In Old Testament times, there were daily sacrifices to cover the people’s sins. It seemed there were hundreds of things you could do wrong that would require bringing a bull, sheep, or doves to the priests.
Aside from doing the will of God because they loved and worshiped Him, this had a very important consequence for the Jews: it made sinning awfully expensive.
Sin was even more expensive for God: He sacrificed His Son for our sins. God didn’t have to have a way to cover sins. He could have decided that one sin was enough to doom someone with no way out. Then He decided that we could atone for our sins, but it would cost us. When they were wandering in the desert for 40 years, they were shepherds. They ate manna and meat from their flocks, but even that was done very, very sparingly because they didn’t want to eat themselves out of their future. The cost of their sins, though high, was extremely generous because God didn’t have to give them a way out. Plus, it was fair in the sense that they were paying for what they’d done.
This isn’t where God stopped, though. He sent Jesus to be a one-time sacrifice for all our sins. No more bulls and sheep and goats. No more paying for our own mistakes. He paid once and for all time.
In Matthew 18, Jesus tells the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant. In short (since I brought this up a few posts ago), a guy owes his king more money than he could ever pay back, but the king forgives him. This guy then finds someone who owes him a comparative pittance and throws him in prison when this poor guy can’t pay. The king is furious and throws the servant in jail until he pays every last penny.
Forgiveness requires sacrifice. If you’re paying someone exactly what is owed, then there’s no forgiveness necessary. A criminal can do his time and be released, but the government isn’t forgiving him. He paid his due and now he’s free to go. The king in this parable would have nothing to forgive if he’d been paid all the money due to him. When he forgave, he gave up the rights he had to that money and took a tremendous loss.
God took an even greater loss for our sins. The sacrifices of the Old Testament weren’t worth our souls’ redemption from Hell, but God viewed them as sufficient for our sakes. There was also a lesson in there, that sin is a debt that must be paid. God took a lesser payment in the Old Testament and then made full payment Himself in the New.
When someone wrongs you, you may have to take a loss. Whether it’s not paying back a debt, making you look bad in front of your boss so you don’t get a promotion, or physically harming you, there may not be a way they can make amends. When you forgive, you should do so knowing that your forgiveness means their debt to you is paid in full. No holding it against them, no treating them differently, no seeking or hoping for their harm. Paid in full, just as your debt has been because of His sacrifice.