By Lyndsay Steward
“If I forgive him, it is like saying what he has done is okay; no way I’m letting him off the hook that easy!”
“If I don’t occasionally remind him of how much he hurt me, he will do it again. The only way to protect myself is to remind him of the pain he caused.”
“I can never forget what she has done to me.”
These are just a few of the misconceptions I once had about forgiveness. About 12 years ago I was struck with the painful realization that I had no idea what biblical forgiveness was. Apparently, I had been operating on my own understanding of forgiveness, which consisted of a mishmash of principles I’d picked up from books, movies, and friends.
Just like filling my plate at the salad bar, I picked and chose what I thought sounded good and suited me, instead of looking at the one perfect example of forgiveness: Jesus Christ. Our ability to forgive is not determined by how bad the offense was or how sorry the offender is. Our standard of how and why we forgive is Jesus Christ. Period.
We are commanded to forgive. This isn’t a suggestion for a ‘better life,’ it is a command to followers of Christ. “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Colossians 3:13).
If God commands us to do something, He will then equip us to do it.
Forgiveness can seem very abstract. So, let’s make it a little more concrete. When you say, “I forgive you,” you are making a continual 3-fold promise:
- I will not bring up the offense to the offender to harm them
- I will not talk about the offense with others
- I will not dwell on the offense
Let’s go back to those statements at the beginning. My mind is like a mental Rolodex (does anyone remember those?). If someone did something to hurt me, I would file it away and bring it back up at just the right time to use as manipulation or ammunition in a conflict. This is breaking promise #1. There will be occasions where it is appropriate to discuss the hurt. But the purpose must be for restoration, not harm.
What about the need to ‘process’ my hurt with others? Obviously, seeking wise counsel and receiving encouragement are appropriate. But gossip and slander never are. Colossians 3:8 tells us to “rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice and slander.”
What about ‘forgive and forget’? Again, let’s look at the pattern given in Scripture. Isaiah 43:25 tells us that God “remembers your sins no more.” God is all-knowing, He could never ‘forget’ our sins. Forgetting is passive but “not remembering” is an active choice. A choice that, by God’s grace, you can continually make.
Just as biblical love is an action (not a feeling) so is biblical forgiveness. Stop looking at your emotions as a barometer and start looking unto Jesus who is “faithful and just to forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
Lyndsay Steward serves as kids ministry director for elementary-age children at Westbridge Church, Danville, Ind. This article is reposted with permission from the church’s blog.