I’ve spent the last 3 weeks covering various aspects of forgiveness in order to compliment a sermon series at WordServe Church. We’ve had some great discussions in our Community Groups as well, so I thought I’d try to capture some of the key points I picked up along the way.
1. Forgiveness is complex process
It’s rarely as easy as “shake hands and say you’re sorry.” The more drastic the offense, the more complicated the process to get past the offense. Our vocabulary needs to expand to include terms like repentance and reconciliation if we are to understand the ultimate aim of forgiveness.
2. Forgiveness is not an option, but it is a choice
Scripture is clear that we will not be forgiven if we do not forgive. (See Matthew 6:12). Jesus himself teaches us to pray, and in that prayer he makes it very clear that we ask for forgiveness to the degree that we ourselves have forgiven others. He also instructs Peter to forgive more times than anyone would keep track of (seventy times seven) in Matthew 18:21-22. However, at the end of the day, forgiveness is a choice.
3. Forgiveness is freedom
In essence, forgiveness is the act of letting go, and letting go gives one the ability to move on. Some people are hampered by not forgiving for a lifetime, stuck in a cycle of hate, revenge, or self pity. Ultimately, we cannot control what happens to us… we can only control how we react. When we choose to forgive, we give ourselves permission to drop the heavy burden and move on.
4. Forgiveness is an invitation
Not only does forgiveness give us the option to move on, it gives us an opportunity to invite others along the way. The invitation to a higher way of living may not be accepted by others, but our point is not to make them accept… the point is to offer the opportunity. If an offender accepts, they will be less likely to offend others in the future… and in the process, perhaps an enemy will become a friend.
5. Forgiveness has a dark side
Some will try to manipulate forgiveness for selfish purposes. You might hear statements like, “If you’re a Christian, you have to forgive me!” While that may be true, it also represents an incomplete understanding of forgiveness as a process, and the ultimate aim of forgiveness: to be restored at a higher level of living based on God’s love, not on human selfishness (i.e., self-love).
Some suggestions to prevent manipulation include:
- Use God’s standards of right, wrong, and reconciliation
- Continually ask, “Will this proposed next step honor God?”
6. Forgiveness is not an excuse
Forgiveness should not enable or excuse improper behavior. On the flip side, it should also not be an excuse for you to demonstrate poor behavior because you know your Christian friends will forgive you. To use forgiveness as an excuse is to misunderstand God’s ultimate aim in forgiveness: reconciliation in a way that honors God.
7. Forgiveness must be based on God’s standards
God provides a blueprint for forgiveness that includes standards of right and wrong. Part of the initial process includes the willingness to look at right and wrong from God’s perspective. This means that we must be willing to admit if we played a part in any offense, and if so, we must be willing to make amends and change our behavior. In any offense, there are two sides to the story.
Ultimately, God’s standard will also produce the desired end result: a restoring of relationship with God and neighbor that honors God.
What other items would you add to this list? What has been your biggest lesson learned when it comes to forgiveness? What is still holding you back from forgiving?