Recently, a brother in Guatemala asked me if I would share my thoughts about forgiveness. I have read many excellent books about forgiveness by respected Christian authors, so my initial thought was to recommend one of those books to him. However, after thinking more about it, I decided to share my thoughts as well as recommend three books. Following is what I shared with him, born of my experiences and understanding of God's word.
When I think about forgiveness I think about not only forgiving others but also forgiving myself. No matter how hard we try not to, we all sin at times. The Bible tells us we all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23). When we sin, we must go to God and repent of our sins. When we do, God forgives us and cleanses us from all unrighteousness. He not only forgives us, but also forgets the transgression (Isaiah 43:25 "I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.")
Las veces que era consciente de que había pecado, sinceramente fui a Dios y le pedí que me perdonara por mis pecados. Sé que Dios, cada vez que fui a él, me escucho y me perdonó. La Biblia dice: "Por lo tanto, ya no hay ninguna condenación para los que están unidos a Cristo Jesús, pues por medio de él la ley del Espíritu de vida me ha liberado de la ley del pecado y de la muerte, "(Romans 8:1 NVI). Eso significa que cada vez que me he arrepentido de mis pecados, ya no debo de oprimirme a mi mismo por el odio y la autocondenación.
If I believe that, and I do, why do I still feel guilty on some occasions when I have repented of my sin? It is because Satan does everything He can to prevent us from accepting our forgiveness. He wants us to feel guilty and feel that God hasn't forgiven us. However, forgiveness is not about feelings: it is about God's promise to us through His Word. He tells us in 1John 1:9-10, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." It is by God's promises that we know we are forgiven not by our feelings!
Over my 70 years of life, I have suffered many wrongs at the hands of others. Sometimes the offense was unintentional and other times it was done with great malice. It is much easier to forgive when the sin was unintentional or the person who sinned against you is truly sorry. But, what about when the offense was intentional or the person is not sorry? At those times we may feel that we just can't forgive them for what they have done to us.
I spent many years in bondage because I could not forgive those who had intentionally hurt me. Over time that unforgiveness grew into an anger and resentment that effected every facet of my spiritual walk and became a wedge between the Lord and me.
Do you realize that not forgiving another can block God's forgiveness and answered prayer? He tells us in Mark 11:25, "When you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins."
Look at some of the other things the Lord tells us in His word about forgiveness.
Not only are we to forgive those who sin against us, we are also to show them compassion and love them and pray for them:
Luke 6:27-28, "But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you."
Ephesians 4:32, "Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you."
Our fellowship with God is broken when we refuse to forgive others for their sins against us.
Matthew 6: 14-15, "For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins."
There is no limit to the number of times we must forgive those who sin against us. Jesus tells Peter that he must forgive his brother "seventy times seven" times.
Matthew 18:22, "Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven."
Colossians 3:13, "Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you."
We must show mercy towards those who sin against us, because God has shown great mercy to each of us.
Matthew 18:33, "Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?"
There are many misconceptions about what forgiveness is. Let me tell you what forgiveness is not.
- Forgiveness is not, justifying or explaining away someone's sin against you.
- Forgiveness is not denying that we have been hurt or pretending that the offense was no big deal. The offense is real, but when we forgive, the offense no longer controls us.
- Forgiveness is not forgetting that the person sinned against us.
- Forgiveness is not always reconciliation. That takes two people.
So what is forgiveness? It is an act of our will. We did not deserve God's forgiveness and many of those who have sinned against us do not deserve our forgiveness. It is something we choose to give them. It is giving up our resentment and anger against someone else, along with our right to get revenge, no matter how serious the sin against us was. If we choose not to forgive, we are choosing to live in sin, just like choosing to commit adultery, choosing to gossip, choosing to lie, choosing to steal, and, etc.
The Holy Spirit used the above Scriptures to bring me to the realization the only way to free myself from the bondage of unforgiveness was to forgive those who had sinned against me. None of us has the strength to do this under our own power. The only way we can do this is with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.
1 John 4:4 "You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world."
Zechariah 4:6 . . . ."Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,' says the LORD Almighty."
Following are six activities that helped free me from the bondage of unforgiveness.
1. The first essential step to forgiving yourself or others is prayer.
There is nothing more important to victory in the Christians life than prayer. This quote by S.D. Gordon says it perfectly "Communion is the basis of all prayer. It is the essential breath of the true Christian life." I am not talking about a quickly mumbled prayer as we run out the door to work. We must spend considerable time alone with the Lord and in His word to allow Him to minister to us as we replace the unforgiveness in our heart with forgiveness. Start by asking God to reveal any unforgiveness in your heart.
Ask Him to show you the root of your unforgiveness then repent of any bitterness and resentment that are taking the place of forgiveness. After seeking forgiveness, ask God to give you the strength to forgive the person who sinned against you.
Pray for the one who hurt you. The Bible tells us to pray for those who mistreat us, (Luke 6:28 "bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you."). This does not come naturally. It was one of the hardest things I have ever done.
2. Make the decision to forgive the one who sinned against you.
This is not a superficial decision but a decision from your heart and soul to forgive the person. Forgiveness can free you from the bondage of what feels like an unforgivable act. God's forgiveness of us is not because we earned it or deserve it. It is because of His grace. Our forgiveness of others should also be because of our grace. The sins God forgave me for are much greater than the sins committed against me.
3. Make a commitment to stop thinking about how that person hurt you.
When you dwell on how the person hurt you, it is like picking the scab off a wound: you never heal.
4. Acknowledge and accept that none of us is perfect.
We all have weaknesses and we all have needed forgiveness.
5. Accept that no matter how much you want the person to change and to acknowledge their sin against you that may never happen.
Sólo Dios puede cambiar a las personas.
6. See the person through the compassionate eyes of Jesus Christ.
Each and every one of us is precious in God's eyes and it is His desire that none perish (2 Peter 3:9 "He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance."). If it were not for Jesus' deep love for each of us, and God's gracious gift of eternal atonement through Him, we would all be destined for hell. Christ has the authority and the right to command us to forgive one another, and therefore, we suffer severe consequences if we do not do so. Matt 6:15 tells us "But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins."
My hope is that what I have shared from God's word, and my own experiences will be an encouragement to you and will prompt you to learn more about forgiveness from God's word. Remember, the ultimate authority on everything is God's word, not what I or anyone else has written!
Your brother in Christ, Larry.