Most of us avoid forgiveness like the plague because we do not want to look at our wounds. Wounds are scary, they are nasty, they are icky, it is why most of us look away when we donate blood. It is way easier to take all of that emotion and channel it into rage at another person.
In a stunning example of forgiveness, the Muslim father of one of two eight-year-old boys killed when a car crashed into a school in Sydney in November 2017 publicly forgave the woman who killed his son. He said, “We have a special message here for the lady that was involved in the accident. We want to sit with her and talk with her and tell her ‘we forgive you’. No retaliation is coming from the family of the boy, they have forgiven”. The boy’s family also disapproved of any harassment of the driver involved in the accident that killed the boys.
This blogpost is a summary of a presentation on Forgiveness by Dr. Xavier Lakshmanan. It’s not an easy topic because we live in a broken guilt-driven community. But it shows the benefits of living a forgiven life – forgiveness is an act of love and strength that leads to wellbeing.
Forgiveness is a readiness to pardon offenses, to overlook personal wrongs against oneself, and to harbor no desire for retaliation. It implies reconciliation, peace, tolerance and considering others.
According to the Bible, forgiveness brings many blessings. It speaks about God’s act of individual and corporate forgiveness. God gives us the opportunity to ask for forgiveness and to forgive others. Groups and communities can also come to forgiveness. The New Testament also puts a very special emphasis on believer’s mutual forgiveness. God forgives us and asks us to forgive others.
The Bible says to believers, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Eph. 4:32NIV). It says:
– God forgives, while believers receive God’s forgiveness. Their guilt is removed and they can live well in this world and in the world to come.
– Believers are commanded to forgive others as God forgave them in Christ Jesus. This is the standard of a forgiven life.
Christian forgiveness is like a coin; it has two sides. One side of the coin is accepting God’s gift of forgiveness. The other side is extending that gift of forgiveness coming from the Lord to others wherever we are. So forgiveness is both a divine gift and a task involving our relationship with others.
Forgiveness is a gift
Forgiveness is a gift from God. The Old Testament uses the following Hebrew words for forgiveness in relation to salvation.
Kapar means “God covering human sins by offering a sacrifice as a substitute for the life of a sinner”. It’s not accepting a sin and saying “that’s alright”, or “let’s forget about it”. It’s an act of God taking everything seriously. Saying sin offends. Sin brings chaos and calamity. Sin has consequences. In the Old Testament, the whole idea of atonement is based on sacrifice; the shedding of blood for the remission of sins. This means that sin is a serious offence. Forgiveness is a serious virtue which God is providing. The greatest example of this is when Jesus died for our sins and we can accept that offer and be free from the guilt and penalty of our sin.
Nasa means “guilt being taken away from the sinner. It’s removal of the burden of guilt when we accept God’s gift. While sala means the “function of forgiveness”.
Maha expresses God “wiping away” sins and kasa conveys the idea of “covering or concealing the person”. When God judges sin, He protects forgiven sinners.
The New Testament uses the following terms of forgiveness.
Apolyo expresses the analogy of sin as debt and it means “God removing the debt and releasing the sinner from it”. It involves sacrifice, payment and freedom. That’s what we see on the cross of Calvary.
Paresis means God “passing over” sin. God doesn’t consider the days of ignorance, but passes over them. When we come to Jesus, His death, covers everything that we have done. While aphesis conveys God “putting away sin completely and unreservedly”. Forgiveness brings us to an unconditional standing with God, including the privileges of God’s kingdom, the privileges of God’s promises, and the privileges of God’s children.
Charizomai expresses “the graciousness of God’s pardon” and God’s “act of blotting out sin” and granting the sinner freedom. God isn’t going to recall our sin; “as far as the east is from the west, so far has He [God] removed our transgressions from us” (Ps. 103:12). Do not live in guilt. If you trust in Jesus Christ, you have peace, reconciliation, and restoration with God. And you can celebrate your life in Christ Jesus. Relax in the presence of God.
So Christian forgiveness is the once-for-all pardon that we receive when we accept God’s promise in Christ Jesus. It’s as simple as that. And it’s also the way to maintain a close living fellowship with our Lord and His people. You forgive yourself and you forgive others and you accept the forgiveness of God. God’s act of forgiveness is a gift of grace that displays God’s love, freedom, deliverance, care, perfection, cleansing and restoration. Forgiveness involves everything that we need to live as children of God.
One of the greatest passages on forgiveness as a gift is, “When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; He has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” (Col. 2:13-15). This is a summary of the salvation experience. As God has taken away our sin and brokenness, we are called to live for His glory. We not only receive God’s forgiveness, but we must give that forgiveness to others. Then our relationships can be heaven-like. An unforgiving spirit is a weakness.
Karl Bath exclaimed, Christians “live by forgiveness” and every Christian should begin a day with a confession: “I believe in the forgiveness of sins”. At death, one has nothing to confess but “God’s gracious act of forgiveness”. Hence a genuine Christian life is lived in full awareness of forgiveness, accepting that God sees me anew and adopts me anew in His light. Bath recognized that believers are also commanded and enabled by God to be merciful to forgive their debtors, to comfort others, and to outshine the light of forgiveness.
Forgiveness is a task
Giving forgiveness is a command that brings to others what believers have received from God. Christian forgiveness is a gift that commands practice. So it is a task that should be a way of life. Forgiveness frees us from bitterness and replaces bitterness with joy. Forgiving someone brings joy. Christians are commanded, called and enabled to enjoy forgiveness and live daily with its benefits.
Jesus taught that forgiveness is a duty of the forgiven. No limit can be set on the extent of forgiveness and it must be granted without reserve. Jesus said, “If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them” (Lk. 17:3-4). It’s hard isn’t it? But it’s more than this.
In another passage “Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times’” (Mt. 18:21-22). Jesus increases it to 77 times a day! That’s a pattern of life.
And Paul wrote, “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Col. 3:13). The standard that we are to forgive others is the forgiveness of the Lord to us. How many times does the Lord forgive us in one hour? That’s how many times we are to forgive our spouse, our brothers, our sisters, our friends, our neighbors, and those we fellowship with in church. Showing forgiveness is like bringing heaven down to earth.
The condition of forgiveness is repentance and confession on behalf of the offender. But Jesus says that if the offender fails to repent, the offended is not released from the task of forgiving. Jesus said, “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart” (Mt. 18:35). Whether someone is repenting or not, we are obliged to forgive them. It’s very difficult.
Jesus said, “if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift” (Mt. 5:23-24). Forgiveness isn’t only when you have done something wrong. It’s also for when someone else has wronged you. That’s what we are commanded to do.
Michael Bird says, “this form of forgiveness does not mean that I do not continue to feel the hurt from someone’s sin. But I forfeit my right to show my hurt at someone’s painful actions”. It’s a choice that we make. At the cross Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Lk. 23:34). That’s love and mercy rather than resentment, anger and a desire for the punishment of His persecuters. Jesus was a model for His followers by willingly forgiving those who persecuted Him.
That’s what Mrs Gladys Staines did after her husband Graham and two sons were burnt to death in India in 1999. She made a choice to forgive them. It’s the choice of the strongest, not the weakest.
Forgiveness is a destiny
Forgiveness is the destiny for human life. The forgiven life that we have been given is going to continue. Believers are going to become like Jesus Christ. The purpose of God’s gift of forgiveness to fallen humans is to create a new being; “to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:24). This is Christ-likeness. So forgiveness has implications for this life and the life to come. God’s work of salvation saves sinners from the guilt, penalty, power and the presence of sin to the presence of God. It starts here and takes us to eternity. It’s the same with forgiveness; the healing begins here and brings restoration and freedom and it takes us to eternity to be like Christ in perfection. Forgiveness is a gift given and a task practiced to bring an amazing outcome of wellbeing and wholeness to human existence. This is the ultimate destination of salvation and God’s gift of forgiveness.
The greatest problem in extending forgiveness today is an unforgiving spirit. This can show in many ways. And it can control us. It’s part of our fallen nature. Jesus said, “if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Mt. 6:14-15). Refusing to forgive doesn’t grant us power. Instead it enslaves us to further sin like bitterness, greed, and discouragement.
Mahatma Ghandi said, “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is an attribute of the strong”. For example, God is all powerful and He is happy to forgive us.
And Frederic Luskin of Stanford University exclaims, the spirit of unforgiving is a spirit of timidity. He argues, why are we afraid to let go of our grievances when forgiving can bring healing and wellbeing? He says, unforgiveness is like being trapped in a jail cell of bitterness, serving time for what someone else committed. Forgiveness is something we do for ourselves as well. We are freeing ourselves of burdens by taking power over situations and managing them well to “become a hero rather than a victim”. Otherwise we will feel unnecessarily victimized. Forgiveness makes us heroes, while unforgiveness makes us victims.
The benefits of forgiveness
Many psychological studies have been done on the benefit of forgiveness of others. Luskin calls forgiveness a “trainable skill of the strong”, not the weak. Moreover, he claims that forgiveness “reduced anger, hurt, depression, and stress while increasing feelings of optimism, hope, compassion, physical vitality, self-sufficiency (power), and confidence”. Forgiveness also improves physical and mental health, reducing hypertension.
The IDEA Fitness Journal stated that “people who are forgiving tend to have not only less stress but also better relationships, fewer general health problems and lower incidences of the most serious illness, including depression, heart disease, stroke and cancer”. So forgiveness is an act of love and strength that leads to wellbeing.
Lisa Firestone concludes, “forgiveness is the final act of love” and “the greatest gift you can give yourself and someone else in psychology today”. Yes, forgiveness is the most beautiful form of divine-human love that reflects a person’s greatness, goodness, inner wellbeing, soundness, confidence, and wholeness.
So extending forgiveness has tremendous benefits to the self. There are benefits in the forgiven life. Forgiveness is worth it. This is where Christianity excels.
Forgiveness is a gift that God freely lavished on us when we were sinners. And forgiveness is a task that God commanded us to practice in our relationships with others. Forgiveness is an act of love and strength that leads to wellbeing. Finally, forgiveness is the believer’s destiny. God wants them to live well here and in eternity in Christ-likeness. They are being transformed every day into Christ-likeness.
If you have forgiveness, give it! If you don’t have it, you can’t give it! But you can seek the gift of forgiveness which is available through Jesus Christ.
However, if this post doesn’t work for you, you can follow the advice of Oscar Wilde, “Always forgive your enemies. Nothing annoys them so much”!
Acknowledgement: This blogpost was sourced from a presentation by Dr. Xavier Lakshmanan on this topic. Dr. Lakshmanan is Head of Theology in the Australian College of Christian Studies.
Posted, August 2019
No matter how interested you are in cricket, it’s Australia’s national game. Indeed, when he was Prime Minister, John Howard, reckoned he had the second most important job in the nation after the Australian cricket captain. If that’s true, then a year ago, in March, we had a crisis of national leadership when our nation’s captain, vice captain and another player were caught tampering with the ball.
One year later, on March 29, 2019, the most severe bans ever handed down by Cricket Australia for on field behavior will come to an end. After a year’s forced absence, former captain, Steve Smith, and former vice captain, David Warner will once more be eligible to play for Australia, New South Wales and their Big Bash teams.
When the ball tampering was discovered the almost universal response from media commentators and the general public was that the punishment needed to be significant. One online poll with over 45,000 responses had 91% saying that Smith should lose the captaincy for good.
All of this shows that most Australians not only don’t believe in winning by any means, but they also do believe in honesty and justice. And they want the consequences of justice applied equally – even if it means losing international competitions because our best players are absent through penalty.
However, if we want justice applied equally to others then we need to be willing to have it applied equally to ourselves as well. And that’s going to be tough. Because if we’re honest we’ll need to admit that we’ve all done things that deserve punishment.
And if we’re brutally honest… we’ll acknowledge that the one person we absolutely must talk to about our wrongdoing is God. After all, He’s our maker. Ultimately, we’re going to have to answer to Him. In the Bible, God makes it clear that, ‘everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard’.
God’s standards are much higher than ours. His standard is perfection. Which means He cannot tolerate evil and will not allow it into heaven with Him.
The good news though, is that if we front up to God now about our failings God is willing to offer an amnesty for the penalty we deserve. Instead of punishing us God promises that our penalty has been dealt with by Jesus at the cross. The Bible puts it this way
“Christ suffered for our sins once for all time. He never sinned, but He died for sinners to bring you safely home to God” (1Peter 3:18).
So, take the amnesty. Pray now.
Bible verse: Romans 3:23, “everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard”.
Prayer: Dear God, thank you for sending Jesus to take my penalty on Himself at the cross. Please help me to live with you as my Lord.
Acknowledgement: This article was sourced from Outreach Media, Sydney, Australia.
Images and text © Outreach Media 2019
Posted, March 2019
Someone asked a question about unconfessed trespasses.
Have you seen a sign on a property saying “No trespassing” or “Trespasses will be prosecuted”? This means that unauthorized people are prohibited from being on the property without the owner’s permission. In this case trespassing is disobeying a prohibition.
The Greek word “paraptoma” (Strongs #3900, which is translated “trespass”, is used in Romans 5:15-20 with regard to “the trespass of the one man” (v.15, 17) and “one trespass” (v.18). It is also described as “the disobedience of the one man” (v.19). Obviously the “one man” was Adam who disobeyed the following command, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die” (Gen. 2:16-17NIV). So disobeying a command is trespassing.
The Bible says that “all wrongdoing is sin” (1 Jn. 5:17). “Wrongdoing” or sin means anything that we think, say or do that the Bible says is wrong.
So trespassing is disobeying a known command, law or rule. Because trespasses are a particular type, kind or subset of sins, all trespasses are sins. So whatever is true for sins as a whole is also true for all trespasses. Therefore the conclusions in my post about unconfessed sins also apply to unconfessed transgressions.
Jesus told His disciples, “If you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Mt. 6:14-15). This refers to parental (conditional or practical) forgiveness that is necessary to maintain fellowship with God the Father. If Christians are unwilling to forgive someone who has wronged them, how can they expect to be in fellowship with their Father who has forgiven all their wrong-doings? Jesus expects His followers to forgive others (Mt. 6:12).
In this case their eternal salvation is not affected because that is based on the judicial (unconditional or positional) forgiveness from the penalty of sin that is obtained by trusting in Christ as their Savior. Before this time we are spiritually dead because of our sins. This means we are unresponsive to God, separated from God and His enemies (Eph. 2:1, 5; 5:10). But after this time our sins and trespasses are forgiven. So judicial forgiveness has eternal consequences.
It is important to distinguish between judicial and parental forgiveness. Because we can’t have fellowship with God as a Father until we become His child, parental forgiveness is impossible without judicial forgiveness. Judicial forgiveness must precede parental forgiveness.
We are to confess to those we have sinned against and to forgive those who confess to us (Lk. 17:3-4; Jas. 5:16). What about those who have not yet confessed to us? In all cases we are to forgive “just as in Christ God forgave you” (Eph. 4:32). This means having a forgiving attitude even if they have not confessed.
How do murder victims’ families ever forgive the murderer? After her husband and two sons were killed in India in 1999, Gladys Stains said, “God enabled me to forgive the killers. Forgiveness allowed the healing to start flowing in my life. Being unwilling to forgive the person who has wronged us in any way, allows bitterness to come into our relationships and we are the ones affected. Forgiveness does not mean that we are free of the consequences of what has happened. Forgiving the murderers of my family has not brought them back, but has given me peace in the midst of sorrow. God gave me the strength to forgive. It was His strength, not mine” (Know your Bible – Celebrate God! Bible Soc. of Australia, 2007).
If forgiving another person takes years, then one’s fellowship with God is broken for those years. This could be caused by bitterness, hate, a victim mentality or vengeance instead of obeying the Biblical command to imitate Christ’s forgiveness. God can give us the power to bear our trials and can provide a way out of them (1 Cor. 10:13).
If a Christian dies with an unresolved trespass this is no longer important because they are forever with the Lord. None of our sins are taken to heaven because “the old (sinful) order of things has passed away” (Rev. 21:4). We are not rejected from heaven for not forgiving someone else.
So unforgiven trespasses are not a barrier to heaven, but they do destroy our relationship with God. It’s our attitude that is important because that is what we are responsible for.
Written, July 2014
I heard a preacher say that grace and mercy are two sides of the same coin. What did he mean? And was he right?
The mercy rule used in sports such as baseball is an act of mercy to cease a game when one team has a huge lead. One of the acts of mercy in the Bible is when an offender or enemy is forgiven or pardoned by withholding punishment.
According to the Bible, because we have all sinned, we deserve to die and face eternal judgment in the lake of fire (Rom. 3:23; 6:23; Rev. 20:12-15). Without God we are spiritually dead and doomed to eternal punishment (Eph. 2:1-3). But that is not the end of the story. God had a rescue plan!
The greatest example of mercy in the Bible is God’s act of mercy in forgiving and pardoning the sins of humanity: “Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered” (Ps. 32:1NIV); “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more” (Jer. 31:34; Heb. 11:10).
We see God’s mercy in His plan to rescue us from the death and judgement that we deserve. Our sins can be forgiven because Jesus took the death penalty on our behalf. This is an example of mercy – delivering someone from a penalty. So we have a God who is rich in mercy (Eph.2:4).
What prompted God to be merciful? He chose to act this way – it was entirely voluntary (Ex. 34:6; Jas. 1:18). It was an example of grace, which is an undeserved favor.
But that is not the end. God has done more than this for us. Christians are not only rescued, they will also be rewarded. Usually only the rescuer is rewarded, but in this case those who are rescued are rewarded! The believer’s reward is to be resurrected to have bodies that will not die and to be with God eternally in a world without sin (Eph. 2:6). They are now children of God and co-heirs with Christ (Jn. 1:12; 1; Rom. 8:17; Jn. 3:1). This is an example of grace – receiving a gift beyond our wildest expectations.
What are “two sides of the same coin”? The two sides of a coin are different with respect to their inscription and image, but they are similar in sharing the metal that comprises the coin. So they share a difference and a similarity.
Are mercy and grace “two sides of the same coin”? They are different because mercy is God not punishing us as our sins deserve, and grace is God rewarding us although we do not deserve it. Mercy is deliverance from judgment. Grace is favor to the unworthy.
How are mercy and grace similar? Clearly mercy and grace are two essential components of God’s plan of salvation. They are both gifts that cannot be earnt, but are received by faith in Jesus Christ. In this way, mercy and grace are two sides of the same coin.
However, a sandwich may be a better illustration of mercy and grace than a coin. As God’s great act of mercy was preceded and followed by God’s grace, God’s mercy is sandwiched between two examples of God’s grace. For example, in Psalm 103, God’s mercy is described as “He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities” (v.10), and is preceded and followed by references to God’s grace, compassion and love (v.4, 8, 11, 13).
Jesus can also supply the mercy and grace we need for daily life: “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Heb. 4:16).
Written, December 2012
Although sin separates us from a holy and sinless God, we can be grateful that our sins can be forgiven and forgotten (Ps. 32:5; 130:3-4; Heb. 10:17). Before answering the question, we should realise that there are two main types of confession and forgiveness in Scripture. One is when an unbeliever comes into faith in Christ and the other is when they confess sins committed subsequently as a believer.
In the first case, we face Jesus Christ as the judge and the penalty of our sins is spiritual death, which leads to hell. When this person confesses their sins they are forgiven by God because Christ’s death paid the penalty for their sins – past, present and future. Their destiny changes from hell to heaven and they can enjoy daily fellowship with God. This can be called judicial, unconditional or positional forgiveness, which happens once in a believer’s life (Rom. 8:1-2; Heb. 10:14).
In the second case, the person has sinned, but is spiritually alive. This is the situation in the case of the question. As part of God’s family on earth, they are separated from God the Father in terms of daily fellowship, but they are not separated from going to heaven as the penalty for their sin has already been paid. When this person confesses their sins they are forgiven by God because Christ’s death paid the penalty for all their sins and their daily fellowship with God our Father is restored. This can be called parental, conditional or practical forgiveness, which should occur regularly in a believer’s life (1 Jn. 1:5-2:2). This is the kind of forgiveness that the Lord’s disciples were to practise: “forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Mt. 6:12, 14-15NIV). It includes forgiving others: God cannot forgive us when we are unwilling to forgive one another (Mk. 11:25; Lk. 6:37). If we fail to forgive one another, we will miss being rewarded when we get to heaven (Mt. 18:35).
The two types of forgiveness were illustrated when Jesus washed the disciples’ feet (Jn. 13:2-10). As they wore open sandals, the disciples needed to wash their feet regularly after walking on dusty roads even though they may have bathed recently. The bath was like judicial forgiveness and the feet washing was like parental forgiveness.
William MacDonald summarized the differences between the two types of forgiveness as follows:
|Judicial forgiveness||Parental forgiveness|
|Person’s status||Sinner (unbeliever)
|Child of God (believer) (1 Jn. 3:2)|
|RelationshipTo God||Judge (Ps. 96:13)||Father (Gal. 4:6)|
|Result of sin||Eternal death (Rom. 6:23)||Broken fellowship (1 Jn. 1:6)
Prayers hindered (Ps. 66:18)
|Role of Christ||Savior (1 Tim. 1:15)||High Priest (Heb. 4:4-16)
Advocate (1 Jn. 2:1)
|Means of forgiveness||Faith (Acts 16:31)||Confession (1 Jn. 1:9)|
|Consequence averted||Hell (Jn. 5:24)||Discipline (1 Cor. 11:31-32)
Loss of reward (1 Cor. 3:15)
|Outcome||New relationship (Jn. 1:12)||Renewed fellowship (Ps. 32:5)|
|Frequency||Once (Jn. 13:10)||Many times (Jn. 13:8)|
Therefore, although a Christian’s unconfessed sins affects their relationship with God, they are still a child of God whose ultimate destiny is heaven.
Written, February 2012
Peace in a world of trouble
In the beginning of time, the Garden of Eden was a paradise and there was peace on earth. People had peace with God and peace with one another. But soon after this Adam and Eve disobeyed God and there was a radical change in the world. They attempted to hide from God; there was fear instead of peace. People had enemies; there were conflicts, disagreements and war rather than peace. They were banished from the garden and God’s presence; there were physical and spiritual barriers between them and God (Gen. 3:8-24).
We can identify with this because problems, conflict and differences of opinion are facts of life. There are two obvious reasons for this situation. Firstly, we are not clones, but are all different, having individual personalities and opinions. This is God’s design and it is good (Gen. 1:31). Secondly, we are all sinners who are selfish, and many disagreements are the direct result of sinful motives and behavior.
Jesus Christ told his followers, “In Me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (Jn. 16:33 NIV). So, peace is possible; trouble is inevitable.
There is trouble and conflict across the world, between nations and within nations. Religious and ethnic tensions abound. Disagreements form barriers to peace in our families, our businesses and our churches. Fortunately God has provided a solution to our troubles in the peace process. It is possible to have peace with God and with others, and peace within ourselves, by following our Maker’s instructions in the Bible.
Peace is harmony and unity, understanding and goodwill. It is not just the absence of difficulties or conflict. For instance, Paul had peace in prison: he sang praises to God, while his feet were locked in stocks!
God is deeply interested in peace. He is often described as “the God of peace” (Rom. 15:33). Christ was the “Prince of peace” and “He Himself is our peace” (Isa. 9:6; Eph. 2:14). The word “peace” occurs in all the books of the New Testament except 1 John.
Jesus said: “Blessed (or happy) are the peacemakers” (Mt. 5:9). Peacemakers reconcile or restore relationships. Reconciliation is the means of restoring and maintaining peace and unity. The Greek word for reconciliation means to “change” or “exchange,” especially money. When applied to people it means to change a relationship from hostility to friendship.
The attempt to build the Tower of Babel was a vivid illustration of the power of unity (Gen. 11:1-9). The people desired to build a tall tower as a monument to their greatness. They were unanimous in their opposition to God’s will. God stopped them by giving them different languages, so they couldn’t understand each other. Once they were unable to communicate, they were unable to build. The barriers between them were their different languages. Likewise, if we cannot communicate we cannot build anything together. We cannot build a marriage, a family, a business, a community, or a church if we cannot communicate.
To ensure harmony we must keep the doors of communication open. Each of us must make it a priority to stay in harmony with God and with each other. But, how can we maintain these relationships?
The Bible teaches that there is a process for dealing with the barriers that hinder our peace. This requires effort, and there is a cost involved; but we are encouraged to “seek peace and pursue it” (1 Pet. 3:11). The process involves recognizing barriers to peace, destroying them and being reconciled via confession, repentance and forgiveness.
Confession is acknowledging our role in allowing the barrier to develop and being genuinely sorry for this. It reveals a change of heart and a willingness to destroy the barrier. Repentance is changed behavior; living as though the barrier has been destroyed. Forgiveness keeps the barrier down. Although barriers may be caused by either or both of the parties involved, both must be involved in the process of reconciliation. As it takes two to form a relationship, two are required to heal and restore a broken one.
We all want an inner peace. The Bible teaches that this is not possible until we have peace with God and with others.
Peace With God
One reason why there is so much difficulty in achieving peace on earth is that we are not at peace with our Maker. Our sinful thoughts and behavior have separated us from God. Sin is the barrier that keeps us from having any lasting peace. We cannot have peace until we are right with God.
God says, “There is no peace … for the wicked,” and by His standards we are all wicked (Isa. 57:21). When Christ was born the angels said “peace on earth,” so God has provided a way to peace (Lk. 2:14). Jesus Christ destroyed the barrier by suffering the punishment for our sin. So, we can have “peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” because Christ made peace through His sacrificial death (Rom. 5:1; Col. 1:19-22). This is possible by confession, admitting our sins to Him, and believing that He will forgive us and give us peace through His Son, Jesus Christ (Rom. 10:9-10). Our change of heart is evident by repentance – a change in our attitude and behavior (Acts 2:36-38).
For example, after his conversion, the Philippian jailer washed his prisoners’ wounds and invited them into his house for a meal (Acts 16:33-34). In this case the barrier was caused by humans, who were God’s enemies due to their evil behavior (Rom. 5:10; Col. 1:21). Only one party, God, was able to destroy the barrier and offer reconciliation to humanity (2 Cor. 5:18-19). As it takes the agreement of both parties to have peace, reconciliation only occurs when people recognize the barrier and accept God’s generous offer (2 Cor. 5:20).
“Peace” summarizes the gospel message: “You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all” (Acts 10:36). The good news is that you can have peace with God. The barrier has been destroyed!
He wants to make peace with us. He wants us to be reconciled to Him. Jesus sacrificed His life and paid the full penalty for our sins, so we could experience peace both now and forever. God is the greatest peacemaker of all, as He plans to make peace with everything in the visible and the invisible world (Col. 1:20). The price was the horrible execution of His Son in the greatest injustice ever committed.
Peace With Others
Peace with other people is often referred to as “unity” – and it is wonderful and pleasant (Ps. 133:1). We are commanded to live at peace and in harmony with each other (Mk. 9:50; Rom. 12:16; 1 Cor. 7:15).
We are to try to live at peace with everyone: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Rom. 12:18; Heb. 12:14). There are no qualifications to this statement, which is consistent with the great commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mt. 22:39).
The illustration of the barrier to peace comes from Paul’s description of the “dividing wall of hostility” that existed between the Jews and the Gentiles (Eph. 2:14). They were enemies who lived in separate worlds, just as Adam and Eve were separated from the presence of God. We still see this today, as national and cultural animosity occurs across the world.
Paul claimed that Christ destroyed the barrier and enabled unity between the Jews and the Gentiles. As believers they could be “fellow citizens” and “members of God’s household” (Eph. 2:14-19). This demonstrates how peace with God should lead to peace with each other.
So, the Jewish and Gentile believers were reconciled completely, with all hostility removed and no impediment to unity and peace. Likewise, Paul urged the Corinthians to “agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you” (1 Cor. 1:10). He states clearly that there should be unity, not divisions, in the Church (1 Cor. 1:10-17; 3:1-23).
It is particularly important to make every effort to maintain peace and unity among Christians (Rom. 14:19; Eph. 4:3). After all, He died to bring together all of God’s scattered people and make them one (Jn. 11:51-52). Unity among believers was so important to Jesus that it was the subject of His prayer for them during the final hours of His life on earth: “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in Me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as You are in Me and I am in You. May they also be in Us so that the world may believe that You have sent Me. I have given them the glory that You gave Me, that they may be one as We are one: I in them and You in Me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that You sent Me and have loved them even as You have loved Me” (Jn. 17:20-23).
The Greek word for “one” appears four times in these verses, the last occasion being translated as “complete unity.” Here “one” is a metaphor for union, concord, and unity and the example to follow is the unity that exists between God the Father and God the Son. The same word was used when Christ said “I and the Father are one” (Jn. 10:30).
The reason for this unity is repeated in the above verses: so the people of this world will know that Christ was sent by God. Another reason is so they may know something of God’s great love for humanity. This means that Christ tied His reputation and the credibility of His message to how well His followers display unity and oneness.
Peace and unity among believers are so important that Jesus commands us to seek reconciliation with a believer even ahead of worship: “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift” (Mt. 5:23-24). This means that the peace process – of destroying barriers and seeking reconciliation through confession, repentance and forgiveness – should be applied regularly to maintain our relationships with others.
Peace With Self
Internal peace is a sense of wholeness, contentment, order, rest and security. Although nearly everyone longs for this kind of peace, it eludes many. If you want to experience internal peace, you must seek harmonious relationships with God and with those around you.
Christians can experience peace within: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:6-7).
Although sin hinders our peace, God has provided a way to destroy this barrier: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn. 1:9). After confession and repentance we experience God’s forgiveness that removes guilt and restores peace. In this way, we should regularly apply the peace process to ourselves in order to ensure peace and communication with God on a daily basis.
Inner peace and security is a gift of God to those who believe in His Son and obey His commands, including loving one another (1 Jn. 3:21-24). It is a result of right living: “The fruit of righteousness will be peace; the effect of righteousness will be quietness and confidence forever” (Isa. 32:17). It is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22; Rom. 8:6).
Those who have not come to trust in Christ do not know what true peace is (Rom. 3:17). They oppose Christianity; there is division instead of unity, war instead of peace, and hate instead of love (Mt. 10:34-36; Lk. 12:51-53; 1 Jn. 3:12-13). In this sense the gospel divides people according to whether they accept it or not (Acts 14:4). God wants peace, reconciliation and unity in our world; not conflict, separation and division. Peace is the result of reconciliation and unity. Do you have peace with those around you? Do you have peace with God?
Published, November 1999
Also see: Dealing with disagreements
How can we live in harmony with each other?
Although we live in a world where trouble is inevitable, peace is possible through Jesus Christ, the mediator between God and humanity (1 Tim. 2:5). Christ’s followers are to be like Him and work at maintaining harmonious relationships with fellow human beings.
The peace process destroys barriers and seeks reconciliation through confession, repentance and forgiveness. Here we consider some practical ways to destroy barriers to peace between people and bring reconciliation.
A mediator takes into consideration the interest of both parties that are separated (Gal. 3:20). They approach each party in order to communicate and build a relationship (Rev. 3:20). If successful, the barrier is destroyed and the parties are brought together (1 Pet. 3:18). For mediation to be successful, both parties must be willing to be reconciled to one another. For example, because the Jewish leaders refused Christ’s help, they were never reconciled (Mt. 23:37; Jn. 5:40).
Deal with your own faults
A peacemaker begins by dealing with their own faults. This is difficult because we readily see faults and problems elsewhere, but fail to see them in ourselves (Mt. 7:3-5). If this is not addressed, we are hypocrites and will not have the respect of others. We must realize that being a Christian does not guarantee Christ-like behavior.
This means facing up to your faults first. Identify the idols in your life; the things that are taking God’s place; the attitudes and motives that lead to sinful behavior. Is there pride and arrogance; hedonism, living for physical pleasure; love of money or possessions; fear of people; obsessive desires? Have you failed to meet your responsibilities (Jas. 4:17)? Have you spoken harshly, distorted the truth or spread gossip? Are you treating others as you want them to treat you (Mt. 7:12)? Do you thrive on conflict? Have you heightened the barriers to peace with others?
Seek God’s help through the Scriptures, prayer and the assistance of a close friend or relative who can be more objective than you.
We should take responsibility for our wrongs and apply the peace process to destroy the barrier and restore peace by confessing our failures to all directly affected, and repenting by changing the way we think and behave.Once you have dealt with your contribution to a conflict, you may approach others about theirs (Mt. 7:5).
Can the barriers be overlooked?
If barriers to peace still exit, the next step is to consider whether they can be overlooked. Some conflicts are not worth fighting over and should be settled quickly.
We should not make judgements on debatable matters (Rom. 14:1). For instance, don’t criticize believers with different opinions to yours on non-essential matters. In this case it was whether to eat food offered to idols, or whether one day was more sacred than another. Our response to viewpoints that differ from ours must honor God, advance His kingdom and benefit others (1 Cor. 10:31-11:1).
Also, you may be overly sensitive to the wrongs of others. Be careful not to exaggerate the height of the barrier!
By overlooking minor offences we can imitate God’s great forgiveness (Eph. 4:32; Col. 3:13): “The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities” (Ps. 103:8-10).
Some tests for assessing when a problem or a sin is too serious to overlook are (Ken Sande 1991, “The Peacemaker”, Baker Books):
- Is it damaging your relationship? Has it created a barrier between you and the other person? Has it caused you to think differently toward them for more than a short period of time?
- Is it dishonoring to God? Is it doing serious harm to God’s reputation? Will others think less of God, His church or of His Word?
- Is it hurting others? Is it threatening the peace and unity of the church?
- Is it hurting the offender? Has the sin significantly hurt their spiritual health and reduced their usefulness for God?
Respond to the barriers by investigating the matter
Anything that has disrupted the peace and unity between Christians must be identified, talked over and made right.
The most appropriate response to significant barriers is to recognize and acknowledge them and seek a peaceful settlement through conciliation. It is the collaborative approach of a peacemaker that uses discussion, negotiation and mediation in an attempt to destroy the barriers and bring reconciliation. The objective is to rebuild and restore relationships with others.
After an allegation was made the Israelites were advised; “you must investigate it thoroughly” (Dt. 13:14). As there are usually at least two sides to every story, it is important to talk to all the parties involved (Josh. 22:13-14; 31-34; Mt. 18:15-17). Of course, a charge against another person must be supported by at least two or three witnesses. This is particularly true in the case of elders (1 Tim. 5:19).
Go and be reconciled
Peacemaking is not a passive process. Remember, Christ came to earth to destroy the sin barrier so we may have peace. Likewise we should actively pursue peace with those who oppose and mistreat us. God is depending on us: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Rom. 12:18).
If the offence cannot be overlooked then it must be confronted face-to face. The word for the peacemaker is “go”; “… go and be reconciled to your brother”; “… go and show him his fault” (Mt. 5:24; 18:15). Christians are to be initiators of reconciliation.
The sequence of events is summarized in the diagram as: confront the barrier, confession, repentance, and forgiveness. A biblical example is, “… If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him” (Lk. 17:3). We should forgive one another, as God has forgiven us (Eph. 4:32). Christ expects His followers to practise forgiveness.
The peacemaker must calm the storm before there can be peace. For example, when the disciples were on the lake during a storm, they did not feel safe until Christ calmed the storm (Mt. 8:23-27). This means that the cause of the problem must be dealt with properly through cooperative negotiation and the barriers destroyed before there can be genuine peace.
A good approach is to give people an opportunity to explain their behavior by asking questions and listening to their explanations (Gen. 3:9-13; Acts 5:8). Unfortunately we often pre-judge on the basis of unreliable information. As in law, others should be assumed to be innocent until the evidence is conclusive.
The method of responding to significant barriers to peace is outlined in Mt. 18:15-17. Firstly talk it over in private, by “speaking the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15). If this is not successful, involve other conciliators and then church elders. Finally, after all avenues have been exhausted, a stubborn party should be treated as a nonbeliever; as they are behaving like one by disregarding Scripture and the church. Each step of this process should be done as Christ would do it (Mt. 18:20).
The bible includes may examples of barriers developing between people and individuals. As he had obtained the inheritance from Isaac by deception, Jacob was estranged from Esau. Before there could be reconciliation, Jacob sent gifts to Esau and he wrestled with God who caused his hip to be injured and he walked with a limp (Gen. ch. 32-33).
Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery. Before there could be reconciliation between Joseph and his brothers, Joseph put them through a series of tests to see if they had changed their hearts and to enable Benjamin to be there (Gen. ch. 42-45).
Moses accepted advice from his father-in-law; criticism is more effective when coupled with a recommendation (Ex. 18:13-26). The daughters of Zelophehad brought their concern to Moses and were willing to compromise; go to those who can change the situation and don’t be deterred by traditions (Num. 27:1-11; 36:1-12). This was a bold step for women in those days.
The western tribes of Israel were satisfied after the eastern tribes explained their motives; always verify the truth of a matter before making accusations (Josh. 22:15-30). Daniel was reconciled with Melzar because he offered a win-win solution (Dan. 1:8-16).
Saul wanted to kill David. Jonathan acted as a mediator between the two, he spoke up for David and Saul promised to change and not kill David. Jonathan then convinced David that he was now safe and they were reconciled (1 Sam. 19:1-7). Unfortunately this peace was only brief.
Paul and Barnabas were reconciled with legalists after face-to-face discussion (Acts 15:1-29). Later Paul questioned Peter publicly after the latter’s hypocrisy and legalism affected the Gentiles (Gal. 2:11-14).
Although the prodigal was reconciled with his father, his brother was not; don’t be influenced by third parties who have their own agendas (Lk. 15:25-32).
In order to resolve a conflict Euodia and Syntche were encouraged to: rejoice in the Lord, be gentle, pray, look for good aspects, and put biblical guidelines into practice (Phil. 4:2-9).
Everyone wants peace and harmony, but they don’t want to change. Why don’t you change first?
The Bible says, “Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold” (Eph. 4:26). Any barriers hindering relationships should be destroyed as soon as possible because they are often the work of Satan who can use us to accuse one another (Rev. 12:10). The longer an enemy is given territory, the more damage is caused.
All believers should be peacemakers (Jas. 3: 17-18). God wants you to work for peace: in your family, in your business life and in the local church.
How do you respond to barriers to peace? Are you a peacemaker, a peace-faker or a peace breaker? Are you a part of the problem or a part of the solution?
Summary: Dealing with disagreements
The Peacemaker – Romans 12:18; Hebrews 12:14; James 3:17-18
- Overlooks minor offences and debatable matters (Romans 14:1; 1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1)
- Responds to barriers to peace (Matthew 5:24; 18:15)
- Confronts barriers to peace (Matthew 18:15-17)
- Brings reconciliation wherever possible
Written, April 2003
Also see: Peace, Reconciliation and Unity