“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.”
1 Peter 4:8
Many Christians have forgiveness all wrong. Because of bad teaching–mixing the Old Covenant in with the New–they think they have to forgive others or else God won’t forgive them. As God’s kids, we don’t have to do anything, and we won’t be punished if we don’t. What do you think the Cross was for? Jesus took on all our punishment, once and for all (see 1 Peter 3:18, Hebrews 10:10).
“Matt, you’re a liar! The Word of God says, forgive others or else your Father in heaven won’t forgive you!”
Friend, I know it does. But this verse is before the Cross and it was spoken to the hypocritical people who thought their wonderful forgiveness was earning them righteousness with God. It wasn’t. And that was Jesus’ whole point. “You can’t forgive your way to heaven, you need to be reborn completely. Faith in me alone is the only way that will happen.” This was the gist of Jesus’ teaching to the legalists.
God doesn’t forgive us because we are wonderful forgivers. Just imagine if that were true, we’d all be doomed. So when you read impossible teachings of Christ, He was either A.) speaking spiritually, or B.) raising the bar on living by Mosaic Law.
Jesus was trying to teach us that we can’t earn our spot with God through anything we do–even forgiving others. If we do believe that our forgiveness buys us favor with God, we become martyrs or hypocrites. There is no middle ground. The point of this impossible passage is to corral us into the narrow gate of grace.
“So Matt, you’re saying we never have to forgive others?! Apostate!”
No, that’s not what I’m saying at all. I’m saying we get to forgive others because we are forgiving people at heart. And in Christianity, apostasy is impossible because the Father will never break His promise to Jesus (see 2 Timothy 2:13, Hebrews 6:19, 7:25, 15:5). You can’t be un-born from God, just the same as you can’t be un-born from your mom. You either are a Christian, or you never truly believed. Many people dress up and play church, but still, Jesus has never known them (see Matthew 7:21-23). But that subject will be for another time.
As for forgiveness on this side of the Cross, as New Covenant believers we are to forgive others because forgiveness is a part of our spiritual DNA. We’ve been born of God, God lives in us, so we have a natural desire to forgive, just like God. We even want to forgive those who don’t deserve it–just like God.
However, we don’t forgive to get forgiven, but instead, we forgive because we are forgiven. Just look at how Paul taught the early church:
“Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (Colossians 3:13)
See? Paul tells the Colossians to forgive because God already forgave them. Past-tense. He didn’t say, “You better forgive or else!”
Let’s look at another New Covenant epistle passage from Paul (tongue-twister there!):
“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32)
Again he says, “forgave.” We should be kind, compassionate, and forgiving because that’s what we’ve already received from God through Jesus’ sacrifice at the Cross. We don’t forgive to get forgiven or to maintain our forgiveness but because we are forgiven people–and we know it! It makes sense to forgive others because Jesus forgave us!
“Matt, I’m not forgiving them! You just don’t understand what they’ve done to me!”
Friend, I know it’s hard. I know very well about the feelings you have. There have been times in my life when the enemy has convinced me that if I forgive someone who’s hurt me, they’ll just do it again–and they might. But that is a risk we have to take as heaven-ready saints. No, we don’t want them to hurt us again but we have forgiveness built into us as a reflex. Just like we have the reflex of blinking and breathing, we can’t stop forgiving others even if we wanted to. Our spirits would never allow us to deny forgiveness. An internal battle will continue until we do. Our hearts will cry out until the very moment we release them from their debt. Peace only happens in our minds when we choose to forgive.
When you forgive, you are exuding the character of God. Again, God is in you. He’s meshed together with your spirit (see Colossians 3:3, Romans 6:6, Galatians 2:20, 1 Corinthians 6:19). Forgiveness is wise and it cleanses the palate of your soul from sour tastes. Forgiveness is an atomic bomb used in spiritual warfare, and we have our finger on the button at all times.
The problem is, even as Christians, so many of us have forgiveness confused with trust. Because of this befuddlement, we choose not to forgive because we don’t want to be hurt again. However, forgiveness is not trust. Forgiveness is a choice. It is an act of our will. It has nothing to do with our feelings. It is instant, free, and for ourselves.
Trust, on the other hand, is none of those things. Trust is earned, expensive, and for the other person. Forgiveness is a gift you give to you. Trust is a gift you give to them.
When we learn to separate the two–forgiveness and trust–we can grow deeper into our relationships. Forgiving someone doesn’t even require the other person to acknowledge what they’ve done was wrong. But for trust, they need to know that what they’ve done has pained you. With forgiveness, they don’t have to know you’ve forgiven them. Although with trust, it requires healthy boundaries to be established and respected.
Since before time, God knew that humanity was going to need forgiveness, both with Him and with each other. This is why Jesus planned on coming to earth before it was even physically formed (see Colossians 1:15-17, Romans 5:8, John 1:1-5, 8:58).
How do you know if you’ve truly forgiven the other person?…You have peace. The pain they’ve caused is no longer a part of your life even if the damage is still there. Forgiveness separates your mind from your circumstances. How do you know if you can trust that person again?…You don’t. We are human beings. Relationships are not static. So rather than gauge if you can trust them or not, allow the Holy Spirit to guide you each day. He’ll not steer you wrong.
So today, my friends, if you are struggling with forgiveness–if you are in pain, torment, anger, and frustration–say this prayer with me to release the other person and yourself. I’m not saying trust them. I’m not saying reconcile. That may or may not happen. I’m saying forgive in full because forgive is what you do.
It could be a spouse, ex-spouse, coach, teacher, child, parent or relative. It could be the spouse of your child or their ex. It could be your in-law, an ex-boyfriend or girlfriend, or a current boyfriend or girlfriend. You might even need to forgive your actual neighbor, pastor, foster parent, step parent, step child, co-worker, boss, or whoever. Say this prayer of forgiveness with me and release yourself from pain. Say this prayer, and begin to be yourself as a child of God, a forgiving person:
“Heavenly Father, you see how much pain I’m in over what they’ve done to me. This person, ______________________, owes me big time. They’ve hurt me by _____________________, and I know you’ve seen it. But I also know that Jesus saw all of my mistakes and He still chose to forgive me in full with no strings attached. All I had to do was believe I was forgiven by Him, and I was. I’m so grateful for that! Through His example, and because I have His Spirit in me, strengthening me, I know I can forgive this person too! Today, I’m asking that you give me the grace to pull this off as I am making a conscious decision to forgive them completely–even if they do it again. Thank you for such peace! Remind me that I have forgiven them, and teach me how to establish healthy boundaries to protect myself in the future. In Christ’s name I pray, amen.”
This devotional is from 60 Days for Jesus, Volume 3. Get your copy here!