Forgive Just as God in Christ Also Has Forgiven You

Palm Sunday

And be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you, and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.

Last week I talked about what forgiveness is—what it looks like and what it's not. I quoted Thomas Watson's definition which included

  1. resisting revenge,
  2. not returning evil for evil,
  3. wishing them well,
  4. grieving at their calamities,
  5. praying for their welfare,
  6. seeking reconciliation so far as it depends on you,
  7. and coming to their aid in distress.

How Do We Truly Forgive? Gospel-Flying

This week I'm asking, how can we do that? What gives us the freedom and the ability and the incentive and the power to forgive those who sin against us? Some of you have been wronged so deeply and hurt so badly that forgiving would be as great a miracle as flying.

But recall the little poem of John Bunyan:

Run, John, run, the law commands
But gives us neither feet nor hands,
Far better news the gospel brings:
It bids us fly and gives us wings.

Two wings, six feathers.

And that includes the "flying" of forgiveness. So I want God to show us our gospel wings this morning. Forgiving is a flying you can do in the power of the gospel. In fact six feathers are enough for this flight—three on one side and three on the other make two strong wings for gospel-flying—or gospel forgiving.

Two Wings, Six Feathers

I find all six feathers in these three verses (Ephesians 4:32–5:2),

And be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you, and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.

There are two wings in this text for gospel-flying—just like a bird has two wings. Each wing has three feathers. All six feathers are things God the Father and God the Son have done for us without our help. They are all works of his sovereign grace. I am talking to Christian believers now. If you are not one yet, I hope you will listen and be drawn in. What I am describing here about gospel-flying (forgiving) is yours freely if you will lay down the weights of unbelief and trust Christ.

There are two wings. One wing with its three feathers is what Christ did for us before we even existed. And the other wing with its three feathers is what God did for us in our own lifetime. So if you are drawing the sermon today, you need to draw a bird with two big wings each having three feathers, and then write on each feather one of the things God has done so that we can fly with forgiveness to each other.

Wing #1: What God Did for Us Before We Existed

The first feather in this wing is this:

1. God Loved Us with a Special Saving Love

Ephesians 5:1, "Be imitators of God, as beloved children." And verse 2: "Walk in love, just as Christ also loved you."

The first feather in the wing of gospel-flying—gospel forgiving—is the unspeakable reality of being loved by God. But to feel the force of this, you need to know that this is not merely the general love that God has for all the world—the love that gives life and breath and food and rain and protection and family and job and many evidences of his truth and power and greatness. It is an amazing thing to be loved like that, and should cause us to turn to him in gratitude.

But if that is all you know of the love of God, your gospel wings will be weak. This text speaks of love like a Father has for a child and love that moves Christ to take our place in death. Now that is something more than the general love of God for the world. That is a saving love—a love that goes beyond the offer of the gospel and actually undertakes to save us effectively, infallibly. It does what needs to be done to get us forgiven and saved.

Here is the evidence for this: in Ephesians 1:4–5 Paul says that this love of God chose us for adoption as children of God.

[God] chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love 5 he predestined us to adoption as sons.

So God has loved you with a love that is precious beyond words because it is a love that he gave you before you were born and that moved him to predestine you to be a child of God in holiness.

So the first feather in the wing of gospel forgiving is the feather of God's special saving love—call it covenant love. It is not mere general love. It is love that fixed personally, particularly on you as an individual and chose you and pursued you and brought you to himself, because he means to have you. If you get gripped by being loved like that, you might only need one feather to fly.

The second feather is

2. Christ Gave Himself for Us as a Sacrifice

Ephesians 5:2b, "[Christ] gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God."

According to Ephesians 2:3 we were all by nature children of wrath. We all deserve to perish and be punished in hell for the sins of our thoughts and imaginations and attitudes and tongues and hands and whole bodies. But the covenant love of God for us moved him not only to choose us but to give his Son as a sacrifice in our place: "Christ gave himself up for us"—that is, in our place, so that we don't have to perish. "He became a curse for us" (Galatians 3:13).

To feel the full force of this and to make the feather really strong for flying, we need to realize again that this is not merely a general thing Christ did the same for everybody. Ephesians 5:25 says, "Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her." In other words Christ's giving himself up to die as a substitute for the church is part of a covenant love that he has for his bride.

In love he chose you to be his bride and in love he lays down his life for you. You, individually, particularly, were in view as the goal of his loving and his dying.

Chuck Colson told the story (at the 1994 Ligonier Conference in Dallas, Texas) of a prison camp where 20 men came in from digging and lined their shovels up on the wall as they always did for the counting. When they were counted, the officer found only 19. He demanded that the one who didn't bring his shovel step forward. None did. Then he threatened that if no one stepped forward, he would choose ten men at random and shoot them. A young man of about 19 stepped forward and was immediately taken a few paces away and shot as an example to the others.

But then as they were dismissing, the shovels were counted again and there were 20 after all. The officer had miscounted.

The difference between what that boy did for his friends and what Jesus did for you is that Jesus knew which ten men he was dying for and he knew that we were all unworthy. But he did it anyway, because he had a very special covenant love for you that is far above human love.

The first feather is that you have been loved with a special saving love. And the second feather is that Christ gave himself as a sacrifice to take your place so that you will never perish.

The third feather for gospel-flying (forgiving) is

3. God Was Satisfied with Christ's Sacrifice

Ephesians 5:2b, "[Christ] gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma."

When Paul calls the death of Jesus for us a "fragrant aroma" to God he means that God was satisfied with what Christ did. He did not look down and say, "You can't do that. You can't die for others. Every person has to bear their own guilt. Don't be so foolish to think you can take the curse and condemnation of another." On the contrary, the Father looked down and (with tears in his eyes, I think) took tremendous pleasure in the honor that the Son gave to the Father in obeying his commission—the Father had sent him (John 3:16).

So Christ did not die in vain. God received his offering. It satisfied the Father's justice. It removed God's wrath and judgment.

Be ye glad, O be ye glad!
Every debt that you ever had,
Has been paid up in full by the blood of the Lamb,
Be ye glad, be ye glad, be ye glad.

Words and Music by Michael Kelly Blanchard
1980 Paragon Music Corp.
Of The Benson Company, Inc., Nashville, TN.

God was satisfied with the blood of Christ. That's the third feather in the first wing of gospel-flying and forgiveness.

That's the wing of God's work before you were born:

  1. God loved you with special saving love;
  2. Christ gave himself for you as a sacrifice; and
  3. God was satisfied with Christ's sacrifice. Your debt is paid.

Wing #2: What God Did for Us During Our Lifetime

The other wing for gospel-flying has three feathers in it also.

1. God Put Us in a Saving Relationship with Christ

God put you into a saving relationship with Christ, so that you are united to Christ like a vine is united to the branch.

Ephesians 4:32b, "Forgive each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you."

We are "in Christ." That means we are in a relationship with Christ—we are united to Christ—in a way that makes us acceptable to God because he is acceptable to God. How did we get into this relationship? 1 Corinthians 1:30 says, "By [God's] doing you are in Christ Jesus." God awakened faith in our hearts and put us into a saving relationship with Jesus (cf. Ephesians 2:10, 13; Romans 16:17).

If he hadn't done that, all his other work (loving us, giving his Son to die for us, being satisfied with the Son's sacrifice) would have been in vain. But he did it. He is doing it all. His love will not be frustrated in pursuing you for himself. His personal, individual, particular love is moving him all the way. Nothing will stop him from saving you.

So the first feather in wing #2 for gospel-flying is God's putting you into a relationship with Christ like a vine in a branch.

*2. God Adopted Us and Made Us Rightful Children

The second feather for gospel-forgiving is that God adopted you into his family and made you a rightful child of God.

Ephesians 5:1, "Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children."

In other words realize that when God united you to Christ, you became with Christ a child of God. And heir. This is what God had been aiming at all along. Ephesians 1:5 says that "God predestined us unto adoption."

Some parents have children accidentally. And if they are cruel and heartless parents, they might even tell their children they didn't want them. But God has no unwanted children. They are all planned—from eternity, with great expectation and joy. They are all pursued. Christ's death is like an unspeakably high payment through heaven's Micah Fund.1

The second wing of gospel-flying in wing #2 is the truth that you are loved not just in some random, general, impersonal way, but as a child of God that he sought out and adopted at great cost.

*3. God Forgave Us for Our Sins

Finally the third feather in wing #2 for gospel-flying (forgiving) is that God forgave you for your sins.

Ephesians 4:32, "And be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you."


Before you were born (wing #1):

  1. God has loved you with a special, personal, saving love from all eternity.
  2. His Son gave his life for you to take the place of your judgment.
  3. God was satisfied by the substitute and sacrifice of the Son. The debt was paid.

Then after you were born (wing #2):

  1. God brought you to faith and put you in a saving relationship with Christ.
  2. God adopted you into his family as a child of his own.
  3. And God forgave all your sins and there is no condemnation.

These are the wings John Bunyan had in mind:

Run, John, run, the law commands
But gives us neither feet nor hands,
Far better news the gospel brings:
It bids us fly and gives us wings.

It bids us forgive—and give us gospel wings. If you believe in your heart that God has done all of this for you and in you, you will fly. You will forgive.

Closing Remarks from Charles Spurgeon

Charles Spurgeon tells how his heart was set on wing by the pardon of God:

My life was full of sorrow and wretchedness, believing that I was lost. But, oh, the blessed gospel of the God of grace came to me, and with it a sovereign word, "Deliver him!" And I who was but a minute before as wretched as a soul could be, could have danced for the very merriment of heart. And as the snow fell on my road home from the little house of prayer, I thought every snowflake talked with me and told of the pardon I had found, for I was white as the driven snow through the grace of God.2

But years later he added this:

To be forgiven is such sweetness that honey is tasteless in comparison with it. But yet there is one thing sweeter still, and that is to forgive. As it is more blessed to give than to receive, so to forgive rises a stage higher in experience than to be forgiven.3

It rises higher because it is gospel-flying. Spread your wings with me in these days at Bethlehem and let's fly together.

  1. The Micah Fund is an adoption ministry at Bethlehem that helps covers the cost of adopting minority infants who might otherwise have been sacrificed in abortion. 

  2. Volume 15, p. 156, Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit

  3. Volume 31, pp. 287f., Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit.