“My husband has been cheating on me and I do not know if I can ever forgive and forget such an act.”
“My wife talks to me with such disrespect and hatred that I’m not sure that I will ever be able to forgive and forget that.”
I know that I could continue with different scenarios, but I think you get the picture of how many people feel about forgiving someone. It is a misnomer that someone would be able to forget something that has created such hurt in his/her life. Since that is the fact, what does it mean for us to forgive someone?
Matthew 6:14-15 (NASB)
14 “For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.
15 “But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.
Every person I know wants to be forgiven by God, therefore they struggle with the idea that they have to forgive whomever has hurt them.
We read also about God’s forgiveness: Isaiah 43:25 (NASB)
25 “I, even I, am the one who wipes out your transgressions for My own sake, And I will not remember your sins.
Wow!!! God says He will not remember our sins and we are supposed to forgive as He has forgiven.
Ephesians 4:31-32 (NASB)
31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.
32 Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you. (emphasis mine)
I want to add one more verse to the list of verses I’m using today because I think that we need to have a better understanding of how we are to forgive as well as then behave with the offender.
Luke 17:3 (NASB)
3 “Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.
This verse seems to be saying something different than the other verses. I do know that the following verse tells us Luke 17:4 (NASB)
4 “And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”
In order to get a grasp on forgiving someone, we have to look at each principle that is given to us in scripture.
The first principle that we need to understand is that we have to have a attitude of forgiveness if we expect God to forgive us. As Jesus is teaching us how to pray, he includes that we must forgive so that we can be forgiven. How presumptuous it would be for us to expect God to forgive us if we are unwilling to forgive someone else. If we harbor unforgiveness, then we are not willing to be Christ-like. When we choose to be unChrist-like than God is not going to forgive us, until we repent.
The second principle that we need to understand is that God chooses not to remember our sins. God cannot forget anything. He knows every thing. I believe that when God sees us, He is looking at us through the blood of Christ that has been applied to our lives through our salvation. Therefore, He chooses to see the sacrifice and not the sin and He does not hold the sin against us because of what Jesus has done for us. We can enter into God’s presence because of this.
What does this mean for us as we forgive others? We will not forget what has occurred to us. Our minds hold on to hurts and trauma as well as special events and details. When someone has wronged us, it would then be unrealistic to ever believe that we would be able to forget. What we must do is to make a conscious effort to not hold the wrong against the person who has wronged us. This effort obviously would be easier for lesser offenses than it would be for something major. If your spouse has committed adultery, then you will have to wrong harder at not “remember” the offense.
The third principle that we need to understand is that our ability to forgives comes from our understanding of how much God has forgiven us. That understanding only comes when we truly consider the cost of our forgiveness in the first place. We are in the days of celebrating Christmas, the birth of Jesus. He had to leave heaven to be born into this world. He lived a sinless life and then died a substutionary death for us so that the penalty of sin would be paid. He then rose from the grave and then assended into heaven so that we could join Him one day. Our forgiveness cost Jesus Christ every thing. When we forgive others, we must be willing to “pay” a price.
The final principle that I believe is important for us to understand about forgiveness is that true forgiveness cannot come without repentance. Dr. Ronald Hawkins wrote that forgiveness without repentance is cheap. (Totally Sufficient, pg. 213) The word repent means to do an about face and go the other direction. Repentance carries with it an attitude of humility and a willingness to follow the guidelines that are in place. When forgiveness is offered without repentance, the offender will continue to abuse or misuse the offended. In salvation, we have the ultimate forgiveness. Our relationship with God is secure because all of our sins (past, present, and future) are forgiven. But we are told in scripture to repent and to ask for God’s forgiveness. (I John 1:9) When we sin after our salvation, the fellowship with God is broken and we must repent in order for Him to restore that fellowship. The same is true with people around us. The true fellowship of the intimate relationship of marriage or family can only be sustained when there is repentance along with forgiveness. When there is repentance, trust can be rebuilt and reconciliation can take place. Without repentance, the relationship is void of those qualities.
We must be forgiving people. We must live with an attitude of forgiveness. We also are told by Christ that we can expect repentance for true forgiveness to be given.