March 11, 2024

Forgiveness Is Hard but Necessary: Why Forgiveness is Foundational to Our Faith

Are you holding on to unforgiveness? Read why forgiveness is important, how it transforms us, and why it is a foundational sermon for pastors to teach on.

Noah Cecil

As we live our lives walking in Jesus’s footsteps, it can be easy to focus on the big picture of spirituality and faith. While it can be easy to read daily scripture, pray and worship, and serve those we love, or those in need, we must also remember those hard tasks that Jesus asks of us… such as forgiving those who have wronged us. 

It’s important to remember that while the Church is built on the foundation of Jesus’s teaching, the Church body is formed by a congregation of humans trying to live righteously. Because of this, churches often foster a loving community, while also being capable of making human mistakes. Like anyone, we as believers are still capable of hurting others, and inversely able to hold resentment toward those who have hurt us. Something that should set us apart from the world, thus being a light that glorifies God (Matthew 5:14-16), is the way that we forgive in the way Jesus has forgiven us for our sins.

In today’s blog, I am going to be going over why forgiveness is important, how it transforms us, and why it is a foundational sermon for pastors to teach on. 

Forgiveness Is Complicated… and Hard.

In my personal experience, as a young man living on the West Coast of the United States, there seems to be an emphasis on “cutting off toxic people” from your life. Go ahead, just Google search “cutting off toxic people” to see for yourself. This kind of sentiment typically makes its rounds, especially on social media platforms, as a sort of practice for self-betterment –– more or less among those of us in the Gen Z and Millennial age groups. 

Don’t get me wrong — there’s certainly understandable boundary lines for breaking ties with some people. There’s a deeper conversation to be explored with relationships that fall under emotional and physical abuse, manipulation, and/or distrust; the necessary boundaries, and the way we find forgiveness in the midst of this trauma. Furthermore, in Matthew 18:15-20, Jesus even addresses how to handle those who sin (or sin against us) within the Church and refuse to answer to correction. Though with the popularization of cutting people out of our life, we run the risk of deeming those who have simply wronged us “toxic.” This behavior absolves us from confrontation and forgiveness and instead leaves us with an unresolved feeling of resentment.

Understandably, forgiveness can be hard… and struggling with it is certainly not specific to recent generations. If it was, I’m sure Jesus wouldn’t need to instruct Peter to apologize to those who have sinned against him “not seven times, but 77 times” (Matthew 18:21-22). 

As Dr. Ilene Strauss Cohen tells us in Psychology Today:

“As human beings, we’re programmed to avoid danger or anyone who has proven to be untrustworthy. Therefore, thinking about forgiving someone who harmed us goes against our very instincts.” 

According to an online research study by the nonprofit organization Fetzer Institute,  “Sixty-two percent of Americans agree (strongly or somewhat) that they need more forgiveness in their personal lives, and this number increases to 83% in their communities, 94% in America, 95% in the world.” Indeed there’s a value for forgiveness, but the same study shows that there’s also a caveat:  “(...) 60% of Americans believe that forgiving someone would depend on the other offender apologizing and making changes.” 

The need for forgiveness applies to anyone, including fellow believers. Faith research company Barna even finds in their study that approximately “one in four practicing Christians (23%) has a person in their life who ‘they just can’t forgive.’” 

So… What’s Forgiveness Good For Anyway?

If forgiveness is so difficult, and we can just as well avoid those who wrong us –– why forgive?

Well, to put it simply: because Jesus told us to. 

Before we get into that, let’s look at why in general terms.

The longer I’ve been a christian, I find there to be a running throughline (a) between the way Jesus guides us to live and (b) what modern doctors and psychologists typically say is good for our health. In this case, it’s how choosing to let go and forgive plays an important role in our health. 

The organization of John Hopkins Medicine reports that the anger and resentment we hold from unforgiveness actually affects our physical and mental health. According to the organization:

“Chronic anger puts you into a fight-or-flight mode, which results in numerous changes in heart rate, blood pressure and immune response. Those changes, then, increase the risk of depression, heart disease and diabetes, among other conditions. Forgiveness, however, calms stress levels, leading to improved health.”

As we can see, something as simple as holding anger toward another can affect us more than we know. On the contrary, forgiveness heals us spiritually and physically. John Hopkins highlights that:

“Studies have found that the act of forgiveness can reap huge rewards for your health, lowering the risk of heart attack; improving cholesterol levels and sleep; and reducing pain, blood pressure, and levels of anxiety, depression, and stress.” 

It’s fair to say that Jesus might just be looking out for us.

Needless to Say, Teaching on Forgiveness Is Timeless and Foundational.

With Easter right around the corner, it’s especially easy to recognize how foundational the concept of forgiveness is to Jesus’s teachings. 

Jesus not only came as the ultimate sacrifice, forgiving us of our sin, so that we may choose to follow Him into eternity, but He asks us to do for others as He’s done for us. This concept can be seen many times over in the New Testament. Here are just a few examples:

  • Ephesians 4:32: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
  • Matthew 6:12: In the way Jesus asks us to pray, “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”
  • Matthew 6:14-15: “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
  • Colossians 3:13: “Bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”
  • Luke 23:34: Even in the midst of His own sacrifice, “Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

As Archbishop Bernard Hebda of Archdiocese of Saint Paul & Minneapolis points out, the gospel of Luke alone contains five parables on forgiveness. Not only did Jesus speak in parables, but also led by example. Archbishop Hebda further examines:

 “[...] Jesus forgave those who sinned against him directly. [...] After the Roman soldiers had scourged and nailed him, Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them” (Lk 23:34). After the resurrection Jesus had every right to be furious. Peter had denied him. The others had deserted him. When he entered the Upper Room, they deserved a severe reprimand, but instead, with divine compassion Jesus said not once but three times, “Peace be with you” (Jn 20:19,21,26).

In just a couple of examples, we can see that forgiveness is a major tenet of Jesus’s teachings. For this reason, it’s important for pastors to teach on and emphasize forgiveness as a foundational practice to the congregation.

Preparing a Message on Forgiveness 

Whether in the context of Easter, in a series, or any sermon that explores the themes of forgiveness, there are many different ways pastors can speak on the timeless topic. Because there are so many Bible verses, Jesus’s parables, and anecdotes in today’s world to draw from, it can be difficult to narrow down on a fresh and insightful sermon, surrounding the topic.

With the help of sermon preparation applications, pastors can have a more streamlined way of generating a sermon outline that works for the message, getting quicker access to relevant scripture, developing deeper character studies, and even coming up with modern-day examples that help the congregation contextualize the scripture. 

Our Faith Begins With Forgiveness

Forgiveness can be hard, and our natural human response may be inclined to run away from the responsibility of achieving it. However from the teachings of Jesus and His disciples, we can see that humanity has always needed to learn the message of forgiveness. For this reason, it’s important for pastors to teach on why Jesus instructs us to forgive, why it’s foundational to our faith, and how it transforms us physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

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