Forgiveness. How do we teach our children to understand and to practice forgiveness? Forgiveness encompasses a vertical direction between us and God, but forgiveness is also horizontal between us and everyone around us. How can we nurture our children’s spiritual growth in the area of forgiveness?
1 John 1: 9 offers a clear description of vertical forgiveness: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all righteousness.” When using this verse with our children, focus on the verbs. For us, our verb is to “confess.” God’s verbs, which happen after we confess, are “will forgive and purify.” Talk through what each of these verbs means for us and for God—noticing that God doesn’t stop with forgiving. He continues with purifying to make us stronger and more pure just as humans purify gold.
For horizontal forgiveness, use the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6: “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” Just after the Lord’s Prayer is this verse in Matthew 6: 14-15: “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” Talk through these verses, noticing the importance God puts on forgiving each other.
Jesus also told a story to illustrate the importance of forgiving each other. Matthew 18 records Jesus’ parable of the unmerciful servant who after being forgiven of an astronomical financial debt, proceeded to have a friend thrown into jail for an insignificant financial debt owed to him. Read through this parable and ask what did the servant do that was so wrong? What do we do that is similar to the servant? An audio version is also in the Bible story section, see “Jesus Tells a Story.”
The topic of forgiveness is huge. Understanding forgiveness beyond an insincere “I’m sorry” is a vital part of spiritual training for our children. Use the Bible’s own words to illustrate and to clarify what God means with the word forgiveness and how forgiveness is to be at the heart of our relationships with God and with each other.