”