You can forgive and be free today. God has forgiven you of all your sins when you accepted Jesus’ gift of salvation. So who are you to withhold forgiveness from another person, whether a Christian or not, who has wronged you?
What if God forgave exactly how you are inclined to forgive? Pretty ugly, huh?
Thank God for his instruction and encouragement in Colossians 3:13:
Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
I think of Hannah, a Christian mom of three busy preschoolers, who fled her physically and emotionally abusive husband. As I and women from her Midwest church biblically counseled her, she came to the point of forgiveness for her abuser. They remain separated until he sought repentance for his sin against her and against God and demonstrated over time that his actions, speech, and attitude revealed the fruit of the Spirit. A church elder oversaw the husband’s progress in loving his wife and children as Christ loves.
His encouragement: You have been forgiven! You can forgive in Holy Spirit power.
“Christians are the most forgiven people in the world,” writes Ken Sande in The Peacemaker. “Therefore, we should be the most forgiving people in the world. As most of us know from experience, however, it is often difficult to forgive others genuinely and completely.”
Difficult but not impossible.
The Holy Spirit, who indwells every believer in Jesus Christ, empowers you to forgive others. You cannot do this in your own strength. You need God’s.
Forgiveness Means . . .
To forgive someone means to release him or her from liability to suffer punishment or penalty, Sande explains. It is costly for the forgiver.
Think of the cross. Forgiveness cost God.
When you and I sinned we created a debt, and someone had to pay. God mercifully sent his Son to pay our debt — and everyone else’s — on the cross for everyone who accepts the gift of salvation when they put their trust in him.
He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” 1 Peter 2:24, NIV
For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. Colossians 1:19-20, NIV
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Start with Your Heart
Our model for forgiveness begins with God. “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Ephesians 4:32 Yes, since God forgave us, we forgive anyone anything.
When you forgive, you surrender your right for vengeance; God himself will deal with the offender justly.
Forgive ASAP or sooner. Satan cleverly uses your lack of forgiveness against you. An unforgiven wrong leads to bitterness and the devil gets a foothold. Consider Ephesians 4:26-27.
Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.
Heart Check: Have you ever thought you need to forgive God because he wronged you? The truth is, God never needs forgiveness because he is holy and has not wronged a soul. Ever.
Talk with the Offender
Go privately and humbly to the one who hurt you. Speak the truth in love with a goal of restoration. Tell him or her why you feel wronged. Listen to the other’s perspective. You may discover there was a misunderstanding, not an offense. In any case, be ready to forgive, even for repeated offenses.
Did you know that forgiveness is a one-time choice? It “is not a feeling. It is not forgetting. It is an act of the will in response to God’s command to forgive the repentant,” biblical counselor Elyse Fitzpatrick reminds us in Women Helping Women.
In patterning our forgiveness after God’s forgiveness, we grant forgiveness only if the offender asks for it.
Heart Check: Have you heard it said you need to forgive yourself? You don’t. The Bible never commands us to forgive ourselves. Our focus in forgiveness belongs on the Lord and the people we’ve sinned against.
3 Promises of Forgiveness
When you forgive, you make three promises.You never bring up the offense again in a revengeful way to:
1. Others. This is gossip.
2. The offender. This is vengeful and hurtful, and suggests unforgiveness on your part.
3. Yourself. Dwelling on the offense creates bitterness in your heart.
Rebuiding Trust After You Forgive
Did you know that rebuilding trust is primarily the responsibility of the offender?
It’s typically incremental.
The offender helps to restore the relationship by investing time, prayer, and energy into the life of the one who was hurt. This happens over time and is consistent and predictable.
This was how trust was rebuilt in the marriage of Hannah and her husband. He invested time, talents, thoughts, prayers, and energy into their relationship while held accountable by a church elder who understood the manipulations of abusers.
When I first met Hannah, she showed the emotion of a brick wall. She spoke in short monotone sentences. Her hair and clothes were unkempt. She looked pale and thin.
As God healed her heart and as she sought and received biblical support, including practical help like finding an apartment, getting groceries, and scheduling doctors’ appointments, her countenance changed. She smiled and laughed and hugged her children. She forgave her husband.
This forgiveness led to freedom.
I checked in with Hannah a couple of years ago and their marriage was growing, and they continued to mature spiritually.
Yes, trust can then be rebuilt after forgiveness, and the relationship can be restored to God’s glory!
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