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Biblical, battle-tested, real-life help for "living by faith in the Son of God" (Galatians 2:20). — Steve Fuller

How Jesus Enables Us To Forgive

Fired By A Real Estate Client

At the beginning of our church plant I worked in real estate.  One client used a lot of my time but then fired me to get a better deal with another agent.  This ended up costing me time, money, and reputation among other real estate agents, and I was angry and bitter.  No way was I going to forgive.

But when Peter asks how many times he should forgive, Jesus’ answer is “seventy times seven” — 490 times (Matt 18:22).  Which means we should forgive and never stop forgiving.

But that sounded impossible.  Because forgiveness would mean –

  • letting go of the harm my ex-client caused me
  • no longer desiring her harm
  • only desiring her good

But my heart was miles from that.  So how could I forgive?

Jesus Tells Us

In Matthew 18:21-35 Jesus describes a servant who is angry because he is owed 100 denarii, which is 100 days wages, according to D. A. Carson’s “Matthew” commentary.  Imagine someone owing you $20,000 and not paying you back.  That would hurt.

But this same servant owes his master ten thousand talents — over a billion dollars, according to Carson.  So, because he can’t pay it back, he’s going to be sold into slavery along with his wife and children.  But he pleads with his master to give him time to repay, and his master does the unthinkable and forgives the billion dollar debt.

Imagine.  At one moment you owe a billion dollars, so you and your family will be sold into the horrors of slavery.  But the next moment you owe nothing and you and your family are saved.

But then what does this slave do?  He finds the slave who owes him 100 denarii and threatens to throw him in prison if he doesn’t pay up.  When the king hears what this slave did, he throws him in prison until he pays back the billion dollars.  And Jesus concludes: “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from the heart” (v.35).

How Can We Forgive?

The first slave was out $20,000.  That’s a lot of money.  And yet the first slave should have forgiven the second slave, because of the billion dollar gift the first slave received from the king.

This parable teaches how Jesus enables us to forgive.  When I am angry with someone it’s because they have caused me loss.  This sense of loss hurts, and makes me want to even the scales by harming them.

Since the anger is caused by my loss, the only way to get rid of the anger is to ease the pain of the loss with a huge gain.

Imagine that after my real estate client fired me, I won a billion dollars in the lottery.  Would I still be angry with her?  Not at all.  Because my joy in the billion dollars would more than make up for the loss she caused me.

And Jesus says I have received a billion dollar gain — in Him.  The forgiveness of my sins, being adopted as God’s son, and having God’s heart-satisfying presence forever – this is the billion dollar gain which more than makes up for the losses my ex-client cost me.

So what enables us to forgive is seeing that the billion dollar gain we have in Christ more than makes up for the losses others have cost me.

Why Am I Still Angry?

But if that’s true, then why am I still angry?  It’s because at that moment I’m not seeing what I have in Christ as a billion-dollar gain.  All I’m seeing is the loss of time, reputation, and money my ex-client cost me.  My anger and pride has blinded me to what I have in Christ.

So the only way I can forgive is to have the Holy Spirit change my heart so I once again see the billion-dollar gain I have in Christ.  That would so make up for my loss that I would be able to forgive.

So here are the steps which God used to change my heart –

I Turned to Trust Christ

I did not try to change my heart first.  Instead I turned to Him just as I was — bitter and angry — saying “God, be merciful to me, a sinner” (Luke 18:13-14).

I Confessed My Sin

My unforgiveness was sin, because I had let my ex-client’s actions blind me to all I had in Christ.

So I confessed my blindness.  I repented of how I was not seeing Christ as the billion-dollar treasure He is.  I asked Him to forgive me.  I thanked Him for His death which paid for my guilt, and His perfect life which covered all my sin.

I Prayed for the Spirit’s Heart-Changing Work

Apart from the Spirit’s supernatural work, my anger would keep blinding me to all I had in Christ.  So I asked him to enlighten the eyes of my heart so I could see and feel all that I had in Christ (Eph 1:18).

I Set My Heart on God’s Word

So I set my heart on verses describing Jesus Christ, and asked God to help me to see and feel the massive gains of –

  • knowing a God who is fulness of joy forever (Psa 16:11)
  • forgiveness of all my sins past, present, and future (Rom 4:6-7)
  • a Savior who satisfies every heart thirst in Himself (John 6:35)
  • an eternity beholding God’s glory (Rev 21:21-22)

I Continued Until My Heart Changed

I kept praying over those verses until I slowly felt my heart change.  My sense of Christ’s worth grew.  My feelings of loss were comforted, and then overshadowed, by the gains I had in Christ.

My heart went from feeling empty, to feeling full, overflowingly full — in Christ.

And when my heart was full of Christ, I saw that my anger had gone.  I no longer desired revenge.  I actually felt compassion for her.

Jesus had enabled me to forgive.

What this taught me

When I am angry at someone, it’s because I am not seeing Christ as  a billion-dollar gain.  So forgiveness depends on fighting the fight of faith until the Holy Spirit changes my heart — and I once again feel the infinite gain I have in Christ — and let that gain swallow up whatever losses I have received.

I do not say that lightly.

Some of you reading this have experienced losses that make mine look tiny.  But what Jesus teaches in Matthew 18 is true: the gain you have in Him is infinitely greater than anything anyone has taken from you.

You may not feel that now.  But He can change your heart so you will.

So turn to Christ as you are, confess your unforgiveness, cry out for the work of the Spirit, and set your heart on the truth of who Christ is.  He will change your heart so you once again see and feel the infinite gain you have in Him.

And you will be able to forgive.

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19 Responses

  1. jb says:

    I like this, but when wronged, it is also Biblical to speak up about the wrong, confronting the person and depending on their response, you may need to protect yourself from future harm…

    These two actions also lead to forgiveness, as you are using anger’s energy constructively …. to rebuke a person in need of rebuke and possibly stay away from dangerous people who may hurt you more seriously in the future… this is also in Mathew 18… this is need in combination with your very helpful advice…

    • Steve Fuller says:

      Hi JB,

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts.

      You are right about speaking to others, and the need to protect yourself from future harm. That’s an important, and wise, addition to what I wrote above.

      My focus was just on how to change my heart so I am no longer vengeful, bitter, and seeking their harm — and instead am feeling peaceful, loving, and concern for them.

      One that’s happening I’ll be in a better place to prayerfully decide if I should talk with them or not, and what the substance of that conversation should be.

      So — thank you for your wise addition to what I wrote above.

      Steve

  2. jb says:

    Also, I can be very angry at someone without wishing them harm… but only wishing that they were aware of the harm that they caused by me telling them, and wishing (if needed) to keep a safe distance from them in the future.

    • Steve Fuller says:

      You are right — there’s nothing wrong with wishing they were aware of the harm, and (if necessary) wishing to keep a safe distance from them.

      But are you sure that “anger” is the right word to describe those desires? When I think of anger I think either of righteous indignation (which is a good thing), and a passion to harm them (which is not).

      But again — thanks for sharing your helpful thoughts!

  3. mr says:

    This blog and the responses are very helpful. I am dealing with a very unforgiving spirit and want to be free of it and the anger. I have been telling myself that I need a miracle, something to change my heart. Coming across this blog, I hope will move me in the right direction. Thank you.

    • Steve Fuller says:

      Thank you for sharing your heart, mr. There’s no easy or quick or 1,2,3 step answers.

      But through turning to Jesus, and fighting the fight of faith to trust Him, we will — in time — experience the Holy Spirit miraculously changing our hearts.

      What helps me is to come to Jesus needy and poor, and to set my heart on all that I have in Him. When I pray over the riches of His forgiveness, His love, His presence, His peace, His promises — I see that I have so much in Him that my earthly losses are comforted. May you experience that as you seek Him.

      I am praying for the miracle you long for — please keep me posted.

      Steve

  4. Bill W. says:

    For me it’s always a balance between Matt 5:39 and John 18:22-23. I don’t think God calls us to be a doormat. When Jesus was struck, he did two things; He pointed out the injustice that occurred and He didn’t take personal revenge (although we know he could have unleashed angels on that man). The two verses above address our sinful desire to retaliate and but show us that we can point out injustices and even angrily address them (as Jesus seems to do in many other verses as well) without sin.

    Wasting someone’s time and then dragging their reputation down is wrong. But as you pointed out, harboring bitterness is equally as wrong. I might argue that confronting the first wrong (lovingly) might have solved both. Our California culture is so live and let live, we sometimes lose the opportunity to take the stand for what’s right. Most people have a conscience about things (the law written on their hearts) and when you point out the wrong, they get it. These things can become a powerful opportunity to show grace to those who despitefully use us – especially if it’s coupled with love and forgiveness.

    • Steve Fuller says:

      It’s always a joy to hear from you, Bill. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts.

      I agree that there’s many times when we need to lovingly but firmly confront the wrong. I took that step with my real estate client.

      But that showed me how it’s crucial to first bring my loss to the Father and have Him heal and fill and satisfy me in Himself. Unfortunately, I went to my client hoping to gain some heart-satisfaction from this person’s remorse over the wrong they had done. But they showed no remorse. They saw nothing wrong. And as a result, I said some things I should not have said — and then left.

      So my approach is to first bring my sense of sense of loss and injustice to the Father, and so see the gain I have in Christ that my heart is healed — I’m free from bitterness — I’m feeling peace. Then I can decide whether or not to confront the person — not because I need to get anything off my chest — but to help them.

      Does the order of that sound right to you?

      Much love to you, brother,

      Steve

      • Anonymous says:

        Hi Steve,

        I experienced your exact description of “this order of things” just this past week. It’s amazing how healing it is for all involved! 🙂 It’s also amazing how fast(many/most? times, sometimes longer) the Holy Spirit can work to heal our hearts to help us heal the situation with others. 🙂 Wow.
        But now I’m struggling again with my husband today. 🙁 It’s difficult. In the prior situation with the store clerks I “wanted” to let go of it and the Holy Spirit helped me. But today with my husband, it hurts deeply and the words really affect me(long story) negatively. I think you said in this or your original description about not wanting to let go? I’m in that mode right now. My indignant hurt anger is “gone”, but just the hurt is left. Why is it so hard to let go of that?
        Thank you Steve! What I read here is wonderful and soooo helpful! 🙂
        Mbc

      • Mbc says:

        Hi Steve,
        This is a p.s. to my last comment(if it went thru?? I’m not good with leaving comments on websites). My 2nd predicament on anger/hurt with my husband has been resolved already, because someone in extended family was griping at him and that changed my heart in support of my husbands hurt feelings(meaning trying to help him with that situation). Oh my gosh the “merry-go-rounds” we end up on. Oh boy. Oh if only we could stop it before it happens.
        Thanks!

  5. Ash says:

    “When I am angry at someone, it’s because I believe that what they cost me is more satisfying than Jesus Christ.”

    This sentence really sticks with me. I am struggling to forgive someone right now, and I can see that my heart does not truly believe that Jesus is the all-satisfying treasure of my soul. Thank you for this wonderful post Steve!

    • Steve Fuller says:

      You are so welcome, Ash. And I’ll pray that God will give you such heart-satisfaction in Jesus Christ that your anger disappears.

      What a glorious Savior!

      Steve

  6. Mary-je says:

    This was really helpful. Meditating on the enormity of my debt of sin (the usual slant on this parable)doesn’t help me much. How do you find joy & freedom in the presence of someone who wants you to think about your sinfulness all the time? Looking it from the positive side, of all we gain undeservedly in Christ, is much more motivating. Love your lottery illustration. 🙂

  7. learning every day says:

    Thank you for this. I really needed it today. I needed to be reminded of forgiving from all your posts on the subject today. And I really needed God’s company today too.

    It’s been very heavy on my heart this week between my life and my sisters’, the final kick being this morning when my father went out to his car to discover someone’s need to pop one of his windows.

    Today I sat asking God, why don’t you just leave us here to rot? We don’t deserve your attention. All this anger and hate and revenge and you still bother with us?

    His reply? Some inspired thoughts.

    If your heart was a plant, anger would wither it, blackened it to its roots and render it useless. It would never absorb the water I pour into it, it would never grow or bloom or bare fruit. It would be dead and sorry looking. Revenge works like that. You feel as though its giving you strength and power but its actually taken it away. Your heart has withered. It never gives back.
    But when anger’s voice is silenced, it never enters the soil, the roots remain healthy and the little plant can grow and bloom and give back fruit, the compassion I long to see in the world.
    It only takes one person to start an argument, to break a window or lift a gun and start a war, just as it only takes one person to offer a helping hand, allow the use of their garage and make you laugh when your sad.
    And just as Christ was just one, that believed this garden of little struggling plants was worth his life, in order to protect and allow them to blossom. A dying plant can be uprooted and tossed away or given a little faith, time and nurturing.

    Our Father in Heaven is a gentle gardener. He planted every heart into the ground and believes in it. All of them. Even the ones that others sneer at, the blackest ones that nobody wants to see anymore, like I did. They’re the ones that need his attention the most and I’m sorry for saying to Him what I did. He would never throw me away and I’m no more precious to him than the people causing my pain.

    I know I’m in a good place to heal and move on so it leaves room for a prayer for those that aren’t.
    Compassion starts with one little plant after all.

    • Steve Fuller says:

      Thanks for your encouraging words, Learning Every Day.

      You are so right that anger keeps our hearts from receiving God’s grace.

      And I have found again and again that as I turn to Him, admit my anger, see what losses I am mourning, and then ask Him to show me all the gains I have in Him — He helps me. Frees me. Fills me.

      What a glorious Savior!

      Steve Fuller

  8. sunlove says:

    What a blessing this article has been for me as I face a very difficult battle with unforgiveness.

    I was been deeply hurt by a loved one I trusted to protect and keep my best interest. We have come to some surface resolutions over the last 2 years but GOD has gently encouraged me to face the reality that unforgiveness remains in my heart.

    Reading the article I imagined just how ridiculous it would appear to watch a man born of privilege and wealth to caring and loving parents ,cast it all away to seek revenge on a fellow youth who betrayed, embarrassed or cross him in some way.

    Well that is what I am. A child of God. The most loving, supportive and privileged parent of all. No temporary distraction should ever let me forget that. For any and every moment I did I ask for forgiveness which I know my Father has already provided because he loves me!

    • Steve Fuller says:

      Praise God for his grace which is enabling you to face the reality that you have remaining unforgiveness in your heart.

      I pray that as God pours his love into your heart that unforgiveness would be broken, and you would be filled afresh.

      In Christ,

      Steve Fuller

  9. Jannifer says:

    My daughter-in-law has always hated me and my husband ever since we took her in our home and harbours bitterness and unforgiveness towards us. She is supposedly a christian, but refuses to reconcile with us or forgive us. We did not do things wrong to her, only did not giver her everything she felt she was entitled to. She never had a family, was put in the foster care system at the age of 10 and we gave her so much and supported her, yet she wanted our son to only have a relationship with her. I became resentful over her severely entitled and ungrateful attitudes and have had to work to rid myself of the resentment. But I wonder how to protect ourselves from her outright hatred and bitterness she sends our way.

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