One evening a couple of weeks ago I was standing in my kitchen, waiting for water to boil, and thinking about people deserving forgiveness.
I like the idea of grace and unmerited forgiveness; it sounds like something only a very wonderful, mature, godly person would do (or try to do). So then I started thinking about what the response should be of a person who has been so graciously forgiven. I was imagining in my oh-so-practical mind that forgiven people are immensely, unbelievably grateful to those who have forgiven them. Forgiven people realize that they have been given a precious gift and do everything in their power to show gratitude to the person who so graciously forgave them.
But what if that's not what happens? What if you forgive someone and they don't seem to care? And they're not grateful and repentant? What then? I was surprised at how quickly my mind thought: then they didn't deserve to be forgiven. As soon as I had that thought I started to feel a self-righteous, prideful anger in my heart. How dare someone not respond appropriately (in my eyes) to my unmerited love and forgiveness?!
Like a brick wall stopping me in my tracks, the Holy Spirit very clearly and calmy said to me: that's pride. Pride and love do not coexist; choose love. And then this hit me: being nonchalant and ungrateful about being forgiven is exactly what we do to God. And then I think I felt dizzy.
Through Christ, God forgives us, not because we deserve it, but because He loves us. Those of us who are Christians know that we have received God's unmerited grace, favor, love, and redemption. But how do most of us respond? Are our hearts overflowing with gratitude? Are we doing everything we can to reconcile our relationship with God and walk closely and intimately with Him?
For the most part, I think a lot of Christians say "thanks Jesus" and acknowledge His gracious act, but in our hearts, we don't really care very much. Being forgiven doesn't motivate or inspire us. Maybe because we're not convinced we really did anything that bad to begin with...
But does this stop God? Does this make Him say, "well then I guess they didn't deserve my forgiveness"? No, He just keeps on loving us. No matter how many times we turn our backs, run from Him, try to hide from Him, disobey and dishonor Him, He just keeps on loving us. Like the shepherd who leaves 99 sheep to look for the one lost so that he can carry it back to the flock. I think He truly enjoys loving us. I know He wants us to be obedient and grateful to Him, but even when we're running around in a haze of rebellion, unbelief, and brattiness, I still think He enjoys loving us.
Now when we return the love, when we realize (to the extent that we can) how much we have been forgiven and saved from and we respond with gratefulness and love back to God - I think then the joy is complete.
So, to be obedient to the Lord, to love like Christ did, I think that means we have to love people even when they don't deserve it, even when they don't respond like we think they should. Of course they don't deserve it. We don't deserve it. God is the only one who deserves love and He's commanded us to love others.
I know this sounds very obvious to Christians, but it's one thing in theory and another thing in practice. When someone hurts you, you don't feel like loving them. And I think if we're honest with ourselves most of us love the people we love for specific reasons (ways their existence benefits us).
Living up to Jesus's standards in any way is only possible through the outpouring of His grace and the power of His Spirit.