Restoration through Forgiveness

Restoration Through Forgiveness

Consciously or unconsciously, bad memories of the past still affect the way we live today. Wouldn’t it be nice to snap our fingers and - poof! - all the painful memories would be gone? Unfortunately, we can't do that, but by the grace of God, we can do this:

Philippians 3:13-14 Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

No matter what has happened to us in the past, we can press on toward the goal God has for our lives. He desires to restore us to a condition where the issues of the past no longer negatively affect our present and future life in Him. No matter what has happened to us, even if we feel like we've been totally destroyed, God intends for us to be restored through forgiveness.

By faith in Jesus, our relationship with the Father, whom we have sinned against, is restored through His forgiveness. Likewise, to be restored from the sins of others and the consequences that continue to affect us, God requires us to forgive those who hurt us.

This is a godly absolute, and God absolutely will not change His stand on this! Jesus told us that if we don’t forgive others, our Father in Heaven will not forgive us.

Matthew 6:14-15 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.

I don't know about you, but I want to be forgiven by God! I make mistakes! I do things that are sinful, and sometimes my attitude is not what God wants it to be. I want to receive forgiveness, but God tells me that if I don't forgive, He will not forgive me.

Therefore, it is imperative that we understand what forgiveness is, and what forgiveness is not. First, let’s look at what forgiveness is not because we have wrong ideas about forgiveness that make it difficult for us to forgive.

1. Forgiveness is not a feeling. If you're waiting for some emotional sensation to come over you before you forgive, you're going to have a long wait - maybe forever! I have never met a hurting person who really "feels" like forgiving. Pushing your hurt far back into the recesses of your mind doesn't mean you've forgiven the person who hurt you. Yes, as time passes, our memory will fade and the hurt will become more distant, but time does not heal our wounds. On the contrary, without forgiveness, the passage of time causes our hurt to turn into bitterness.

2. Ignoring the hurt is not forgiveness. Don't shove the incident aside! Don't rationalize and pretend that what happened to you didn't really hurt you. Ignoring the pain is not the same thing as forgiveness. We must acknowledge the hurt and pain in order to make the decision to forgive.

3. Forgiveness is not saying what the person did wasn't wrong. Sometimes we feel that if we forgive, we're actually declaring that what the other person did was okay. That is not true. It’s never okay and forgiveness doesn’t change that.

If I punched you in the nose or said something that hurt you, then later said, "I'm sorry, I should not have done that," would you say, "That's okay" and brush it off? If you say this, you have given me permission to do it again! Contrary to what you think, you did not forgive me!"

Was it okay to hit you or abuse you with words? No! It was not okay! It was wrong, but I can’t take the punch or the words back, and you still have the pain and the memory of the hurt. For any chance of restoration in our relationship, there must be forgiveness. Therefore, the proper response is to simply say, without resentment, "I forgive you.” That is harder to say and do. Therefore, we need God’s grace and love to forgive without resentment.

4. Forgiveness does not mean you have to trust that person again. Trust comes after we know someone’s character. That's why we can trust God - because we are confident in His character! We develop trust in people only after they prove themselves trustworthy.

Therefore, we do not have to trust people who harm us. If a spouse or parent is abusive, we have a right to remove ourselves or that person from the home. Once we understand that "forgiveness" and "trust" are two separate issues, we will see that forgiveness is possible immediately, whereas, trust has to be earned over time.

5. Forgiveness is not relieving other people of their responsibility. Our thoughts usually follow this kind of logic: "They really hurt me! If I forgive them, they're gonna walk away scot-free. They're not going to have to face up to what they did, and they're not going to have to answer for their wrong actions!" This kind of logic is faulty.

If they committed a crime, we have a duty to report them to the proper authorities so they do not continue their behavior. That is a loving thing to do for them and for others they could harm. Furthermore, regardless of the law, they will have to answer to God for their sin. Our forgiveness does not exonerate them from their responsibility.

Romans 12:19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord.

God is completely capable of holding a person accountable. We can't relieve anyone of their responsibility, we don't have that ability! Neither do we have a right to repay them for what they did. We must leave vengeance and judgment to God and to the authorities God has instituted.

So then, what is forgiveness?

Forgiveness is a decision I make to obey God and not allow someone else's actions or attitudes to dictate my actions or attitudes. Let’s look at this definition closely.

1. Forgiveness is a decision. Although some decisions are very difficult, God has given us the ability to make them. Even if our emotions are screaming "No! No!" we're still capable of making a choice to forgive. It's not accurate to say "I can't forgive." That's not true. What we're actually saying is "I won't forgive." Furthermore, we believe our hurt is an exception to God’s command to forgive.

Yes, forgiveness a difficult decision. In addition, it is one we don't feel like making. Therefore, it is impossible to forgive without the grace of God. To get God’s grace, we must lay aside our will and emotions and decide to obey God. Jesus, who was about to suffer unjustly for our sin, shows us how to get grace to forgive.

First, He goes to the Father. Luke 22:41-44 And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.

Then on the cross, in the midst of intense pain, Jesus thinks not about Himself but about the judgment that will fall on those causing His pain if they are not forgiven. Luke 23:33-34 When they came to the place called the Skull [Calvary], there they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.

2. Forgiveness is a decision we make. Even God Himself cannot make that decision for us. Only we can decide to forgive. If we don't forgive, we will have to live with the consequences of our decision not to forgive. Unforgiveness will make us bitter and separate us from God. Our unforgiveness will not affect the one who hurt us.

3. Forgiveness is a decision we make to obey God. Forgiveness is not a suggestion - it's a commandment. God doesn't say, "It would really be a good idea if you could find it in your heart to do some forgiving." No! He says, "You must forgive"! Forgiveness is a decision to obey God and it's something that can take place in the privacy of our own heart.

Even if we are angry or bitter towards someone who has already died, forgiveness is still possible for us, because forgiveness is a decision we make to obey God. When we forgive, God restores our broken hearts. You see, forgiveness is for our benefit.

4. Forgiveness is getting our own heart right before God. That's where it must begin - between us and the Lord. We should not go and talk to someone who hurt us until we first have our heart right before God. Then, as the Lord specifically directs, we can communicate forgiveness, restitution, and reconciliation to the other person.

The real issue is obedience to God. If we choose not to forgive, we choose to sin and live separated from God with a heart full of bitterness.

Psalm 66:17-19 I cried out to him with my mouth; his praise was on my tongue. If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened; but God has surely listened and heard my voice in prayer.

Do we want the Lord to hear our prayers? Then we need to forgive. Many Christians, who stop growing in the Lord and go through the same problems over and over again, are people holding on to unforgiveness, for unforgiveness will cause God not to hear us when we pray.

On the other hand, when we humble ourselves and forgive, we will immediately sense a heavy burden of sin leave us and our intimate relationship with God restored.

5. Forgiveness is a lifestyle. Forgiveness is not a one-time act, but rather a lifestyle that has to be constantly maintained. Otherwise, two elements of unforgiveness will dominate our lives—resentment and bitterness.

Resentment begins with the prefix "re." Re-sent. Therefore, resentment is something I send back. It works like this: Something happens to me, and I say, "Well, if you're going to do that to me, I'll re-send it or do it right back!" That's resentment.

For example, "They never call me, so I won't call them! They never write me, so I won't write them!" So we have this stalemate called resentment. If someone walks in the door, and just that person's very presence causes our blood pressure to rise, then there's an issue of resentment.

If someone mentions a name, and it causes a reaction within because it reminds us of another person by the same name... that's evidence that something is still not resolved. It might be something you only remember once a year, but when you do remember, the anger and pain reoccurs. If that is happening to you, then there is bitterness in your heart. You need God’s grace to forgive and to remove the bitterness that is causing you trouble.

Hebrews 12:15 See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.

6. Forgiveness is bearing the consequences of another person’s sin without resentment and leaving the justice to God. We need God’s grace to do this, so go to the Father for grace and let Him correct those who hurt us as He sees fit.

Again, forgiveness is not a one-time act. Forgiveness isn't saying, "I'll forgive... but just this once!" That's not forgiveness. Forgiveness something that has to be repeated.

Matthew 18:21-22 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?" Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

In other words, if you want God’s forgiveness for all the times you sin, then forgive every time your someone else sins and every time you remember a past offense.

7. Forgiveness is walking in the Holy Spirit, and relating to the person, who continues to hurt us, as Jesus would. Living like this puts our emotional health and destiny in the Father’s hands. We rest in Him and let Him handle the other person. This includes forgiving and loving our enemies instead of letting them rule our emotional life.

The natural man cannot do this, but by the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit, it is possible to forgive. Walking in the Spirit is the only way we will rise above the constant conflicts we face in human relationships.

If someone hurts us, and we react to it in a sinful way, then we are as wrong as the one who hurt us, because a wrong reaction is just as bad as a wrong action.

Forgiveness says, "In the name of Jesus, I will not let their sin become my sin. Lord, help me to forgive them and show them the love of Christ."

The bottom line is this: If we refuse to forgive (or say we can't) what we are really saying is that holding on to our hurt is more important to us than going on with God. It's that simple.

Now, how can we know for sure if we have really forgiven someone?

1. Forgiveness is complete if we will allow God to use us as an unrestricted channel of His love for that person who hurt us. If we are willing to obey the promptings of the Holy Spirit to bless that person in whatever way the Lord chooses, and if we will let His love flow through us to them, then we will know that we have forgiven them.

Matthew 5:43-48 "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

2. We can tell we have forgiven if we are free to relate to that individual as another imperfect person like ourselves. Although they cannot be trusted, we can be kind, gentle, patient, and loving in our actions towards them. We treat them like we want to be treated.

3. We have forgiven if we are free to relate to others as God’s ambassador in this world, sharing the message of reconciliation through Jesus because we have experienced reconciliation with God and our fellow man. On the other hand, if we still have emotional “walls” erected so that no one will hurt us again, then hurt, bitterness, and unforgiveness still dominate us.

Now test yourself. Does the thought of forgiveness still seem unjust to you? Or is forgiveness something you want to give because you have been forgiven, you love the Lord, you trust His justice, and you desire to obey Him?

If there is any unforgiveness still be lurking in your soul, give the hurt and injustice to God. Ask God for His grace to forgive. When you forgive, God will immediately forgive you and restore your soul (mind, will, and emotions). Best of all, forgiveness will set you free to grow in the Lord and to become the person the Lord intends you to be. God is not asking us to do anything that He has not already done for us. And He will provide the grace to do it. If we ask Him, God will give us His grace to forgive and love others.

1 John 4:19-20 We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.

God chose to love us and offer forgiveness for a debt we can never repay through the death of His Son. Therefore, He commands us to love others and forgive the debts they owe us. Remember, our Father will not forgive us of our huge debt to Him if we do not forgive others of a lesser debt to us.

Consequently, forgiveness is for our benefit. It is also our choice. What will you choose? The right choice seems clear but remember it is impossible to forgive without the grace of God.

Jesus struggled with choosing, too. In Gethsemane, He asked the Father if there wasn’t another way for us to be forgiven, but His love for the Father prevailed over His own will. After praying and receiving the Father’s grace, Jesus chose to obey and bear the consequences of our sin. On the cross, Jesus took the punishment for our sin so that we can be forgiven.

Do you believe that? If you have never accepted His offer of forgiveness, I invite you to publicly confess your faith in Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord. Then you must follow Jesus by repenting of your sin and giving Him your life in baptism. He will give you a new life, born of the Holy Spirit. Then you will be forgiven, and you will be able to bear the consequences of other’s sin and have God’s grace to forgive.