America today is locked in an ongoing battle of name-calling and finger-pointing. We remain fixed in our bunkers of conservative or liberal ideology, launching bombs of hate, lies, accusations and political posturing at each other with total indifference.

The solution to this rancor was given to us some 2,000 years ago, but we seem to have forgotten it. It’s what we really celebrate every Easter. It’s the command Jesus gave us, the strategy he modeled for us, in living color, all the way to the cross. It’s the gift of forgiveness.

I recently did an informal poll, asking as many people as I came into contact with one question: “What is the Gospel?”

A number of people responded with themes that were part of the Christian faith. A few responded that the Gospel is “that we are reconciled to God.” Others responded that the Gospel “has something to do with the Holy Spirit.” Most people in some way or another responded that the Gospel had to do with the “death and resurrection of Jesus.”

Amid all of the responses, what was most interesting is that no one responded with any answer that came close to communicating the heart of the Gospel. The heart of the Gospel – and by Gospel I mean the good news of Jesus Christ – is that we have been forgiven.

The way that God demonstrated his immeasurable love for us was that he forgave us. That’s why Jesus went to the cross and gave his life. That’s the message of Easter. If you cut the Gospel anywhere, it bleeds forgiveness.

The way that God demonstrated his immeasurable love for us was that he forgave us. That’s why Jesus went to the cross and gave his life. That’s the message of Easter. If you cut the Gospel anywhere, it bleeds forgiveness.

Yet while this forgiveness is free, it also comes with a responsibility and an obligation. You cannot adequately live out the reality of being forgiven without also being willing to forgive.

It’s worth noting here that forgiveness is at the heart of the only formal command Jesus gave. In John 13:34 Jesus says: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

And before you pull out your list of reasons why “they” don’t deserve forgiveness, please know that God has a longer list of the reasons why you don’t deserve it either. Nevertheless, he gave it to you – and likewise, that remains our obligation to others.

In 2006 a man named Charles Carl Roberts murdered 10 young girls in a one-room Christian school in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. The news of this quickly spread to the national news media, which reported on the anger, hatred, sorrow and depression felt by many. Yet, many of the grieving parents employed a different strategy.

The echoes of the gunshots were barely silent when the grieving parents expressed forgiveness to the family of the man who killed their children. They even helped set up a charitable fund for the killer’s family. Thirty of them attended the killer’s funeral. His wife and family were so touched that the wife wrote a letter saying that the love and forgiveness of the grieving parents helped her family heal.

Of course, a lot of people criticized this family and this community for their behavior. But it was their behavior that communicated the heart of the Gospel.

So how do we start forgiving others? The first step is that we each must make the decision to forgive someone. Forgiveness is a choice we make, not a feeling. After we decide to forgive someone, we have the opportunity to make three more choices that put forgiveness into practice:

First, pray for those who hurt you. In Mark 5:43-47 (NLT) Jesus says “… love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. . . . If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else?”

Second, bless those who have wounded you. This instruction applies to our thoughts and our words. In our minds, we are to wish good things on those who have wounded us – instead of hoping, even privately, that bad will come to them because of the pain they brought to us. With our mouths, we are to speak well of them instead of talking negatively about them.

Third, do good to those who have offended you. It is also important to actively do good to the people who have done you wrong. When you have a chance to express kindness to them, don’t let it pass by.

I pray this Easter that instead of just hearing the message of the Gospel, we all will decide to live the message of the Gospel and forgive others. If we all do this, we will live as Jesus expects us, we will change the world and we will consistently demonstrate the real meaning of Easter.