God made Jesus who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Jesus we might become the righteousness of God.”
— 2 Corinthians 5:21
Forgiveness, the righteousness of God, is God planning beforehand and doing at the beginning what only God could do—something we would need and could never do ourselves; something only Jesus could do.
God created us free to love, knowing we might choose to sin, and therefore WHEN we did (there were really no “ifs”), we needed God to set us free, once-and-for-all, to love.
Love is creation’s inherent design, dividing good from evil. Love is goodness, and evil has no part in love. Love is interwoven into life itself because love forces a dividing line between good and evil.
The righteousness of life is God’s eternal measure that humanity must CHOOSE for good OR evil. In life, there is no middle ground.
It was right for God, in Jesus, to forgive a fallen humanity because we cannot help ourselves. We needed God’s forgiveness. We need it, present perfect tense. It is also right for us human beings to forgive other fallen human beings. To live, we need the forgiveness of others, and just as much to live, we need to forgive.
Because of what God has done, forgiveness is right.
To forgive and to be forgiven is right.
To forgive and to be forgiven is justice.
Where sins are reconciled, no debt thereby remains.
If God in Christ did not count people’s sins against them, then who are we to?
Love is the fulfillment of goodness, and this is the domain of God. Forgiveness is the epitome and performance of love, so forgiveness itself is the fulfillment of goodness.
Love is the conquering of evil and the triumph of goodness because righteousness and justice are God’s domain over all creation. We are God’s righteousness when we forgive, even as God executes eternal justice according to our execution of forgiveness OR lack thereof.
Where we forgive when forgiveness isn’t sought, and thereby transfer the other person’s debt to God, God thereby accounts for that as it pertains to both us and the person we forgive. Forgiveness is credited to us. A lack of forgiveness, apology, and repentance are taken up by God. A debt remains. All give account. This is the domain of God.
RIGHTEOUSNESS OR SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS?
Righteousness has become a very unpopular term in popular spheres. It’s not a word many Christian leaders or Christians are game to use. It is a very misunderstood term in an era of biblical illiteracy.
But righteousness is, nonetheless, as it has always been, true to God’s character, as it is the nature of this life—no matter how much people may spurn it. We cannot escape these facts. We live in a world where we cannot escape right and wrong, good and evil, love and hate/ambivalence/fear. Righteousness is entwined with life.
Righteousness is trusting “God with all our heart, and [to] lean not on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5). When we choose rather to trust our own understanding, doing what is “right” in our own eyes, our paths are crooked, because we can’t see straight. Those who lack insight can neither love nor honor truth. It leads to harm. Harms are therefore done to others by us and by others to us. The Bible mentions that being “right in our own eyes” is folly no less than 61 times. Being right in our own eyes is self-righteousness.
The key choice we all must make at each juncture of our lives, one moment at a time, is will we go God’s way or our own way?
Will we follow Jesus’ example or Adam’s? Will we humble ourselves as Jesus did, being obedient as he was to death; his was a cross, our deaths are of our prideful nature of going our own way in rejecting God’s way.
We must “pour contempt on all our pride,” per Isaac Watts’ When I Survey the Wondrous Cross(1707), or otherwise end up in a state of and partake in events that bring spiritual death.
WHEN WE DON’T FORGIVE AND HOW IT IMPACTS US
A great biblical metaphor for forgiveness and unforgiveness is contained within Ezekiel 47:1-12. The metaphor is a river with a prevalent flow. Forgiveness is going with the flow of the river; it doesn’t “push” the river. To “push” the river is to get stuck in the “swamps and marshes [that] will not become fresh” (verse 11) which is the bitterness and resentment of a hard heart. This is what happens when we get stuck insisting on changing what we can’t, like getting upset about people we can’t change or insisting situations be fitted to our “needs.”
The flow of the river is freedom and life, but the swamps and marshes are death.
Those who forgive experience God’s freedom. They accept the flow of the river, the flow of life. Forgiveness is a wise choice. It is a choice to reconcile what is.
Those who forgive live habitually empowered lives because the flow of the river brings differing scenery. When we get stuck in the swamps and marshes, our view is truncated, and we don’t see right. Forgiveness brings perspective, and certainly, Christians enjoy the knowledge of just how good God has been in Jesus—they follow God’s direct example.
Those who struggle to forgive tend to become offended when people reinforce boundaries. They struggle with letting go and get stuck when they can’t control certain people, situations, and outcomes. We have all tasted this. There is no life in such a mindset.
No matter what a person has done to us, when we say they are not worthy of our forgiveness, we say we are better than the other person, especially when we see them as evil, no matter how malevolent they actually may be.
That said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. We must “leave room for God’s wrath.”(Both these quotations are from Romans 12:19.)
FORGIVENESS, THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD
God wove into the narrative of the gospel—the saving of sinners’ souls—a pattern for life.
This pattern of God’s wisdom, the righteousness of God, is a pattern that ALL may follow if they “choose life,” the pattern of which is woven into the narrative of Jesus’ death on the cross.
Jesus knew when he gave his last commandment before the cross that the disciples would struggle in their humanity to “love one another.”(John 13:34-35)
Jesus knew when he prayed to the Father in his disciple’s presence that they would struggle and ultimately fail to “be one” as the Father and Son are one. (John 17:20-23)
It’s why Jesus told the disciples, “By [your love for one another] everyone will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.”It’s the love that transforms the world.
There is no hope in the gospel without this love—the love of God modeled in the cross that humanity is to exemplify. It’s the righteousness of God that we follow in being the righteousness of God.
The wisdom of God is righteousness is life. There is no wisdom nor love apart from it.
It is a ministry of reconciliation that we have, that we are called to, that sets us free even as we are freed and may show others this freedom.
“… not counting people’s sins against them… God has committed us to the message of reconciliation.”(2 Corinthians 5:19)
If God in Christ did not count people’s sins against them, then who are we to?
The righteousness of God in forgiveness is summed up in the account of the adulteress woman of John 8:10-11:
Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared.“Go now and leave your life of sin.”
Forgiveness is because of righteousness, then righteousness that leads to life.
NOTE: the foregoing is commentary on INDIVIDUAL faith wisdom and what is God’s best and God’s will for individuals. It’s not about institutional responses to abuse. Institutional entities have a duty to respect due process. This justice has nothing to do with forgiveness.
This is an updated edition of a post originally published on Tribework
Featured Image by Anne Nygård on Unsplash
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