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This is a gift-giving time of year. As you seek gift ideas for loved ones, you might wonder what biblical generosity means. What does it look like to give from the heart? In the Bible, the Pharisees were very generous in some ways. Yet Jesus was not pleased with their gift. Similarly, when Cain and Abel offered sacrifices to God, God was pleased with Abel’s gift but not with Cain’s.

How do you know if God is pleased with your gift? 

At the end of A Christmas Carol, Scrooge becomes a generous man, giving freely of his wealth to those in need. What if he had given the same exact gifts from the start, having never experienced an inner change of heart? 

When it comes to generosity, the inner state of the heart matters most. But why?

Inner change is the most critical piece. Consider these words from Jesus: 

“Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Good measure pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap” (Luke 6:37-38). 

There is a direct correlation between the grace that’s in our hearts and the grace we extend to others. If we have not received grace, we will have none to give. 

True generosity pours out of a grace-filled heart. 

God’s grace to us is not contingent upon our ability to show grace to others, that would be works-righteousness. However, until we forgive others, we will not fully experience the abundant life God offers us.

But forgiving others might be one of God’s most challenging commands. We love quoting Christ’s words, “Judge not lest you be judged,” when it comes to other people. It is much harder to apply them to ourselves. 

Why is forgiveness so difficult?

If you had an abusive father, for example, offering him forgiveness almost seems wrong–especially if he never even asked for it! But this exposes one of our biggest misconceptions surrounding the topic of forgiveness: We assume that forgiving someone is the same as winking at their wrongdoings.

We mistakenly think that forgiveness is just sweeping sin under the rug. If I forgive everyone, aren’t I offering child molesters, murderers, and my mean great-grandmother a divine cover-up? A free pass? It all seems like a massive corruption of justice. There are some people, we think, who need to pay. 

But this is an extreme misconception of what forgiveness is and what it does. There is a difference between vertical forgiveness–God’s forgiveness of our sins–and horizontal forgiveness–our forgiveness of others. 

Real justice and forgiveness only belong to God. When you condemn someone, even in your heart, you are effectively taking God’s role, and God does not take this lightly. In fact, in condemning others, you condemn yourself (Luke 6:37). Horizontal forgiveness is not actually about them, it’s about you.

In other words, forgiveness is not a gift you offer other people… it’s a gift God offers you

In clarifying this point, Jesus tells of the servant whose massive debts were canceled by his master. Today, the amount forgiven would be about $52 million. Yet, after becoming free of this debt, the servant turns around and demands instant payment upon encountering someone who owed him what would be only about $44 today. When the master hears of this, he becomes angry and throws the servant in prison to be tortured.

When we refuse to forgive others after we have been forgiven, we condemn ourselves to an inner prison of torture. Nursing festering bitterness in our hearts for months or years hurts us the most. 

That is why forgiveness releases us. 

The literal definition of forgiveness is release. When we forgive others, we release ourselves from our own inner torture. 

Only by God’s Grace 

If this seems impossible, it’s because it is. We cannot be released from our inner Scrooge by simply trying to conjure up the right mood, watching Christmas movies, or summoning all of our best intentions. It will never work. 

You can only offer grace and forgiveness if you have been given it first. Without it, you have nothing to give. Do you struggle to forgive others? Do you treat other people as if they need to first earn your grace? 

That is an indication of how you view God. But God never exacts works or behaviors from us before extending His grace. Open your heart to God, and receive His grace first so that you too might experience abundant life in Him. 

Then go and offer that grace generously to those around you. 
The above is an abbreviated version of the message that Pastor Luke originally preached on November, 20, 2022. We invite you to join us for Sunday Service at Dream City Church each week to hear Pastor Luke and other speakers in person. You can also stream our services online here. If you enjoyed this article don’t forget to share it with someone who might need to hear this powerful message!

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