Matt 6:12 says, “forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors….” and then Jesus follows that up in verses 14-15 with, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
This has massive implications! Think about it…
When you forgive, you stop feeling angry or resentful toward someone for an offense, flaw, or mistake. It means that you grant free pardon and to give up all claim of retribution. The modern sense is “to give up the desire to punish”.
Have you ever thought of forgiveness this way? Have you ever considered that when you refuse to forgive someone you are holding on to a desire to punish them? You desire a vengeance that belongs only to God.
When we do forgive, we shouldn’t be hypocrites about it. Pretending to forgive is a very dangerous thing to do. Acting like we’re not feeling angry or resentful toward someone when we are actually angry and resentful is very unhealthy. Saying that we’ve forgiven someone when we actually haven’t will put us in a worse state than simply being unforgiving, because now we’ve added dishonesty, a lie, to the equation!
But this doesn’t mean that we are to just bury our anger and resentment deep inside and not talk about it. While it’s true that once we’ve forgiven someone we should no longer continue to make reference to those hurts, it doesn’t mean that you carry around your hurt secretly and indefinitely BEFORE it’s dealt with.
Hurt and anger need to be acknowledged and addressed, but once an offense has truly been forgiven, we are not to continue to bring it up as a guilt mechanism or as leverage against the person we’ve forgiven.
A Hard Task
I’m not saying that forgiveness is easy… It can be a hard task that requires a lot of effort and a lot of stress.
I’m not saying that forgiveness can be forced… No one can make the choice for you to forgive. That choice is yours alone.
I’m not saying that it always happens quickly… Sometimes it is a very long journey because you were hurt to such a degree that it has negatively affected every aspect of your life.
So you might need to express your hurts to a trusted friend or counselor so that you can discover the depth of your hurt or anger or disappointment so that when you forgive (like prayer, that you will forgive is assumed), it will be a complete forgiveness with no lingering bitterness.
We all need help to heal, but in order to heal we MUST pursue forgiveness. John Calvin said: “Those who refuse to forget the injuries which have been done to them devote themselves willingly and deliberately to destruction, and knowingly prevent God from forgiving them.”
He is not saying that you are beyond hope if an old unforgiving spirit raises its head from time to time in your life. Sins and circumstances will surely offer you opportunities to be hurt, and with each hurt an opportunity to refuse to forgive, to hold a grudge. This will happen in the course of life.
But if you find yourself often holding grudges, or if you have been holding a particular grudge for quite a while, then you should be very cautious to approach God for forgiveness because you will be making the plea of a hypocrite.
Remember: The power of your prayer for forgiveness is limited by the degree to which you obey the command to forgive.
And this is not some sort of bargain where you earn God’s favor or forgiveness BY forgiving others. The truth is you will find it incredibly difficult to receive God’s forgiveness if you persist in having an unforgiving spirit toward others.
This post is part a series on forgiveness, based on a sermon called “Forgive and Be Forgiven”. You can listen to the sermon audio here (or right-click and “Save As…” to download)
Other posts in this series:
Part 1 – Don’t Be a Hypocrite
Part 2 – A Prayer to Be Recited?
Part 3 – Giving Up the Desire to Punish
Part 4 – Don’t Be Like the Unforgiving Servant
Part 5 – The Older Brother Syndrome
Part 6 – Living the Forgiving (and Forgiven) Life
Part 7 – What Forgiveness Isn’t…
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