Forgive as Forgiven - Part 2
Think about a time in your life when someone hurt you. What happened? How did they wrong you? Did they care? Have you been reconciled?
It can be tempting when we’ve been hurt to just try to ignore the whole situation. Sometimes we try to not think about it, because once we start we know we’ll spiral down into a whirlpool of hurt and anger. We can try to run away, or pretend like we’re not hurting, but none of these options address the real issue: our need to forgive.
Forgiving others is a necessary part of a Christian’s life. We are commanded to forgive anyone for anything (Mark 11:2). Regardless of how big or small an offense, whether it’s multiple times a day or once in a lifetime, God’s forgiveness of our sins means we must forgive others (Matt. 6:14; Matt. 18:34-35).
When the Bible talks about God forgiving us, it uses language of bookkeeping. Sins are counted (Rom. 4:8), debts are tallied (Col. 2:14), and by accepting Jesus’ payment for our sins, the debts in our ledger are wiped clean (Acts 3:19).
This illustration is helpful to remember when we’re in the process of forgiving others. When someone sins against us it can be easy to feel like they need to make it up to us. All of a sudden we become the keeper of accounts, and begin tallying up all their sins, and demanding they come up with the means to pay us for the wrong done.
But that’s where we go wrong. We can’t require anyone to pay for their own sins. We don’t keep the ledgers – God does. He took our ledger, which included many more offenses against him than other people have sinned against us, and nailed it to the cross. It is gone forever! Out of this joy, we don’t keep a record of others’ wrongs. Instead, we forgive. For the prototypical illustration, please take a moment to read (or re-read!) the parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18:21-35. We have been forgiven of so much! And therefore should forgive as we’ve been forgiven (Col. 3:13).
How to Forgive
There are two types of forgiveness: vertical (between you and God) and horizontal (between you and the one you’re seeking to forgive). Not all situations call for horizontal reconciliation (horizontal reconciliation is important to seek out, but not always possible or wise), but all situations require believers to forgive others in their hearts before the Lord. This is done through prayer. The first step to forgive others is to remember how we’ve been forgiven, and be thankful for it! Then we can confess our feelings to God, seek his forgiveness for our ongoing struggle with sin, and acknowledge our forgiveness of those who have sinned against us.
Have I Forgiven Them?
How do we know we’ve forgiven someone from our heart? It’d be nice (and is sometimes the case!) to go before the Lord and forgive others instantly from our heart, but sometimes – especially when the betrayal runs deep – forgiveness may be a much more iterative process. Just praying “I forgive ___” is meaningless if you don’t mean it…so we need to pray for the Lord to help us mean it!
We should pray as often as we find ourselves drifting into bitter, destructive, damning thoughts against our offender. It’s common to struggle with forgiveness, and when we do we shouldn’t hesitate to confess our sin of unforgiveness and pray for the Lord’s mercy in our situation – he will answer (Ps. 46:1; Matt. 5:7).
Sometimes we can even forgive someone today, but then years later be affected by their sin in a new way. In that case, we still need to forgive again. Whenever we sense bitterness in our hearts against someone, we need to pursue forgiveness before the Lord. You have been given the gift of the Spirit to enable you to forgive as you’ve been forgiven.
Whenever you have anything against anyone, forgive.
Forgiveness takes work, faith, and perseverance. In order to forgive we need to be able to know in our hearts that we have no right to seek retribution. Think about it this way: since we’ve been forgiven for our huge offenses against Christ, who is the ultimate judge, then all that is left for us is to seek to love our enemies and pray for them. Who do you need to forgive today?