Forgiving Unacknowledged Sins

Forgiving Unacknowledged Sins

When we forgive someone, it’s usually because they have sought forgiveness from us with an apology. Even though we know they will do it again and we can’t trust them, our pain is alleviated somewhat because they acknowledged that they wronged us or hurt us.

But what about the people who don’t apologize, who will argue that they didn’t do anything wrong? Can we forgive someone who never acknowledges that they are wrong and continue to hurt us with their words and behavior?

We can’t. End of message.

Yes, without the grace and power of the Holy Spirit, it is impossible to truly forgive unacknowledged sins. There is perhaps nothing more difficult than living out daily forgiveness toward someone who has deeply wronged us and will never admit that they were wrong. Harder still to forgive is their behavior that daily continues to hurt us. They act like an enemy, and they probably are one. But, Jesus tells us to love our enemies and that is impossible without the Holy Spirit.

Most people think that without an apology, they don’t deserve forgiveness. So, they carry that hurt and pain with them. This causes them to become bitter.

Other people know they should forgive, but realize they don’t have the ability to do it. The emotions and desire for revenge are still there.

For example, I recently heard a man say this about someone who wronged him, “I love him in Christ, but if he was in front of my truck, I’m afraid I wouldn’t stop…but I forgive him.” This man knew he should love his enemy and forgive him, but he honestly admitted he didn’t feel that way.

Saying the words “I forgive” is not enough when the offense is serious and there is no repentance on the part of the person who wronged us.

Forgiveness isn’t something that absolves another person of guilt at the expense of our own emotions. Forgiveness is not for them, but for ourselves. Forgiveness is something that heals us and enables us live in the present with peace and move forward. When we forgive someone who isn’t going to apologize, God brings healing to our soul (mind, will, and emotions). That is why we need the grace, comfort, peace, and power of the Holy Spirit each and every time we encounter the person who hurt us or remembrance of what they did comes to our mind.

So, how do we forgive those who hurt us and have never apologized? How do we get rid of the desire to run over them with our truck? How can we be healed?

Matthew 18:21-35 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. Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

Jesus taught that God has offered us forgiveness, but to receive it, we must forgive others. In His parable the guilty asked for mercy. When someone doesn’t admit they are wrong or request forgiveness, then we must choose to grant forgiveness.

Why should we choose that? That doesn’t seem just. Think of it this way: Are you sure you have told God you are sorry for every sin you have committed against Him? Have you apologized to every person you have hurt and offended? If you are not sure, how do you want God to treat you? Furthermore, as this parable illustrates, we will never have to forgive others more than God has forgiven us.

A man once told John Wesley, "I can never forgive that person." Wesley said, "Then I hope you never sin. Because we all need what you don't want to give."

Besides, unforgiveness doesn't hurt the offender, it only hurts us. Marianne Williamson said, “Unforgiveness is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.”

More than anything else, Jesus says we can't receive what we are unwilling to give.

Mark 11:25-26 "And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses."

So, in spite of the injustice, we must become willing to forgive. That is the first thing we must ask our Father to do—give us grace to be willing to forgive. He will grant that and take us through a process that will heal our soul and enable us to forgive the unacknowledged sins against us.

Four words can help us understand the process of forgiveness.

1) Recognition. We can't forgive and get healed until we admit we have been wronged. We must stop pretending it didn’t happen. We must quit saying, “it’s no big deal, it doesn’t matter, that’s life, or they did the best they could”. No, they didn’t do the best they could! It was wrong and it hurt! Admit it!

Because, forgiveness requires recognition that we’ve been wronged. Otherwise, we suppress our hurt and unconsciously we become bitter, cynical, critical, negative, self-centered, untrusting, full of self-pity, and unloving.

At first, when the pain is fresh, we may need to go through the process of forgiveness every single day. After a while, we will be able to do this whenever the thoughts come to our mind and we start feeling angry and wronged. Whenever it occurs, instead of suppressing it, admit it and ask God for grace to forgive. Then pray words of forgiveness to God, saying “I choose to forgive this person as You have forgiven me. Give me your grace to truly forgive and respond like Jesus.”

2) Release. Forgiveness is letting go of a debt somebody owes us. And not because they asked or deserve to be forgiven. We forgive that debt because Jesus cancelled our debt before we acknowledged our sin. However, our relationship with God was not restored until we confessed our sin and received God’s forgiveness. Likewise, we need to cancel other’s debt before they acknowledge their sin. Then the relationship has a chance to be restored should they ask for our forgiveness. However, whether or not they ever ask to be forgiven, it is for your benefit that you forgive. Justification will probably never come from of an acknowledgement of sin from the person who wronged you. And, don’t go looking for it by telling others how offended you are. This is the sin of gossip and will only harm your reputation and cause others to take up your offense in their soul. Just do the right thing and know that God is pleased with you. He is the One who will judge everything that is done and said. In the end, His judgment and justification are all that matters.

3) Rest. Give the person or persons completely over to God.

Romans 12:17-21 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.

The person who wronged you may never admit they were wrong. Pride is a near impenetrable shield most people use to avoid having to humble themselves and admit their wrongdoing (Pride prevents salvation). You can try to show them the light, argue with them, and even appeal to them. In most cases, it won’t help. It is our sinful nature to believe we are right all the time and stick to our opinion no matter how good of a case someone makes about our behavior. So give up trying to change their mind. Only God can change their heart and mind. Therefore, give it all to God. Rest in God. Trust Him with it. He will give you peace.

Philippians 4:6-7 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

This requires a daily choice to leave it in God’s hands. We must reaffirm that choice again and again.

So, how do we know when we have fully forgiven an offender and are resting in God? We can think about them and it doesn't hurt anymore. The wound is healed. It may have left a scar, but the pain is gone. The memory remains, the lesson learned remains, and now we can help others who have similar wounds.

4) Refocus. Refocus on God’s purpose for your life. Only God is capable of truly forgetting something. So stop expecting that of yourself. Instead, love the truth into people. That is the way to stay focused on God and to change people’s opinions.

Mark Twain said “Never argue with a fool, onlookers may not be able to tell the difference.”

We will not, with words, change the mind of those who don’t care for us. Only Christ’s love expressed by us to them over time has the power to affect people’s hearts. His love speaks louder than our words could ever speak. So focus on Jesus.

Also, pray for the person. Look, it doesn’t matter what kind of person they are. Christ told us to love and pray for our enemies and those who persecute us.

Matthew 5:43-45 “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.”

Notice that loving your enemy and forgiving him does NOT mean trusting him or believing him. It also does NOT mean praying for him to apologize. That is not forgiveness. That is setting conditions, telling God what to do, before you will forgive. Leave that up to God.

Pray for God’s best for them. Pray that God will give them grace to repent, not for your sake, but for theirs. As you pray, ask for God’s love to course through your soul for them, whether they ever “come around” to the truth or not. Ask God to remove all desire whatsoever for vindication. He will answer those prayers.

However, you may find yourself needing to forgive and pray for them many times. That is what Jesus was saying in the parable he told to answer Peter’s question, and it is the nature of true forgiveness. Forgiveness must be practiced continually. Our wounds will never heal if we keep picking at the “scab”. God will heal our wounds if we go to Him for grace to obey Him. In this case, His command is to forgive.

Don’t say, “It hurt too much, I can’t forgive.” God does not ask us to do something without providing us the power and grace to do it. What you are saying is, “I won’t forgive.” That is disobeying God and keeps you from being forgiven.

Therefore, ask God to fill you with Holy Spirit so you can have His grace and power to forgive and to receive His character, comfort, peace, love, and healing.

Colossians 3:12-15 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. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.

We put on these things by being filled with the Holy Spirit. They do not come from a self-improvement program or self-determination. They come from a complete surrender to the lordship of Jesus Christ.

Do these verses describe your life? If not, get with the Father to discover the reason. Is there unforgiveness in your soul? Is there part of your life that you control instead of surrendering it to God? He will show you if you seek Him.

Maybe you have never given your life to the Lord. Therefore, you do not have His grace to put on these things. If you would like a life like this, you must believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who died on the cross to atone for your sin.

If you believe that, confess your sin and your need for forgiveness to God, and ask for grace to repent and to forgive others. Give control of your life to Jesus and obey Him in everything; first, by submitting yourself to baptism, which symbolizes your death to your old life and ways.

Then you will be born again of the Holy Spirit, who will give you grace to put on the character of Christ, to forgive others, and to be healed of all the sins that hurt you and went unacknowledged.