How Much to Forgive
If I use the pattern of forgiveness given in the story of the servant who owed a million dollars, I naturally answer the question of how much debt to forgive: the entire thing. The story shows the servant should’ve had the same mercy on his friend, but the man chose to exact his own justice. He chose to punish. I may feel I have the right to even calculate how much debt to forgive, but I don’t. I have even less of a right when it comes to how to correct the wrong against me, that is, how to punish. You see, Paul wrote:
“Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, “I will take revenge; I will pay them back,” says the Lord.” (Romans 12:19 NLT)
Freedom from Sin and its Penalty
Only God can know if and how an injustice can be punished: all the while without causing more harm. You see, we cause harm and pain and our own injustices when we decide how much debt to forgive or not. But only God can right wrongs in a just way, for only He can know all motivations, all consequences, all data in the complex web of the universe. In short, only he knows all causes and only he knows all effects. So in His perfect judgement, He chose the Life for a Life, Eye for and Eye principle (see pt. 1) to guide Israel in punishing sins. But He’s now given us an even better guide: the Gospel.
Before I get to that, let me show you this passage I love:
“Don’t you realize that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people—none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God. Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11 NLT)
So although the The Mosaic Law demanded the death penalty for sexual sinners, idolaters, adulterers, and practicing homosexuals, these people were welcomed into the Corinthian Church and cleansed, made holy, and justified (“made right with God”). This is because the Gospel is greater than the Law of Moses, and part of the Gospel is this treasure:
“For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins.” (Romans 3:23-24 NLT)
Yet an elephant in the room rears on its hind legs, demanding my attention: does this freedom apply to every sinner who’s put their faith in Christ?
The Murderer who Need not Die
We did nothing so good in order to earn salvation. Neither did we do anything so terrible as to be denied it. And even if we have committed the most heinous of sins, sins that once required “life for a life,” Christians are free from that penalty, as the Gospel says.
Otherwise, the Apostle Paul should have been punished under Mosaic Law by death. As he admitted:
“I used to believe that I ought to do everything I could to oppose the very name of Jesus the Nazarene. Indeed, I did just that in Jerusalem. Authorized by the leading priests, I caused many believers there to be sent to prison. And I cast my vote against them when they were condemned to death.” (Acts 26:9-10 NLT)
He sentenced innocent believers to death: that’s murder. Yet he himself later turned to Jesus, was cleansed, made holy, and justified. Just like all the Corinthian believers were. But what stops a modern day believer from turning their life around like Paul did? What stops the person who murdered another from finding the forgiveness and restoration and even love Paul found?
Society. Also known as the World.