Since the heart of God’s gospel of grace is the forgiveness of sins we possess through the person and work of Jesus Christ, the church really cannot talk too much about the need for forgiveness. Christians are not meant to pray a sinner’s prayer, and then move on with their lives without thinking about forgiveness anymore. Forgiveness is to be a constant dynamic of relationships because we live in a fallen world. People sin against us. We sin against others. Relational pain is a reality this side of heaven. But revenge and/or passive-aggressive behavior are not biblical ways of handling our hurt. Let’s keep in mind some principles of what forgiveness is and is not:
Forgiveness is hard work.
God did not promise forgiveness would be cheap or easy. He knows exactly the kind of cost it brings. Through the blood of Jesus there can be and is forgiveness. “The blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!” (Hebrews 9:13-14).
Forgiveness is a process.
It is a process of putting off and putting on. It takes time, and cannot be quickly done. Forgiveness must be deliberate with no shortcuts to it, otherwise it will not stick. “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:31-32).
Forgiveness does not mean we condone bad behavior.
Forgiveness is not blanket amnesty. It does not simply give another person a “pass” on their sinful words or actions. Forgiveness just means we do not hold the offense over the other person’s head. Dr. Fred Luskin from Stanford University does research in the area of forgiveness, and says this about it: “Forgiveness is giving up all hope of a better past.” We cannot undo the past. But we have control of the present, and can choose to forgive. True forgiveness calls a spade a spade and names the specific offense in all its ugliness, and lets it go.
Forgiveness does not always result in reconciliation.
It takes two to reconcile. It only takes one to forgive. I have often been told by individuals that it would do no good to forgive another because it would not change the other person. That is not the point. We forgive because it is our responsibility to work through our forgiveness issues and to do it. We are not in control of whether another person will feel sorry for what they did, or not. We are in control of our own decision to forgive, no matter what the other person does or does not do, or whether they feel the gravity of their sin, or not.
Forgiveness is primarily for our benefit.
If you hold on to bitterness toward another for their offense, you are not hurting anybody but yourself. Drinking the poison of bitterness will kill you, not the other person. So, deal with forgiving that other person, and do not have the magical thinking that they are going to come to you all slobbery sorry for what they said or did. That often does not happen. When it does, it is a beautiful thing. But we forgive everyone who sins against us just as God has forgiven us.
Relational currency in the kingdom of God is forgiveness. Without it, we can neither operate well together, nor can we enjoy a satisfying life. But with forgiveness is a demonstration of the practical effects of Christ’s crucifixion in our lives, not to mention a witness to a watching world.