It goes without saying that Christians are expected to forgive. This has no doubt led to much angst and turmoil both within individuals and Christian communities. As unappealing and distasteful as it may be to us at times, if we are to be faithful to the words of Scripture then forgiveness is not an option. Here are just two Bible verses that tell us just that.
Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.1
…bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.2
But let’s take a step back for a moment. Forgiveness is a characteristic of God Himself. The Scriptures say,
But You are a God of forgiveness, Gracious and compassionate, Slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness.3
To the Lord our God belong compassion and forgiveness, for we have rebelled against Him. 4
It is intrinsically in His nature to forgive. Even in the fullness of our rebellion against Him, He has still found a way to co-mingle justice and forgiveness. He has made that great offer to us to erase all our offenses against Him by the death of Jesus Christ. He paid all the penalties and we receive all the benefits. So if we are to claim to be lovers of God and imitators of Christ, then extending forgiveness to those who have offended us is essential. We forgive because we have been forgiven.
And here is where the misconceptions about forgiveness kick in, misconceptions which sometimes make it so difficult to even think about forgiving someone. First, we think that we must “feel” like forgiving. Not so, forgiveness is not an emotion but a choice. Christ was emotionally distraught at the prospect of the cross, but He chose it anyway. Second, we think that if we forgive someone that we are excusing their behavior that we are somehow saying that what they did was ok. Not so, extending forgiveness means we are disconnecting ourselves from the damage the other person has done to us. Christ’s sacrifice did not excuse our sin; it separated us from the power of sin. By forgiving another, we are saying that we are no longer willing to allow that person to control our physical, emotional or spiritual lives any longer. Third, we think that by forgiving, the other person gets away with something. Not so, God is the great and righteous judge. No one will get away with anything. And finally, we think that by forgiving someone, we still need to be in relationship with them or be “nice” to them. Not so, forgiveness is a spiritual transaction we make. It does not require that we stay connected or put up with an on-going damaging relationship. The Bible tells us, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.5” It doesn’t tell us to be stupid.
Being sincere Christ-followers, we learn how to offer (and receive) forgiveness towards others – even when it is difficult. We learn to “not let the sun go down on our anger.” We learn that in forgiving another there is healing for us. Yet there is still one person who is hardest to forgive. One person who constantly haunts our memories of wrongs committed. One person who is unrelenting in condemning our attempts at restoration. And it is almost impossible to get their whispering out of our heads. The hardest person to forgive is…ourselves!
We know our own failings – all too well. We relive those moments over and over again. We still feel the pain in the pit of our stomachs. “How could I do that?” “How could I do that…again?” We beat ourselves up and we place our wrongdoing prominently in front of us. Surely, I deserve some sort of punishment and if neither God nor another person will inflict it on us, we will do it ourselves. Surely, if we forgive ourselves, we are being too easy on ourselves and excusing our behavior. I must hold myself accountable. Here’s what we need to remember though. All the biblical principles concerning forgiveness apply to us too. If we have asked God for his forgiveness and asked the people we have wronged, if it applies, for forgiveness, then we must forgive ourselves. I know it’s hard, but it is not an option.
Remember forgiveness is a choice. We choose to tell ourselves that we will no longer use that offense as a weapon against ourselves. We choose to disconnect ourselves from the damage we continue to do to ourselves by holding on to our transgressions. We say to ourselves that we are no longer willing to allow that sin to control our physical, emotional or spiritual lives any longer. We choose to let God be our judge instead of us. Forgiving ourselves sometimes doesn’t feel right. It feels like we are letting ourselves off the hook too easily, but forgiveness isn’t about feeling it’s about being obedient to the Word of God. As we extend forgiveness to ourselves and RECEIVE forgiveness from ourselves, there will be much healing and freedom. Embrace this truth: …”as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”
1 Luke 17:3,4 2Colossians 3:13 3Nehemiah 9:17 4Daniel 9:9 5Romans 12:18