After reading a quote by Corrie Ten Boom, a commenter recently asked a very important question regarding forgiveness. She writes:
It’s easy to ask Christ to help you forgive. But when do you know you have forgiven the person you want to forgive? Is it when you no longer get angry when you think of the things they’ve done to you? Is it when you no longer laugh at their misfortunes? Is it when you no longer want to gossip about them? Does Jesus give you “brownie points” for just trying to forgive?
After asking myself (and my husband) these questions and searching God’s Word on the matter, I have come to realize just how vital forgiveness is in the life of a believer. It is my desire to share what I have found with others, and hopefully in doing so I will be able to answer some of the questions that have been asked of me. What does true forgiveness “look like?” And why is it important? It is my hope that the study below will answer these questions…
“Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. But as he was not able to pay, his master commanded that he be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and that payment be made. The servant therefore fell down before him, saying, ‘Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt. “But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and he laid hands on him and took [him] by the throat, saying, ‘Pay me what you owe!’ So his fellow servant fell down at his feet* and begged him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ And he would not, but went and threw him into prison till he should pay the debt. So when his fellow servants saw what had been done, they were very grieved, and came and told their master all that had been done. Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?’ And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him. “So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses” (Mat 18:23-35).
“If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses“ (Mat 6:14-15).
God makes it clear in these passages that forgiveness is not optional. He tells us that if we do not forgive others, He will not forgive us (1). Before we can understand how to forgive others, I think it’s important to understand whywe are to forgive. Why does God place so much emphasis on forgiveness? Why does He say our sins won’t be forgiven unless we forgive those who sin against us? As I searched through the scriptures, it became obvious to me that unforgiveness affects every area of our lives, and every aspect of our relationship with God.
Unforgiveness hinders our prayers
“For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says. Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive [them], and you will have [them]. “And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses“ (Mar 11:23-25).
When Jesus tells us in Mark 11:23-25 that we can have whatever we say, we often fail to recognize the condition He places on this promise – the role we have to play in order to actualize His words. This passage tells us that we must forgive others (when ye stand praying, forgive”) if we want to receive answers to our prayers. It also tells us that if we want to receive answers to our prayers, we must have faith that what we have asked for will be done (“believe that you receive them”). Yet even our faith is hindered by unforgiveness.
Unforgiveness hinders our faith.
“For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love” (Galatians 5:6).
“Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. Love does not demand its own way. Love is not irritable, and it keeps no record of when it has been wronged. It is never glad about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.” (1 Cor 13:4-7)
Faith works through love. Love cannot exist where there is no forgiveness (love keeps no record of wrongs), and faith cannot work where there is no love. We can have all the faith in the world, but if we don’t have the kind of love that keeps no record of wrongs, our faith will do nothing for us.
“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing (1 Cor 13:1,2).
“Faith without works is dead” (James 2:17).
Unforgiveness hinders our walk with God
“We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love [his] brother abides in death. Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him” (1Jo 3:14-15).
If we do not love our brothers but instead harbor resentment, we’re suffering a spiritual death. Realizing that unforgiveness is a sin (God likens it to murder!) should work to motivate us into repentance in this area. Rather than hold grudges against our brothers, we are called to forgive others as God has forgiven us:
“Bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.” (Colossians 3:13).
“Be kind one to another. Tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake has forgiven you” (Eph 4:32).
How does God forgive us?
Micah 7:19: “He will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea”
Isa 43:25: “I even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; And I will not remember your sins.”
Heb 10:16,17: “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws into their hearts, and in their minds I will write them. Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.”
God’s forgiveness is one that forgets! God would not ask us to do something that He will not enable us to do. Forgiveness starts with a choice. We must choose to forgive those who have wronged us and give our feelings of anger/resentment/hurt over to God. And then we must, quite literally, forget.
Websters dictionary defines “forget” as:
1.) to lose the remembrance of
2.) be unable to think of or recall
3.) to treat with inattention or disregard
4.) to disregard intentionally
Obviously, we are not able to make ourselves “lose the remembrance of” or cause ourselves to be “unable to think or recall.” But we can “treat with inattention” and “disregard intentionally,” and this is also called forgetfulness. God has given us the tools to this kind of forgetfulness in His Word:
“Whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are]just, whatever things are pure, whatever things [are] lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy–meditate on these things” (Phl 4:8).
If we refuse to think about anything that is not pure, lovely, good, virtuous and praiseworthy then we are “intentionally disregarding” those things that are not pure and lovely and good, etc. And this is exactly what God has called us to do.
Forgetting means not thinking about it anymore
“For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cr 10:3-5).
“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph 6:12).
Although Satan sometimes wages war with us in our flesh, far more often he wages war with us in our minds. The key to true forgiveness lies in “bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.” It lies in refusing to entertain thoughts of accusation. If we truly want to forgive others then we must be willing to put on the “mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16). If God no longer remembers our sins against Him, then we must not dwell on the sins of others. Satan is the “accuser of the brethren” (Rev. 12:10), and he takes great pleasure in reminding us of sin (our own and that of others.) We must maintain a vigil against these thoughts, and only allow God’s truth into our minds. We must live as if the wrongs that have been done to us truly never happened. Is this living in denial? Absolutely. We deny Satan access to our thoughts. We deny his ability to bring accusations into our minds. God says that forgiveness means forgetting. Therefore, we deny Satan access to our memories. This is how the battle of forgiveness is won. This is what forgiveness “looks like.” We’ll no longer be angry when we think of the things others have done to us, because we’ll no longer be thinking of the things they have done. We’ll have no need of “trying” to forgive, because we will no longer dwell on what needs to be forgiven.
How is this achieved?
We must first take our woundedness to God and confess our anger, hurt, and resentment. We must then make a conscious decision to forgive and then give voice to our forgiveness (proclaiming both to God and to the person who has harmed us, whenever possible, that we forgive them.) Lastly, we must “take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.” This means that we choose to forget what happened and refuse to entertain thoughts to the contrary. As we go about our day and are reminded of what so-and-so did to us, we must choose to “change the channel” of our thoughts and think instead about something pure or lovely, good or praiseworthy. We must deny Satan the right to “rent space in our heads” (as my husband likes to put it.) We must “disregard intentionally.”
Forgiveness isn’t something that we are to do exclusively for those who have injured us. It’s something we are to do for ourselves, as well! A talk about forgiveness wouldn’t be complete unless we spoke of self-forgiveness. I believe that this is the issue that hinders more Christians in their walk with God than any other. I know it certainly affects my own life! I can’t tell you how many times I have gone to bed feeling guilty over the way I’ve treated my children, the way I’ve acted toward my spouse, the things I should have/could have done differently that day, the things I wish I had or hadn’t said… There are times when I’ve been unable to pray because I’m certain that God is angry with me. As I was searching for information on how we can forgive others, I came across an amazing truth, written in the gospels:
” Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven (Mat 18:21-22).
Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, ‘I repent,’ you shall forgive him.” And the apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith” (Luke 17:3-5).
When Jesus said we were supposed to forgive seventy times seven, that doesn’t mean in a lifetime – that means in one day! Regardless of what others do to us, or how many times, we must be willing to forgive them over and over again. Obviously, this is what we are supposed to do for others, but would God require us to do something for others that He is not willing to do Himself? If we are required to forgive our brother no matter how many times he sins against us, then won’t God also forgive US if we sin against Him over and over again? As Keneth Hagin once wrote: “Have you failed 490 times yet today? If not, then you’ve got a good margin to operate in!”
1 John 2:1-2: “My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the Righteous: And He is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.”
Jesus Christ is the propitiation for our sins – all our sins! The apostle Paul, writing to the church at Philippi, illustrated the concept of self-forgiveness beautifully when he wrote:
“Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing [I do], forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Phl 3:12-14).
Paul had to forget those things which were behind – including his past mistakes and failures. And then he had to reach forth unto those things which were before him. There is a spiritual truth here. Before we can go on with God, we must learn to forget our past mistakes. If God has forgiven us, we must stop accusing ourselves. Each day, I sin against my Heavenly Father numerous times. And yet, just as He requires that I forgive others each and every time they trespass against me – He forgives me each and every time I trespass against Him! If we ask forgiveness from God and God doesn’t remember our pasts, then why should we? Just as we must “forget” the sins of others against us, we also must “forget” our own sins against our Heavenly Father. When we remember our sins, we are not walking in the forgiveness that Jesus Christ died to give to us.
Try it with me. Let’s begin to deny Satan the right to access our minds and point his finger of accusation. Let’s confess our sins as the Holy Spirit reveals them to us, and refuse to think about them again. Let’s forgive others for the things they have done to us – and choose to forget. Let’s make a conscious effort to think of things that are “true, noble, just, pure, lovely, virtuous, praiseworthy, and of good report” whenever Satan attempts to bring to our minds things contrary to these characteristics.
Let’s start living in denial!
1.) I believe that a big strategy of the enemy is to make forgiveness into something that it is not, keeping us from granting forgiveness to others because there are certain “conditions” we falsely believe we must meet. Forgiveness is not an admission that denies a sin has taken place. It does not always imply that we must continue in a relationship with the one who has harmed us. “Forgiving” means “forgetting,” in that we choose not to dwell on the actions that have been taken against us. Whether or not we should again enter into a relationship with the person who has harmed us must be prayerfully considered (for instance, a person who lives a lifestyle of unrepentant sin may not be someone with whom we should have a close relationship. A person who has committed a crime against us [rape, molestation, physical or mental abuse] is likely someone we should stay away from, even after forgiveness has been granted.) Kris Vallotton gives a wonderful definition of forgiveness in his book The Supernatural Power of Royalty. He writes: “[Forgiveness] simply means that I release them from being punished for what they did to me.” Forgiveness does not obligate us to subject ourselves once again to an unhealthy relationship, but does obligate us to control our thought life and deny Satan each time he asks us to remember those things which are not “pure” and “lovely.”
Corrie Ten Boom on Loving Our Enemy … “It came back with a rush… the shame of walking naked past this man. I could see my sister’s frail form ahead of me, ribs sharp beneath the parchment skin… The place was Ravensbruk, and the man who was making his way forward had been a guard – one of the most cruel guards”…
There is Now No Condemnation … “Guilt is one of Satan’s most powerful tools against us. It tears us down and makes us feel dirty, ashamed, and contemptible. It strips us of our self-confidence and turns us against ourselves in self-loathing…”
Freedom To Fail … “Those of us who have struggled with a spirit of rejection often find ourselves working under a spirit of perfectionism as well. Those of us who have lived in fear that we will not be loved and accepted, will most often try to earn love and acceptance by doing everything ‘right’”…