We just celebrated Christ’s birth—a time when people extend grace and forgiveness in the name of family dinners, Secret Santa gifts, and making family memories. We pretend to forgive others, we even put on a facade of forgiving ourselves, all while staying tangled in a web of self- condemnation that wreaks havoc on our souls. I think we can do better. This watered-down, Westernized, stale version of forgiveness is not the life God intended.
God longs for us to see ourselves, not from our lens of condemnation, but from His lens of forgiveness. Isn’t that why He came to earth thousands of years ago in human flesh and lay in a humbling manger? That first Christmas Day was an offering that led forgiveness and salvation for all of mankind.
Below is an excerpt from my new book, If You Could See as Jesus Sees: Inspiration for a Life of Hope, Joy, and Purpose. This particular selection highlights our need to pull out of condemnation and fall into forgiveness.
So many of us stay stuck in self-condemnation . . . We cannot change the past. We cannot restore lives back exactly
the way they were. We can, however, pray for reconciliation and Christ-centered restoration. After Jesus prays for
His Father to forgive the very people who were killing Him on the cross, He made one final gesture of compassion
and forgiveness to a humble, repentant criminal.
One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:39-43
Sometimes we are like the first criminal, hurling insults at each other when we don’t get our way, doubting God’s
goodness, His plan, and even His deity. Other times we are like the second criminal, living in our final moments,
gasping for our final breath, and clinging to more of Jesus and less of this world. My guess is most days we are a
mixture of both men: feeling the pull of the nails in our hands, the sweat on our brows, and the disappointment
from a wearisome life dragging us down into the abyss of our own defeat and despair, yet desperately longing to
be with Jesus in paradise.
The first criminal saw himself as the world saw him—despicable, insignificant, unforgivable. The second criminal
saw himself as Jesus saw him—worthy, valuable, forgivable—and it changed him for eternity.
Switching Our Lens
When my children were toddlers, I spent years (and I mean many, many, many years) teaching them to say, “I’m sorry,” “Will you forgive me,” and “I forgive you.” Playdates and playgroups became social experiments on showing grace and love to others. A toy taken away resulted in an apology, a hug, and a swift resolution.
As adults, however, we are not always so kind . . . at least not when it comes to extending grace and love to ourselves. We give ourselves less freedom to make mistakes, less room for imperfection, and less time to recover from mishaps. Why is that? Don’t we deserve as much kindness as our children? I have several theories:
First, we set the bar too high for ourselves (am I right, Type-A personalities?) Sometimes we compete with ourselves, other times we compete with other people. Either way we pay too much attention to jockeying for position and not enough attention to nurturing our souls.
Second, we think if we forgive ourselves for whatever offense we committed, then we won’t feel the pain we think we deserve. So we resort to self-inflicted consequences.
Finally, someone, somewhere along the way taught us that we do not deserve freedom and grace. We began seeing ourselves through their eyes—and ultimately through the Enemy’s eyes—instead of listening to the gentle whisper of our Savior saying, “I will never again remember their sins and lawless deeds.” Hebrews 10:17
His Lens of Forgiveness
If we switch our lens, we will see that none of the above is true. God’s kingdom is not made up of competition, but cooperation. God does not want us to punish ourselves; he wants us to releaseour pain. Finally, if God is willing to move past our transgressions, he wants us to work past them as well. As long as we are stuck in condemnation, we will never be productive ambassadors for the Gospel.
As we wrap up the holiday season, I encourage you to view yourself, not as the world sees you (unworthy, guilty, condemned), but as Jesus sees you: worthy of his love, innocent because of His sacrifice, forgiven because of His love. Seeing ourselves and the world through Jesus’s lens is one of the greatest Christmas miracles of all.
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