Forgiveness -- both the willingness to forgive those who have wronged us and the authority to forgive others in the Name of Jesus -- is a wonderful gift from God and a calling which all Christians have received. Apart from God's Grace, true forgiveness is impossible ... only God can truly forgive sin. The wonderful good news of the Gospel is that, through God's Grace, we too are given the ability, duty, honor and authority to forgive sins.
Through the Love of God, empowered within us by the Holy Spirit, all Christians are given the ability to forgive others the sins that they have committed against us and, indeed, against God. In dealing with the sins that others commit against us, the Scriptures are clear:
For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (Matthew 6:14-15 NRSV)
That this calling comes to us through the words of the "Lord's Prayer" doesn't soften its impact on our lives ... quite the contrary! Being a forgiven people means that we have a calling to forgive others their "trespasses" against us. We pray the "Lord's Prayer" every Sunday, but do we practice what we pray?? Do we open ourselves to God's Grace through forgiveness? When we say that forgiveness is a Means of Grace, do we understand that we receive God's Grace, and are conduits for others to receive God's Grace, when we forgive those who have wronged us? Do we understand that when we harbor grudges and refuse to forgive we block God's Grace in our lives? Do we realize that when we deny the Grace of forgiveness we harm ourselves and close ourselves off to a measure of God's love? Based upon my personal experience, I sometimes fear that we too often behave as if none of this were true. And, yet, the truth of forgiveness as a Means of Grace is beyond denial: forgiving others frees us to be forgiven and, indeed, opens a wonderful path for others to know the wonderful, powerful, love and acceptance of God in Jesus Christ our Lord.
The Means of Grace always entail a human response. Jesus died on the cross, once and for all, and on Him all the sins of humanity were placed. However, unless and until we accept the offered gift, and unless we offer our forgiveness and the word of our Lord's forgiveness to others, we erect road blocks to God's Grace in our lives.
Jesus said: "If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained." (John 20:23 NRSV) This is authority, my friends. It is also a responsibility. We have access to a wonderful gift of Grace, empowered by the Holy Spirit and authorized in Scripture, when we offer our forgiveness and the forgiveness of our Lord Jesus Christ, to others. This Means of Grace can open the way to the others Means of Grace. This Means of Grace can break down the hard crust of anger and indifference which many have formed on their spiritual skins. This Means of Grace is a wonderful gift! Do not neglect it!