Recently I had a friend say to me in referencing an unresolved issue with another, that they decided to “leave the matter at the cross.” I was drawn to the language employed as it is rich in theology and metaphorical imagery. So I wanted to investigate this thought and give some biblical explanation and underpinning to the idea of leaving an offense “at the cross.” Specifically, when the offender never acknowledges or confesses to wrong doing. What is the role of biblical forgiveness of the injured person to the wrongdoer? We as forgiven people, are called to unconditionally forgive each other, regardless of the offender’s lack of efforts to make right the wrong.
First, as we all are sinners and live with sinners it is wholly normal to have complaints against each other. We will be tempted to think that we can be exempt of loving someone because our complaint is grievous. No reasonable person should be tasked with love or forgiveness for such a calloused sinner, right?
Second, as believers – if we allow ourselves to be led by the Holy Spirit – will forgive one another and we will bear with one another. This is in contradiction to normal living, thus requires a wholly different strength, that of the Holy Spirit.
Third, the motivation to forgive someone will be the fact that God has chosen us, loved us, and called us holy in contradiction to our own selfish ways. I am always helped and humbled when I consider how I may have performed the same offence against God. Therefore the measure of our forgiveness for each other will be that of God’s forgiveness of us. The application of God’s love is the Holy Spirit, who “sheds abroad the love of God in our hearts” (Romans 5:5).
In instruction consider Colossians 3:12-14 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 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. ESV (By the way the staff is memorizing this verse so feel free to ask them about this).
I find it challenging that the Colossians passage does not seem to put conditions on the forgiveness such as the offender’s acknowledgment of wrong doing to the offendee. (Now understand, there is a role for confession from the offender to the offendee, but it is in the step of reconciliation, not confession. This may be discussed in another article) Reconciliation does require confession and repentance, whereas forgiving another believer does not seem to have the same requirement. So what do we do when matters go unresolved and our sense of justice is not satisfied?
I would commend Romans 3:23-26 for instruction.
Romans 3:23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. ESV
When Jesus died on the cross He satisfied God’s wrath of justice over our sin, this is the idea of “propitiation.” Sometimes we don’t want to forgive, because we believe that the offender will get away with a punishable evil. It is healing and faith producing when we realize that we are not the judge and “Vengeance is mine, says the Lord.” We take comfort in a Holy God’s vengeance and in an eternal punishment.
What do we do, if that offender finds forgiveness with God through Jesus Christ? By faith we are to realize that Jesus became the offense on the cross and it was enough to satisfy God’s perfect justice. I am to trust that that is enough. I believe in the divine forbearance that passes over the sin of someone else, so I can now bear with them and forgive as the Lord has forgiven. When we struggle with this action, we are struggling with the belief that God’s justice is perfect and that our justice is better than God’s work. Remember it is God’s law that was broken and not our law.
2 Sam 12:13-14 David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” And Nathan said to David, “The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die. ESV
Consider how God could pass over the sins of King David, a man after God’s own heart. Yet he was guilty of lust, coveting, abusing of power, adultery, lying, “despised the word of the Lord,” and “scorned God.” Yet, the Lord “put away (his)sin.” If you were Uriah’s father, how could there be forgiveness for David? Where did God put the sin when it was “put away”? These sins were put upon Jesus on the cross, so no wonder Jesus was forsaken. We would be instructed to project our anger to Jesus, since Jesus became that sin. But we can’t be angry at Jesus for all that He has done for us. By faith in Christ, we have to choose to surrender our anger and receive God’s grace. Pray with me for this grace, to leave offences “at the cross.”