Forgiveness is a subject that is a special challenge for Christians. To be honest we want grace for ourselves, and justice for those who have hurt us.
But Jesus had much to say about forgiveness. When Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?” Jesus replied, “No, not seven times, but seventy times seven!” (Matthew 18:21–22). And He didn’t mean 490 times, but an infinite number of times.
When Jesus taught the disciples what we call the Lord’s Prayer, He taught them to pray, “and forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us” (Matthew 6:12). Of the entire prayer this is the only part that Jesus doubled back to give more explanation, “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:14–15).
NOTE—Our ability to experience forgiveness from the Father is dependent upon our willingness to forgive those who have hurt us.
But there are some people who may have hurt you very badly. What do you do about that? What they did was not right? Is it right that you would release them from their guilt?
The answer is YES! In reality you’re not releasing them. You are releasing yourself!
I had to deal with forgiveness in an incredibly personal way when I had to face the man who caused the crash in which my wife, Donna, was killed. So I thought I knew a lot about forgiveness until a friend recommended a book titled Total Forgiveness by R. T. Kendall (see picture).
Dr. Kendall answers, “What happens when we don’t forgive?”
- We insult the price Christ paid for sin
- We impede God’s purpose of reconciliation
- We are showing ingratitude for God’s forgiveness of us
He goes on to provide some thoughts about the danger of unforgiveness:
- Resentment leads to going over and over again in your mind what the offender did, recounting and reliving exactly what happened. You should not dwell on the incident or even think about it. It will not bring you any relief or release; instead, it will cause you to become even more churned up.
- We may also seek revenge by hurting that person’s reputation by keeping others from thinking well of them.
- Making a choice to continue in unforgiveness shows that we aren’t sufficiently grateful for God’s forgiveness of our own sins.
- Our primary cause of an unforgiving spirit is self-righteousness.
- There is, however, another cause for unforgiveness: that we don’t put a high enough value on our fellowship with the Father.
- The reason God treats you like an enemy is because, by not forgiving others, you are really saying, “God, move over; I want your job!” You crown yourself judge, jury, and executioner, and you presume to take God’s place.
- If I resent another person’s getting away with something and escaping punishment, it’s because I am jealous of their situation, that they would be shown mercy when they ought to receive justice.
- The person who hasn’t forgiven himself is an unhappy person and is usually unable to forgive others.
- Not forgiving ourselves is a subtle way of competing with Christ’s atonement.
- Grace isn’t Grace if we have to be good enough for it to apply to us.
- The devil does not want you to forgive others; he loves it when you are bitter.
HOW DOES UNFORGIVENESS EXPRESS ITSELF?
- It begins with resentment
- Inward bitterness begins to grow
- Dwelling on the offense causes you to seek revenge
- The result is Self-righteousness
HOW TO FORGIVE? Here are three steps in the process of forgiveness:
STEP 1—YOU NEED TO IDENTIFY WHAT HAS BEEN TAKEN AWAY FROM YOU. Any time there is a need for forgiveness there is always this sense of debt. Forgiveness is about identifying what has been taken from me! What do I think he owes me? What do I think she owes me? What is it that was ripped off? What do I think he or she needs to give back to me?
STPE 2–SIMPLY CANCEL THE DEBT! Forgiveness is not feeling. You’ll never feel your way into forgiving. Forgiveness is a decision. You say, “I choose to cancel the debt. YOU DON’T OWE ME ANYMORE!”
STEP 3—REFUSE TO EVER REINSTATE THE DEBT. If you could just forgive and forget … that’d be great! If God could erase our memory, it would be easy to forgive. But that’s not forgiveness. That’s amnesia. God doesn’t actually forget your sin. He simply determines to never hold your sin against you.
FORGIVENESS MUST BE SPECIFIC—You weren’t hurt generally. You were hurt specifically. So you must forgive specifically. If you try to forgive generally, you will wind up not forgiving, but stuffing. And your unforgiveness will reappear another time in another way.
ONE WORD OF CAUTION…You must separate forgiveness (which is in your heart) with the consequences of a person’s action. You can genuinely forgive someone and yet never have any contact with him or her again. Certain offenses can require never trusting them in relationship again. But it is still commanded that you forgive them.
Total forgiveness frees you from remaining in bondage to the hurt you have experienced. It is a GIFT of God. That’s why it is called FOR-GIVE-NESS!!
Let me close with a word from the Apostle Paul, “Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others” (Colossians 3:13).
So…WHO DO YOU NEED TO FORGIVE? What will you do? As Dr. Kendall says, “Let the past be the past—at last!”
Onward in forgiveness,