Faithlife Sermons

Seeking Forgiveness

Forgiveness  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  36:23
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How am I supposed to act when I realize that I am in the wrong and I have hurt someone? Find out what Jesus teaches about seeking forgiveness in this message from Matthew 5:23-24.

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Man, the last two weeks have been hard, haven’t they?
Some of us have had to let God work in deep ways in our hearts. We have let him remind us of old hurts we have suffered, and prayerfully, we have begun the process of forgiving those who have wronged us.
Last week, we saw that Christ commands us to take the high road, acting honorably when wronged, letting God handle any necessary punishment, and even doing good to those who hurt us.
As tough as that is, we know it is the right thing to do because God has acted toward us that way, forgiving us when we didn’t deserve it.
There is something honorable about that, too, isn’t there? If you aren’t careful, you could get a little proud of the fact that you were the bigger man or woman and didn’t react but responded with grace.
However, the aspect of forgiveness we look at this morning may be the most challenging yet: what about when it is your fault?
What are we supposed to do when we are the ones who have hurt others, we are the ones who have committed the offense, and we are the ones who need forgiveness?
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives us very clear instructions
As we will see this morning from God’s word, when we sin against others, we need to seek to clear our conscience.
Here’s what I want you to see this morning: you will never enjoy the fullness of your relationship with Christ until your conscience is clear.
For full disclosure, much of the content I will be sharing with you comes from a handout from Life Action Revival Ministries, which is available for free at lifeaction.org.
Here is how they define a clear conscience:
A clear conscience is the ability to say, “There is no one alive that I have ever wronged, offended, or hurt in any way that I have not gone back to and made it right with God and with them.” (Life Action Revival Ministries)
Before you say that that is impossible, or before you say we shouldn’t strive for that, let me take you back to our key verse as a church:
1 Timothy 1:5 CSB
Now the goal of our instruction is love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith.
If we are going to pursue our goal of love, then we must each pursue a good, clean conscience with others.
Let’s see what Jesus has to say about it. Open your Bibles to
These verses are in the middle of a section called “The Sermon on the Mount”, where Jesus is outlining expectations of who we should be and how we should behave if we are citizens of his kingdom.
These verses are in the middle of a section called “The Sermon on the Mount”, where Jesus is outlining expectations of who we should be and how we should behave if we are citizens of his kingdom.
Let’s pick up in verse 21 for context.
Verses 21-22 - That builds on last week’s concepts of reacting gently instead of with unjust anger, doesn’t it?
We are going to spend the bulk of our time this morning in verses 23-24, because they deal directly with pursuing reconciliation with those whom we have wronged.
These two verses give us plenty to chew on, so we are going to try to break this section down into three different steps in seeking forgiveness.

1) Prioritize reconciliation.

Did you notice the order of events here?
Jesus said that reconciling with a brother or sister in Christ is so important, you should stop in the middle of church, grab someone else, and go ask their forgiveness.
There are several reasons for this.
First, if you aren’t willing to obey God in this area, then you aren’t ready to worship him.
That’s the problem God’s people had throughout the Old Testament—they wanted to go through the motions without actually doing the hard work of obedience:
Isaiah 1:15–17 CSB
When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will refuse to look at you; even if you offer countless prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are covered with blood. “Wash yourselves. Cleanse yourselves. Remove your evil deeds from my sight. Stop doing evil. Learn to do what is good. Pursue justice. Correct the oppressor. Defend the rights of the fatherless. Plead the widow’s cause.
God was disgusted with Israel because they were trying to keep God happy with token sacrifices while hating each other, taking advantage of the poor and destitute, and generally not acting in a way that honored God.
It’s easy to come here on Sundays, sing the songs, maybe even raise your hands and cry a little bit, but if you aren’t willing to get right with those who you have wronged, then it is just empty words and emotions.
Before you keep worshiping, you need to get right with those you have wronged!
This is especially true of our relationship to other believers.
If we have both been saved and our sins are washed clean and we are right with God, then we should be willing to do whatever it takes to stay on the same page with each other.
That’s God’s design for the church: unity, that puts the needs of others first:
Philippians 2:1–4 CSB
If then there is any encouragement in Christ, if any consolation of love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, make my joy complete by thinking the same way, having the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.
Philippians 2:1–2 CSB
If then there is any encouragement in Christ, if any consolation of love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, make my joy complete by thinking the same way, having the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.
That doesn’t mean we are going to always agree on everything, but we are to fight to keep that unity where our goal is to glorify Christ, based off his love, with the same purpose, led by his Spirit.
Listen to how he describes that kind of relationship between believers:
Psalm 133:1–3 CSB
How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in harmony! It is like fine oil on the head, running down on the beard, running down Aaron’s beard onto his robes. It is like the dew of Hermon falling on the mountains of Zion. For there the Lord has appointed the blessing— life forevermore.
ps 133
That’s the picture of a priest being anointed to serve God and represent his people.
When we are living in harmony with each other, it’s like this incredible perfumed oil that was only used to set a priest apart for service to God.
Mt. Hermon was the source of the majority of the water for the Jews, so the dew on Hermon was a picture of the source of life for the whole nation. That’s how important unity is.
So then, God puts a priority on reconciliation.
Leave your gift until you have done whatever you can to restore the relationships with those you have hurt.
That leads us to the second aspect of having a clear conscience:

2) Pursue reconciliation.

According to Jesus, who has to take the first step here?
If you are the person who was in the wrong, you need to take the initiative to set things right.
Some see in this passage that either party is responsible to initiate reconciliation, but it seems to me that the burden is on the person who has committed the offense.
You have to go to the person or people you have hurt. You can’t wait for them to come to you, even if, in your mind, they started it!
That isn’t likely to be a fun conversation, but I want to equip you with some tools to help you.
Again, these come from Life Action Ministries (“Clear Conscience” handout):
The scope of the confession should be as large, but only as large, as the transgression.
Private sins should be confessed privately - “Private sins” doesn’t necessarily mean “ones that no one else knows about.” Your private sins would be ones that only impacted your relationship with Christ. For example, pornography is not a private sin because it impacts your relationship with your wife.
Personal sins should be confessed personally - In other words, if you have sinned against someone else, you go to that person, but it doesn’t have to go beyond the scope of those impacted.
Public sins should be confessed publicly - this is especially true for church leaders who have sinned in a way that has impacted the life of the church.
Do not apologize or just say, “I’m sorry.” Say, “Will you please forgive me?”
“Sorry” doesn’t acknowledge that you recognize that you have sinned against the other person, nor does it require a commitment from them to release you from the debt you owe.
Additionally, you don’t have to share every detail of what you have done, but you do need to share enough that you are actually confessing to what you have done.
When obeying . . .
In person is usually best.
It may be best to have a third person present. They aren’t there to take sides. They are simply there to help keep the discussion moving in the correct direction. They also provide additional accountability if any concerns come up later.
The phone is the next best option.
A letter is the last and least effective.
You may be in a place where there is genuinely no way for you to go back and make things right. I don’t want to give you an excuse to be lazy, but it could be you have no way of contacting the person you hurt. Maybe they have passed away since the hurt took place.
In those instances, it might help to go ahead and write out the letter of what you would say if they were still here. What you do with it after you write it is up to you. Throw it away, shred it, burn it, whatever you need to do. At that point, it is about you taking the step of obedience and finding freedom there, even if they may never know.
This is the absolute last resort, though.
Do not reflect negatively on another person.
You are confessing what you have done, not confronting them with mistakes they may have made.
Take ownership of the problems you have caused, and don’t shift the blame.
Put the hardest person on your list first.
Don’t expect an overwhelmingly positive response.
Remember how we said forgiveness is a process?
You need to afford the person you have hurt the same grace you would expect them to extend to you.
Give room and time for God to work on their heart, and be prepared to handle the consequences.
You have to pursue reconciliation with those you have hurt. It is a such a priority that you are called to leave worship and deal with it if that is what it takes.
This won’t be easy, but if you want to enjoy all the fullness of a relationship with God, you cannot avoid dealing with your own personal sin.
Sometimes, these kinds of situations can be totally and completely consuming.
The tension with someone else can cause you to shut down and think about nothing but how badly you have messed up the relationship, how much pain has been caused, and things like that.
However, what does Jesus say in this passage that we are supposed to do after we seek to make it right?

3) Get back on track.

After you have done what you believe God is calling you do to make things right, what does Jesus command you to do?
Come back and offer your gift.
He doesn’t say, “Go, be reconciled to that person, and then go home and mope around the house for a week or two and then maybe start coming back to church.”
He tells us to make it right and then get back on track.
It is tempting to let something like this completely sidetrack what God is doing in your life.
That’s especially true if the relationship doesn’t get repaired immediately.
Depending on what is going on, the work God is doing in and through you may have to look different for a season while God roots out all the effects of sin, but that doesn’t mean you don’t come back and worship.
“But what if they won’t forgive me?”
If you have done what God has called you to do, then you have to leave room and time for him to work.
Remember what we saw from last week:
Romans 12:18 CSB
If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
Be faithful to do what God has called you to do, and leave the results with him.
That doesn’t mean you act callously towards those you have hurt, but you do need to do what you can to reconcile and then get back.
“Sean, I have asked God to forgive me, and I asked the other people I hurt to forgive me, but I just can’t forgive myself.”
Don’t give up; that’s what we are going to talk about next week.
For now, remember the grace God has shown us through Jesus.
Go back and listen to the first message in this series if you missed it, and hear again how God has separated your sins as far as the east is from the west.
He did this by dying for you, knowing what you would do. He was raised for you, offering his goodness, moral purity, and righteousness in exchange for your sin and failure. He brought you into his kingdom, knowing that you would never be able to perfectly honor him in this life.
He is a God of grace.
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