4. Easter compels us to extend God’s grace to our enemies.
This grace thing seems all well and good when I apply it to myself; but it’s problematic when I have to extend that same mercy to others.
What about those who have truly harmed me or those I love? What about the abusers, the accusers, the robbers, the rapists, the manipulators, the murderers, the tyrants and the terrorists? What about those who twist the truth and promote ungodliness? What about my political opponents and religious enemies? What about the adulterous ex-spouse and cruel ex-boss and corrupt ex-business partner?
Surely I don’t have to hold out hope for them, much less extend grace to them? Don’t they deserve the hell that God has prepared for Satan and his demons?
Yes they do. And so do we.
But when our hearts are swept up by God’s grace, we no longer divide the world into “them” and “us.” Rather, we see ourselves as hopelessly lost adversaries of God whose pardon was bought by the death of his Son. As Paul writes:
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us…. For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! (Romans 5:6-8,10)
Easter compels us to love as Christ loved, to serve and Christ served, and to lay down our lives as Christ did. Jesus faced Golgotha knowing that his best friends would desert him, that his enemies would murder him, and—to add insult to injury—that his death would actually atone for their sins against him. And yet, he chose an afternoon on the cross and three days in the grave over an eternity without you and me.
With Easter’s empty tomb comes a sobering responsibility: Jesus entrusts us with his ministry of reconciliation. Not because our lives depend upon it, but because God depends upon us to convince our skeptical world. Paul is adamant about this:
For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. (2 Corinthians 5:14-20)
To truly experience Easter means that we follow God’s example of forgiving those who have sinned against us. We no longer look upon them as enemies; rather, we have compassion on those who are as lost as we once were.
Then we do the most radical thing imaginable: we choose to forgive them. We let go of their debt because Christ paid it when he paid ours.
By forgiving them, we not only release them from their debt to us; but we also free ourselves from the unbearable burden of being their debtor.
Their sin injures us in two ways. First, there is the offense itself. Then, there is the anger and bitterness that festers in our hearts because of it. We deceive ourselves when we think that we’d be happy if our enemies “got what they deserved.” In the end, this doesn’t shift the pain from us to them—it just spreads it out.
But forgiveness operates differently.
When we forgive those who have harmed us, we acknowledge the true magnitude of their harm, yet choose to let go of the pain and resentment they have caused. It’s not that we let their debt go unpaid; rather, we accept Christ’s payment of their debt to us at Calvary. Someone did pay: Jesus. And we don’t resent the fact that Jesus paid their debt because we’re always humbled by the realization that he paid ours as well.
We think that forgiveness follows confession and repentance. But that’s not what God does at Calvary. On the cross, Jesus looks up to heaven and begs his Father to look down and forgive those who are in the process of murdering him. His forgiveness doesn’t follow their repentance—it precedes it.
Rightly understood, God’s forgiveness leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4). Forgiveness is not something we earn because we repent; rather, repentance is something we do because we’ve been forgiven. That way, we can’t say that God “owes” us because we’ve “done” the thing.
God forgives first. That’s why grace is so amazing, but it does demand a response.
If we reject his grace, we damn ourselves to a life burdened by bitterness and an eternity of unending alienation. For one day, God will require of everyone an accounting for every sin. If we have not accepted Christ’s payment on our behalf, then we will have to pay for our sins ourselves.
But when we accept his forgiveness, we start undoing our fallen world by forgiving others first—even if they are unwilling or unable to respond.
I’m going to celebrate this Easter by forgiving someone who has harmed and offended me. I might even let them know that their debt has been paid in full and I’m no longer holding it against them.
I invite you to do the same.
And may we all have the most scandalous, marvelous, audacious Easter ever.