A critical moment comes in the life of a Christian when they must choose to forgive those who have damaged them in the past. In Mathew 6:14, 15, Jesus teaches us the absolute necessity of forgiving others, “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you “But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matt. 6:14, 15 NKJV).
Forgiving others in the eyes of God is simply not an option. I am convinced that if we do not completely free ourselves of unforgiveness we will not experience the joy of the Lord which we all long for. Not only must we free ourselves from unforgiveness, in order to make it lasting we must forgive using biblical guidelines.
Has the forgiveness you’ve extended to others truly been biblical forgiveness? Have you ever told someone I forgive you and then brought it up later to use against them in an argument? Have you granted forgiveness to someone and then in detail described what a terrible thing they did to you to someone else, or after saying I forgive you to someone have you found yourself thinking about it all the time becoming angry all over again?
I think we all can agree that forgiveness is a beautiful idea until we have to practice it ourselves. Forgiveness is not something as Christians we can take lightly, because forgiveness is clearly God’s prescription for the broken. No matter how great the offenses or abuses we endure somewhere along the path to healing lies forgiveness. At the very root of unforgiveness lies pain, pain that has been buried deep inside and the only way to get rid of that pain is to cut it out by the root. Unforgiveness never lies dormant, but grows like a cancer within us developing anger and bitterness. We forgive first because God commands us to and secondly for our own healing; forgiving others is a choice and forgiving must come from the heart. We can choose to forgive, or we can choose to hang on to the anger and bitterness that destroys our lives; Ephesians 4:31-32 say’s, “Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:31, 32 NKJV).
We are never more like Christ then when we forgive those who have harmed us. As Christ hung dying on a cross, what was one of the last things He said? In Luke 23:34 Jesus says. “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34 NKJV). The rest of that verse says that those very people that Jesus just forgave cast lots for His clothes. Did they deserve Jesus’ forgiveness? Absolutely not, but Jesus chose to forgive them.
The last thing Jesus did before He died was grant forgiveness to a criminal hanging on the cross next to Him, “And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43 NKJV). What a monumental moment that was: the beginning of forgiveness through the death of God’s son. Have you ever forgiven someone who didn’t deserve it? Someone who was unrepentant and refused to admit the wrong they’ve done to you? Good for you! At that moment, you were modeling the character of Jesus Christ.
I think there are some wonderful clichés among believers. One of them is “hurting people hurt people” that is so true and another one is “pretending the hurt isn’t there or that it doesn’t bother you anymore won’t solve your problems,” Jeremiah 6:14 reminds us that “You can’t heal a wound by saying it isn’t there.” Facing your past, forgiving yourself and those who have hurt you is the only lasting solution. Forgiveness breaks the cycle! It doesn’t settle all the questions of blame, justice, or fairness; God will do that someday, but it does allow relationships to heal and possibly start over.
I know through my own personal experience that forgiving others who have hurt you deeply is not easy. But God gives us no wiggle room; we are commanded to forgive others as He has forgiven us. I said earlier that forgiving is a choice so, what is the true choice here? Isn’t it? I choose to forgive those who have harmed me because I choose to obey God’s Word. If we read God’s word and don’t do what it says we are only deceiving ourselves, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was” “James 1:22—24 NKJV).
We must also forgive God. Does that sound strange? I personally was very angry at God for many years; the more miserable my life became the angrier at God I got. I wanted to blame Him for every bad choice that I made and every bad choice that those who hurt me made. Once I began to understand the love that God has for me and that I am, and you are the reason He sent His son Jesus Christ to die a horrible death on the cross. Though we don’t understand the hardships we have to endure sometimes God’s promises are sure. He is always faithful to His word and Peter assures us of God’s love and promises, “The God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus after you have suffered awhile will perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you” (1Peter 5:10 NKJV).
In order to move forward in our recovery, we need to accept God’s forgiveness by accepting what Jesus did on the cross, and we need to forgive others who we feel have wronged us and we need to forgive God. The last kind of forgiveness is perhaps the most difficult for us to extend. We need to forgive ourselves. Have you forgiven yourself? You can forgive others, you can accept God’s forgiveness, you may feel the guilt and shame of your past is just too much to forgive. I struggled with that very thing early in my Christian walk; how could I forgive myself for the devastation I caused, until a very wise man reminded me that God never commanded us to forgive ourselves. The Bible says that we are to ask forgiveness from others, Matthew 5:23-24. We are to ask God to forgive us, 1 John 1:9. We are to forgive others, Matthew 6:14-15. We are to love God, others, ourselves, and even our enemies. But He never tells us to forgive ourselves. Why is that? Because when Christ cried out from the cross “It is finished” it was finished, Jesus took our sin, our shame, and our guilt upon Himself and all we have to do is accept that. If we persist in unforgiveness towards ourselves we are basically saying that Christ’s sacrifice was not good enough for the forgiveness of my sins; there needs to be something else done. I assure you that the precious blood of Christ is sufficient for the forgiveness of our sins. I don’t have anything against the concept that we need to forgive ourselves, but it is important for those who can’t move on to understand that Christ paid the price for your sins. If God Himself can forgive you, how can you hold forgiveness from yourself? Are your standards higher than His? It is foolishness to carry around the shame, guilt, and failures of your past; if you do the enemy of your soul will beat you to death with it. Christ’s death on the cross frees us from living our lives in a state of regret. The Apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 3:13-14, “One thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead. I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14 NKJV). We must not remain focused on past hurts and failures; instead, we must press forward and prepare ourselves to serve Christ now and in the future.
Let us, let God help us today. Jesus’ death on the cross was the ultimate act of forgiveness. As I mentioned from the beginning, refusing to forgive can seriously hinder your walk with Christ. Make the choice now to accept God’s forgiveness, to forgive those who have hurt you and grant forgiveness to yourself.
Part of this post is from my two books: Rising from Ashes (A Christ Centered Smoking Cessation Program) and From a Drunkard to a Pastor (Discovering Completeness in Christ). In those two books, I outline biblical steps to recovery and spiritual growth. I hope you will purchase them and learn of my story and how Jesus Christ began my healing process. You can purchase them from this web-site.