Have you ever struggled with forgiving the person who has hurt you or your loved one? Have you ever been bitter, resentful or wished ill on someone because of their actions towards you?
Today as I was meditating on forgiveness, the Lord reminded me through His Word of what God did in order to forgive us of our sin against Him.
He reminded me that in our unsaved state we were hostile towards God, angry with God, and staunch enemies of God (Rom. 8:7). We loved darkness and our autonomy: we wanted nothing to do with God. In spite of our wretchedness, God chose to love and have mercy on us. However, before God could demonstrate His love towards us He had to have His own Son put to death as a sacrifice (Is. 53:10, Acts 2:23-24). God’s full and unmitigated wrath had to be expended (emptied) on the Lord Jesus Christ on our behalf and the blood that was shed, God accepted as payment for our sins (Mt. 26:28; Jn. 6:54-56). We are the guilty ones, we did the sinning but God punished His own Son as if He was the guilty one and treated us as if we were innocent (II Cor. 5:21). Christ died so God could forgive us of our sins (Jn. 3:16, Rom. 5:8). Forgiveness is no small matter to God and it should be no small matter to you and me.
Forgiveness is a spiritual act in which a pardoning of sin is willingly granted by the offended to the offender. It is to release all animosity, bitterness, and desire for revenge. To continue to bring up the offense is evidence that forgiveness from the heart has not taken place (Mt. 18:34-35).
This is why one of the quintessential evidences of genuine love for a brother or sister in Christ is forgiveness. Are you a forgiving person? In our flesh we would rather see our offender suffer for what they did to us or a loved one. However, in Christ we can and must forgive.
Forgiveness is not easy and depending on the offense, it can be extremely difficult. However, many times we struggle to forgive because we attempt to do in the flesh what can only be done through the work of the Holy Spirit. We also struggle with forgiving from the heart because we are operating under misconceptions about forgiveness. The following are some of the more dominant misconceptions.
If I forgive, my offender will get away with what they did to me.
It is God’s place to deal out retribution, not yours. God said, “never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Rom. 12:19). All sinful behavior comes with consequences. Forgiveness and consequences are not the same. You forgiving someone does not remove the consequences they will face for their sinful actions. If someone has violated you in some way or committed a crime against you, you can forgive them while at the same time exercising your legal right to have your offender face the consequences of their actions towards you.
Another concern that needs to be stated is that sometimes we think to forgive is to ignore or excuse the behavior that caused the hurt and pain. Nowhere in Scripture are we commanded to ignore or excuse sinful behavior. Although Prov. 19:11 states that “a man’s discretion makes him slow to anger and it is his glory to overlook a transgression,” you are aware and have identified the behavior as a “transgression.” The Bible is not commanding you to ignore sinful behavior of others but you are free to make a conscience choice not to confront. In other words, when someone sins against you, you can graciously decide to forebear and continue on in the relationship with the individual who offended you.
I cannot forgive until I feel I am ready to forgive.
Forgiveness is not a feeling, it is a choice. To forgive only when you feel like forgiving is to be an unforgiving person. Depending on the offense, you may never feel like forgiving. Those of us that are parents forgive our children all the time. We may not always feel like forgiving them, but we do it because they are our children and we love them. I can say with a high level of confidence that throughout the course of a day you have acted in spite of your feelings. The same is true of me. As Christians we are commanded to “walk by faith” not according to feelings (II Cor. 5:7).
Forgiveness is also an act of faith. In obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ we are to “bear with one another, and forgive each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you” (Col. 3:13). It is faulty to believe you cannot forgive until you feel like forgiving.
Forgiveness means I must forget what was done to me.
God told the children of Israel, “I will not remember your sins” (Is. 43:25). Does this mean that God is forgetful? Does this mean that God expects you and me to forget the sins others commit against us?
God is omniscient which means He has total and complete knowledge of everything, all the time and for all time! He knows all things perfectly and His knowledge is limitless. He can never be unaware of something or come to learn something. “Who has directed the Spirit of the Lord, or as His counselor has informed Him” (Is. 40:13)? The answer: no one!
How can an all-powerful, all-knowing God forget the sins you and I have committed, sins that required the death, burial, and resurrection of His beloved Son?
When God said He will not remember our sins, it means that because of Christ’s perfect sacrifice, which paid our sin debt, God declared us righteous and chooses not to hold our sins against us. Therefore, He will not punish us as we deserve but has removed our sin “as far as the east is from the west” (Ps. 103:12).
Forgiveness does not mean you won’t remember the offense. While in time you may forget, you are not sinning against God because you have memories about what caused the hurt and pain in your life. You and I sin against God when we refuse to forgive the offender or when we forgive and continue to bring up the offense to that person.
As you obey the Lord and walk faithfully with Him, in time your painful memories may not impact you to the same level they once did.
Forgiveness and reconciliation are the same.
Forgiveness and reconciliation are not the same. “I forgive you” does not mean “I trust you,” just as “I’m sorry” does not mean “I repent.” Also, “I forgive you” does not mean the relationship automatically picks up where it left off. Trust has been broken and must be earned over time. To regain trust requires a pattern of living in opposition to the behavior that resulted in the offense.
Reconciliation is a process that takes both individuals working through the grace and power of the Lord Jesus Christ to rebuild the relationship. That process cannot begin until forgiveness has taken place. You can genuinely forgive a person although the relationship is not where it should be.
Some relationships may not be the same after an offense has occurred, yet you can be reconciled. Other relationships are rebuilt over a period of time and become stronger than before the sinful act occurred.
As far as we know from Scripture, Barnabas and Paul’s relationship was never the same after the incident involving John Mark in Acts 15. However, near the end of Paul’s life, it becomes very obvious that the severed relationship between Paul and John Mark had been reconciled and rebuilt and perhaps had become stronger. Paul asked specifically for John Mark to serve along side him in II Tim. 4:11. Unity is the outcome when forgiveness and reconciliation take place.
God has commanded, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men” (Rom. 12:18). In order to be at peace with all men, forgiveness must take place.
Forgiveness cannot be granted unless the offender asks to be forgiven.
There are some who believe the Bible only teaches that forgiveness is conditional and therefore cannot be granted unilaterally. They believe that since God forgives only those who repent, we as believers are not to forgive one another until the offender repents and asks for forgiveness. The offender confesses and repents, while the offended promises never to bring up the offense, and a “transaction” takes place. Some believe this transaction must take place for forgiveness to be granted.
One major concern with conditional forgiveness is the very real possibility that your offender may not ever ask for forgiveness. Your offender may not view their behavior towards you as sinful or your offender may no longer be living. Yet, forgiveness can and must be granted according to Mk. 11:25. Forgiveness is first and foremost obedience to God and His Word. Forgiveness promotes your well being while unforgiveness, like poison, will bring you to ruin and eventually destroy your life.
A second major concern with conditional forgiveness is that it is devoid of mercy. This view does not allow you to be merciful to your offender (Jas. 2:13). Rather than an attitude of mercy, an attitude of entitlement dominates (You owe me!). Also, it does not take Jesus’ example of forgiveness into consideration.
At times Jesus Himself forgave unilaterally. One such occasion involved a woman who was crying on His feet. At first, Jesus did not say a word to her but instead spoke to Simon the Pharisee who had vitriol in his heart towards the woman. Jesus rebuked Simon and by the end of the conversation, although the woman spoke no words, Jesus said to her, “your sins have been forgiven” (Lk. 7:36-48). That was unilateral forgiveness! That was the mercy of God demonstrated. It is the same mercy He expects you and me to extend to one another. Only God knows the hearts of man. Only God can determine if repentance has taken place in a person’s heart. We are commanded to forgive, not exact a confession.
Another example of unilateral forgiveness occurred in Acts 7. Stephen as he was being stoned to death “cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60). In the midst of dying, Stephen forgave his murderers.
Yet there will be situations when confrontation and repentance must occur before forgiveness can be extended (Mt. 18:15). Conditional forgiveness is biblical forgiveness, but it is not the only kind of biblical forgiveness. Conditional forgiveness is understood to be what is inferred in Eph. 4:32 and Col. 3:13.
Forgiveness can and should be granted unilaterally at times. When the Word of God commands believers to forgive as God has forgiven, withholding forgiveness was not the goal. In fact, to withhold forgiveness and become an unforgiving person brings judgment according to Mt. 6:14-15, Mk. 11:25-26, and Mt. 18:35.
I want to close with a list of some of the consequences of unforgiveness. This list is not exhaustive and I encourage you, in your study, to add to the list as the Lord teaches you.
Consequences of unforgiveness
1. Unforgiveness angers God (Mt. 18:34)
2. Unforgiveness causes you to keep account of a wrong suffered (I Cor. 13:5)
3. Unforgiveness prevents your prayers from being heard (Ps. 66:18)
4. Unforgiveness gives Satan an opportunity to take advantage of you (Eph. 4:26-27)
5. Unforgiveness hinders your spiritual growth and usefulness to God (Eph. 4:27)
6. Unforgiveness demonstrates you have not been forgiven for your sins against God (Mt. 6:15)
7. Unforgiveness provides good soil for bitterness, resentment and anger to thrive (Eph. 4:31-32)
8. Unforgiveness causes you to live for yourself and not for the Lord (II Cor. 5:15)
Unforgiveness is choosing to stay locked in a jail cell serving time for someone else’s crime.
For further study of this topic and others, you can get a copy of my Bible study Mysteries Of The Kingdom Revealed by clicking on the links below.