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Forgiveness is one of those concepts that we love in theory, but we have a hard time putting into practice. Everyone loves thinking about the safety blanket that true forgiveness offers. It’s like a “Get Out of Jail Free Card” except you’re getting back into someone’s good graces after wronging them. Does this provide us extra ammunition to do wrong to people or loved ones? No. It should encourage us not to use the card, but rather to keep it in our side pocket for a rainy day. Life circumstances carry enough variability and unpredictability to them that even when we’re well intended we can let anyone down. With our approach we’re still fallible at the end of the day, and have a tremendous tendency to mess things up.
In the context of being in good standing with the Lord, we constantly need to seek His forgiveness. Not only do we need to seek forgiveness, but once sought we need to step into truly accepting it. I believe part of accepting forgiveness in a tangible level is to forgive ourselves in the process. So for instance, we’ve recognized that we’ve fallen short and failed God by lying to a friend. Not only have we broken one of God’s commandments, but we’ve also let our friend down. We need to seek forgiveness from God, and we also need to seek to restore the truth in our relationship with our friend whenever possible. In some circumstances we may only have the possibility of seeking forgiveness from God, and having to come to terms with forgiving ourselves. Perhaps we’ve lost touch with the person in question, or maybe they’ve even passed on into eternity. In either case if it’s impossible to seek personal pardon from the party in question, we cannot dwell in perpetual guilt. We need to find healing in God and trust that He recognizes our sincere desire to address the situation head on.
After we’ve sought forgiveness from the Lord, and we’ve attempted to rectify the situation face to face with our friend or the offended party, we need to strengthen our resolve to repent. What I mean is we can’t just allow ourselves to be satisfied with failing, falling into the trap of the sinful behavior again, and then seeking forgiveness again. This is a cycle of habitual sin that should be avoided at all costs. (V*1). I have failed to avoid this in the area of lust and pornography addiction in the past. I would fall victim to the iniquity, and find myself stumbling back into the same sin like a dog returning to his own vomit. (V*2). While it doesn’t mean your sin is unforgivable, it does mean that we need to pray that God would help us recognize the depravity of our own sin again. I ask God not to allow my heart to become hardened, and to keep me humbly seeking His help in the matter. Seeking that the offense would weigh on my conscience again, not allowing my conscience to get seared. Not allowing myself to arrive a point where I am unwilling to recognize the severity of the offense in question. It’s helpful to let guilt hit me, if only for a moment, to straighten me out back in the direction that I should go. To lead me back to God’s ways rather than my own selfish, temporal desires. To lead me to desiring true repentance, which entails turning away from my sinful nature. Turning away from all that my wicked and deceitful heart would desire, and instead allowing God to replace my heart’s desires with His desires for me. (V*3).
This doesn’t mean that I wallow in guilt, self-pity, condemnation, or despair of any kind after I have been forgiven. As I said forgiveness sought needs to also be accepted by the one being forgiven. When this is satisfied we then seek to strategically assess the situation to figure out how to best avoid the compromise in question in the future. For my fight against lust and pornography, my best ally has been the grace of God. I have also felt encouraged by seeking out the accountability of an online group for men struggling with a similar addiction, and shared my story in person with another local Bible study group when we branch out into small group studies. I believe that even in the midst of my lost battles in this area I have given others an anchor of hope. I have given them the hope that despite my sinful nature and past compromises, God still uses me and by His grace He has found it in His heart to restore to me the joy of my salvation.
I don’t claim to have fully slain this sin on my own account, but I believe it’s been defeated in the name of Jesus Christ. I have still found myself stumbling from time to time, but rather than doing so on a practically daily, habitual way – I find myself winning far more battles than I used to. I firmly believe when God begins something, He finishes it. That includes me as an individual with a heart for obeying God. He will not start something in me that He will not see through to the extent that He wills in my life. I believe part of His will is seeing in me a complete transformation in this area, so that it goes from being one of my biggest or biggest weakness to one of my stronger areas. God doesn’t just put a band-aid on our situation. He will help us by freeing us from the chains of addiction. We can be servants of God instead of servants of sin waging death. When we submit to God, He empowers us to resist the devil, and the devil will flee from us. (V*4). God doesn’t stop at calling us His servants, when we obey Him we are privileged to be considered among His friends. (V*5). What an honor that the King of Kings, Creator of the Universe would find it in His heart to call me a friend. As the scripture says, who is man that you are mindful of him dear God? (V*6).
When we are willing recipients of the forgiveness God has offered us, we should also be aware that we are responsible to offer it to others. We are commanded to forgive one another, in fact it is asked of Jesus in the Gospels how many times we ought to forgive. He makes it implicitly clear that we shouldn’t put any limit to how many times we forgive one another for offenses. (V*7). To be clear this doesn’t mean that after you’ve forgiven someone for a pain they’ve inflicted, that you should keep the door open for them to continue to do so. There are some offenses that are more difficult to forgive than others, so we must tread with discretion, prudence, and wisdom in these matters. For example, to give an extreme scenario, imagine a rape victim finding it in her heart to forgive the aggressor who wronged her. She decides that the offender has sought forgiveness in an authentic way, and is on a real path to redemption. She decides that so it doesn’t weigh on her heart for her entire life that she needs to forgive them. Not only does she need to forgive them for their well being, but for her own heart not to be inundated with the ramifications of harboring bitterness or deep grudges over extended periods of time. So she comes to a place where she has forgiven them, and the forgiveness is sought, accepted, and potentially going to be acted upon by the offender. The offender clearly seems compelled now to change their life and avoid circumstances leading them to feel incited to rape. They also paid the price with their prison sentence and made amends with the legal system as well. In this case, in no uncertain terms, it is still prudent for the woman in question to avoid the offender. She may have forgiven them, but that doesn’t mean she has to give them the potential to hurt her again. This distinction needed to be shared in order to exemplify how forgiving someone doesn’t mean that you have to give them the power to exert the same offense again. This needs to be assessed on a case-by-case circumstance.
The nature of the relationship also has to be taken into consideration in regard to the level of hurt you’re willing to forgive. Some men and women have found it in their hearts to forgive infidelity in order to salvage their marriage and be reconciled once again. The trust was completely shattered in the relationship, and by God’s grace they found it within to pursue a long, hard road to redemption. They decided that they would work on keeping their partner accountable and rebuilding that trust on a firm foundation. This makes sense in a marriage, but it would also be perfectly understandable if one could not come to terms with this. It’s been the source of what I would imagine is a substantial figure of divorce cases as well. This is a decision that needs to be made within the couple in question and needs to be analyzed in a personal way. The Bible may give you authority to divorce your spouse, but has God put it in your heart to try to restore what’s been robbed? Can you take this mess that your spouse has made, and make it a story of redemption rather than destruction? Is it possible that you can show your partner God’s love in a way that so deeply convicts them of their offense that they are implored to draw nearer to God and nearer to you than ever before? These are real considerations, and by God’s grace for God’s glory I am confident they happen on a practically daily basis.
In the end I think a good summation of God’s expectations for us in terms of forgiving others is succinctly stated by C.S. Lewis in the following quote:
“To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.” – C.S. Lewis
God has forgiven us in such an incomprehensible level that we need to feel personally responsible to extend it out to our family, friends, and even strangers who have wronged us. (V*8). We are designed to at least attempt to be at peace with as many people as possible. God even causes our enemies to be at peace with us when we delight Him! (V*9). We are also called to love God with all our hearts, souls, and minds – while simultaneously loving others as we would love ourselves. These are the greatest two commands that form the foundation for all the rest of the law and prophets. (V*10). This is inclusive even of our enemies, who we need to aim to love even though adversity and human circumstances would make it quite challenging to abide by. (V*11).
Most of what we’ve got the capacity to do, that has meaning and merit, tends to involve difficulty. Most of what we’ve got the capacity to do that comes easy usually leads to distraction, compromise, or deception. So it might be challenging to love our enemies, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a worthwhile pursuit. Keep that in mind when you observe something that’s too good to be true. Chances are it probably is, and you should remember this article while you guard your loved ones and yourself from deception. At the end of the day forgiveness is an integral component of human affairs in all relationships, and it’s the pivotal reason why Jesus Christ needed to die on the cross for us. Without His shed blood we would not be afforded the forgiveness that has spared us from spending an eternity in hell. Instead we’re offered an eternity with Him as citizens of Heaven. Not because of any of our own doing so that any of us could boast, but because of His great mercy and grace upon us. (V*12). He demonstrated the highest love for us, agape love. He loved us before we could love Him back, while we were still yet sinners and ignorant of the grace God was in the process of showing us. We should be forever grateful of this, we’ve all fallen short and we all need forgiveness whether we realize it or not. I will leave you with this quote from a gentleman named John Stott that brings this beautiful sacrifice into clear understanding:
“According to the Christian revelation, God’s own great love propitiated his own holy wrath through the gift of his own dear Son, who took our place, bore our sin and died our death. Thus God himself gave himself to save us from himself.” – John Stott
V*1- 26 For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, Hebrews 10:26 (NKJV).
V*2- 11 As a dog returns to his own vomit, So a fool repeats his folly. Proverbs 26:11 (NKJV).
V*3- 9 “The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it? Jeremiah 17:9 (NKJV).
V*4- 7 Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. James 4:7 (NKJV).
V*5- 15 No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you. James 15:15 (NKJV).
V*6- When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, The moon and the stars, which You have ordained, 4 What is man that You are mindful of him, And the son of man that You visit him? 5 For You have made him a little lower than the angels,[b] And You have crowned him with glory and honor. Psalms 8:3-5 (NKJV).
V*7- 21 Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. Matthew 18:21-22 (NKJV).
V*8- 32 And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you. Ephesians 4:32 (NKJV).
V*9- 7 When a man’s ways please the Lord, He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him. Proverbs 16:7 (NKJV).
V*10- 37 Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] 40 On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 22:37-40 (NKJV).
V*11- 43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor[a] and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you,[b] 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet your brethren[c] only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors[d] do so? 48 Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect. Matthew 5:43-48 (NKJV).
V*12- 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast. Ephesians 2:8-9 (NKJV).