Next steps after forgiving someone
Forgiveness is a powerful act that releases us from being enslaved to other people’s hurtful actions. It heals and restores our spirits. After holding onto grudges and bitterness for a long time, how should we respond the next time we see our ex-offenders, particularly if they haven’t changed or shown any remorse? What are some practical aspects we may need to consider?
2 John 1:9 ESV Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son.
There are some common misconceptions about what we ought to do after forgiving someone. Here are some of them.
1. “I don’t need forgiveness.”
Forgiveness is not only done outwardly, but also inwardly. We may find that we are still upset with ourselves for allowing certain things to happen in the past and continue to accuse ourselves. Self-condemnation is not godly. Jesus does not condemn us, He wants to save us. Let us rejoice at God’s immense grace and let ourselves off the hook.
John 3:17 ESV For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
2. “I don’t need further healing.”
Pain and rejection can cause some of the greatest damage to our self-esteem. Forgiving our offenders is often just the first step, particularly if we have been subjected to long-term emotional, psychological or physical abuse.
We may have come to believe certain lies about ourselves, such as “I am not worthy of God’s love and acceptance,” “I’m stupid and will keep making mistakes,” or “I can’t trust men/women/anyone.” All these keep us from having a loving, authentic relationship with God. Most times, biblical counseling and discipleship are needed in order to be “made new in the attitude of our minds” and to put on our new self, based on God’s truths.
Ephesians 4:22-24 ESV You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
3. “Since I’ve forgiven them, I have nothing to repent of.”
When we have been hurt or offended, it is easy to think poorly of and judge other people. Sometimes, we may even curse, slander or condemn them; “She is such a terrible person, no one likes her,” “He deserves to go to hell,” “I wish something bad will happen so they will learn a lesson.”
Proverbs 18:21 ESV Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.
Ephesians 4:31 ESV Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.
Forgiveness always needs to be accompanied with repentance of personal judgments we have passed on other people. We may also need to search our hearts for any inner vows we have made as a result of being hurt, and repent of making our own law for our own lives based on our own will, instead of following God’s. If we have ever wished to die, we must also revoke such wishes in Jesus’ name, because our Saviour came to give us life, not death.
Matthew 12: 37 ESV for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”
4. “I won’t need to forgive them again.”
Forgiveness is not a one-time act. Jesus has made it clear that we will need to keep forgiving others for their negative actions towards us.
Matthew 18:21-22 ESV Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.
The next time the same people hurt us, we will be tempted to think that it was a waste to have forgiven them the first time. This is an easy lie to fall for. Godly forgiveness is unconditional. It does not depend on how other people behave towards us, but on how God has behaved towards us. It is based on what Jesus has done for us on the cross. It is our honour to extend His grace towards other people around us, so they may experience the love of Jesus Christ on some level for themselves.
There will be some thorny relationships that God will want us to continue and others that we need to exit from. To know which is which requires God’s wisdom. For this, we need to pray and seek the Holy Spirit’s counsel.
Where in the past we may not have known to draw some healthy boundaries, we ought to consider doing so from now on, so that we do not subject ourselves to unnecessary malicious attacks.
Proverbs 22:3 ESV The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it.
5. “Now God will change them like He has changed my heart.”
We may expect that just because we have changed, that our offenders will change too, or at least be open to hearing about our journey of forgiving them. This may not always be the case.
We need to remember that just as it might have taken us months or years for us to come to a point of true forgiveness towards others, other people will need time to change as well. God has been patient and gracious towards us, let us also be patient towards others. There may also be times we may need to accept that some people will never change or may never come to accept salvation through Jesus Christ. Whatever the case may be, we can trust that God is in control and is sovereign over all outcomes.
Ephesians 4:32 ESV Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
6. “I can now change them.”
Another aspect of the thinking above is that now that we have forgiven, we are also empowered to change people. The only real control we have is over ourselves, not other people or the circumstance. All these are in God’s hands. Let us not fall for the temptation to take over God’s role in changing people. He is their Creator, we are not. Let us simply love them as God does, by being patient, kind, humble, adaptable, hopeful and persevering.
Matthew 5:43-46 ESV “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? …
1 Corinthians 13:4-7 ESV Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
7. “I will forgive but I expect God to take revenge for me.”
God is just and impartial. All of us will have to face the consequences of our sins. Yes, those who hurt us will also face God’s judgment one day but to have a desire for revenge is also sinful. There is little point of repenting of the sin of unforgiveness and then adding on a new one of seeking revenge. True forgiveness lets go of our offenders completely.
Romans 12: 17-21 ESV Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Instead, we need to “see” the real enemy behind our enemies. Satan, our true enemy, deceives, oppresses and torments people. Those who have hurt us are often under his power. Let us practise wisdom and have compassion for them.
1 John 5:18-19 ESV We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him. We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.
Colossians 3:12-17 ESV Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.
8. “They still have the power to upset me and I will lose this newfound peace.”
In general, all healthy relationships have clear boundaries. We should not tolerate physical, emotional and psychological abuse of any kind. To give people a fair chance at a relationship with us, we should define and communicate what our boundaries are to them. If that does not work, we may say, “I’m sorry but I can’t accept this behaviour and suggest we continue our chat another time.” We may encounter situations where people upset us again but the way we respond can be very different.
Each time we are attacked, we should humbly cry out to God and cast our anxieties onto Him, and ask for His peace. God is faithful. He will always help us and give us new strength.
1 Peter 5:6-7 ESV Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.
Hebrews 13:6 ESV So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?”
9. “I won’t be angry at them again.”
It would be rather unrealistic to hope that we will not be upset or hurt again. It is natural, and sometimes even necessary, for us to get angry at things that are unjust, cruel and evil. God’s Word gives us permission to be quietly angry, but not to let our anger control us so that we sin.
Ephesians 4:26-27 ESV Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.
Proverbs 29:11 ESV A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back.
Moreover, we ought to take stock of our anger triggers. Is there some hidden pride or pain that we need to give up to God for His forgiveness or healing?
10. “I know how to behave around them.”
Where we used to react badly towards those who hurt us, it would be highly beneficial for us to do a “dry run” and rehearse in our minds how we will respond in the future to similar situations. This is to ensure we do not react on impulse and fall back into ungodly reactions. Let us prepare our hearts to humbly honour God in all situations.
Romans 12:2 ESV Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Here are some suggestions:
- Pray and submit our relationships to God. Ask Him to show us the ones to hold on to and the ones to relinquish.
- Determine the words and actions we will not accept (our boundaries).
- Rehearse the type of things we will calmly and lovingly say in respond (communicating our boundaries).
- Pray before each encounter and ask God to prepare and protect our hearts. Ask for wisdom and opportunities to point people to Jesus. Praise Him for what He wants to do in our relationships and in us.
Proverbs 15:1-2 ESV A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouths of fools pour out folly.
11. “I need to reconcile immediately.”
The Bible does make it clear that we need not seek reconciliation with any believer who is willfully and repeatedly sinning against us and against God. Sometimes, God may delay reconciliation while He prepares the other party’s heart to welcome a peaceful reunion. We need to pray and ask the Holy Spirit to give us the wisdom to know what God’s will is.
Matthew 18:15-17 ESV “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.
12. “I feel vulnerable after I’ve forgiven.”
It is true that we may feel “softer” after humbling ourselves before God and forgiving someone, because God replaces our old proud hearts of stone with new hearts of flesh that pulse with His life-giving Spirit. Let us not fear to be vulnerable before God. It is a life-giving position to be in. When we are vulnerable and weak before God, He makes us strong before people.
Ezekiel 36:26-27 ESV And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.
2 Corinthians 12:8-10 ESV Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
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