Let me just say that for most people, forgiveness doesn’t mean what you think it means. And what you think it means generally depends on what side of the action you find yourself on. I’ve been thinking quite a bit about forgiveness over the past year or so and have found that most Christians have no clue what they are talking about when it comes to forgiveness. Much like death, forgiveness is generally met with cute little sayings that are entirely wrong, or at least not completely true.
First, let me talk about this forgive and forget stuff. First, it isn’t the Biblical truth you think it is.
Matthew 6:14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15 but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
Matthew 18:21 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?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.
Mark 11:24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. 25 And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”
Luke 6:37 “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned;forgive, and you will be forgiven; 38 give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”
Luke 11:3 Give us each day our daily bread,
4 and forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.
And lead us not into temptation.”
So what is forgiveness?
forgive |fərˈgiv|verb ( past -gave ; past part. -given ) [ trans. ]stop feeling angry or resentful toward. (That’s from the dictionary, folks.)
I see nothing in that definition about getting a pass to behave however we please. I see nothing in there about “making it okay.” I see nothing in there about having no consequences. You still reap what you sow. You still have consequences for your actions. Forgiveness is simple one party letting go of the anger. It is one party saying, “You wronged me. I’m not saying that is okay, but I am saying I’m letting it go. I’m not giving it more space in my head. I will not be bitter about this.” That is forgiveness.
Surely, now you see that this isn’t exactly a stopping place. There must be more if relationships are to be restored. Or there must be an end to the relationship. You don’t just stay in this state of “I forgive you” and you do nothing. Something has to come next. Which, is why, most people throw the forget thing in there. But that isn’t Biblical or even productive. So where do you go from there?
Well, now it is really up to the forgiven to decide. Much like it is when we accept Christ. He forgives us, but that isn’t the end of our story. There is more! Jesus didn’t just die, he was raised, and that means something. If forgiveness was all that there was, then His death would be enough. He did. Debt paid. Move on. But the story doesn’t end there, does it? He conquered death and hell. He rose again. He ascended into Heaven. He died for us, but then he was raised! What does that mean? That means I am more than forgiven. Not only is my debt paid, but I have the opportunity to be made right. I have the opportunity to ascend. It is much more than a pass, it is a relationship. Saved. Sanctified. Made right. Made whole.
So what does that mean with our brothers and sisters? Our fellow man? Well, it means that something comes after forgiveness, and that something is reconciliation. The forgiven repents, changes their ways, and continues a relationship with us. Or they don’t repent, continue on their same path, and are removed from us. That second way, while clearly not preferable in most cases, is not sinful on behalf on the forgiver. It is not a sin to forgive someone and then allow them to walk away. Reconciliation is a process we’ve forgotten. We are often too quick to simply allow someone to continue on without making any changes after we forgive them. And we feel guilty that we feel wronged by them over and over. We’re urged to accept them as they are. We beat ourselves up trying to figure out what we can do to minimize their actions. We try to , essentially, bear their sin so they can keep sinning.
I am not telling you not to forgive. On the contrary, I urge you to forgive. I urge you to challenge yourself to forgive those that has done inexcusable things. Just let it go. What I am telling you is that after you forgive them, it is up to them what happens next. Sometimes, people are truly remorseful and are eager to make things right (reconcile). They are happy for the opportunity to move forward and are eager to right their wrongs. Other times, people are not sorry. They don’t much care that they hurt you. (They may offer a non-apology, because they don’t want to loose you as a punching bag- apologies are a discussion for another day.) But know, it is okay for you to let them go. It is okay for you to let them choose their way. You’ve forgiven them. You’ve given them grace. When people refuse to change, sometimes the best thing you can do is let them deal with the natural consequences of their actions and let them leave your life.
If you are looking for more on this subject, I highly recommend “Boundaries” by Cloud and Townsend, especially if you are from the side of the forgiver.