Forgiveness can be a costly activity. When you cancel a debt, it does not just simply disappear. Instead, you absorb a liability that someone else deserves to pay. Similarly, forgiveness requires that you absorb certain effects of that person’s sins and you release that person from liability to punishment. This is precisely what Christ accomplished on Calvary.
In Matthew 18:28, the forgiven-his-10,000-talent-debt servant is owed 100 denarii by his fellow servant. Don’t think 100 denarii was just pocket change! It was significant! A day laborer (i.e. blue collar worker) was paid approximately a denarii a day for his work. So 100 denarii was the equivalent to 3+ months of wages!
How do you forgive that kind of a debt?
Harvey’s chapter contains the story of Jeremy and Cindy. Jeremy committed adultery, but was broken by God’s grace and repented. He sought Cindy’s forgiveness. If you were Cindy (if you are a man, turn the tables and imagine your wife committing adultery and then repenting and genuinely seeking your forgiveness), how could you forgive that kind of a debt against you?
It was most certainly a long and intensely difficult process, but Cindy was in fact empowered to forgive Jeremy. How did it happen?
She states repeatedly that it was the preaching of the gospel that enabled her to forgive Jeremy. It was the gospel that got her eyes off of Jeremy's sin and onto her 10,000 talent debt owed to God. She heard it and heard it and began to really get the degree of her debt. She then subsequently began to grasp the greatness of the riches of the mercy lavished on her in Christ to forgive great debt.
By God’s grace, these realities began to appear in “actual size” to her. And without excusing or condoning or minimizing the debt of Jeremy’s sin against her, the gospel gave her eyes to see his sin in “actual size” as well. And the mercy and forgiveness flowed and God worked an amazing work of reconciliation between them.
If we don't have our eyes open to the actual size of our debt, then a different response is typical. Harvey explains it well on pp 107-108:
A natural response to our spouse’s sin is pure Matthew 18:28—pay what you owe me, and do it now. Our emotional reaction is not always a spiritual response, even if it “feels right.” We fear God’s methods don’t work. The biblical response—the idea of completely, forthrightly, and permanently forgiving a spouse and releasing him or her from all liability—can seem not only impossibly difficult but less than fully just.
Instead of these all-too-typical responses, Harvey points to the biblical response of true forgiveness:In the end, the most common outcome is some wishy-washy middle ground—neither the sinful tantrum of demanding satisfaction or the godly extension of true forgiveness. It may be the inch-deep, “Oh, it’s okay,” that tries to pretend nothing ever happened. Perhaps it’s the quick, “Or course, I forgive you” (while implying “as long as you never do anything like that again!”). Or course, we may instead simply refuse to forgive, holding our spouse’s sin over the head like an old arrest warrant that could be prosecuted at any moment—what the Bible calls bitterness. (emphasis mine)
We'll unpack this path of true forgiveness a bit in the next post.But true forgiveness sees another’s sin for the evil that it is, addresses it, then absorbs the cost of that sin by the power of God’s abundant grace. Such forgiveness sets the sinner free; the account of the sin is closed, cancelled, blotted out, just as we see in Matthew 18.