Last blog we examined what forgiveness is not. This time we want to look at what forgiveness is and how to begin to do it.
First and foremost, forgiveness is a biblical command. Numerous times throughout the Scripture we are admonished to forgive as we ourselves have been forgiven by God.
“Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (Col. 3:13)
“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.” (Eph. 4:31–32)
“For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, you Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matt. 6:14–15)
Forgiveness toward others is the response required by God when we have been sinned against. Not only that, it is the only response that will keep us from going down the road of continuing the cycle of sin. If we allow bitterness to simmer in our hearts, it will lead to other sins like gossip, slander, rage, anger, fighting, and many forms of revenge all “justified” in the name of how we have been treated. This unchecked cycle has been the downfall of a great many relationships.
While forgiveness is a command and the only way to stop the sin cycle, it is also not a natural response when we have been hurt. What comes naturally is a self-centered reaction—some form of attack or withdrawal or revenge that keeps the sin cycle going. Therefore, to forgive requires something supernatural. Oswald Chambers said it well,
“We talk glibly about forgiveness when we have never been injured; when we are injured, we know that it not possible, apart from God’s grace, for one human being to forgive another.”
I would define forgiveness then as the choice to be like God, by depending on him for the grace to respond in love to those who have not loved us well.
So how do we access the grace that we need to accomplish a supernatural act? Hebrews 4:15–16 gives us the answer:
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God's throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”
In deed, no one has been more sinned against than our high priest, Jesus. He did not and does not respond to us as our sins deserve. He knows the pain and the price that must be paid to forgive and will give us what we need to be like him as we come to him and ask. But look at the order: we come first to receive mercy and then to get grace to help us when we have a need to forgive.
One of the most key things we need to be a good forgiver is humility. As we come to Jesus in humility, aware first of our own sin against him and against others we will receive his mercy and then his grace to forgive others. Pride will always keep us in a state of being unforgiven and unforgiving. Pride, the fuel of the sin cycle, demands and justifies a self-centered response when we are hurt. Therefore, choosing to humble ourselves before God is essential to finding the grace we need to forgive.
“God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (1 Peter 5:5 ESV)
Author Timothy Keller has put it this way:
“If you have trouble forgiving someone, it is at least partly because deep in your heart you are thinking, ‘I would never do anything like that!’ As long as you feel superior to someone, feel like you are a much better kind of person, you will find it very hard if not impossible to forgive.”
When we humble ourselves and focus on our own brokenness and propensity to sin we have made the first and most important step toward forgiving another person. Next blog I will talk about the actual process of forgiveness and outline the steps to take to genuinely forgive.