March 3, 2020
Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. James 5:16
Then Peter came and said to him, ‘Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but I tell you, seventy-seven times.’ Matthew 18:21-22
Confession and Forgiveness have been considered virtues of the Christian faith since the beginning. You can see above that both Jesus and the early church community thought they were very important. Confession and Forgiveness are important for a reason: they help to restore relationships with God and others. Confession and Forgiveness are both heart issues that, if left unchecked, can alienate us from God and others. It is not questionable that we are a society of people suffering from guilt, shame, and certainly anger. While those are all complex emotions, I believe by adopting confession and forgiveness in our lives can certainly alleviate some of guilt, shame, and anger.
Confession, as most of you know, is the admitting of a wrong doing. In church circles we tend to think of this wrong doing as sin. Confession takes self-awareness as well as a heart of humility. I mean, who wants to admit they are wrong? We as a society love to be right and will fight to defend our actions. However, if we allow ourselves to feel the guilt of our actions, confession to God and to those whom we have wronged is the right step toward restoring a relationship. 1 John says that when we confess our sins to God, God forgives us! Not only that, but God cleanses us. The book of James takes it further, saying that if we confess our sins to others, we will be healed. I think James is really onto something. Do we not all want healing from our guilty conscience? I know I do. The scriptures are quite concise on this point though. Confession of sin brings about forgiveness and cleansing from God and healing from our brothers and sisters in Christ. What might be weighing you down that you may need to confess both to God and a trusted brother or sister in Christ?
On the other side, how badly does it sting when someone hurts us? Maybe someone has sinned against you lately and you are feeling hurt, frustrated, bitter, or even just downright angry! Those are all normal emotions, of course. None of us like being hurt or betrayed. If you are like me, your immediate reaction is that the offender needs to pay! They owe me. They owe me an apology. They owe me that money. They owe me my job. They owe me my marriage, my childhood. They owe me ________. Fill in your own blank here. My question to you is this: How much energy goes into wanting someone to pay you back what you feel they owe you. Can you even get back some of those things? You know you cannot. I know that, too. Yet I can still get stuck in revenge fantasies, wishing someone would acknowledge their part in the conflict. Ultimately I just end up stuck. Yet in Matthew Jesus tells Peter “77 times” (some translations use “70x7”). Either way, Jesus was clear: forgiveness is always the right answer. Why would it not be? We understand God’s grace and mercy towards us, that God gives us exactly what we do not deserve. And part of that is that God forgiveness us of all of our sins. I know it is easy to say all this in a devotion, but when we are consumed with anger against another, forgiveness can be quite the challenge.
I will leave you with a quote from one of my favorites movies on Christianity called “The Shack” (based on the book by the same name). There is a beautiful scene near the end when the main character in the story, McKenzie, is talking with God about a terrible injustice done to him. (I will spare you any details in case you have not seen the movie.) God responds to McKenzie and says, “I’m not asking you to excuse what he did, I’m asking you to trust me to do what’s right and do what’s best. Forgiveness doesn’t establish a relationship; it is just about letting go of its throat. The pain inside is devouring you.” Forgiveness is about letting go of what we perceive others owe us. Forgiveness is a process that can sometimes take time, but when we think about how God has forgiven us, what other choice do we have?
This Lenten season, if there are people in your life who need to be forgiven, pray about it and consider a process of letting go of the pain you have been holding inside. How many times? 70x7.
We thank you this day for your grace, your mercy, and your forgiveness. We certainly do not deserve it, but that is because you are a God of grace. God, we know that we have wronged you and wronged others; help us to see those things and confess what we should confess. God, we also know we have been wronged as well.
Help us to forgive those who have wronged us so we can live into your will for our life. We thank you for your Son Jesus Christ, who took our sins upon himself and conquered death. Amen.
Rev. J. Robert Bannan
About the Contributor:
Robert Bannan is the Associate Pastor for Youth and Campus Ministry at First Presbyterian Church in Spartanburg, SC.