Forgiving someone when they have injured you in some way is hard. Not forgiving someone when they injured you is harder. The Bible commands we forgive (Ephesians 4:32), warning us about choosing not to forgive (Matthew 6:14-15; Matthew 18:32-35), as well as Jesus modeling forgiveness (Luke 23:34). So, how come it can be so hard to actually forgive? I think a lot of it has to do with misunderstandings people have about forgiveness. Let cover:
① “Time heals all wounds”
We use this rationalization all the time, even though deep down we know time heals nothing that was serious enough to warrant forgiveness. Yes, a mature believer over looks small slights (Proverbs 19:11). But if you endured significant injury at the hands of another, all time does if there is no forgiveness is to grow in you a bitter heart that impacts all your relationships (Hebrews 12:15).
② “Someone has to make him pay”
This is the idea of letting the person ‘off the hook’. Romans 12:19 is helpful in this situation: “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” Paul is telling us that for the Christ-follower, you don’t have to get revenge because you can know that justice will be done. Sometimes justice is administered in the form of consequences for their sin (see Romans 13) or in eternity. I think it was my friend J.D. Greear who I first heard say “For the one wronged you, either Christ will pay the full penalty for their sin like He has yours, or they will suffer for it in hell. Justice will be served.”
③ “I can’t forgive because I can’t forget.”
Actually, I can’t see in the Bible the command “to forget what happened to you.” But the reality is you won’t forget until you do forgive. Think of forgiveness as the first link in the long chain of forgetting.
④ “I should wait to forgive until they repent and say they are sorry.”
While there is some disagreement among Christians about this one, it’s important to note that the vast majority of Scriptures about forgiving call for immediate and unconditional forgiveness. (Luke 17:3 seems to be referring to actually telling the person you are forgiving them.)
Remember that forgiveness and reconciliation are not the same thing. Forgiveness in the Bible is often a term with a financial background. So, forgiveness could be defined as “releasing a person from the debt they owe you because of the sin against you.” Forgiveness is something you do for God’s glory and your good. It often does not involve telling the person ‘you forgive them’. Reconciliation, on the other hand takes genuine repentance on the part of the offender. And even then, it could take a while to earn trust back. “I forgive you” does not mean “I trust you”. Forgiveness is given, trust is earned.
⑤ Forgiveness is a feeling.
Actually, forgiveness is a choice you and I make. If we waited until we “felt like it’, we’d rarely if ever forgive and simply drown in our bitterness.
The consistent motivation the Scriptures point to, to forgive some – – is the gospel. The fact is that God showed us grace on the cross and we did not deserve it. It’s been long said, “Go to the cross to be forgiven, stay there to forgive.”
To forgive someone you must:
– Acknowledge the sin and the debt.
– Make the decision to release the person from owing you something.
– Return as necessary to the decision to forgive as you see God heal you over time.
I choose to forgive ____________ (person) for ____________ (offense).