Strangely, I've only recently realized that God sanctifies our ability to forgive, along with the other aspects of our character.
Chris and I had just come to the end of a typical marital spat, probably involving a decorative pillow or something similarly random, when we both reached the point where we could say "I'm sorry" and mean it.
With our "sorries," of course, came our "I forgive yous" -- usually much easier words to make our lips form. Chris confessed his sin and asked my forgiveness. I told him I forgave him with a golden swell of purity and magnanimity in my chest. Just as I was basking in this feeling, the Holy Spirit gave me a nudge. Heart check! he urged. What is the origin of this feeling, as if you were being particularly charitable toward Chris when you had to ask his forgiveness of you not five minutes ago?
Suddenly, I realized the reason I was so amenable to forgiving Chris is because, deep inside, I believed that Chris was the only one who had done something wrong, even though I had apologized for sinning, too. I was happy to forgive only because I was happy that I had been the "good" one during the squabble -- the one who had been irreproachably holy -- while Chris was the sole perpetrator. Believe you me, dear reader -- that realization deflated the golden swell of purity and magnanimity in my chest real fast.
Yes, it's true that when I told Chris I forgave him, I was truly forgiving him. That's a good thing. However, the motive behind my eagerness was not because I wanted to exemplify Christ, who has forgiven me much, but because of the twisted belief that I was innocent and was doing Chris a favor. That's not a good thing.
After this incident, I spent time thinking about how even something like forgiveness, which seems so straightforward, is tainted by our sin. Because it is, we have to allow God to sanctify it. We have to recognize that, as is true of so many other things in life, we have not "arrived" at a place of perfect forgiving power. Even as we strive to forgive well, we will mess up when we act in our own power.
But rejoice, dear reader, for as always, the solution is not for us to will ourselves to do better next time. The solution is to look to Christ, who is our flawless example of how to forgive. The more we know him and seek him, the more we will become like him, and our forgiveness, along with the rest of our hearts, will become more sanctified.