The habit of modern man is to act based on his feelings, instead of action based on fact. The Disney catechism has worked its way deeply into our culture: follow your heart. We are the foolish man, building on the sands of emotion, instead of the rock of the Word. The pile of grievances swept under the cultural rug is getting quite obvious. Yet no one knows how to actually sweep out the grime, because no one feels like humbling themselves.
We live in a moment were progressive culture has concocted a whole litany of unforgivable sins. The absolute dogmatism insists that you must adhere to all the tenets of their confession of faith, otherwise you will be run out on a rail. This has left us with an anxious and guilt ridden culture, under the enchantment of the lies of a master Deceiver. Christian forgiveness is like the aroma of the burnt foot of a marshwiggle.
Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.Colossians 3:12-17
Summary of the Text
Paul instructs Christians to put on a particular disposition due to their standing as the elect of God (v12, Cf. Rom 13:4, Gal. 3:27); this disposition includes various attributes which are, to the carnal man, like drinking a castor oil martini with a chaser of vinegar. The disposition of the saints is to be one of patient mercy & humility (v12). By putting these virtues on, we are equipped to the action of forbearance and forgiveness of the quarrels we may have against another. Forgiveness is not a passive event which happens to you, it is an imperative. It puts a victim of offense as an actor in the restoration. This forgiveness is in imitation of Christ’s great forgiveness of the saints (v13). Agape is like the jeweled clasp that holds all these virtues in place (v14), while the peace of God rules in our hearts individually and corporately. Our response to it all should be gratitude (v15).
We both put on Christ, and Christ dwells in us. His Word is to dwell in us richly. The fruit of His presence is made evident in our teaching and admonishing of one another. This is done most poignantly in our biblically founded and faithful praise (v16). All of this should be done with grace in our hearts (v16). The whole scope of Christian activity is be offered up entirely to God, through Christ, with thankfulness (v17).
The Shipwreck of Trauma-Peddlers
In the midst of a culture where apologies have been weaponized, both by faux-victims and by real perpetrators, a great deal of misunderstanding has arisen about what forgiveness is, and how it works. Trauma-peddlers are not interested in the fire of bitterness being put out by the water of forgiveness. Cruel men are only interested in apologies as a means of preserving the brand. We must reject both approaches.
Scripture gives us a way out of the shipwreck of feelings, and onto the solid ground of truth. If you’ve been wronged, true harm has been done. Whether the harm is physical or verbal, emotional or financial Scripture equips us to handle the harm done to us with, as Paul puts it in our text, the peace of God ruling in our hearts. Peace is a military term, not an eastern-mystic’s state of being.
Grace is in our hearts and so we sing one to another the songs of God. God’s peace rules our hearts, and so we forgive as He forgave us. Notice in the text that it is by God’s presence within us that enables us to the action of forgiveness. By resting in our justification before God through Christ we are enabled to go about the activity of objective reconciliation. This doesn’t dull our emotional state; rather it is by the Spirit’s governance within us that our emotions are strengthened, sharpened, and sweetened. Elsewhere, Paul instructs that true forgiveness is tied up with tenderheartedness (Eph. 4:32). A new heart, in other words, is absolutely necessary.
This gives a bit of clarity to Jesus oft misunderstood line in Matthew 18 about binding and loosing; Christian forgiveness is real forgiveness because it is done from new hearts. While unregenerate men continue to pass around imitation and knock-off forgiveness, because their heart is dead.
When you’re wronged, Scripture gives a few routes to take. This text in Colossians sets forth one path plainly and implies the second. You can forbear the offense, covering a whole catalogue of sins (Cf. Pro. 10:12). The second path is to pursue the offense straight up the middle, seeking to address the wrong in order to extend forgiveness.
Again, forgiveness isn’t a feeling it is a transaction. This is where many modern grief counselors, like blind guides of the blind, stagger off into the marshlands. Say in a quarrel with a spouse, friend, or coworker you utter a truly cruel insult to them. You’ve done objective harm, so by seeking forgiveness you are identifying the true guilt of your actions, along with the objective harm you did, and then seeking to restore what you harmed. The option for the victim is to either extend forgiveness and receive the restitution, or curl up into hardened shell of resentment.
This transactional aspect of biblical forgiveness removes relational restoration from the fluctuating realm of feelings and excuses and “sweep it under the rug” approaches. Biblical justice requires restitution (Ex. 22:12), ranging from double what was stolen (Ex. 22:7), to a fifth for lesser faults (Num. 5:7) to four-fold (Lk. 19:1-10). Did you gossip about someone? You need to seek their forgiveness as well as seek to restore the good name you tarnished. Did you lie? You need to come clean, then restore the harm done by your falsehood. This doesn’t just factor in material harm, but the harm from time-lost.
I Don’t Feel Like Forgiving
For the offended party, the last thing you may feel like doing is forgiving. True forgiveness isn’t dependent on the alignment of heavenly bodies, or hormones to balance, or enough time to pass. Put on Christ, and grace rules in you.
You get the forgiveness ready, from the heart, because your heart is under the authority of Another. It isn’t under the authority of what your feelings are doing. Your not allowed to hold someone’s sin over their head, that’s to play the devil’s advocate…literally. Furthermore, while extending forgiveness it’s lawful to lay out the clear damages needing restitution (another good reason to follow Christ’s forgiveness procedure in Mt. 18).
Are the accounts settled? Then all is well. Fellowship can be enjoyed once more, because of truth, not feelings. This is why our lame apologies just don’t cut it: “We good?” “Yeah, bro.” Or the classic public groveling, “I’m sorry if I offended anyone, that is not who I truly am.” Saying you’re sorry is claiming that you have an emotional state: sorrow. Whereas forgiveness deals in truth, “I was wrong for (insert the crime here), please forgive me.”
What is not an option is to say that you just won’t forgive. Jesus gives stern warnings to the unforgiving. You are insisting on receiving infinite kindness from God, and refusing to extend finite kindness to your brother. This, according to Christ, is damnable.
As God Forgave You
Once more, the virtues we are commanded to cultivate are all derivative. You don’t draw up forgiveness juice from the well of your own inward goodness. The well from which your forgiveness springs from is the same well that you have drunk from. The infinite ocean of God’s kindness to you through Christ.
See how God sees you. The Gospel draws open the shades, and allows you see the pristine view of God’s mercy toward you. God calls you elect, chosen. Through no deserving on your part. God calls you holy. God calls you beloved. None of it earned. None of it because you were on your best behavior. All of it freely given by the cross. Lay hold on the cross, and then forgive as God forgave you. Not because you feel like it, but because you have a new heart.