Forgiveness doesn’t come naturally in this angry world. In fact, it’s downright incompatible with the predominant victim mentality that cultivates rage.
It’s a blessed relief God isn’t like us in that regard. While He maintains standards of justice and wrath far beyond anything we can conceive of, He is still “gracious and merciful; slow to anger and great in lovingkindness” (Psalm 145:8).
God has an eagerness to forgive that we ought to emulate as the beneficiaries of His great forgiveness. In fact, Jesus told a frightening parable about the future outcome awaiting those who continue in their merciless ways after experiencing His mercy (Matthew 18:23–35).
John MacArthur’s sermon, “The Characteristics of One Who Forgives”, is a powerful exhortation for us to follow Christ’s example and be forgiving people. Using Paul’s short epistle to Philemon, John lays out the biblical characteristics of genuine Christian forgiveness.
The story of Philemon and his runaway slave, Onesimus, who later came to saving faith under the ministry of Paul, encapsulates the nature of true forgiveness. Philemon had already experienced Christ’s forgiveness and Paul wrote to him urging him to do likewise with Onesimus.
In “The Characteristics of One Who Forgives,” John reveals six implicit characteristics of forgiveness as laid out in Philemon 4–7. And in case we still lack motivation to forgive, John also provides four stern warnings for all who “disease [their] whole existence” by maintaining an unforgiving posture.
First, unforgiveness makes you a prisoner of your past. The refusal to forgive keeps the pain of previous offences alive and your life shackled to those past events.
Second, unforgiveness produces bitterness in your life. The cumulative effect of remembering without forgiving causes bitterness to fester. The more it occupies your thinking, the more it shapes your character.
Third, unforgiveness gives Satan an open door to your life. Where you have an unforgiving spirit, you are giving place to the devil in your life (Ephesians 4:26–27). Unforgiveness is Satan’s chief means for gaining a foothold in the lives of Christians.
And fourth, unforgiveness damages your fellowship with God. Jesus said, “If you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions” (Matthew 6:14–15).
A lack of forgiveness in our own lives demonstrates a failure to grasp the immensity of Christ’s forgiveness for our litany of crimes against Him. Everyone who claims to be a Christian should exhibit “The Characteristics of One Who Forgives.”