For years I lived with the frustration and strain of a difficult relationship. This person relentlessly attacked my character, accused me of countless false or perceived offenses, and slandered me to others. This individual’s actions not only caused me immense personal anxiety and sadness, but they also put great strain on many of my relationships with others. The fact that we are both followers of Christ should have simplified matters, but instead, it just made it more complicated. Every time we sat down to clear up matters and seek reconciliation, I trusted and believed we would finally find it. But in no time at all, I found my hopes for peace were not to be realized. I couldn’t understand how two believers could not find lasting resolution and peace.
In time, I grew so weary of this cycle that instead of desiring peace, my heart began to crave justice. I wanted this person to hurt the way I had hurt. I wanted people to see in this person what I saw. It was after many months of selfishly nursing my hurts and pains that the Lord began to show me a better way. The only way for me to find true peace was through forgiveness.
What Forgiveness Is
To know how to forgive we must understand what forgiveness is. The best way to that understanding is to look at how God forgives us. Scripture exhorts us in this way.
“[Bear] with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” Colossians 3:13
Let us consider for a moment how God forgives. Before we loved God, He loved us (1 John 4:10). While we were still God’s enemy, hating Him, and not desiring His forgiveness in the slightest, He sought us (Romans 5:7-10). He did this by sending His own beloved Son to be a perfect and sinless sacrifice for us. Furthermore, Christ endured the full weight of God’s wrath and justice for us. When we place our faith and trust in the work of Christ, our sins are pardoned!
Greater insight into God’s forgiveness can be found in the book of Micah.
“Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of His inheritance? He does not retain His anger forever, because He delights in steadfast love. He will again have compassion on us; He will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.” Micah 7:18-19
God’s example teaches us two very important things about forgiveness:
John Piper explains it this way:
“They have not asked for any forgiveness, and they don’t think they need any, making life miserable for us . . . it is true that the full effect of forgiveness can only happen if the other person believes they need it and want it. But we do not wait for that, right? We don’t wait for them to do their half before we do our half. We must be rid of bitterness and grudges right away. We do what Jesus did on the cross.” —John Piper
What Forgiveness Is Not
While we need to know what forgiveness is, we also need to understand what it is not.
The Way Of Forgiveness
Perhaps you are in the midst of a struggle to forgive someone who has wronged you. You know you need to forgive but you are wrestling with how to begin.
The way of forgiveness is not easy. But it is far more difficult to exist in bitterness. When we avoid forgiveness and hold onto our hurts, we imprison ourselves in a jail of our own creation. We give our wounds even greater power over us. Greater still, we are living in disobedience to God. Forgiveness is always the best way because it is God’s way.
To this day I have never received an apology or acknowledgment of wrongdoing, and I don’t expect to. I don’t need one. Through the grace of God working in my life, I have been able to forgive and leave those hurts in the past. If the day should come where my forgiveness is requested, nothing will change, at least not for me. And even though I am still tempted to remember what was done or to feel a sting at the memory of past wrongs, my next immediate thought is gratitude. I can honestly say that I am thankful for it all because through that time God grew me and refined me. He exposed my own sinful heart, and He showed me His grace, love, and forgiveness. If you are fighting to forgive, take heart. The pains you’ve endured are not beyond God’s hand or healing. Pursue forgiveness and revel in the joy that you have also been forgiven much.
"...we cannot withhold forgiveness when we ourselves have been the recipients of even greater forgiveness." That is so true! How can I not forgive? "When you are tempted to hold onto your hurts and nurse your bitterness, remember how much you’ve been forgiven.... The way of forgiveness is not easy. But it is far more difficult to exist in bitterness."
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