I used to be quite the grudge holder. Forgiveness was VERY hard for me. Sometimes I held onto anger for years. I couldn’t figure out how to do the whole forgiveness thing at all – it baffled me! I wanted to forgive – BUT… There was always a “but” that made it very difficult for me to forgive.
Unforgiveness hardens my heart – it is sin and it is a stronghold of Satan in my soul. It grieves the Spirit of God and His power begins to trickle into my life instead of flowing like Niagra Falls.
I’M A GOOD GIRL!
I accepted Christ into my heart as Savior and Lord when I was 5. I was always an honors student, made straight As almost all the time, didn’t get at trouble at school – well… except for the one time I got detention because my friend wanted me to wait on her while she wrestled with her books/locker/book bag and we were late for lunch. I cried and cried!!! I was MORTIFIED. Being late for lunch! GASP!!! That is truly a sin that deserved detention. My Daddy laughed so hard and said, “I have been waiting for this day for SO long! You FINALLY got in trouble at school!”
It was easy for me to think that I wasn’t really THAT sinful. I was pretty “good” in the eyes of those around me. I didn’t really need God’s forgiveness much – I thought deep within my soul. I wasn’t NEARLY as awful as a lot of other people. I never stole anything, cheated, lied (except when my Daddy told me and my twin sister we HAD to switch places in high school to trick some people), drank, did drugs, murdered anyone, gambled, smoked, had sex outside of marriage… I always went to church, tried to help people, tried to love people, tried hard to be really good, practiced my flute and piano an hour each day in high school, did my homework thoroughly, studied really hard, made a full scholarship to college, tried to teach others about God, wanted to please God, was a perfectionist, had my quiet time just about every day for most of my life, read the Bible and knew many of the verses by heart. WOW! That’s pretty impressive, right?
He who has been forgiven little loves little. Luke 7:47b
I used to think this verse meant that former murderers, prostitutes, drug dealers, thieves and criminals would probably love God a lot more than I could because they sinned so much more than I had and so they’d love God more because they were forgiven so much more than I needed to be forgiven.
It turns out that I was EXTREMELY prideful. I didn’t just have a “plank” in my eye. I had a whole national park forest of trees in my spiritual eyes – and I didn’t see it at all. My heart completely deceived me. Pride is one of the most heinous sins in God’s eyes. It ranks right up there with all the other awful ones I mentioned above. In fact, Jesus had a lot more condemnation for the Pharisees who thought they were so “righteous” and “better” than everyone else than He had for the adulterers, murderers, thieves and tax collectors.
WHAT DOES PRIDE HAVE TO DO WITH FORGIVENESS?
A LOT! The reason I had such a hard time forgiving was that I didn’t have a clear picture of how sinful I was and how far removed I was from God’s holy perfection. When I truly realized how filthy, sinful and deceitful my own heart was – I was greatly humbled.- THANK GOD!!!! Without humility, I can’t forgive. As long as I cling to pride, forgiveness is not possible.
When I could actually see that my trying to control things was a form of idolatry – putting myself in place of God, acting like I was God, like I had control over my life and other people’s lives as if I were sovereign instead of God… that was some UGLY STUFF! And I saw that I had sometimes put my husband in my heart as an idol, or marriage, or having all As, having a nice house, and having nice stuff, and health and jobs and children and all kinds of things other than God at various times.
God views my idolatry with the same seriousness (or greater) as adultery in marriage. I broke my covenant relationship with Him. THAT is how sinful I really am. When I saw how hurtful and ungodly my 15 years of disrespect/controlling was to my husband – that was humbling. And now I know that I have a sinful nature that is capable of just about any sin in the world unless God’s Spirit is empowering me. I have not “arrived.” I have not achieved sinlessness or perfection. Only God is good. I am not. In fact, I am a sinner by nature and am not capable of good apart from Jesus living in my life!
I HAVE BEEN FORGIVEN MUCH
Now I see that God has had to forgive me MUCH, too. I am in deep debt to Him for my sin in the “millions of dollars” range – maybe billions or more – it’s kind of incalculable for me. Now I see myself properly as a wretched sinner, desperate and without hope before God on my own. Now I see my utter spiritual poverty. Now I see that I deserve separation from my perfect, holy, sinless God. Now I see that I REALLY NEED Jesus’ death for me. I NEED His blood to cover my awful sins. And I am SO THANKFUL for what He has done for me. Now I love God much more because I finally see a little bit more how very great my sin-debt was.
Now I realize that I have a choice when someone sins against me. Jesus said,
For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. Matthew 6:14-15
GULP! Well, I know how much I need the forgiveness of God! As an idolator – I have been very stained with sin – putting myself and other things on the throne of God in my heart. He alone is worthy to sit in that place and to receive all of my worship, reverence, sacrifice, praise and adoration.
If I value my anger and bitterness MORE than my intimacy and relationship with Christ – then my resentment, anger, unforgiveness and pride are my idols that I serve, worship, value and sacrifice myself for. And idols will destroy us. Unforgiveness is sin and it is incredibly toxic. It also hardens our hearts against God and others. I cannot have God’s peace when I disobey God.
ONLY TWO CHOICES
- I hang onto anger/bitterness/rage/hatred/revenge/grudges/resentment and end up forfeiting God’s forgiveness for my sin, my relationship with God and my relationship with other people.
- I forgive others and then am able to receive God’s forgiveness, His Spirit and His power to enable me to live like Christ. His power will allow me to forgive, to have peace, to have joy and hope. Then I have intimacy with God and with other people again.
HOW JESUS FORGAVE
It helps me to forgive others when I see that “they know not what they do.” like Jesus said about the very men who were crucifying Him as He forgave them. That is usually the case when someone sins against us – they don’t realize what they are doing, the pain they are causing, or the consequences of their actions. They need God’s Spirit to help them see the truth about all of that.
We are commanded by God to forgive – but I am NOT saying that there never need to be consequences for sin. God gives us consequences as discipline. God also authorizes the church and government and families to administer discipline or justice in certain cases. God commands us not to take revenge, because vengeance belongs to Him.
God gives steps to follow when believers sin against us to go to them first alone and tell them of their sin. If they do not repent, we are to take 1-2 more people with us to show them their sin and if they still don’t repent, they are to be removed from the church until they do repent with the desire for them to repent and be restored with God and with the people of God. (Matthew 18:15-17)
There are times in cases of drug addiction/abuse, alcoholism, infidelity, physical injuries, abuse, rape, sexual molestation, murder, robbery… etc… that a believer may need to forgive a person by the power of God but that doesn’t mean that the one who sinned should be completely trusted right away or that they don’t need to experience the justice of the criminal system or a separation from their family until they repent and begin to show that they are serious about living for God. Our prayer is for their reconciliation with God, their repentance, their salvation and accepting Jesus as Lord of all in their lives. Our prayer can be that God might bring great glory to Himself in the midst of the sinful mess. Thank God we serve a powerful, sovereign Lord who can bring beauty from ashes and joy from tears!
A CHOICE AND A PROCESS
Forgiveness is something we choose to do. It’s a process sometimes. I’ve only had to forgive probably $5-$1000 sins so far myself – there are people who have forgiven $100,000 sins against them or their families. But no matter the sin, forgiveness opens the door for God to work in our hearts, to heal us, to be close to us, to empower us and to bring great good from something that others may have meant for harm. (Check out the story of Joseph and his brothers in Genesis 44 for a fantastic study on forgiveness and the sovereignty of God!)
Help each of us to choose Life with You, relationship and intimacy with You and other people and Your power being available and running through us at full strength. We can’t forgive on our own, God! We need Your power to do this. Help us choose to forgive! Please tear down any stronghold of bitterness, hatred, resentment, rage, vengeance, anger and grudge-holding and set us free from Satan’s prison so that we can live in Your freedom and abundant life!