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How Many Times Will God Forgive Me?

1/22/17

Today, I want to talk about forgiveness. We all understand forgiveness in varying
degrees. The more fully that we understand forgiveness, the more that understanding will change
our lives for the better. We will be able to extend mercy to ourselves and to others.

In general, there are four types of people who understand and practice forgiveness in
varying degrees, illustrated in the table below.

If we are the first type of person, we will be able to focus on what really matters in life
without getting tripped up by our failures and personal offenses. We can focus our thoughts and
energies on other things and leave all the judging up to God. This is the way that we are
supposed to be.

The danger of judging

The danger that we want to avoid is falling into the trap of judging, either judging
ourselves or other people. This is an unproductive activity and never leads to good results. In
fact, the name Satan means Accuser in Hebrew. Satan loves to have us listen to his accusations:
“You’re stupid. You’ll never get this right. No one loves you. You don’t matter.” He wants us to
waste energy worrying about what others think about us and, if he can manage it, get us to hate
ourselves.

Judging other people is also unproductive. It prevents us from seeing the potential in
people—from seeing them the way that God sees them. More importantly, it threatens our
relationship with God, who requires that we walk in love and grace as He does. I admit that I
also need improvement in this area.

In Matthew 18, Jesus teaches what to do about personal offenses. He says that if someone
wrong us, then we should talk to them directly. Then Peter has a question.
Matthew 18:21-22
21 Then 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?”
22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

While Jesus was teaching about how to resolve personal offenses, Peter thought of a
question. Jesus had already taught them to pray, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those
who trespass against us.” Peter asked, “What is the extent of forgiveness that we should give to
others?” In response, Jesus says essentially, “Don’t worry about counting the number or amount
of forgiveness, just forgive it all.”

To explain why we need to forgive others, Jesus tells a parable wherein there are many
servants and one master.

Matthew 18:23-27
23 “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his
servants. 24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was
brought to him. 25 Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his
children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.

26 “At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will
pay back everything.’ 27 The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.

Each of us who are believers are like these servants. Notice what Jesus includes in the
parable:
1. We all must give an account to God. Jesus said that we will have to give an account for
every word, thought, and action. Our consciences act as imperfect auditors for our souls.
2. We owe God a tremendous debt because of our sin. Every sin is an offense against
God. In Jesus’ parable, he puts the amount at 10,000 talents, an incredible sum that is
equivalent to tens of millions of dollars. Today, our culture doesn’t talk about sin. It is an
embarrassing topic and makes you sound like a weirdo. But don’t be fooled—we all fall
short of God’s standard of holiness.
3. We cannot pay this debt. As a result, we stand to lose everything. “What good is it for a
man to gain the world yet forfeit his soul?” The reason we cannot pay our debt is because
of our sinful nature. I won’t go into the details about how this came about but it’s easy to
verify that we do have sinful natures. Just observe yourself and notice how it is difficult
to do good and easy to do wrong.
4. When we realize our debt, we should appeal to God’s mercy. I need mercy, you need
mercy. We all do. It’s OK to ask God for mercy!
5. Our God is willing to forgive all our debt. God is infinitely merciful. He demonstrated
His love and mercy by sending Jesus to die for our sins. This means that God is willing to
forgive any amount of sin. I am not saying that we do not need to repent because we
absolutely do, and I am not saying that we can do whatever we want. But it is important
to understand that God’s mercy and grace is sufficient for all our needs. The author of
Hebrews says, “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure” that Jesus
is our advocate whenever our own hearts or other people condemn us.
Some of you may say, “Well, in my experience, I have failed God too many times to
deserve forgiveness.” To answer, let me turn around what Peter asked and Jesus answered:
“Lord, how many times shall God forgive me when I repent? Up to seven times?” Jesus will
answer, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy times seven.”

Matthew 18:28-35
28 “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred
silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he
demanded.

29 “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it
back.’

30 “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay
the debt. 31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and
told their master everything that had happened.

32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt
of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just
as I had on you?’ 34 In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he
should pay back all he owed.

35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or
sister from your heart.”

We need to understand God’s forgiveness for us first. Then we can stop doing this to
ourselves and to others. I believe that this second part of the parable can apply to how we judge
ourselves severely as well as to how we judge others. Certainly, we should be concerned more
about judging others but in my experience we can be just as harsh on ourselves.

In Matthew 18, we see three types of mercy. God has unlimited mercy and wants us to
learn to understand and experience that in our own lives.