Can I be forgiven?
Can I forgive others?
Can I forgive myself?
What if I don't want to forgive?
1. A SOLUTION TO OUR MOST PAINFUL PERSONAL PROBLEMS
A SEVENTEEN-YEAR-OLD GIRL appeared on the Oprah Winfrey show-facing the man who four years earlier had beaten her beyond recognition and left her for dead. After seventeen operations for facial reconstruction, her words to the vicious attacker were, "I don't hate you. I hate what you did to me, and I have had to forgive you so I could go on with my life."
In your life and mine, the act of forgiveness may be the most important step we can take toward a solution to our most painful personal problems. Without forgiveness there is conflict, distress, divorce, dysfunction, hatred, hostility, murder, neurosis, pain, revenge, sickness-even war. The unforgiven and the unforgiving are affected alike.
2. JESUS SPOKE OF FORGIVENESS IN STARTLING WAYS
And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins. (Mark 11:25 NIV)
If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says 'I repent,' forgive him. (Luke 17:22-3 NIV).
"Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing" (Luke 23:34 NIV).
3. JESUS FOCUSED ON FORGIVENESS
Jesus was teaching one day in His hometown of Nazareth and people were being healed of their diseases. Four of the village men took a paralytic friend to the meeting place, where they found a crowd so packed that they could not get in. So, with no other option available, they lowered their friend from the roof into the presence of the Lord.
It's possible that everyone present knew about the man's paralysis, but only Jesus perceived a deeper need. The crowd was shocked when Jesus-instead of healing him-said, "Friend, your sins are forgiven." The leaders objected and commented quietly among themselves that Jesus was blasphemous. Then Jesus said to the paralytic man, "Stand up, take your mat and go home" (Luke 5:17-25). And to everyone's amazement, he stood to his feet and walked out-healed and forgiven!
What wonderful lessons we find in this story:
- Our greatest need is forgiveness.
- Jesus Christ forgives sins.
- We can be fully assured that we are forgiven.
- With forgiveness we may experience healing.
- No problem is too hard for Jesus.
- We should lead our friends to Jesus.
4. WHAT IS FORGIVENESS?
To forgive is to stop blaming offenders for their offenses and to cancel their debts. To absorb the pain caused by others, rather than repay it. To acquit, absolve, pardon, clear, erase, let go. Forgiveness is both a decision and a process. It's letting go of an emotional debt and working through its pain until it diminishes or disappears. Forgiveness needs to be offered from the heart and reaffirmed whenever we feel recurring pain or resentment. As Christians, it is our responsibility to forgive and most of us know that we need God's help to do it.
- Forgiving and being forgiven
Jesus taught His disciples to forgive and to be forgiven: "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" (Matthew 6:12-15 NIV). An unforgiving heart is incapable of receiving forgiveness.
- Forgiveness in God's kingdom.
When we take Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior we repent of our sins and receive forgiveness. At that moment we enter the kingdom of God. In the kingdom we discover:
-- a sovereign Lord,
-- a submitted people,
-- a space in which we live,
-- a system of government,
-- a system of communication,
-- a social order based on eternal principles,
-- a style of living based on kingdom values.
Jesus is the sovereign Lord. Christians are the submitted people. Christ rules by truth communicated by His written Word and by His Holy Spirit. He governs the space we yield to Him in our lives, families, and social structures. Christians relate to each other through shared values and objectives. As we live with kingdom values and principles we discover the nature of the kingdom:
For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit... (Romans 14:17 NIV).
Forgiveness is a core value and a guiding principle of the kingdom of God. It is impossible to experience righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit unless we have been forgiven and unless we forgive.
- Forgiveness and kingdom growth
Jesus taught that we must practice acts of forgiveness and maintain attitudes of forgiveness. When right attitudes prevail among Christians, people are drawn to the kingdom. When we forgive, we help His kingdom grow. When we fail to forgive we retard kingdom growth.
One of the great revivals of our century started one night in West Africa when a Christian leader realized that a conflict with a fellow leader was hindering the work of God. Convicted of his sin and convinced that he needed to ask forgiveness of his colleague, he lit a torch and headed into the dark toward the village where the man lived. When he got about half way, he saw another torch. The man he was going to meet was coming to meet him. They met and embraced, starting a revival that lasted thirty years.
- Unforgiveness and sickness
The words "I'm sick of you" may contain more truth than we think. Anger and unforgiveness do make us sick. We were not made to violate God's principles. Though we are capable of committing the violations, neither body nor soul is able to bear the consequences we suffer when we do. We can handle great loads of work and pressure, but we lack the spiritual, emotional, and physical strength to carry guilt, bitterness, and unforgiveness in our hearts.
A psychiatrist once said that many of his patients would be cured if they knew they were forgiven or if they would forgive others. How senseless and destructive an unforgiving spirit is. Our attempts to hurt those who hurt us cause greater pain to ourselves than to them. And they close the doors of God's blessing on our lives.
- A story of forgiveness and unforgiveness
Jesus once told a story about a king who decided to collect money owed to him. In the process he discovered that one of his servants owed him a fortune.
The servant did not have the money to pay the debt, so the king ordered that everything he owned be sold and the money used to pay what he could.
The servant could do nothing but fall on his knees and beg, "Be patient and I will pay you everything I owe."
Hearing that, the king had pity and forgave the debt.
Later, the servant found a colleague who owed him just a few dollars. When he grabbed the man around the throat and yelled, "Pay me the money you owe me!" the poor man fell on his knees and begged, "Be patient with me, and I will pay you everything I owe." But the first servant threw the man into prison until he could pay his debt.
When the other servants found out what he had done, they were shocked and reported him to the king.
The angry king said, "You wicked man! You begged me to forget what you owed and I let you off without paying a cent. You should have done for that man what I did for you." Then he put the servant in prison to be punished until he could pay everything he owed.
Jesus finished the story by saying, "This king did what my heavenly Father will do to you if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart" (Matthew 18:23-35).
Isn't it incredible that a man could be forgiven such a large debt and then refuse to forgive such a small one!
Do you suppose that he...
-Didn't understand that he was fully forgiven?
-Thought he would have to pay at a later date?
-Thought he could pay by his own schemes?
-Thought he should make a token effort to pay?
-Was too proud to admit how poor he was?
-Had other debts he had never revealed?
-Distrusted the character of the king?
Whatever the reason, he was a free man who acted like a slave and then became a slave. Not only did his attitude injure others, it brought about his own imprisonment. The Bible relates, "In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed" (Matthew 18:35 NIV).
Author David Seamands explains that when we fail to forgive we often suffer from hidden tormentors like: sickness, guilt, mental distress, insomnia, eating disorders, chemical dependence, self-hatred, self-destructive behavior, and personal conflicts.
The words that follow this parable are sobering: "This king did what my heavenly father will do to you if you do not forgive your brother from the heart."
- More than we bargained for
Scripture warns us, "When you are angry, do not sin, and be sure to stop being angry before the end of the day. Do not give the devil a way to defeat you." When we angrily refuse to forgive, our problems may go beyond self-inflicted torment-we may become subject to satanic attack. Whenever we give-up control of an area of our life, we give Satan and his dark powers an opportunity to seize advantage.
Although anger may start as an involuntary emotion (and at times a legitimate one), we must not let anger, resentment, or lack of forgiveness dominate our hearts. Love brings freedom; hatred brings bondage. We've got to deal with conflicts before Satan lays claim to any area of our life. Paul exhorts, "Do not be bitter or angry or mad. Never shout angrily or say things to hurt others. Never do anything evil. Be kind and loving to each other, and forgive each other just as God forgave you in Christ."
5. WHAT IF I DON'T FEEL LIKE FORGIVING?
It's seldom easy to forgive and we rarely feel like doing it-yet we must forgive. We know that we ought to forgive, but pride, anger, and self-protective instincts all whisper, Don't get hurt, get even! Don't put up with that! Don't get pushed around! "Blessed are the meek" is for the weak!
Yet, it's when we least feel like forgiving that we most need to do it. Here's a truth that is both illuminating and liberating:
Forgiveness is not just an emotion.
Forgiveness is essentially a choice.
Several years ago a friend betrayed me. I knew, as a Christian, that I needed to forgive him and I made a conscious decision to do so. But in the weeks that followed I found myself thinking repeatedly about his offense and reliving the emotions it aroused.
One night I traveled by sleeper bus, but I could not sleep. In my mind I could picture what this person had done and I imagined how good it would feel to "punch him out." When I became aware of myself, I realized that I was sweating, my heart was racing, and my hands were clenched into fists. Though I had made a conscious choice to forgive, I still felt anger and pain.
This brought feelings of guilt and condemnation. The "accuser" insinuated, "You haven't forgiven him or you wouldn't feel the way you do." I answered, "Yes, I have forgiven him and if I haven't, I do it now."
That affirmation helped, but I still felt condemned. I didn't really understand my emotions and I didn't understand the dynamics of forgiveness.
Later I realized that, since our emotions are involuntary reactions, God does not hold us responsible to feel any certain way. Therefore we should not allow Satan to accuse us, nor should we allow our feelings to control us. We know we are responsible to sustain the choice we have made to forgive our offender, but how should we handle our feelings?
6. HERE'S WHAT I LEARNED
- Acknowledge them. Feelings are not necessarily a sign of sin, they are a sign of humanity. They are not the boat load of trouble that came our way, they are the wake our trouble left behind. To deny our feelings is useless. We need to identify them, own them, and take them to God with all honesty. It is truth that sets us free.
- Refuse to use them as a gauge of acceptance before God. Our standing before God is a result of His grace producing in us a response of faith. It does not depend upon feelings. To think that we are accepted only when we feel accepted is like thinking we are only a family member when we feel like a member. Our parents would tell us otherwise!
- Reject condemnation. The Holy Spirit convicts us when we have done wrong-so we will repent. Satan condemns us for feelings that are neither right nor wrong-so we will be discouraged. He wants us to think that it's no use and we might as well give up. The Holy Spirit is specific. Satan is vague. The Holy Spirit deals with our guilt. Satan seeks to destroy our sense of worth.
- Obey truth and get on with life. I've never found a command in the Bible about how we should feel. The Bible tells us what actions, thoughts, words, and attitudes we should cultivate, but it does not tell us what feelings we should have. When we think right, talk right, and do right, our feelings tend to fall into line.
I discovered that my feelings would get under control to the degree that my thinking did. So I decided to put that experience behind me and refuse to let it bother me any more. Whenever the issue came to mind I chose thoughts of love and forgiveness. Eventually, healing came to my heart. Now I can remember and even talk about the whole thing with no pain. I benefited from the experience. I learned to deal with it in a biblical way.
7. FORGIVE AND FORGET?
We often hear that and it's good advice-if we know what it means to forget. It does not mean to have offenses erased from our memory! To try to completely forget negative experiences may only be an attempt to bury them in our subconscious mind. That's like disregarding an infection. Denial of its existence does not prevent its spreading destruction. It must be treated and healed.
Our loving Father does not want us to feel guilty for our inability to have memories wiped clear. We are not required to feel good about pain. God loves truth. He knows that we must face the suffering in our memories and then forgive!
We remember the offense.
We stop blaming the offender.
We strengthen the relationship.
We pray for healing.
We wait patiently until it comes.
What about forgiving our selves?
8. CAN WE FORGIVE OURSELVES?
Do we need to? What do people mean when they say, "I think God has forgiven me, but I can't forgive myself?" Could it be:
-I don't deserve forgiveness?
-I'm too ashamed of what I did?
-I need to suffer a little more?
-I must punish myself?
-I must not enjoy life after what I've done?
Let's admit it: Most of us have done things we are ashamed of-things for which we truly don't deserve forgiveness. But think about it: If we deserved forgiveness, we wouldn't need it. When we are forgiven it's not through our worthiness, but through Christ's worthiness. We are not forgiven by our suffering, but by Christ's suffering.
-God is merciful and good...
-Jesus came to seek and to save the lost...
-Jesus paid for our sin on the cross...
-God forgives all sin and all repentant sinners...
-Jesus does not remember confessed sins against us...
-God's promises are worthy of our trust...
Shouldn't we repent of the evil we have done? Shouldn't we ask for and receive His mercy? Shouldn't we believe Him and consider ourselves fully forgiven? Rather than maintaining an attitude of self-hatred, rejection, and despair, shouldn't we say, like Paul, "Yes, I am the chief of sinners." Shouldn't we also say, I'm unworthy to receive His grace, but Christ died to provide it, and I'm not going to become more unworthy by rejecting the mercy that God offers me through the death of his Son?
9. CONFESSING OUR SINS, ONE-BY-ONE!
Former President Clinton made several attempts to deal with his sins before the American public. His first attempt was generally regarded as being shallow and inadequate. Later he expressed sorrow about some of his actions. Then he spoke of shame.
Somewhere in that process I found myself praying that he would become a model of repentance to the American people and that the American people would become a model of forgiveness-not just overlooking what he did because the standard has been lowered, but truly forgiving him. That will only take place to the degree that true repentance is expressed and the public sees that it is appropriate to forgive. I do not want to be the judge of whether or not that has happened.
A lot of damage has been done by the whole scandal, but good can come out of it. We can learn that we should never be casual about sin. We should never minimize sin's importance. We should purpose to put sin out of our life. But, if we do fall into temptation, we should remember that God promises full forgiveness.
T. A. Hegre, founding director of Bethany Fellowship, told a simple story that fits here: The women of a certain village in a developing nation washed their clothes by taking them to the river and beating them against the rocks. One woman had neglected to wash her clothes for a long time. They were so dirty that she was ashamed to take them out of their bundle. Rather than exposing each dirty item, she beat the whole bundle against the rocks. Needless to say, they did not get clean.
We sometimes do the same with our sins. We bundle them together and generalize: "God, please forgive all our sins," as if sin were a natural part of our lives and confession were a mechanical exercise-just say the magic words and everything will be okay.
I think we know better. I think we know that we should confess our sins one-by-one, considering the seriousness of each offense, remembering what it cost God to provide salvation, and reflecting on God's attitude toward sin.
10. A NOTABLE CASE OF A SIN AND FORGIVENESS
Most of us remember the story of Israel's King David. He had such a heart for God that his poems set a pattern for our devotional life. But David committed a terrible sin: He had sex with another man's wife (the sin of adultery), resulting in a pregnancy. He tried to cover his wrongdoing, but when his attempt failed, he arranged to have the woman's husband killed in battle.
Then he went through the experience described in Psalm 32:
When I kept these things to myself, I felt weak deep inside me. I moaned all day long. Day and night you punished me. My strength was gone as in the summer heat. Then I confessed my sins to you. I didn't hide my guilt. I said, 'I will confess my sins to the Lord.' And you forgave my guilt.
When he did confess, it was with brokenness and humility. Here are excerpts from his prayer in Psalm 51:
Have mercy on me. Wash away my iniquity. Cleanse me from my sin. I know my transgressions. My sin is always before me. Against you have I sinned and done evil. Cleanse me and I will be clean. Wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness. Let the bones you have crushed rejoice. Hide your face from my sins. Blot out all my iniquity. Create in me a pure heart. Renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence. Do not take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation. Grant me a willing spirit to sustain me. Then I will teach transgressors your ways. Sinners will turn back to you. Open my lips. My mouth will declare your praise. You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit. A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
David's prayer addresses many of the fears and desires we experience when we fail spiritually and morally. As he unburdens his heart to the Lord, hope returns to him. He is restored to fellowship with God. He is forgiven and a song returns to his heart.
Perhaps, like David and like the paralytic man, you feel the need to be assured that your sins are forgiven. Jesus takes great pleasure in giving you that assurance. There's nothing complicated about it, but you must be sincere and earnest. You must be willing to stop justifying yourself, rationalizing about your sins, or compensating for them.
Simply confess your sins to Jesus and ask Him to forgive you. Repent of your self-serving, independent ways and turn the control of your life over to Jesus. If you have wronged someone, go to him and make it right. If you owe a debt, pay it. If you need to apologize, do it. If you've never asked Jesus to dwell in your heart, ask Him. If you need to renew your consecration, renew it. Ask the Lord Jesus to fill you with His Holy Spirit.
Then choose to believe in your heart that He has forgiven you and that those sins, however shameful or embarrassing they may be, are fully forgiven and God will never remember them against you again.
11. IT'S TIME TO FORGIVE OTHERS
As forgiveness becomes a reality in your life you will be more disposed to forgive others of their faults and offenses. If you do not yet feel that way, approach it as a challenge of faith. Ask God to help you forgive whomever you need to forgive. You may find the following steps useful when it is hard to forgive.
- Remember your own sins and your own forgiveness. Knowing that you are forgiven, decide to forgive.
- Review the offense. Were you partly at fault? Have you corrected your part of it?
- Right your wrongs. You can't change your offender, but you can correct your offenses.
- Realize you may be mistaken-you may be jumping to conclusions about the other person's motives.
- Relinquish the right to be right. It's much better to be reconciled than just to be right.
- Retire your debts. God forgives your debts as you forgive your debtors.
- Refuse to be bitter. Insults can't destroy you. Bitterness can. Don't be bitter.
- Refuse to get even. Do not repay evil with evil, but with blessing.
- Refuse to gossip. How can you forgive and speak evil of a person at the same time?
- Respond with prayer. How can you pray for a person and fail to forgive?
- Request others to pray. Confessing your need of help, ask trusted friends to pray.
- Resist the devil. Reject anger and deny the devil a way to defeat you.
- Rely on the Holy Spirit. Ask God to renew His love in you by the Holy Spirit.
- Respond with the right words... I forgive you! You are forgiven!
- Reaffirm forgiveness. Repeat the act of forgiveness whenever ill feelings return.
12. WHOM SHOULD WE FORGIVE?
Some individuals may already come to mind. The first person who comes to mind may be the pivotal one. Our deepest pain has probably been caused by the people closest to us, for example:
Parents. We become angry with them for so many reasons, but what good does it do? Why not forgive them?
Siblings. Dick was told, by his brothers and sisters, "Nobody wants you." He was healed by forgiving them.
Spouses. Things are said and done that threaten to divide those whom God has joined together. Forgiveness needs to be a way of life in every marriage.
Teachers. We've had supportive ones and insensitive ones. Some have left deep marks on us.
Church leaders. We expect so much from them and feel so confused when they fail us. We need to forgive them.
Churches. How sad it is when churches split. Many need to be reconciled to each other-at least in fellowship.
Nations and races. Ethnic battles abound. Long-standing prejudices become war. Forgiveness is the answer.
Whoever has hurt us. We need to forgive completely, unconditionally, generously, verbally, volitionally, wholeheartedly, indiscriminately and constantly.
13. LET'S TAKE RESPONSIBILITY
Scripture says, "If God is with us, then no one can defeat us" (Romans 8:31). Sure, there are people we can blame for our problems, but what good does it do? They cannot destroy us. Only we can destroy ourselves. And they cannot bring us to recovery. Only we can make that choice. God will put our lives back together if we do our part. Remember this, "I can do all things through Him who gives me strength." (Philippians 4:13). The decision is before us. What will we do?
Loving Lord, you offer me forgiveness. You offer me freedom. You offer me the ability to forgive. Through your mercy and atoning death, my debt has been paid. I am now free to be forgiven and to forgive others as you forgive me. I choose to make forgiveness a way of life. Please help me to keep a constant attitude of forgiveness to all who may have hurt me or done evil against me.
In Jesus' name, Amen.
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