For many of us, forgiveness is easier said than done; however, just because it’s hard does not mean we shouldn’t do it. Forgiveness is what sets Christianity apart from all other religions in the world.
Jesus’ death on the cross for our sins and His resurrection are the basis for our forgiveness and our salvation. No matter our sins, we can be forgiven and have eternal life.
Throughout the Bible, we are told to follow His example of loving others well. Part of loving others means forgiving them when they have wronged us.
As Christians, the best way we can show we are Christ followers is to extend forgiveness – even when it is difficult and even when the offender doesn’t “deserve it.”
Forgiveness is not a feeling.
The problem is that we often think of forgiveness as a feeling. We “feel” like forgiving someone or we don’t.
For example, when we have been wronged, or someone hurts us, our natural reaction typically isn’t to show the offender love and forgiveness. Instead, we get angry.
Some people allow this incident to destroy relationships. Have you ever held a grudge? Have you ever stewed over a painful hurt? Have you ever thought about punishing the offender yourself?
Whenever we allow a relationship to become fractured because we withhold forgiveness, or when we allow hurt and anger to cause us to sin, we are not following Jesus’ example.
We are doing just the opposite. If we lean into feelings rather than following God’s Holy Word, we miss out on an opportunity to restore a relationship and draw others to Christ through our example.
Forgiveness is four promises.
If forgiveness is not a feeling, what is it? It is a promise – four promises, in fact. Peacemaker Ministries outlines the following four promises of forgiveness (Matthew 6:12; 1 Corinthians 13:5; Ephesians 4:32).
- I will not dwell on this incident.
- I will not bring this incident up and use it against you.
- I will not talk about this incident.
- I will not allow this incident to stand between us or hinder our personal
1 Corinthians 13:5 tells us love “does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.” These four promises expand on this idea.
Have you ever thought about an incident so long and hard that you can no longer see straight? Did dwelling on it make you any less angry?
Probably not. I have a feeling it probably made the issue worse.
Have you ever “forgiven” someone but then reminded the person of it whenever you had a chance? Or, has someone done this to you? It doesn’t feel nice; and, it certainly doesn’t make you feel like the person has truly forgiven you.
Have you ever found yourself talking ceaselessly about how you have been wronged? Did that make things better? Not likely.
Have you ever lost a relationship because you couldn’t forgive or because someone couldn’t forgive you? This is one of the most painful experiences you can walk through here on earth.
Let’s talk about what we should do instead.
Forgive as Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:32)
Instead, we should forgive as Christ has forgiven us. We are taught this from the time we are children in Sunday School with the Lord’s Prayer when we recite “Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:11-12).
What many children do not memorize are the verses that come soon after:
For if you forgive other people when they sin against you,
your heavenly Father will also forgive you.
But if you do not forgive others their sins,
your Father will not forgive your sins.
– Matthew 6:14-15
That’s quite a powerful statement from Jesus. The act of forgiveness is of utmost importance to our Heavenly Father.
When we forgive others as He forgave us, we are becoming more Christ-like. When we withhold forgiveness, the condition of our heart will separate us from our Savior.
What forgiveness looks like.
However, as I mentioned before, sometimes it is easier said than done. How exactly do we forgive like Jesus when we are human? How do we turn towards love and forgiveness when we are hurting?
Begin by using the four promises as outlined by Peacemaker Ministries.
Additionally, Thomas Watson, a Puritan preacher, explained forgiveness in A Body of Practical Divinity as, “When we strive against all thoughts of revenge; when we will not do our enemies mischief but wish well to them, grieve at their calamities, pray for them, seek reconciliation with them, and show ourselves ready on all occasions to relieve them (pg. 551).”
Forgiveness looks like peace, prayer, and reconciliation. Rather than dwelling on the wrongdoing, you pray for those who hurt you. You do not try to hurt the offender. You strive to reconcile.
This is important. As you move towards forgiveness in the relationship with the offender, you are also making it possible for the offender to reconcile with God.
One final note – it is important to recognize that while forgiveness is important, this may look different for those who have been abused.
While forgiveness is still necessary, forgiveness should also involve healthy and safe boundaries. In these instances, you should pray for wisdom and seek wise Biblical counsel.
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
- Colossians 3:12-14