The desire for freedom lives deep in the hearts of all people. We don’t want to be held by chains whether real or ones in our mind or heart. Yet freedom is rare no matter where we live. We can be enslaved by memories of things that have happened years before, sometimes even generations before that we just can’t turn loose of. We may be enslaved by hatred for someone that we feel or know has wronged us or our family to the degree we simply can’t get away from it. We may be enslaved by prejudice so that we look at people of any particular group and think that if someone is of that race, background or religious body, they must be of a particular sort. Often it goes back to someone we have known from one of these groups and we then assumed that everyone of that group must be the same. Think of countries where just being identified as a Christian makes the people there believe that you are out to kill them or destroy them in some way. How many times in your life have your prejudices been shattered because you got to know someone personally who was of the very group you believed was all bad and they turned out to be good, caring and helpful people?
One of Jesus’ primary purposes in coming into this world and living among us was to offer freedom. He said, “If you continue in my word then you are my disciples indeed and you will know the truth and the truth will make you free.” (John 8:31-32). In Romans 6:17-18 Paul said, “But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.” In 2 Corinthians 3:17 it says, “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” But two of the strongest statements about freedom in Christ are in Galatians 5. In verse one “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” Then in verse 13, “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.”
I know that I can have freedom from my sins as I turn from those sins in repentance and am forgiven by the Lord for the sin, thus bringing freedom from the sin. Even though I may have sinned in some horrible ways, there is no lack of cleansing power in the blood of Christ and even the worst of sinners can be washed, sanctified and justified in the name of the Lord and by the Spirit of our God (I Corinthians 6:9-11). But how can I be free from those things that enslave me in life? How do I overcome the hate or prejudice or distrust that fills my heart because of things that have been done to me that were wrong and overcome that kind of slavery?The truth is, it is the very same process involved. Often people that have wronged us in some way or whom we fear or distrust, have repented of the wrong and asked for forgiveness. When such happens, the ball is in my court. I can forgive and move on or I can question their sincerity and refuse to forgive. As hard as it is to forgive in such times, it is worth remembering that Jesus said if a person sins against you seven times in a day and turns again to say, “I repent” forgive them. The disciples realized that would be hard and asked the Lord to “increase our faith.” Notice Jesus didn’t say to examine their repentance. Only God is capable of searching the hearts and minds. Our place is simply to forgive when someone says they are sorry or repenting of the sin.
But what if they don’t repent? What if they never show any regret or do anything to try to make up for the wrong done? First, sometimes people don’t repent because they don’t really understand that they have done you any wrong. So, I must go to the person who did the wrong, by myself and between me and them in the humblest way possible confront them for the wrong (Matthew 18:15-17). Many times they will repent at that point and you can forgive and move on. Jesus said if they didn’t then take one or two witnesses to confirm the whole thing and try again. If that didn’t work then take it to the church and if that didn’t work then let the person be to you as an unbeliever.
But let me suggest something else. Jesus was being crucified by a mob who hated him because he wasn’t the Christ they wanted him to be. Their accusations were false and he had done them no wrong, yet they wanted him dead. The amazing thing is the first thing Jesus prayed when hanging on the cross was, “Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing.” You might say, well that was Jesus, no ordinary person could do that, but Stephen did in Acts 7 when he was being stoned to death by an angry mob who hated his message.
Sometimes, the answer for me, whether the other person ever changes or repents or not is to simply forgive it and leave it in the hands of God to deal with the person. When I forgive, it allows the hate, the fear, the prejudice and the longing for revenge to flow out of my life and I can be free from the slavery that has kept me in chains.
Someone might well say, “But Leon, you don’t know what I’ve had to deal with. You just can’t understand how hard it would be to just forgive and turn it loose.” No, I’m sure I can’t. But the truth is no one knows what the other person has been through and how many times and ways they have been injured in ways we would never have dreamed about.
Several years ago I met a lady who had been imprisoned in Germany during World War 2. She was Jewish and her whole family was murdered except her. She was just a young girl at the time when the war ended and she was freed. She was a nurse for a doctor friend that I went to and I became friends with her. She always seemed cheerful and friendly to everyone. When the doctor told me her story, I began to question her when I would see her about it all. At first she didn’t share much but as time went by she became more and more open and told of the horror of losing her whole family. An American soldier had seen her and in the releasing of the prisoners began to talk with her and found out she had no one there to turn to. He asked if she would like to come to America and become part of his family. She was shocked but agreed. Somehow he arranged for her to get to this country and have his family meet her at the dock. He was still serving in the army when she reached the states. The family took her in and treated her as one of their own. I asked one day how she had dealt with the feelings towards those who had murdered her family. Her answer was, “It haunted me for years. But the love the family here showed me helped me to forgive them and realize they were just deluded in their thinking. When I forgave them, it changed my whole life. You know hate is a horrible thing and I’m glad I’m free from it.”
God wants you too to be free.