“Walk the talk.” “Practice what you preach.” “Putting feet to your faith.” Have you heard any of those? Have you said any of those to others? When I hear those things what comes to my mind are things relating to faith and holiness. Faith means trust. If I really do have faith in Jesus, if my trust is in Him, then I will do what He says even when I don’t have all the answers or resources in front of me. If the Lord says, “Go to Africa and help my people there,” then that’s what I need to do. If I start to say, “But God, I don’t have the money,” or “What about my family?” or “I might get hurt,” then it becomes apparent that I don’t have very much faith. Holiness means living your life set apart from the world’s values and practices, and set apart to God’s values and His will as expressed in His word. So if God says not to love the world or the things of the world, then I don’t go into debt getting all the latest toys so as to fit in with, or one-up, other people. Walking the talk is something we all need to be reminded of from time to time, and something we are responsible to remind others of as well. There is one area of “the talk” that seems particularly difficult to “walk.” It’s easy to talk about and tell others to do. It’s something we hear about all the time in church. It’s the basis for our relationship with God through Jesus. It’s something that if we don’t do, we become bitter and hardened. It’s something that if we don’t do to others from the heart, God won’t do it for us. What is it? Forgiveness.
Whenever the topic of forgiveness comes up what usually happens is that an action or actions committed against us, or someone close to us, come to mind. That hurt, whether it be physical, emotional, or spiritual, pops into our heads and the fear and anger rises in our hearts. Sometimes people hurt us intentionally. Sometimes they hurt us unintentionally. Either way it hurts. The natural urge is to hurt them back. If we can’t make them pay in some way physically we do it emotionally by being angry at them, shutting them out of our lives, or any number of things. We want payment. We want justice. We want something that will make up for what we have lost. Is there anything wrong with that? Not at all. In fact, it’s one of the many ways in which we have been created in the image of God. When people sin against the Lord, and all people do, He wants payment, He wants justice, He wants something that will make up for what has been lost.
Take a moment now and put yourself in the position of the one who has caused the hurt. It shouldn’t be too hard because we have all done something at one time or another against others, and certainly against the Lord. Imagine you are the one who has betrayed the trust. You are the one who has violated the sanctity of marriage. You are the one who has committed the act that will cause others to bad-mouth God. This is exactly what happened to King David in 2 Samuel 11-12.
David should have been off leading his troops in battle. Instead he was at home lusting after the neighbor’s wife. This neighbor was one of his most trusted soldiers. David invited this woman over, had sex with her, got her pregnant, and had her husband killed in an attempt to cover up what really happened. How could he do that? How could he betray his wives (which is another problem)? How could he betray the trust his soldier had in him? How could he as the King of Israel, God’s chosen people, do this thing that would give the enemies of Israel cause to mock God? How could anyone forgive him? After the dust settled David thought he had gotten away with it. For as much as two years after the cover up, no one figured it out, no one confronted him on it (even those involved in the conspiracy), and God didn’t seem to care despite the fact that David violated at least four of the 10 commandments.
But God did care. He sent His prophet Nathan to do to David what I did to you earlier; put yourself in the other person’s place. Nathan told David of a man who had nothing but one little sheep that he loved as his own child. It was the poor man’s only possession of any worth. The man’s neighbor was rich. He had lots of sheep. This neighbor had a friend arrive from out of town and the neighbor wanted to feed him. Instead of killing one of his many sheep, he took the poor man’s sheep, the only thing he had, and killed it to feed the friend. As the king, David was also the judge. His judgment was that the rich man should die as well as pay back the poor man four times what he had lost. Legally, death was not required, but the fourfold payback was. While the money would have helped, what about the emotional damage? What about the future the poor man might have had because of that one sheep? All of that is gone. I’m sure David was thinking, “I would never do that! How could anyone do that?” While David thought this really happened, it turns out that it didn’t. It was an illustration God gave Nathan to help David understand what he had done. Nathan said to David, “You are the man!”
David was shattered. The reality of what he had done hit him. David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” Nathan said back, “The Lord also has put away your sin.” Nathan also told David that, because of what he had done, he would only know war the rest of his days, and the baby from this relationship would die. The consequences of his actions were not isolated to him, they reached far and wide, they were extremely destructive, yet he was forgiven by God. Doesn’t that blow your mind?
What does this have to do with us? Trying to live a life of faith and holiness seems pretty easy compared to the challenge of living a life of forgiveness, especially when we are the ones who have been hurt. However, that is exactly Jesus’ point in Matthew 18:21-35. It starts off with Peter asking Jesus, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said in response, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” Jesus went on to tell a story about a man who owed a debt he could never ever repay. Instead of being sent to debtors prison he was forgiven the debt completely, as though he had never owed anything. This man then turned around and demanded the $5 someone else owed him. The other man couldn’t pay up so the first man sent him to debtors prison. When the man who had forgiven the impossible debt heard about this, he sent the one he had forgiven to debtors prison as well. In the end Jesus says, “So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.” (emphasis added)
When we are the one who has blown it, when we have sinned against God and others, and when we have truly repented of it, God will, God does forgive us, as though it had never happened. We also want to be forgiven by those we have sinned against and others affected by our actions. At the same time there are consequences for our actions that last far beyond what we have done. These consequences can impact people we don’t even know. When we repent and are forgiven, things don’t just magically go back to the way they were before. You don’t get out of jail, you don’t get un-pregnant, your STD doesn’t just go away, the bank still expects their money back, and so on and so forth. But our relationship with God is right.
When we are the one who has been sinned against, God expects, God requires us to forgive others just as He has forgiven us. And not just a casual, “Yeah, I’ll let this one go and try to pretend it didn’t happen.” Jesus said, “from the heart.” As I said earlie
r, we want payment. We want justice. We want something that will make up for what we have lost. Is there anything wrong with that? Not at all. In fact, it is one of the many ways in which we have been created in the image of God. When people sin against the Lord, and all people do, He wants payment, He wants justice, He wants something that will make up for what has been lost. Jesus on the cross is the payment for our sin against God. It is also the payment for our sins against each other. This is what we mean when we say Jesus paid the price for us. The cost of God’s justice is Jesus Christ. This payment is so complete it is as though we never owed God anything. It’s as though we never sinned at all. There may be earthly consequences for what we have done, but as far as God is concerned, it’s all good.
That reality needs to extend into our walking the talk. If we are walking around telling others that God will forgive them, that they need to forgive others, then we need to forgive others as well. Yes, we have been hurt, yes trust has been broken, yes there are other lasting consequences, but forgiveness from the heart needs to take place. Sometimes it’s easy. Sometimes it seems impossible. The God of the universe, who has every right to blast us into oblivion, has forgiven us completely. He wanted to. He went out of His way to do so. Jesus made that possible. As humans, we are all on the same level. While one person may commit an act that is genuinely vile, something we think we would never do, each of us is completely capable of committing that same act. Remember David’s reaction? That being the case, we ought to be able to recognize and understand the need to forgive one another. Jesus makes that possible. If God can forgive us, we can forgive each other. It has all been paid in full.
How do we do this, especially when we have been really, genuinely hurt? How do we walk the talk of forgiveness? Just like walking in faith and holiness we do it by choice, obedience, and above all, out of love for the Lord. If there is one reality that is at the heart of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus it is this; we are dead to sin and alive in Christ. That’s what Jesus meant when He said in Luke 9:23 “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.” That’s what Paul is talking about in Romans 5-8, Galatians 2:20 and 5:16-25. We have to, on a daily basis, make a choice regarding who we are going to live for, who we are going to love. There are only two choice; ourselves or the Lord. Another way to put it is the flesh or the Spirit. That’s how Paul talks about it. It really is one or the other. You are either walking in the flesh and not in the Spirit, or you are walking in the Spirit and not in the flesh.
How do we walk in the Spirit and not in the flesh? Think of it like this. You have two dogs. One is a dirty, stinky beast that only cares about getting fed. It is only nice to you when it’s hungry or needs something. The rest of the time all that it does is bark and bite at you and everyone else. The other dog is a loving, affectionate, clean companion that lives to protect you, take care of you, live life with you, and walk with you. There is one simple truth about these two dogs; the one you feed is the one that lives and thrives. It’s that simple. So it is with our flesh and the Holy Spirit in us. The more you feed the flesh the harder it will be to walk in faith, holiness, and forgiveness. The more you feed the Spirit in you the easier it will be to simply trust the Lord in all things, to live in the world but not of it, and to forgive others as we have been forgiven.
So starve your flesh and feed the Spirit. Fill your mind and heart with the reality of God’s word instead of the fantasies of the world. Either you will influence others or they will influence you. If you aren’t yet strong enough to influence those around you who don’t know Jesus, spend your time with people who will influence you toward the things of God. Surround yourself with sights and sounds that build you up in Christ. It isn’t enough to just rid yourself of stuff from the world. That just creates a vacuum. You life needs to be filled, soaked, saturated with Jesus. As you do, you too will be able to say about those who hurt you what Jesus said from the cross. “Father forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing.” That is walking like Jesus walked. That is walking the talk.