One of the biggest turning points in my life was when God radically intervened in my relationship with my father.
My father was a dogmatic atheist. I can remember my childhood, how my father had a major anger problem, and physically abused my mother. I can vividly remember where my father threw my mother from the second floor to the first floor. I was in great fear of him. So, the home life growing up was a hellish experience for seeing those I loved getting beaten by my father was unbearable. Things simply escalated and got worse. Until age 16, where Christ entered my life.
That alone was a story of God’s miracle of grace, but my story does not end there. In October of 2011, my father came to know and experience the saving grace of God, and we all praise God for this great milestone.
For the longest time, I hesitated to reach out to my father. I was not yet reconciled with him, as I struggled to let go of the past. But God nudged on my heart saying, “Shouldn’t you forgive your father as I have forgiven you?”
Living in Grace as the People of God
I lately have been studying through the book of Philemon. The book of Philemon speaks on how Christians can live as peacemakers and reflect the heart of our crucified Savior to others.
If you don’t know the book of Philemon, this letter was very personal, as a friend writes to a dear close friend. Philemon is a Christian believer in Colossae (Philem 1-2) who was wealthy enough to own at least one slave, and also his home was used as a gathering place for the church. He is requesting Philemon to forgive his runaway slave, Onesimus, who was a new believer.
The immediate question perhaps we are asking is, would Philemon be able to accomplish to grant forgiveness and be reconciled with Onesimus by God’s grace?
Philemon had a choice on whether to follow the example Paul set or the societal standard. This breaking away from the master and slave relationship was an unheard event. But the Scripture is clear; our heavenly Father has accepted us freely as He did with Christ. As a result? As gospel partners in the ministry with Christ, we are to do unto others as we walk with Christ through faith with the hope of the gospel.
Forgiveness was not the norm in Philemon’s world, but it is a fundamental requirement for Christians.
The gospel of Jesus Christ truly transforms lives in radical measures! Even a runaway slave and thief became the joy of the aged apostle. And Jesus’s resurrection has changed history and the world (1 Cor. 15:14). It has changed me and millions of others. That changes the way we live life here on Earth (2 Cor. 5:17).
The picture of the gospel is displayed in Philemon’s act of true love and reconciliation in the body of Christ. When lost sinners are captured by the heart of the gospel and radically transformed by God’s kindness and compassion, Christians begin to display brotherly affection and grace towards one another as Christ has done unto us.
True wisdom from above grants the grace to enable us to see all fellow believers as brothers and sisters in Christ.
Paul echoes in the book of Galatians, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal 3:28). Regardless of socio-economic background or status, relationship in Christ enables freedom and grants forgiveness by grace.
Because of Onesimus’s commitment to the Lord, a historian notes the following, “Ignatius, in the Epistle to the Ephesians, maketh mention of Onesimus, as pastor of Ephesus, next after Timothy. The Roman Martyrologue saith, that he was stoned to death at Rome, under Trajan the emperor.”
The letter to Philemon is a description for a mature Christian character to display gentleness, to offer forgiveness, to choose loving-kindness, and above all bear fruit of Christlikeness in everyday life. How does one do that? By living in grace.
Five Diagnostic Questions for Biblical Forgiveness
When you live long enough, I am certain you can perhaps recall maybe one or two relationships where it is extremely difficult to extend forgiveness to those who have wronged you. I quite understand where the hesitancy comes from.
Here are five questions for whether you have truly extended biblical forgiveness.
(1) Do I get angry/anxious when I think about the person?
(2) Do I quietly hope that the person gets hurt as I did?
(3) Would I willingly help the person if he/she needs help in ministry?
(4) Can I pray for that person?
(5) Would I be frustrated if God blesses the person?
The Gospel is the Story of Forgiveness / Reconciliation
The gospel displays what Christ has done for those whom God loved by sending His son to die on the cross. Furthermore, the gospel displays in the Christian community a picture of a relationship like Paul offered for between Philemon and Onesimus. Paul was practicing the mind of Christ in everyday relationships (Phil 2:5-8).
Therefore, the Christian life is the story of the extension of forgiveness.
All Christians are to model the kind of faith and love Paul had for fellow believers. God views all people precious and there is human dignity no matter what background people are coming from. Whether male or female (Gal 3:28), Jew or Gentile (Rom 10:12) or master or slave (Eph 6:5-8) God demands forgiveness and reconciliation in a loving Christian community
If someone asks for forgiveness over and over again, it is our duty as Christians to extend forgiveness. Christians must forgive the sins of others as God has forgiven our sins.
Forgiving others is a mark of genuine disciples of Christ.
Jesus models the Lord’s prayer by saying, “Forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors.” (Matt 6:12). Christ took the penalty of our sin upon the cross. As the nails drove into the wood cried out, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 22:33-35).
As C.S. Lewis said it well, “To be a Christians means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.”
The gospel is the story of Christ in place of us atoned and died as a living sacrifice for sinners so that Christians can take in place for others to walk in living grace. The gospel truly radically transforms not only the way of thinking but also the way we treat those around us with gentleness and care by living in grace.
Forgiveness is The Essence of Being a Christian
I remember one time in a meeting someone said, “Well, we all want to do what is right….” Then silence. Everyone knew, doing the right thing is ideal, but it was going to cost them something.
Forgiveness does not come easy, because there is always a cost to obedience.
Back to the story with my father. I knew, now that my father has given his life to Christ, I had a biblical obligation to forgive him. This was the beginning of our true reconciliation.
I remember one winter; I went back to see my family in Japan from bible college. I was reluctant to bring up the conversation. But as the time was coming to an end, God gave me the courage to converse with him. I looked him in the eye and said, “Dad, I forgive you for all that you did. You are now my brother in Christ, and I choose to forgive you and love you.” My father, quietly not knowing what to do, said, “I love you too son” and embraced me.
It was not easy for me to forgive him, but there was such freedom in God’s grace of reconciliation. But, as Christians the ability and willingness to extend forgiveness does not come from within, but from the power of Christ’s forgiveness and love for one another. Because of Christ, forgiveness is possible and there we find freedom from the past and God begins to transform our inner hearts for others.
What happens if we don’t extend forgiveness? People become prisoners of their soul in bitterness and eventually chokes the life of joy out of the person. Indeed, when my compassion is low for others, it’s because I lost sight of God’s compassion for me. That is what the gospel does in Christ, to live in His grace.
How has forgiveness been a struggle for you since coming to know the saving grace of Jesus Christ? Work on strengthening or restoring a broken relationship. Choose to forgive, and initiate the process with someone.
 John Trapp, Trapps Classic Commentary On The New Testament (Birmingham, AL: Calvary Press, 2008).
 C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory, 1st ed. (San Francisco, CA: HarperOne, 2001).