Recently I have been challenged to consider my walk with God and forgiving others. “It’s impossible for anyone to walk in the will of God while hanging on to anger, resentment, and unforgiveness.” (Think Like God, Robert Jones). If what Jones has stated is indeed true, then as a Christian I should desire to surrender these sins to God. But how can I do this? Looking at the significance of God’s forgiveness challenges me to apply Biblical principles of forgiveness in my daily life.
What is Biblical forgiveness?
In today’s world, it can be difficult to define what forgiveness actually is, and in fact, it may be helpful to start with what it is not! In his book ‘Total Forgiveness’, Kendall notes 10 things total forgiveness is not. These include approval, pardoning and justifying the wrongdoing. In his opinion total forgiveness is not these things but is:
- Being aware of what someone has done and still forgiving them.
- A choice to keep no records of wrong.
- Refusing to punish.
- Not telling what they did.
- Being merciful.
- An inner condition.
- The absence of bitterness.
- Forgiving God.
- Forgiving ourselves.
Nancy Leigh DeMoss also presents four widely believed myths that impersonate forgiveness but in fact are not. The first, that forgiveness and good feelings go hand in hand. She writes “forgiveness can’t be proven by our feelings, any more than it can be motivated or empowered by them.” (Choosing Forgiveness, Nancy Leigh DeMoss, p.171). The second, that forgiveness means forgetting. God chooses not to remember our sins (Hebrews 10:17) but this does not mean He forgets them. The third myth is that forgiveness is a long, drawn-out process and cannot take place until healing is complete. However, Nancy suggests “by God’s grace, you can choose to forgive in a moment of time, to the level of your understanding at that point.” (p.176). The fourth myth is that forgiveness should always make things better but Nancy suggests this is not always the case. Every day of my life presents an opportunity for me to forgive, and total Biblical forgiveness is a continual work in process!
What is the significance and extent of God’s forgiveness to us?
Looking at God’s Word we find many demonstrations of the forgiveness, love, and forbearance of God towards us.
Romans 5:8 (ESV)
“but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
God loves us and demonstrates His love by pouring it out freely on a rebellious people. He demonstrated this love by sending His perfect Son Jesus to the cross to take the punishment for our sin, forgiving us of our rebellion against Him. By sending His Holy Spirit to live in us, God has empowered us to love and forgive as He has.
Colossians 3:12-14 (NIV)
“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 whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”
This to me is a very significant passage when looking at forgiveness. Because of what God has done for us we should bear with one another. We must continue to love one another as the Father has loved us, and looking to God as our perfect example we must demonstrate forbearance and forgiveness to others. By clothing ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience and allowing God total control of our hearts we can honour and obey God.
Luke 11:4 (NLT)
“and forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.”
God who forgives us our sins wants us to forgive those who sin against us. C.S. Lewis holds the opinion (this may be controversial!) that God will not forgive us our sins unless we forgive other people their sins against us. He writes “There is no slightest suggestion that we are offered forgiveness on any other terms. It is made perfectly clear that if we do not forgive we shall not be forgiven. There are no two ways about it.” (Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis, p.116). Even in the wrongs that are inexcusable, Lewis suggests we should forgive because God has indeed forgiven the inexcusable in us.
In today’s world, when someone has been wronged or injured, the reaction can be one of seeking revenge! As a child of God, however, I am called to forbear and to forgive as God has forgiven me. What a challenge this is.
How do Biblical principles of forgiveness apply in our relationships with others?
Looking at the life of Joseph in the book of Genesis we see Biblical principles of forgiveness which can be applied in our relationships with others. Joseph had much to be resentful about, however, he demonstrated true forgiveness to all who had hurt him. When his brothers eventually did come to him for help, Joseph’s bitterness and anger with them was gone. He wept. “Filled with love, he demonstrated total forgiveness.” (Total Forgiveness, R.T. Kendall p.47).
Kendall suggests six applications of this biblical example that we can apply in our relationships with others. I found these very practical and helpful!
- Do not let anybody know what someone said about you or did to you.
- Do not allow anybody to be afraid of you or intimidated by you.
- Want them to forgive themselves and not feel guilty.
- Let them save face.
- Protect them from their greatest fear.
- Let it be a life-long commitment.
When someone has wronged us, we can punish them by speaking of what they did to us. It may even give pleasure to see them intimidated or frightened of us or to continue to feel guilty. This is not total forgiveness. But we can learn from Joseph’s example whose desire was the restoration of relationships. He did not punish with his power but used it in order to forgive and provide. Indeed Joseph is a picture of Jesus.
As suggested by Kendall, total forgiveness is a life-long commitment, and a Biblical example of this is seen in the life of Paul. Nancy suggests Paul had three good habits, that he developed over the years.
- Paul exercised total confidence in God’s power and His eternal plan.
- Paul was more concerned about his calling than his comfort.
- Paul had learned the secret of forbearance.
Paul didn’t deny what was happening to him but knew that God was in control (2 Tim 4:14). In the same way, we should let God deal with issues we face in His perfect timing and unique way.
In my opinion, Kendall hits the nail on the head when he says “The ultimate proof of total forgiveness is when we sincerely petition the Father to let off the hook those who have hurt us…” (Total Forgiveness, R.T.Kendall, p.13).
So, I have been learning that forgiveness is an act of obedience and trust in God’s will. It’s difficult, but for those who are in Christ, a new creation, the old has passed away and the new has come. In obedience to God and with the help of the Holy Spirit we can learn the joy, sacrifice, peace, and love for others that true forgiveness brings.