Getting Past the Past: Canceling Debts

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It’s apparent that yesterday’s blog hit a nerve with many people. This shouldn’t surprise me as it’s obvious with the broken families and relationships, broken churches and nations…we live in a broken world. While Jesus was meeting with his closest friends and students, Peter asked Him, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?” “No!” Jesus replied, “seventy times seven!” (Matthew 18:21-35).

Peter’s question was a little exaggerated because in those times, when a person was acquitted, the judge would say 3 times that the accused is pardoned. Seven was more than the custom, and symbolic of perfection as well, but still limited. Jesus over exaggerates with 70×7 implying that our willingness to forgive others must be endless, as much as is needed.

We are familiar with the words “forgive us our sins (debts), just as we have forgiven those who have sinned against us (debtors)” as part of the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:12). While God’s love for us is unconditional, His forgiveness has stipulations and prerequisites: that we forgive those who offend us. This is a difficult process because we often fail to comprehend the depth of God’s forgiveness for us.

God’s grace is forgiving
Later in Matthew 18, there is the parable of a king who has entrusted his daily affairs to his servants. When it came time for an audit, there was a servant who was found to owe 10,000 talents (equivalent to millions of dollars). This was another exaggeration because the total taxes for that region was around $800,000. The servant would NEVER have been able to pay it back. Fearing the consequences, he begs for his life and the king pardons him.

How amazing it is when we can experience freedom from the consequences of our sins. We’re careless with sin because we can’t fully comprehend it’s destructive and caustic nature; how ugly and detestable it is. We owe God a tremendous debt that we are completely unable to pay. But in His infinite mercy, God chooses to wipe the slate clean and give us a chance to start over. He is the God of all patience as He gives us time to repent…and once we do, He cleans us up and helps us to live right. Thank you, Lord, for rescuing me…when I didn’t deserve it.

Getting back to the servant, he totally misunderstood his king’s offer sayng, “Be patient with me and I will pay back everything” (v. 29). The Greek word for patient is makrothumason which is an extension or delay. College students are very familiar with this term. Upon their graduation, their loan repayment is usually deferred for at least 6, maybe 12 months until employment is secured and they’re able to repay their debt.  They are given more time but still have to pay.

UNDERSTAND THIS: the king didn’t DELAY the servant’s debt…he CANCELLED it! Wiped it out. Made it disappear forever…as if there never was a debt. We are so much like the servant. We think that by being good, doing good works, reading the Bible and praying more, and giving more money…that we can be more be more acceptable and worthy in God’s eyes. There is absolutely nothing we can do to make ourselves more or less acceptable to God. Jesus took care of that for us. God’s infinite Grace and Mercy tore up our debt and we can have a new beginning. Grace is God’s undeserved favor and mercy and can’t be repaid. We have every reason to rejoice because our debt has been forgiven.

God’s grace is for giving
The servant failed to understand his king’s generosity. Instead of being grateful, he set out to try and raise the money so he could make the necessary repayment. In desperation, he checks his ledger and finds a co-worker who owed him $20. The accused begged for mercy but “he refused and had the servant thrown in prison” (v. 30).

When we fail to receive God’s forgiveness, we can’t forgive others and it becomes a vicious cycle. We battle guilt and self-condemnation and are totally void of God’s peace. Unfortunately, we start to take out our failures on other people in order to deflect blame and responsibility from ourselves. The unaccepted become unaccepting, the ungraced become ungracious, and the unforgiven become unforgiving.

Thinking we still owe God, we think people still owe us and this leads to issues and baggage we carry throughout our lives. “I can’t love again. I can’t trust again. They’ll hurt me like they did before. It’s their fault my life is so screwed up.” Relationship after relationship, hurt after hurt, marriage after marriage, and so on, and so on, and so on.

How the past poisons our present and destroys our future
The king found out about this great injustice and “in anger…turned him over to the jailers to be tortured until he should pay back all he owed.” Other words for jailers are “torturers” or “tormentors.” Translated to us, we are imprisoned by guilt, bitterness, shame, condemnation, hurt, striving, resentment, not measuring up, and self-esteem issues. This will eat away at us and destroy our joy making us unloving and unloved.

It’s been said that those who are chronically ill physically, 75-80% ailments can be traced to bitterness. Spiritually, we are opening up the door to demonic activity. If I stood in front of my church and said I struggle with drugs, alcohol, or some other type of addiction, I know people would be quick to pray for me and support me. But if I confessed bitterness, people would shrug their shoulders and be indifferent thinking “big deal, we all do.” We DO NOT realize the gravity of unforgiveness. When we say “I won’t forgive this person” we’re saying “God don’t forgive me.” We place ourselves under judgment and condemnation once again. We negate the very power of the Cross and Christ’s amazing sacrifice on our behalf.

Another important reminder: time heals nothing. Forgiveness is a decision not a feeling. It may take time to forget, or let go of the pain, but we must forgive NOW! Oh, we have the excuses: “you don’t know what I’ve been through, you don’t realize what’s been done to me.”  Yea, and you don’t know what I’ve been through. That doesn’t matter…Jesus knows what’s been said, what’s been done, when we hurt, when we cried, and what we suffered. So “let us cling to Him and never stop trusting Him. This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same temptations we do, yet he did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive His mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it” (Hebrews. 4:14b-16). Not only does God know, He cares and understands!

Here’s the terrible part. The vast majority of people who hurt us are those we care about or love deeply, otherwise it wouldn’t matter. Situations can be very complicated and seem impossible to rectify. But we are only accountable for what we can control. Our response, not their reaction. It’s up to us to keep your own hearts right and to let go of offenses. This is the only way to be free and take back wounded areas of our own hearts. Let us be quick to apologize and abundant in mercy. Reminder: sins against us don’t even compare to how we’ve grieved God but He chose to forgive us.  Go now and do the same.

Please apply this

  • Right now, think of at least one person who has hurt you and write their name down.
  • Immediately pray for them. Pray for God’s grace to forgive them and that God would bless them. Heap God’s blessings on that person.
  • If they’re close proximity-wise, go have a conversation with them. If they’re far, call them if at all possible. Least recommended is a letter or email but if that’s all you’ve got, do it. Definitely don’t write on their Facebook wall!! ☺
  • Set a deadline to do this. Ask someone to pray with you for accountability.
  • Repeat if necessary.  Move on to the next person if there’s more.
  • Live free!
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