4 Hard Lessons About Forgiveness

Forgiveness is complicated and painful at times. But God gives us clear instruction and the power to see it through!

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Forgive – easier said than done, right? It is much much easier to either ignore your hurt or to hang on to it and let it boil over into self-justified bitterness. But here’s the thing – Jesus tells us to forgive. He tells us that when we don’t forgive, it means that we don’t understand the depths of our own sin, and we don’t grasp the price that was paid so that we can continually come before the throne of God. So we must forgive. There are, however, some misconceptions about what exactly it means to forgive, and how we are to view forgiveness.

Forgiveness doesn’t Keep Score.

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-seven times.” – Matthew 18:21-22

We’ve all been there. “Fine. I’ll forgive you this time. But if you mess up again, that’s it.” As the old adage goes, “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.” If you’re keeping score, you’re not actually forgiving. This is the point Jesus is trying to get across when Peter asked how many times he has to forgive his brother. I’m sure this answer came as a shock to Peter, who was probably remembering the Jewish law that you had to forgive someone three times. By offering to forgive seven times, Peter thought he was being generous. And then Jesus says not seven times, but seventy-seven. Some translations even say seventy times seven. Either way, stop counting. We live in grace and forgiveness. We don’t have to worry that God is keeping a grand tally of all the times we ask His forgiveness for a particular sin, and so neither should we put limits on our forgiveness.

Forgiveness is rarely a one time deal.

Sometimes, when the offense is great, and the pain runs deep, we have to keep forgiving – beyond what the offender has asked us to do. When the bitterness creeps in, and anger rears it’s ugly head, we have to remind ourselves that we have forgiven and resolved this, and then we must let it go. And let it go again when those same feelings come back around the next day and the next day. When the past tries to take control of my present, I find myself reciting Psalm 103:10-14:

He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.

Jesus set the ultimate example for us in forgiveness!

Forgiveness doesn’t mean…

All too often we are lectured about forgiveness, and we leave feeling guilty for things that we were never meant to feel guilty about. So let me set the record straight. Forgiveness doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter, and more importantly, forgiveness doesn’t mean you have to blindly trust that person again. If you were abused or someone cheated you out of money, or lied to your face – it is on us to forgive, but it is on them to earn your trust, and to show you that they have repented. Forgiveness also doesn’t mean that there won’t be consequences on this side of heaven. If you stole a car, and then asked God for forgiveness – He freely forgives, and your eternity is secure; but your earthly self will probably still experience the consequences of that sin, namely, jail time.

The lie of “forgive and forget.”

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No where in the Bible does it actually command us to forgive and forget. Many Christians have this trite phrase in their heads, and feel a lot of guilt when they can’t seem to forget. The truth is that we will never forget – but we can move on and learn and preach the truth of overcoming through God’s grace into the lives of others going through similar situations.