Discipleship Before Forgiveness

Discipleship Before Forgiveness

One of the things you must understand if you are ever going to get rid of the gorilla is this: before Jesus ever calls you to forgive, he calls you to be his disciple.

If you really want to forgive someone but can’t, then maybe forgiveness isn’t what you’re struggling with. Maybe your fight is with what has to be done before forgiveness can truly happen. For some of us, maybe getting rid of the gorilla is not about forgiveness at all but about deciding whether to answer Jesus’ call to discipleship.

No one who reads the Gospels walks away with the impression that following Jesus will be easy. Take a look at the following statements Jesus made about his expectations for the way his disciples would treat one another:

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:21, 22).

If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, “I repent,” forgive him (Luke 17:3, 4).

The lavishness with which Jesus calls us to forgive one another is nothing short of astonishing, but it is nothing compared to his request that we forgive our bitter enemies:

You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Matthew 5:43, 44).

You might read these verses of Scripture and wonder, Could I ever do that? If so, you’re asking the wrong question.

I don’t know if I could ever go into combat. I see the images on television—the firefights, the bravery, the sacrifices, the casualties—and I wonder if I have what it takes. The first and hardest decision, however, is not whether I could jump into a firefight with an AK-47, but whether I could join the military in the first place. If I reach the point where I feel called to enter the military and I sign the papers, then at that point I’ve already decided that I am willing to go into battle. Answering yes to the first question, Can I serve in the military? automatically answers the second, Can I go into combat?

Forgiveness works the same way. When we look at the requirements— forgiving fellow disciples without limit, forgiving anyone who causes us harm—we rightfully ask, Could I really do that? But that’s the wrong question to focus on. Can I answer Jesus’ call to discipleship? is the first and most important question. If we answer that affirmatively, we automatically answer, Can I forgive?

We forgive not because we want to, or because it improves our lives, or because we’re sick of living with the aftereffects of not doing so; we forgive because that’s what disciples do. Disciples obey Jesus, and Jesus teaches us to forgive other people when they hurt us. So we forgive them—immediately, completely, and without reservation.

As disciples, because we’ve already decided up front that we’ll obey Jesus’ commands, the question now is not will we forgive, but how?


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