Jump directly to the Content
Jump directly to the Content


Home > Sermons


Free to forgive
This sermon is part of the sermon series "Restoration Hardware". See series.


Richard Stearns, the president of World Vision, has a book called The Hole in Our Gospel. In this book he tells a remarkable story about a woman named Margaret Achero. Margaret was caught in the incredible fighting in northern Uganda, fighting that was propagated by the Lord's Resistance Army.

One day, Margaret, who was six months pregnant, was out in her garden working with several women from her village, when out of the bush appeared a small battalion that had entered their village. The group of soldiers was really a group of children led by an adult commander. It's common in some parts of Africa for children to be snatched away from their families to be brainwashed to commit unbelievable atrocities against other people.

So Margaret and her friends found themselves face to face with this band of soldiers. The soldiers had come to the village to look for food and supplies, and as they weren't satisfied with what they received, they began to unleash a massacre on Margaret's friends. The child soldiers were killing these women with their machetes. When they turned toward Margaret, the commander told them to stop. He felt it would be bad luck on the troops to kill a pregnant woman. So instead, he gave a command for the children to cut off Margaret's nose, ears, and lips. They did, and then they left her in the field to die, so the blood wouldn't be on their hands.

But Margaret was rescued. She was taken to a hospital where she went through multiple operations and was then taken to a rehab center headed up by World Vision. The World Vision counselors began to deal with not just the physical trauma but the emotional, spiritual, and relational trauma that Margaret had undergone that day in the field. Her heart began to heal. She spent the next several months at the clinic and gave birth to a little boy whom she named James.

Imagine Margaret's horror when one day at the rehab center—this place of safety—a group of counselors walked into the center courtyard with the commander of the group that had committed the atrocities against Margaret and her friends. This commander had been captured and brought to the same place. The counselors didn't realize the connection between him and Margaret; they were only hoping to offer him spiritual counseling to turn his life around. Imagine the extreme emotions that Margaret must have felt when she saw this man! The anxiety, the anger, the fear, the horror, and the revenge. There must have been a desire in her to run away as far as she could, and at the same time, a desire to take him out.

Stearns says that what happened next can only be understood through the miracle of God's love, as a demonstration of the incredible power of the gospel to redeem even the darkest kinds of people. Counselors began to work with the commander. At first he denied any atrocities that he had committed during the war, but eventually his heart began to soften. The counselors also worked with Margaret, reminding her of the spiritual foundations she had from early childhood. Then, several months into all of this, a meeting was planned between Margaret and this commander from the LRA.

Through tears and humility, the commander bowed his head and begged for Margaret to forgive him for what he had done. Margaret supernaturally found the means and will to do it. There is a picture that hangs in the rehab center now of the LRA commander sitting in the compound holding baby James. Standing right behind him is Margaret Achero, smiling without lips. What a story. What a demonstration of the incredible power of the gospel to redeem even the darkest evil.

What I can be sure of today is that there's not a person in this room that gets Margaret's story. It's too traumatic. It's too horrific. It's too far outside of our box. We can't really understand the trauma that she went through and the work that it took her to move toward reconciliation. But this I can be sure of: I can be sure that one hundred percent of you sitting here today have been cut deeply by someone in your life. I'm sure of it. You've been cheated. You've been criticized. You've been abused. You've been abandoned. There are some of you that came through the back door today, and your wounds are fresh and are overwhelming you. Others of you have scars from something that took place in your childhood. It appears to have healed over time, but occasionally you're reminded of the unbelievable trauma you faced.

To be sure, the conflict and trauma that we undergo in life disfigures us. It doesn't often disfigure us physically, as it did to Margaret Achero, but it disfigures us emotionally and spiritually. In the deep parts of our gut, it twists us and makes us unable to engage in relationships the way God intended for us to engage. We might be critical or cynical, vengeful or judgmental. This is in me, and my guess is it's in you as well.

Well, I've got a great truth to tell you today—a truth I want you to hang your hat on: The gospel has the incredible power to redeem even the darkest kinds of evil of your life and mine. I'll go further to say that only the gospel of Jesus Christ has the incredible power to redeem the darkest kinds of evil. That's what Margaret Achero discovered. At the Cross of Jesus Christ, she discovered where she could be restored and reconciled and where she could forgive. It was at the Cross of Jesus where she could be healed.

I'm going to invite you to come with me on a journey to the Cross of Jesus Christ. We're going to discover that the Cross of Jesus is the instrument—the hardware—of our restoration and our reconciliation with God, as well as what God uses to enable us to overcome conflict and trauma and be reconciled to one another.

Who we were

Open your Bibles to Colossians 1. Today I want to answer the question Why? Why in the world would Margaret Achero take steps towards reconciling with the man who wreaked such trauma in her life? Why in the world, having been abused by your parents or violated by your spouse or betrayed by your friends, would you take steps of reconciliation towards someone else? The answer is found in our passage today. Let these words of God cover you and move your heart:

Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation—if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant. (Colossians 1:21-23).

First, notice that this passage is part of a larger discourse that Paul begins in verse 15 about the Person of Christ. This passage is fundamentally about our relationship and our reconciliation with God. Paul talks about what Christ has done in order to reconcile us and bring us into right relationship with God. The word reconcile means restoration of a relationship, of peace that has been disturbed.

There was a relationship of peace that was intended between us and God, and along the way that relationship has become disturbed, but God has chosen to reconcile that relationship. The reason there is a broken relationship is because of the problem of sin. Paul highlights this in verse 21. He tells us that at one time we were alienated from God. We were enemies in our minds, people who lived with evil behavior.

Paul describes the condition of every single person that has ever lived. In Genesis 1 and 2, the world was a perfect place, but in Genesis 3, sin entered the world through Adam and Eve, and their sin has been transmitted to every human being. You came into this world a lawbreaker, a hater of God, spiritually broken, self-absorbed, and separated from the living God. We all came into the world this way. We were sinners.

A journey to the Cross

With that in your mind, I want you to take a trip with me for a minute. I want you to go to the Cross of Jesus Christ with me. As we walk to the Cross, we're reminded of Isaiah 53:6 that says this: "All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all." That sounds a lot like what Paul said, right? All of us were alienated, enemies in our minds, heading in our own direction. But God sends his Son Jesus Christ into the world, and he takes this enmity, this alienation, this evil behavior, this separation, this brokenness, and he lays it on his Son. Paul said, "God made him who knew no sin to become sin for us." And so we come to the Cross.

If we dare, let's keep our eyes and ears open as we stand at the foot of the cross. What do we see? We see where the crown of thorns was pounded into Christ's scalp—an assault on his majesty. We see the wounds on his back where he was scourged just an inch from his life—an assault against his humanity. And we see the nakedness of Christ that hangs on the cross—an assault against his dignity. We see Christ, hands outstretched, his lungs pulling apart trying to catch as much breath as he can. His entire body is distended.

We hear the taunts and jeers of people who have been following Jesus, doubtful of his mission. Even the thief that hangs next to him accuses and mocks him to the very end. We hear Jesus' mother crying, and Peter and John trying to console her. We look over and see the soldiers, who haven't even waited for him to die before dividing what paltry estate the Savior brings with him—a robe that they've managed to keep for themselves. The sky turns dark, the earth quakes, and we stand there and watch the trauma of the Cross unfold.

Do you know what we're looking at? You're looking at me, and I'm looking at you, because all the ugliness and darkness and pain and misery and violence of the Cross is related to each one of us right here. It's our stuff. God put on his Son all of our sin. That's us. It's important to stand at the foot of the cross and just be astounded at how ugly it is; it reminds us of who we were—a sobering reality.

The next time you're driving and somebody cuts you off, and you just can't believe how terrible people are in the world, the next time somebody says a critical word about you, the next time somebody betrays your friendship or doesn't keep a promise, before you get too unnerved, you might go stand at the foot of the cross and remember who you were. Pride is often regarded as the first sin. Pride was that disposition in Adam and Eve and in each one of us that says to God, "I'm going to live my life in my own way. I'm a big boy. I can do whatever I want." Christ obliterates pride at the Cross.

But there is a residue of pride that shows itself when we are offended by other people's behavior. Our pride says, How dare you offend me so? Do you know who I am? I can't believe you would do such a terrible thing against me! In those moments, we've forgotten who we were.

Listen to this parable Jesus tells in Matthew 18. A servant left his job one day, and as he was walking down the street, he encountered another servant friend that owed him 20 dollars. When the first servant sees his friend, he says, "Hey buddy, I need my 20 bucks back." The guy says, "I don't have it right now, but I get paid next Friday. I'll give it to you then." The first guy says, "No. Pay me back right now. You owe me." The first servant puts his hands around the other servant's neck and begins to choke him, demanding that he be paid back, and ultimately throwing the friend in debtors' prison. There's the story.

But Jesus doesn't start the parable there. That's actually the middle of the story. If you rewind the parable to the beginning, what you hear is that this first servant worked in the king's court. One day the king said to him, "Hey, listen. We've got a problem. You owe me a debt"—a debt of 10 million dollars, something the servant could never repay. The servant replied, "King, there is just no way," and the king threatened to have him thrown into debtors' prison. The servant fell humbly on his face saying, "Have mercy on me!" And the king did a most remarkable thing. In a movement of grace, the king forgave the poor guy, because he knew there was no way he could pay off his own debt. The king set the servant free. The problem is that this same fellow then went out on the street and condemned his friend for the same thing—but to a far lesser degree—that he had just been forgiven for!

You see, when we're offended by other people, too often we begin to live in the middle of our story; we forget in the moment that every single person has a pre-story. At one time, all of us were sinners separated from God—aliens, enemies, outcasts. Sometimes we need to go stand at the foot of the cross and be reminded of who we were. When we put that into perspective—when we're reminded of the grace, tenderness, and kindness of God towards us—other people's offenses are put in a true light.

Who we are

Paul doesn't end there. He tells us in verse 22, "But now"—something is changing. Something that was one way is now going to become a different way. The condition is changing. "But now he …." Notice that God is the subject of restoration. We must understand that there's nothing we can do to restore ourselves to God. He is the one who restores. And God is the agent of reconciliation between us and other people as well. How does he do all of this? "But now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body …."

Paul wants us to come to the Cross—to realize that this whole work of peace and reconciliation comes from what happened on the cross through Christ's physical body. In verse 20, Paul says that through Christ God reconciled to himself all things. He did this by making peace through Jesus' blood shed on the cross.

God is the agent of reconciliation. Jesus' death on the cross is the instrument of reconciliation. And here is the outcome of reconciliation: "Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation."

I know who I was. This is who I am. Don't forget who you are now. You are holy—set apart, special, sanctified, and useable for God's purposes. You are also clean, without defect, purified from sin. You have been made perfect in the eyes of God by the power of God perfected in Christ, and you are being perfected in Christ. You are also free, you're above reproach, you're guiltless, and your debt has been absolved by God himself.

When I stand at the Cross of Jesus Christ and see the horror of it all, I am reminded that the death of Christ is followed by the Resurrection of Christ, and those two things together have made me brand new. I'm not the person who I was; I'm the person I am because of my relationship with God.

Let me take you to a verse that I return to often when I'm wrestling with sin and with personal relationships. First Corinthians 6 makes all the difference. Paul says, "Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God."

Did anybody manage not to get on that list? Paul basically says here that there is no hope for us—at least no hope for us as we were. But then, in words that sound a whole lot like Colossians 1:22, Paul says, "And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God." Paul says: I know what you were, but let me tell you who you are. At the foot of the cross, we realize that what Christ accomplished on the cross is for our sanctification, our washing, our justification, our change. We are not the people who we once were, because of Jesus Christ.

A changed life

What is the evidence of this new life that Jesus affords? A changed life. When Christ has gotten inside of me, he changes my attitudes, my motivations, my desires, and my actions. With Christ, I have the actual power to be reconciled and restored to other people.

Paul says that this is all true "if you continue in your faith, established" in hope. That might sound a bit like we can lose our salvation, but Paul is saying that if you've never encountered the Cross of Christ, you've never been reconciled with God, you've never tasted forgiveness and grace, you've never tasted patience, you've never tasted reconciliation. As a result, it will be impossible for you to be restored in relationships with him and with other people. But the gospel has the incredible power to redeem even the darkest of sins, and when you come to the Cross of Jesus Christ and enter into a relationship with God, he doesn't merely make reconciliation possible, he makes it probable. He enacts true change in your life and gives you a new nature to overcome the bitterness, anger, fear, and pain in your life so that you're able to move toward people in restoration.

This is why Paul was able to say just a couple of chapters later in Colossians 3, "Bear with one another and forgive whatever grievances you might have against each other. Forgive as the Lord forgave you." That last sentence is important. He says that, because you have been forgiven, because you have personally experienced the forgiveness of Christ, your life has been changed, and therefore you have the ability to be at peace with other people.


I heard a story recently about a group of Bible translators who were trying to figure out how to translate among a certain tribe a word for peace. They just couldn't get their hands around it. Finally, there was a tribal chief who was wrestling with the same word, and he finally came up with a phrase he believed captured the heart of peace. It was this: a heart that sits down. What a great image. God sent his Son Jesus Christ to die on the cross, to take your sin and mine, to rise from the dead, and then to sit down at the right hand of God. Because Christ completed his work, you and I may sit down and be at peace with God the Father. And because we sit down and are at peace with God the Father, he gives us the power through a changed life to be able to sit down and be at peace with other people. We can go to the Cross and remember who we were and then who we are. This is the motivation for reconciliation at the Cross of Jesus.

David Daniels is the lead pastor of Central Bible Church in Fort Worth, Texas.

Related sermons


Cross bridging
Steve Aurell

Moving Towards Reconciliation

Bless as You Have Been Blessed
Sermon Outline:


I. Who we were

II. A journey to the Cross

III. Who we are

IV. A changed life