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On the list of frustrating things, heavy traffic ranks pretty high. And drivers who don’t signal, don’t look, won’t move over, cut people off, speed, tailgate, go too slow, or drive incredibly noisy or incredibly large vehicles rank among the world’s most frustrating people. And as we all know from first hand experience, it’s very easy for us to condemn drivers who get on our nerves. On the other hand, most of us find it quite easy to forgive our own driving mistakes.
I wish I could say this phenomenon only pertained to driving. But the truth is, we find it far easier to forgive ourselves for just about anything than to forgive the same mistakes in others.
Jesus highlights this all too human tendency in Matthew 18:33-35:
“‘Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?' In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.
“This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart."
It might be easy to assume from this statement that God forgives us on the basis of our forgiveness of others, a simple transaction – if we forgive others then God will forgive us. But that would be a false assumption. God forgives us on the basis of Jesus’ perfect sacrifice on our behalf and in our place, and on no other basis.
In such statements, Jesus is not prescribing a new form of legalism; he is describing the nature of hearts that trust in him. For example, when we trust in Christ, we no longer have anything to hide from him. That isn’t because we are suddenly sinless. It’s because we trust him to love us unconditionally and to forgive our sins, sins that we are no longer afraid to show him.
Because we trust Christ, we can commit our fears and anxieties to him, which frees us from the need to get even or get back at others. In other words, we know that others, like us, are measured by Christ’s love and grace, and that takes the starch out of our natural tendency to condemn others.
Whether it’s in traffic, at the courthouse or around the dinner table, we’re no longer slaves to our raw impulses to condemn others—we are free to forgive others as God, for Christ’s sake, forgave us.
Matthew 18:35 is a condemnation only to those who don’t trust Christ—their selfish measuring rod is the only standard they know – and the only one they understand. But for those who trust the Redeemer, there is only one measure—the ever-unfolding height and depth of the love of Christ.
I’m Joseph Tkach, speaking of life.