We wonder how it is possible to forgive something like that.
In the previous post we looked at Luke 6:36 where we are told to be merciful as God is merciful. This statement is amplified in passages such as Ephesians 4:22-32, which ends with: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, just as in Christ, God forgave you.”
As in other passages we’ve looked at, we are reminded here in Ephesians that the battle for a forgiving attitude begins in the mind (vs. 23) and is the product of our relationship with Christ. We are told to be proactive—putting off the old attitudes and putting on the new ones. That requires effort on our part, beginning with the will to make that effort as the circumstances dictate. But however hard it may seen to the Scripture is clear: We were created to be like God “in true righteousness and holiness” (vs. 24). Forgiveness is not an option.
Because of that (Paul’s big “therefore” in verse 25) things have to change. It is interesting and important to note the first thing that follows Paul’s “therefore.” We are to tell the truth. This means that we don’t live in denial of the offense we have endured, or cover it up, or push down the emotions that it causes in us in the hopes that eventually it will go away. We are to “put off falsehood and speak truthfully to [our] neighbor, for we are all members of one body.” Obviously Paul is addressing the relationships within the church here. As obviously, if we can’t resolve the relationship issues that plague us within the church, how much hope do we have in resolving any issues that might exist between believers and those who do not believe?
Most of the rest of this passage circles around anger, and the results of anger. The anger that results from being offended must be dealt with quickly or else it will become harmful and lead to other sins and ills—all of which grieve the Holy Spirit (vs. 20).
Forgiving is not optional, but it is a choice.
What follows is dedicated to how to go about forgiving those who have offended us. This exercise is not original to me and it isn’t the only way to work though the process of forgiveness, but it is a helpful exercise. Read it carefully and follow the directions.
EXERCISES IN FORGIVENESS
We must read, think and decide what we are going to do.
Ask God to help you remember the names of the people who you need to forgive. Here is a prayer you can use as a model:
“Dear Heavenly Father: I thank you for your kindness, mercy and patience, knowing that your kindness has led me to repentance (Romans 2:4). I confess that I have not always extended the same patience and mercy to those who have offended me. Rather, I have held on to anger, resentment and hurt. I ask you that as I take this moment to examine myself that you bring to my mind those persons that I have not forgiven in order that I have the opportunity to forgive them (Matthew 18:35). I ask this in the precious name of Jesus. Amen.”
Make a list of names as they come to mind. At the end of the list write: “myself.” To pardon oneself is to accept the forgiveness of God. Include God on your list since many times we blame God and hug anger toward Him in our hearts. Technically we can’t forgive God. God never sins, either by committing sin or neglecting to do something, but we need to specifically renounce the false expectations we have concerning God and release anything we hold against Him. Before you pray and forgive these people, take a few moments to think about what forgiveness is, and what it is not, what steps you are going to take, and what the consequences will be.
The following are some important points:
Forgiving doesn’t mean forgetting the offense. People try to forget but can’t. God says that He will not remember our sins (Hebrews 10:17), but because He is all-knowing He can’t forget anything. To “not remember” our sins is to never use those sins against us (Psalm 103:12). When we throw someone’s offenses against us in their face, we are saying that we haven’t forgiven.
Forgiving is a decision, a crisis of will.
Since God has told us to forgive it means that we must be able to forgive. But it is hard for us because to goes against our sense of justice. We want recognition that we have suffered, but we are told not to seek revenge (Romans 12:19). "Why should I let him get away with this?" we complain. That is precisely the problem. As long as we feed the monsters from the past, we are always going to be attached to them. But we can let them go because God never will. He will take care of what we can’t—and shouldn’t.
You object: “But you don’t know how much this person hurt me! And don’t you see that he still is? How do I get rid of the pain?” You forgive to release yourself. The value of forgiveness comes not from what happens between you and the other person but from what happens between you and God.
Forgiveness is expensive. We pay the price of the evil done to us. Nevertheless we need to understand that we will have to live with that evil, like it or not. Our only option is how we choose to live: with bitterness because we won’t forgive or with liberty because we have forgiven.
Jesus accepted the consequences of our sin. To truly forgive is substitutionary because no one can forgive who doesn’t bear the weight of the damage the sins committed against him have caused. Second Corinthians 5:21 tells us that the One who knew no sin became sin for us so that we could become righteousness in Him. Where is the justice in that? It’s hanging on the cross (Romans 6:10). Our problem comes when we refuse to leave it hanging there.
You decide to bear the offense by not using those offenses against that other person in the future.
This doesn’t mean that you tolerate sin. You have to put Biblical boundaries up to prevent future abuse. It means that where there are legal issues, justice must be served, but you will not look for revenge with bitterness in your heart.
How do we genuinely forgive? By acknowledging the pain and anger.
If our forgiveness doesn’t face the emotional consequences of our journey, it will be incomplete. Many people feel the pain of the offenses committed against them, but either don’t want to face it or don’t know how to face it. Allow God to bring that pain to the surface so that He can heal it.
Don’t wait to forgive until you feel like it; you never will!
Emotions need time to heal after you have made the decision to forgive. You want to gain freedom, not feeling.
As you pray it is possible that God will bring to your mind people and experiences that you had forgotten. Allow Him to do that even though it may hurt. Remember that you are doing this for your own good. God wants you to be free. Don’t spend time rationalizing or explaining the other person’s behaviour. Forgiveness begins in you, and leaves the other person to God. In the beginning the process of forgiveness must deal with your pain.
Don’t say: “Lord, please help me to forgive,” because that’s what He is already doing. Don’t say, “Lord, I want to forgive,” because you already know that forgiving is your responsibility. Keep praying about each of the people on your list until you are sure that the pain associated with the offense is gone (in the sense that you have no desire to use the offense against that person) and until you don’t feel the emotion that was connected to the offense; what that person did, how he hurt you, how you felt (rejected, unloved, indignant, dirty, useless, etc.) Now you are ready to forgive, to be free in Christ. Now these people on your list have no more control over you.
Pray out loud for each person on your list: “Lord, I forgive (name) for (offense).”
After you have forgiven each of the people on your list, finish with: “Lord, I give all of these people to You. I turn over to You any desire for revenge. I choose not to be bitter or angry and I ask that You heal my damaged emotions. I pray in the name of Jesus. Amen”
There is a freedom in forgiveness, not just for the one being forgiven but for the one doing the forgiving as well.