Almost from the moment we are born, we begin to learn how the world works. We are taught by our parents, our friends, our peers and a media-driven society what life and success and fulfillment are supposed to look like. When it comes to grace, the lessons are quite clear–there is little.
Think about phrases we learn from the moment we enter our preschools. The early bird gets the worm. An eye for an eye. No pain, no gain. You’ve got rights. You get what you pay for. For most of humanity, that works okay. It just feels right. You get what you deserve. There is no one else who will look out for you, so why should you look out for them?
I learned those lessons well.
That is, until the entire economy of what that belief system was built on came face-to-face with someone who felt and acted and talked differently. My eye-for-an-eye world was shaken by the clear message of the Bible that we don’t get what we deserve. As a follower of Christ, I deserved punishment. I got forgiveness. I deserved the wrath of a God who is holy and perfect. I got the love of a Father who is still holy and perfect and wants the same for me. When I should have lived my life as a slave (indeed, was living my life as a slave to things that couldn’t satisfy) I received from God the offer of becoming his son, an heir to everything He offers. But that alone wouldn’t have been so hard to accept or forced me to do much differently. Who doesn’t like the part where you get the free stuff you don’t deserve?
The part that changed me and undid all the “learning” I had received was the part where Jesus said, “If you are going to follow me, you must treat your brother the same way I have treated you.” C. S. Lewis wrote, “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.” It was–still is–a hard lesson to swallow, especially after being so well indoctrinated by the world. But to follow Christ, you can’t pick and choose what you want to obey. It’s deal or no deal, take it or leave it, all or nothing.
When I am asked how I had the “ability” to forgive a pharmacist who made an error that killed my son or a driver who killed my wife my response simply has to be, “How could I not? The unforgivable has been forgiven in me and the One who forgave me commands that I do likewise.” I had no “ability” to do it. But Christ in me did. That’s the difference.
As I told one lady last week in Davenport, Iowa, it’s not an easy choice…and it’s never done. I have to wake up every day and choose to forgive–a pharmacist, a driver, a man who treated me wrong, a kid who didn’t obey, a friend who didn’t return a call, a stranger who pulled in front of me.
Forgiveness is no option for the Christ follower…and yet it still must be chosen.
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