While doing some research about what the Bible has to say about forgiveness after reading an article, Stop Telling Me To Forgive My Abuser, which really got me thinking. There was so much in that article I can relate to, and yet, in some ways it also challenged the perception of forgiveness that I’ve always been taught to believe. I found an awesome article that completely blew my mind. I’m going to do my best to sum up some of what I read.
Conditions of forgiveness: the offender
Forgiveness is part of respect in a mutual relationship. It also has to do with the repentance of the one who wronged us. When God forgives us our sins: we first go to him to ask for forgiveness; and then we repent by showing a sincere, deep-felt sorrow for the wrong we have done; this is the conditions for forgiveness. God does not forgive us unless we first go to him and repent. Why would he require we do something He wouldn’t do? Why would He hold us to a higher standard than He holds Himself to? He wouldn’t. God does not forgive without repentance, and He does not expect us to either.
If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.
If another believer sins, rebuke that person; then IF there is repentance, forgive. Even if that person wrongs you seven times a day and EACH TIME TURNS AGAIN AND ASKS forgiveness, you must forgive.
There are a few ways to look at Luke 17:3-4. First, you could say that since it says “If another believer sins” is referring to only having to forgive someone who is a fellow Christian. Therefore, if the person is not a Christian there is no obligation to forgive should they ask for it or not. That seems a bit flawed to me, and I do not believe that to be the intention of this verse. To me this verse emphasizes the need for the person who did the wrong to turn to the person they have hurt: repent and ask for forgiveness; then we are to forgive.
2 Corinthians 7:10
For the kind of sorrow God wants us to experience leads us away from sin and results in salvation. There’s no regret for that kind of sorrow. But worldly sorrow, which lacks repentance, results in spiritual death.
I believe this is the heart of repentance: a sorrow for the wrong we have done which leads to a change in our behavior that proves we are sorry for the wrong we have done. This is what God looks for in us; and this is what we should look for in others when they ask for our forgiveness. Without true sorrow for the hurt they have caused there is no true repentance which is the same as unrepentance. Where there is no repentance there is no forgiveness.
conditions of forgiveness: the offended person
We are not to assume, however, the lack of repentance on the part of the offender frees us from any obligation to extend forgiveness. God was WILLING to forgive us long before we ever thought of going to Him, and asking for His forgiveness. This is the key: to have a heart that is willing to forgive.
If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.
This verse at one point scared me into forgiving my abuser before I was ready. Now, I have a much clearer understanding of the true meaning of this scripture. This is not so much about the act of forgiving as it is about the state of our hearts towards forgiveness. By refusing to forgive someone it shows a heart that is lacking a willingness to forgive. This is why it says if you refuse to forgive others your sins won’t be forgiven. God has a heart willing to forgive others whether they ever go to Him and ask for it or not; and he requires this of us as well.
Then the king, called in the man he had forgiven and said, ‘You evil servant! I forgave you that tremendous debt because you pleaded with me. Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?’ Then the angry king sent the man to prison to be tortured until he had paid his entire debt. That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you REFUSE to forgive your brothers and sisters from your heart.
Again, this verse is pointing to the condition of the heart being unwilling to forgive more than it is the actual act of forgiveness. Here’s a quote from the article I read, “It is this forgiving spirit which conditions God’s forgiveness of our sins (Mark 11:25; Matthew 6:14,15). In such a case the unforgiving spirit is essentially unrepentance (Matthew 18:23-35)…God’s forgiveness is conditional upon man’s forgiveness of the wrongs done him, not because God forgives grudgingly but because forgiveness alone indicates that disposition of mind which will humbly accept the Divine pardon…God’s forgiveness is limited solely by the condition that man must accept it in the proper spirit”.
What I have learned
So, this is what I have learned. I am not obligated to forgive unless: the person who has wronged me comes to me asking for forgiveness, and showing a true and sincere sorrow for what they have done which is proven by their actions and not just their words. I am, however, obligated to have a heart that is willing to forgive even if the person never asks for it. Having a heart that is willing to forgive keeps us from growing bitter in our anger and rage. It prevents our lives from being poisoned by that same bitterness which grows from our rage. We are not wrong to feel the way we do. Our anger lets us know boundaries have been crossed. Holding onto that anger and refusing to let it go is where we run into problems.
I believe that in God’s grace and mercy He knows for us forgiveness is not something that can be turned on like a light switch. When God forgives, He removes any memory of the sin we have committed. Our minds don’t work like that. We remember what has been done and said even after the person has asked for forgiveness, and has shown a true sorrow for what they have done. It is my belief, God knows our hearts: he knows if we are trying to work through our anger and rage; in the end that’s what’s going to matter. God knows forgiveness is a process, that we are not perfect, it takes time to work through our feelings, and as long as we are willing to work towards a heart that is willing to forgive…I believe God’s grace and mercy will cover us in the meantime.
There is so much more written in this article, and it addresses so much more than what I have written here. It’s a very fascinating article. Perhaps, you’ll find it just as enlightening and freeing as I did.