Forgiveness brings us new life
Everybody agrees that forgiving others is a good thing to do and many sincerely wish to practice it. However, it is natural to struggle with forgiving others, or perhaps think that we have forgiven someone but still privately hang on to some small grudge.
(See Chinese versions: 简体中文 > 释放饶恕 | 繁體中文 > 釋放饒恕)
Forgiveness truly is a conscientious choice, but moving from a place of hurt and offence to a place of grace and peace in our hearts is not as easy as flicking an on-off switch. But both are needed – forgiveness at the intellectual and at the heart level.
The Bible calls us to have clean hands and pure hearts. Forgiveness on only an intellectual level is like having clean hands; in that we will not actively seek to harm the person we have chosen to forgive – but our hearts are still not clean in that we find it hard to move beyond that to where we can extend God’s grace and “love our enemies”.
Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord?
Who may stand in his holy place?
The one who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who does not trust in an idol or swear by a false god.
They will receive blessing from the Lord
and vindication from God their Savior.
A good test
To test our hearts for any remnant of unforgiveness, we just have to imagine our reaction if we bump into the person we have forgiven. What would our instinctive reaction be like? Hesitation and stiffening up? Wanting to avoid that person? The temptation to make sarcastic remarks or say unkind things? A certain “sour’ feeling in our chest? …. Or a spontaneous, welcome reception?
Our response will make it clear if that there’s still some offence that has not been surrendered to God. It is also probably a good time to seek God and ask for His Holy Spirit to empower us to let go of all remaining offences.
What corrupts our views about forgiveness
There are many reasons why we are not “programmed” to extend full forgiveness to others.
1. Influence of upbringing
If we grew up in an environment where people held grudges and family feuds are not reconciled, we may find it hard to understand forgiveness beyond an intellectual level, at a heart level, simply because we have not seen it in action. Or perhaps we grew up often being punished for our mistakes or failing to meet some expectations. Growing up in a ‘tit for tat’ or ‘an eye for an eye’ environment does not cultivate a spirit of forgiveness. Even the Bible says in Luke 7:47 that “whoever has been forgiven little loves little“.
Other times, where forgiveness within the family has been extended joylessly or in sorrow, it is also hard to value true forgiveness. Let’s use a fictitious example. Consider a wife who has endured years of abuse or neglect from her husband, but who forgave and prayed for him for years until he accepted Christ as his personal Saviour. However, this woman still continues to carry a spirit of sorrow and pain from all those years long ago (i.e. forgiveness at the intellectual level only). Would her children see forgiveness as a beautiful thing?
2. Control and fear
We live in a world that tells us to ‘take charge’; ‘be a winner, not a loser’; ‘grasp every opportunity for your own benefit’ – and in Asian culture, ‘don’t lose face’.
We are programmed to wear masks to say “I’m good!”. We don’t feel comfortable feeling vulnerable. Forgiving someone feels as if we are releasing control over our lives and giving someone else the right to disrupt our little worlds. We don’t want to appear weak, ignorant and stupid. We don’t want to send a message to others that we are ‘easy prey’.
Sometimes, it is pride that hems us in. Pride says, “I’m a better person than you. I’m taking the higher moral ground on this issue, and what you are doing/have done is bad. I say that you don’t deserve forgiveness”. The worst form of pride is spiritual pride.
Luke 6:37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.
4. Bad experiences
Other times, it is because we have witnessed poor outcomes when people are forgiven, either first-hand or otherwise. “Once bitten, twice shy” is the world’s motto, but God asks us to release forgiveness unconditionally (seventy-seven), just like He has done for you and me.
Matthew 18:21-22 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.
Forgiveness brings us new life – physically and spiritually
Although all these seem like good reasons not to forgive, we don’t release that holding on to grudges brings both physical and spiritual sickness. Research has even shown that chronic anger leaves us in a constant state of fight-or-flight mode, which increases the risk of depression, heart disease and diabetes, as well as other medical conditions related to stress. On the other hand, releasing our hold on unforgiveness liberates and heals our spirits tremendously. It’s almost like giving our hearts a “forever” spa.
Here are three things about forgiveness we ought to keep in mind.
1. It’s not about forgetting the offence, it’s about forgetting the effects of the offence
We have all heard the saying that, “one can forgive, but one cannot forget”. To forgive someone for an offence is not to deny or forget that the offence ever happened. It is simply choosing not to “remember” or hold on to the effects of that offence in our hearts. That’s quite different from “forgetting” and pretending things never happened. To do that would be to deny the power of forgiveness over the offender’s life.
God who is holy and righteous sets a perfect example by forgetting our sins after He has forgiven us. There is no record of our sins nor any grudge match to hold on to. Our Heavenly Father values forgiveness so much that He allowed His Son to die for us in order to make our forgiveness possible.
Isaiah 43:25 NIV “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.
2. It’s not about how people will view you, it’s about how people get to see God
True forgiveness goes like this; “We both know you have committed some offence in the past that has affected me, but I will not allow it to affect how I am towards you – because God, whom I love, loves you too. How I behave towards you is not dependent on how you behave towards me, it is only dependent on how God has behaved towards me – which has been tremendously generous and unconditional”.
Luke 6:32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them.
John 13:35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
3. It’s not about holding on to the right for “justice”, it’s about letting go of the need for justice
Have you ever seen anyone who holds a grudge that is truly joyful? Unforgiveness is a poison that robs us of our joy. Forgiving someone does not mean we continue to allow others to be unkind or to take advantage of us. As Christians, we are called to be shrewd as snakes and innocent like doves.
Matthew 10:16 “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.
Forgiveness means we are no longer under the “burden” of someone else’s offence and desperate for a need for justice or revenge. It means we have chosen to release ourselves from the shackles of the offence – and allow God’s true love peace and joy to fill us.
Galatians 5:22-23 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
The irony is we tend to think that forgiveness will make us appear weak – but it is actually unforgiveness that makes us become weak and petty!
Jesus is our perfect role model
Let us consider that Jesus also came to die for the person/s we find difficult to forgive. He humbled Himself to come and die for that person, in order to forgive that person for his/her sins. When we decide not to also forgive someone He has already died for, what are we actually saying to God about His sacrifice on the cross?
God doesn’t ask us to do something He has not already done as an example for us. This is why God warns us in the Bible that if we do not forgive, He will not forgive us either.
Matthew 6:14-15 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, your Father will not forgive your sins.
Mark 11:25 And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”
The amazing thing is that our loving gracious God doesn’t just forgive us, He welcomes us back into His arms, regardless of what we have done. Let us do the same for those around as well. That is the only way people will see, understand, appreciate and experience the true meaning of forgiveness firsthand – and be able to pass it on to others. And we all know, the world desperately needs that.
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