Forgiveness is a choice.
We must choose to forgive.
If we wait for someone to apologize to us, it may never happen.
If we wait for our feelings to lead us to it, it’s not going to happen.
Jesus didn’t say, “Forgive when your heart is healed, when you are no longer hurt or angry.” No, He said, “Forgive as I have forgiven you.” (Mark 11:25)
“Love your enemies; pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44)
I daresay, in light of all of Scripture, persecution could easily include those who harm us physically or emotionally and, yet, Jesus tells us to love them, pray for them, forgive them. That might even include those in our families or circle of friends and acquaintances.
On the cross, He asked God the Father to forgive those who were putting Him to death. Yes, as God the Son He had the power to come down from the cross, but He submitted to the Father and allowed the wickedness of men’s hearts to be the avenue by which He paid the penalty for my sin, for yours. And still He said of those who were the instruments of His wounds, “Father, forgive them.”
In some instances, forgiveness comes easy.
In other circumstances, forgiveness is hard, and some would say, impossible.
But nothing that is in line with His character and will is impossible with God and, as in all things, if He calls us to it, He equips us with the grace needed; but we have to act on it, even if trembling as we go.
We may need to do it alone, laid bare before the Lord or we may need another to walk with us in the journey, but it must be a journey with the destination of forgiveness at its end.
Sometimes that forgiveness will come at a great cost to us as we have to let go and not hold the other person in the prison in which we believe we have entrapped them.
I love the way Elisabeth Elliot describes it as a sacrifice, an offering.
“Forgiveness is a sacrifice – when you have to offer forgiveness to someone else, you are letting go of your right to an apology; letting go of your right to be right; letting go of the possible pleasure you might have if that person came to you and said, ‘You were right, and I was wrong.’ You are letting go of the entire thing – the hurt, the consequences, and everything else. It is self-abandonment. That is the thing that simplifies our lives. And the result of that sacrifice is always joy.”
The reality is: forgiveness frees us; unforgiveness leads to bitterness and a prison of our own making that enslaves us far more than it hurts the other.
Sadly, many have deep wounds and feel the weight of the burden from them, assuming they will never heal. But, too often, we are seeking to be free, to be whole without forgiveness and apart from that, we never will be fully unbound, released.
Brokenness is a condition of the heart brought on by sin – either that which has been perpetrated against us by another or by our own sin, and sometimes a combination of the two. Jesus came to forgive sinners like me and like you, to free us from the life of self-rule that leads to those broken conditions, to release the captives – we don’t have to stay in the place of imprisonment to an unforgiving spirit.
Our forgiveness of another frees us and, as it does so, it begins to heal and transform us. As Michael Card sings, “It’s hard to imagine the freedom we find in the things we leave behind.”
It does not mean that we will necessarily forget the offense, but, over time, we can remember it less often and with less pain in the memory. Though it may be part of our journey, it does not have to rob us of joy for the duration.
God’s mercy is the basis for Him making a way to Himself for us, for His forgiveness of our own sinful hearts through Jesus. Likewise, as we forgive another, we are reflecting the very character of God: mercy. We are living out the gift we have been given, and we may have opportunity to share the hope we have in Christ, the “why” we are able to forgive, leading others to a saving relationship with the Living God for the here and now and for eternity.
A sin against us does not have to define us, and when we forgive, we declare, in the power of the Holy Spirit, that it will not.
Instead, we can be defined by the love and grace of God to us, once rebels against the God who is Holy, separate, wholly Infinite because of His mercy. He is not a better version of us, He is completely “other than us,” as R.C. Sproul says. But, as we grow in grace and as we respond to sins against us, even the most grievous of offenses and the deepest of wounds, with forgiveness, we grow more into the likeness of His Son.
I’ve seen the beauty of a life softened and unchained simply by forgiving another.
I’ve seen the power of a life changed by the forgiveness of another, leading to humility and reconciliation with God and others.
But sadly, I’ve also seen others trapped by unforgiveness that has left them unsteady in their emotions or perpetually angry; they have allowed a root of bitterness to grow and it has led to further wounding themselves and others around them.
Often, either consciously or subconsciously, we don’t want the other person to be free, so we hold on to that unforgiveness like a security blanket. But it neither brings security nor comfort; it perpetuates and even increases the wounds. If we will not pray for the person who has sinned against us, we continue to be bound. If we will not lay it down and release them, we will never free.
“See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” (Hebrews 12:15)
God repeatedly tells us to forgive; it isn’t a suggestion, it’s a command. Unforgiveness does not remain between just two people or even between two groups of people; it is first of all a transgression against God and then it causes bitterness and defiles many. It corrupts, contaminates, and taints the lives of all those who are in our sphere of influence to one degree or another.
But forgiveness does just the opposite. It frees, purifies, sanctifies; it honors God and sets us on a path for healing and to experience joy unexplained in human terms but fully evident as a work of the Spirit of God.
It allows us to pray “Restore to me the joy of Your salvation; and grant me a willing spirit to sustain me” (Psalm 51:12) and we are privileged to see Him do just that.
Sometimes we think that if we let go of unforgiveness, we will lose a piece of ourselves, we will lose some control over another person; that can be frightening for some. But it is only in forgiveness that we can find true freedom in Christ, only in obedience to the One Who is mercy and grace that we are not bound to ourselves but to the God who created us, to the Savior who died to redeem us, to the Holy Spirit who enables us to walk securely in that freedom.
We choose forgiveness out of faithfulness to God, recognizing that He commands us to forgive and that “His commands are not burdensome.” (I John 5:3)
“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have broadened my understanding. (You enlarge my heart)!” Psalm 119:32, NIV (ESV)
I cannot run in freedom if I am bound by bitterness and unforgiveness.
I cannot run in freedom if my feelings dictate my actions.
Feelings follow faithfulness.
Choose faithfulness this day.
“Forgiveness can do much for one; forgiveness can do very much indeed.”￼