Forgiveness, Faith and Habitual Offenders

In Luke 17, Jesus is talking to his friends about conflict and relationships. He simply states, “If someone sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them.” I love his candor and simplicity here. Often, we misinterpret the teachings of Christ as passive, “nice guy” spirituality. If someone steps on our toes, we think, we don’t take it personally; we don’t even acknowledge it at all. We just keep barreling throughout our day.

But Jesus teaches that if you’re wronged, you rebuke that person. To rebuke is to “express sharp disapproval.” When someone steps on our toes, we say “Ouch! You stepped on my bare toes with your steel-toed boots. It hurts. Please stop now.” And if they receive said rebuke and apologize, we extend mercy. It’s that easy.

Except when it’s not. I’m happy to forgive most people for most offenses the first time around. I’ll give you grace for a bad day, or ignorance of the rules, even for my own broken lenses.

But if you do it twice, my mercy margin begins to shrink. 
If you get to three times, you’re on thin ice. 
And seven times? You’re out of luck.

But Jesus preaches a mercy on steroids. Look at what he says in Luke 17:4, “Even if that person wrongs you seven times a day and each time turns again and asks forgiveness, you must forgive.”

If someone is sorry, you forgive them. 
If someone isn’t sorry, you have to forgive them too. 
Even if they don’t come close to deserving it, it’s good for you and shows anyone who’s watching what the heart of Jesus looks like. Jesus’s disciples are so rattled, so discombobulated by this statement, they cry: “Show us how to increase our faith” (Luke 17:5).

Why? Because they understand radical mercy isn’t an expression of rich kindness, it’s a reflection of deep faith. You can’t forgive habitual offenders without God fostering a mercy miracle in your heart. Jesus’s response is epic,

‘The Lord answered, “If you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘May you be uprooted and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you!’ (Luke 17:6). I’ve never put these two together before: the ability to forgive and the desire to believe.

Yes, forgiveness is not a hallmark of “nice guy-ism.” It’s a proclamation of faith.

It says “I believe God forgives me and empowers me to forgive you.”
“I believe forgiveness is worth it, even when it is hard.”
“I believe God can give me the want and the capacity to forgive.”

A faith that can uproot physical trees is impressive. One that can excavate roots of bitterness? That might be truly remarkable.

Craig Custance