(Note: This is an excerpt from my book, "Revelation Ready: Preparing For Now.")
Lying…4. Murder…10. Unforgiveness…3. Violence…7. Years ago, I believed the lie that sins are somehow graded. High up on the list were sins like murder and rape. At the other end of the scale were “small” sins, such as telling the occasional lie and bearing a grudge. What I have learned, however, is that unforgiveness is not a “little” sin. Not only does it poison our hearts, but unforgiveness can endanger our very souls.
During my final year of high school, my biology teacher (who was a christian) showed our class a documentary that would forever change my perspective of unforgiveness. It was the testimony of Nigerian Pastor Daniel Eekechukwu.
After being involved in a horrific car crash on his way to work, Daniel was pronounced clinically dead and taken to a mortuary, where his body was embalmed and prepared for burial. The story would have ended there, were it not for his wife Nneka— a woman of incredible faith. She refused to accept that Daniel was dead, holding onto the Word’s promise; “women received back their dead, raised to life again” (Hebrews 11:35).
So convinced was Nneka that God would raise her husband to life, that she arranged for his body to be transported to a Reinhard Bonnke crusade. The body was carried in a coffin to the church basement, where a group of pastors gathered to pray.
As they massaged Daniel’s hands, already stiff with rigor mortis, life began to flow back into his body. After a few minutes, Daniel took a deep breath, and his spirit returned to him.
As astounding and supernatural as this miracle is, it was the other half of the story, of what happened to Daniel while he was dead, that impacted me the most. During the three days his body lay in the mortuary, Daniel was shown heaven and hell. Heaven was majestic, perfect beyond description, but hell was filled with unspeakable misery and suffering. To Daniel’s utter shock, an angel told him that were he to die that day, hell would have been his final destination. When Daniel protested, telling the angel how he had lived righteously for the Lord and served him as a pastor, the angel reminded him of the circumstances surrounding his death.
The day before he died, Daniel and his wife had a terrible argument. Nneka asked for forgiveness afterward, but Daniel refused to be reconciled to her. He had made up his mind to send her away for one year, to teach her a lesson. On the day of the accident, he refused to speak to her, leaving home with his heart still bubbling over with anger and bitterness. The angel reminded Daniel of how he had asked God for forgiveness as he drove to work, but explained he had not received it because of the grudge he was nursing.
This powerful story shook me up, to say the least. It marked a turning point in my thinking, as I took the decision to never take unforgiveness lightly. I began to see it as God does, and to understand one verse I had never wanted to think about too hard:
For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
This is a verse many of us would probably prefer to gloss over, and yet, being able to accept its literal implications is of vital importance. When Jesus died on the cross, he paid the price for our past sins, making it possible for us to receive forgiveness from God. As we explored previously, the process of being cleansed from our sins is not once off, but a type of spiritual “maintenance,” much like maintaining a car. When we decide to continue willfully sinning, we allow that sin to temporarily cast a shadow between us and God. Our fellowship with him is not the same. Only through repentance and forgiveness can we be restored to right relationship with God.
Like cancer, unforgiveness can be a “silent killer.” It can be in our hearts for years, slowly eating away at us with bitterness. Of all the sins, it is the only one we are told can hinder us from receiving God’s forgiveness.
So how exactly can such a “little” sin carry such profound consequences? To begin to understand why, we need to look to the cross. Jesus paid the highest price to ransom us from the power of sin and death, to bring us near to God. On the cross, he set the ultimate example, choosing to forgive those who put him to death. In effect, unforgiveness is like claiming that Christ’s sacrifice was enough for us, but not enough for someone else. It is to deny the fullness of the cross.
The Ultimate Crime and The Greatest Gift
[But] perhaps you are thinking, “you have no idea the kind of debts people owe me—they are not ‘small’ amounts. The man who raped me owes me my mental health. The boss whose malpractice landed my innocent husband in jail owes us our family back. The woman who stole thousands from us owes us our financial stability. I owe myself my life back for the mistakes I have made and regrets I have.”
If you are feeling this way dear friend, my heart aches for the losses you have suffered and the pain you have endured. Without making light of what you have been through, allow me to ask you a simple question— what is the worst crime that one human can commit against another? To torture them? Character assassination? To expose an innocent person publicly to humiliation, in the most inconceivable ways? Or, perhaps, to take away their very life?
I would submit to you that the crucifixion was the ultimate crime—it was all of these crimes and more, in one slow, horrific event. There was no pain so excruciating, no humiliation so public and no evil as potent as the atrocity of the cross. There is a reason why Jesus’ death was so horrific—it had to atone for the full spectrum of every imaginable and unimaginable sin ever committed. Because Jesus endured the cross, we have been given the power to forgive. Jesus did not owe any man, and yet paid the ultimate price for sins he did not commit. What’s more, as he hung dying, the weight of humanities punishment upon him, Jesus forgave those who did deserve punishment, the very ones who put him on the cross!
Dear friends, our sins put Jesus on the cross, just as much as those of the people who have wronged us, regardless of the magnitude of their offense. Isaiah 53:6 tells us: “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
If Jesus could forgive us, as well as the people who hurt us, then we can also forgive. “Freely you have received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8).
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