When the disciples cried out to the Lord in this way, was it because they hadn’t been able to heal someone or drive out a tormenting spirit? No…. it was because he had just told them that forgiveness should be continually extended to those who ask, even if you’ve been repeatedly sinned against by the same person in one day!
“If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.” The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” (Luke 17: 3-5)
Matthew tells us that Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. (Matthew 18:21-22) Jesus wasn’t literally putting a number on forgiveness, but saying, in their Jewish way, “do it until perfection or completely,” i.e., “as often as it is required of you.”
So why the cry for more faith? And for faith in what, or who? The answer reveals the truth about every instance calling for forgiveness: that for the Christian, the greater issue is between us and the Lord who commands us to forgive, and who, in fact, tells us that we will not be forgiven or blessed by him if we refuse forgiveness.
Here are the matters for which we all need faith, if we are to forgive freely and often for sins committed against us large and small:
Do I believe God when he says he loves justice, and will bring it to every situation, whether I get to know it or not?
Do I believe God when he says I cannot be forgiven by Him until I also forgive others?
Do I believe that the Holy Spirit can enable me by his power to carry forgiveness out, if I make the decision?
Forgiveness is a great act of faith: faith in the goodness of God, faith in the faithfulness of God, faith in the justice of God, faith in the words of God. Our choices about forgiveness always pass through the filter (in our souls) of what we believe about God. Lord, increase our faith!