The Definition of Forgiveness
"Forgiveness is releasing someone from the moral debt they owe you."
Forgiveness was and still is sometimes the hardest thing for me to choose to do. Choosing to forgive the person who sexually abused me was HARD but it was a choice. Choosing to forgive my parents for abuse in my early life was HARD but a choice. Chosing to forgive my ex-husband for having an affair with a co-worker, whilst I was in hospital with post partum deppression, six/seven months after our son was born and then divorcing me was HARD but a choice. Choosing to forgive myself for having an abortion at 17 was HARD but a choice. I have hurt people and I know people have had to forgive me for things I've done too. We have all hurt people and people have hurt us as well. That is the unfortunate side of life.
Having bitten the bullet and making the choice to let go and forgive in these areas and many more, I am so glad I did. The burden of carrying around that unforgiveness and bitterness is such a load off me. Not only that but the physical and mental rewards we so gratifying too. I am glad a made a choice to not allow the enemy to steal anymore of my happiness, health and joy. What a tragedy it could have been to waste my whole life being miserable, bitter, hateful, sick, negative, complaining, untrusting, unforgiving and most of all FEARFUL. Besides that, usually the person we are mad at is busy enjoying thier life, having forgotten you even existed, not even caring about your still existing pain!! Why should you be miserable? What good do you think it's doing holding a grudge against that person? Do you honestly believe they are some how being punished for their wrong doing by you continuing to hold revenge in your heart?? THINK ABOUT IT? WHO IS REALLY being hurt by your unforgiveness, THEM or YOU??
The rest of this post is in a teaching format. May it help you as it has helped me to forgive and be free!
Now as we have seen earlier forgiveness is defined as:
"Releasing someone from the moral debt they owe you."
Since we often do not think in such terms, let me use an analogy;
I recently was at a store and discovered I ran out of cash. I asked my friend, Lisa, if she could pay for me and then I would pay her back when I got home. I owed Lisa $50. I had an obligation to repay her as we agreed. I was in debt to her. There are two ways to legally get rid of this debt.
- I could pay her back her $50 when I returned home.
- The other option was for her to release me from that debt.
Both ways would legally and morally be effective. I chose the former. If I chose the later, I would feel somewhat indebted to her for her generosity. Besides she didn't offer!
How does this work with moral debts?
When a person has offended us, they have made a moral debt to us and God. They have acted in a way that is less than they should have behaved. We personally do not have the power to deal with their debt to God.
But what can we do about someone who morally owes us?
In most cases, we cannot perfectly bring about restitution. There is no way they can pay us back. We wish the world was so easy. But when people are hurt, a child molested, violence is done, financial restitution does not relieve the debt. It is a beginning which shows seriousness of understanding their wrong. What can we do?
We can choose to forgive them. We recognize that we could hold it against them. They do owe you. However, God does not like it when we do not forgive. Many people use an unforgiving spirit to bring a sense of judgment on that person. God however, says that revenge is His prerogative "Revenge is mine," says the Lord. Forgiveness is a decision on our part to simply release another person from moral guilt.
FYI: THERE IS A PRACTICAL 7 STEP GUIDE TO FORGIVENESS AT THE BOTTOM OF THIS PAGE WRITTEN IN BLUE.
I just can't forgive!
What if you can't forgive?
You have probably heard some people say that they can never forgive. Maybe you have said it too! For whatever reason they say this, the result is the same. Unforgivingness gets so wedged into their heart that the root of bitterness infects the different areas of their life. A bitter person is the very opposite of a gracious person. Or to approach it a bit differently, bitterness is the opposite of Jesus. In summary, if someone has offended you including yourself, then you have it within your power to forgive. Forgiveness is your responsibility and only you can choose to let go and move on.
What does it mean not to be able to forgive?
This common phrase 'not being able to forgive' means that we do not truly want to forgive rather than the implied 'we cannot forgive.' The bulk of the problem is having the offended humbly acknowledge this simple fact of their unforgiving heart. It is a will problem. And though it seems like a radical statement, we must affirm that the problem in a real sense is not them but us. After all, God worked with the humble sinners rather than with the stubborn and prideful ones.
What happens when you do not forgive others?
There are several consequences. None of them are pleasant. Each brings the worse out of a situation:
- An unforgiving spirit poisons ones own heart with bitterness.
- 'Can't forgive oneself ' implies a resistance to change and therefore makes reconciliation impossible.
- Without reconciliation, sour relationships will persist until death.
- More than often, their hatred infects their descendants and they live bitter lives. Perhaps we should think of our will as a hate list.
- Great emotional pain and misery is associated with those who live bitter lives. This is partly due to no good friends. They cannot tolerate the bitter comments.
- Diseases follows this path of bitterness. Our bodies cannot handle this unforgiving heart.
- A scary future. God will not forgive those who do not forgive others.
- Although they claim to be right, they in fact cause further wrong to be done because of their unforgiving heart. They can never bring proper revenge.
- All the joys in life meant to be theirs is dashed in some ashes of bitterness.
- We wish hate on others but it stays in our heart.
- We wish for other lives to be ruined but it is ours that is ruined. Our own precious children and grandchildren must suffer from the source of the original wrong.
What about forgiving myself?
Some have said that they cannot forgive others, but what about those who say, "I could never forgive myself?" They sound so right. If they meant that they do not deserve forgiveness, they are right. It is true with all of us. But more than often they mean, "My sin is so bad that even God can't forgive me." They again put themselves in a position that sets a nail into their coffin. This unopenness to consider God's truth on the matter has often caused eternal heartbreak.
The best way to deal with deep wounds about our failures is to find God's forgiveness, make due apologies and restitution to the best we are able and commit ourselves to living rightly. We have done wrong. We undoubtedly deserve the worst. But if our Savior died in our stead to help us, shall we dam ourselves to a judgment that no longer exists?!
The apostle Paul called himself the worst of sinners. His solution was to seek God for extra grace to help more people. If Jesus did not condemn Paul to a life of shame but as an honored apostle, then we should follow this pattern of grace. Paul used his own wicked past to testify how God can forgive others. Remember, he would not be able to bring back the lives of those innocent Christians that he had killed. He could only trust God to bring about a greater grace.
" I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service; even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. And yet I was shown mercy, because I acted ignorantly in unbelief; and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are [found] in Christ Jesus. It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost [of all.] And yet for this reason I found mercy, in order that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience, as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life." (I Timothy 1:12-16)
These offenses should never have happened. But just as Christ came to save and not to judge, so we need to operate from love and grace rather than by judgment. By forgiving a person, we are not saying they are good or that no harm came. Not at all. We are merely stating that we are not personally going to hold it against them any longer. We relieve them of that debt.
Seven simple steps to forgiveness and healing
1. Identify the offenses needing forgiveness
Clearly identify what offenses of mine need to be forgiven.
We are great at identifying the faults of others but poor in discovering our own. We need to discover the how we have offended God and hurt others. David said in Psalm 51:3, "For I know my transgressions."
More than often we have some fault of spirit (attitude) or lack of concern for others. We need to ask God to help us identify these problems. God in Jeremiah 17:9 says, "The heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick; Who can understand it?"
Like David in Psalm 139:23-24, we need to plead for Him to search our own actions and attitudes.
Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me and know my anxious thoughts;
And see if there be any hurtful way in me,
And lead me in the everlasting way.
NOTE: Discover your faults from your life. We can pretty much trust God to care for others who have hurt us.
2. Acknowledge the hurt and pain
Acknowledge the hurt and pain. Be specific.
There are typically at least three areas of pain. Each is difficult to honestly recognize. We have such a difficult time opening up ourselves to see what pain we have suffered as well as empathizing with others in the pain that we or others might have inflicted them with.
God is grieved. As imperfect creatures you, I, and others have offended Him. We have despised His Laws and turned from Him, so we could choose to do what we desired. Sin is transgressing God's Law even if we are ignorant of it. "Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness" (1 John 3:4). His laws are best for us, but we think our way is best.
We have hurt the other person. As mentioned above it is difficult to think of our own wrong doings. But it is equally difficult to think of their pain. We are more intent on getting revenge than trying to understand what deep hurts are inside those who have hurt us. These deep emotional scars have contributed to their aggressive behavior that pained you and probably others.
We are hurt. Someone has deeply hurt us. We often pride ourselves in being able to handle things, but our wounds in fact reveal our inability on our own to handle the situation. Someone's words have hurt us. Written words whether in emails or letters have upset us. Add these things to the many other wrong things that have been done. If we are not forbearing and forgiving, we will soon get bitter and angry.
NOTE: Try to address each offended party and tell them the grievance you have done and how it probably hurt them emotionally. This includes an honest conversation with yourself on how you were offended by what you thought someone did.
3. Give up the feelings of revenge to God
Let go of the feelings of revenge and give them to God
We can trust God to fully take care of justice. We can ask Him to implement His justice like the Psalmist did. This might speed up the judgment, but in the end God will surely carry out full justice on every wrong carried out on earth whether we ask Him or not. This is God's nature and duty. He is fully equipped and motivated to bring about judgment. This is an important issue. Read on carefully. At the end we will find a completely different approach that will free us from this need to bring harm to those who have done wrong to us or our loved ones.
A common reason people want to hold on to their unforgiving spirit is to bring proper revenge. "If I don't do it, no one else will!" In all cases where a real wrong has been done (and there are innumerable such cases), revenge is due. Their desire for revenge is not always neccesarily wrong. This desire can sometimes be the sense of justice that God has instilled in man.
However, they are carrying justice out in the wrong way.
1. The Lord says in his Word that "Vengeance is mine" and that "He is the righteous judge of all." Therefore we needn't worry about people getting away with hurting us. At the same time we must remember the heart of God. The he desires that NONE SHOULD PERISH BUT COME TO EVERLASTING LIFE.
2. We know next to nothing about carrying out proper correction. Do we really know all that has happened? Only God knows all the details and has the power to bring about justice. Our 'revenge' would bring about more injustice!
3. Those who carry out revenge directly disobey the scriptures. They interfere with God's rule when they try to carry out revenge. God claims only He should take revenge. "Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath [of God,] for it is written, "VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY," says the Lord" Romans 12:19.
4. Carrying out revenge keeps us from focusing on other scripture that God did tell us to obey. We are to forgive those who have offended us after the model of Jesus Christ.
Bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you." (Colossians 2:13).
"For if you forgive men for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions." Matthew 6:145-15
5. When we nurture our hate wounds, we cannot carry out God's commission of love. Jesus in Matthew 5:43-44 said, "You have heard that it was said, 'YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR, and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you." We are called to love not only those who without prior motive have hurt us or our loved ones such as a drunk driver. But we also are to love those who purposely hate us. These are our enemies.
6. People insult God when they say they cannot forgive. They are essentially saying that God's judgment is insufficient. If the person is a Christian, then Christ indeed has paid for their sin. If they are not Christ's, then God said judgment is His call. 1 Peter 4:17-18 says;
"For [it is] time for judgment to begin with the household of God;
and if [it begins] with us first,
what [will be] the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?
18 AND IF IT IS WITH DIFFICULTY THAT THE RIGHTEOUS IS SAVED,
WHAT WILL BECOME OF THE GODLESS MAN AND THE SINNER?
Jesus Christ set the course for a whole new approach to handling offenses. We are not saying that this pattern was not set in the Old Testament. It was. However, Jesus Christ's life and work on the cross made it so much clearer for all of us. He offers us a way of living that goes far beyond anyone could have dreamed.
NOTE: Two points to keep in mind here:
(1) God went to great means to forgive man of their sin. His only Son Jesus Christ died for the guilty. We are called to live in a similiar spirit of mercy. Do not pass judgment but bear patiently with the guilty.
(2) God wants us to go further than to just forbear the guilty. We could pass judgment just as God could have. But He wants us to take the opportunity to pass grace and kindness on to those who have grieved and offended us. Again, Christ was and is the perfect example of this.
This door of mercy and grace will be open only a little while longer. God is holding the door of grace open so that more guilty people like us can experience God's rich grace and mercy. 2 Peter 3:9-10a says,
"The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness,
but is patient toward you,
not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.
10* But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, ..."
We need to take God's patience which holds back judgment to pass on His grace and love. One of the most strategic times to do this is when we have been offended. People that have hurt us expect us to act like the rest of the world. But we are to forgive. We are to love. We are to be like Christ.
4. Seeking and asking for forgiveness
Asking for forgiveness
Because forgiveness the releasing of a person from one's personal judgment, forgiveness is basically a decision to free someone. Do not confuse this with God's judgment. We cannot change that. We can only lead them to Christ to find freedom from that most severe judgment. Forgiveness is an official release of payment from one party or group to us.
First of all, we must remember this asking for forgiveness is not a feeling thing, "It would be good to forgive them." Or a wish, "I wish I could forgive him." This is not forgiveness. Nor is it the same to state that Christ has forgiven this brother that has offended you. God asks, even demands, that we forgive the offending party in the spirit of love.
After we have identified the sin, acknowledged the pain, affirm God's responsibility to carry out justice, we come to the party and either ask for forgiveness or seek forgiveness. Often both parties have done wrong and so both sides take part in the asking and seeking of forgiveness.
Seeking and asking for forgiveness has four basic parts:
3. You should specifically ask for forgiveness for what you have just stated. You should wait until the person forgives you.
If they say, "It doesn't matter." Tell them it does matter a whole lot. You can again repeat how you have caused pain in their life. Ask them again to forgive you.
If they say, "I can't forgive you" or "I don't want to forgive you." Remember that this is rare.
A. Check your spirit. Are you being prideful of something.
B. Have you confessed all that you had done wrong?
- C. Ask them if there is anything you had done wrong that you neglected to mention.
- 4) Lastly, if they are plain stubborn, mention again how you are sorry and that if at any time they can forgive you to let you know because it is important to you and your relationship with them.
NOTE: Forgiveness is a process and some people take longer to forgive and recover from the hurt and pain than others. Be patient with yourself and others.
5. Ask God for help and comfort
Ask God to comfort you through His Word
God's Word brings both comfort, direction, reproof and encouragement at times when we are combatting our pride. It is humbling to apologize but powerful. We can often decide to do something but then not do it. The Holy Spirit delights in bringing God's Word to your heart for your many needs.
You can do a couple of things:
When we have done wrong, we need to not only apologize but also financially restore those things that we have broken and destroyed. We agree many things we have done or said can not be restored. Sexual sins are hard to pay back. Evil words can not be easily restored. They have done their damage. In these cases and others, we can
We must endeavor to remember that for us to make such changes is clearly by God's working in our hearts. It doesn't always come naturally! Thank God. Thank Him for forgiveness. Treasure Him and His care for you. Remember that the clearest way we can express our thanks to Him for forgiveness is for us to freely forgive others.
In conclusion, upon trying our best to do these things and choosing to forgive and be forgiven, the end result will be our own personal happiness, freedom and healing.
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