The people's voice of reason

Forgiveness: Is It Optional?

Do you have someone you need to forgive? We all do!

Perhaps, someone has wronged you recently or in the past. Maybe you have experienced being lied about, betrayed, sabotaged, undermined, misquoted, left out, used, exploited, intentionally hurt, physically harmed, sexually abused, emotionally damaged or sinned against in some way.

Maybe you can think of someone right now that you really don’t think you can ever forgive. In fact, you really don’t want to forgive them. Deep down (maybe no one even knows but you) you harbor bitterness, anger, hate, and unforgivenes.

Jesus tells us we must forgive others regardless of what they have done to us. He doesn’t make it optional. “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Heavenly Father will not forgive your sins.” -Jesus, Matthew 6:14-15

And the Apostle Paul also says to us we must forgive as freely as Jesus has forgiven us. Again, it doesn’t appear to be optional.

“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other just as in Christ God forgave you.” - Paul, Ephesians 4:32

Why Forgiveness isn’t optional!

First, we should forgive others because God has forgiven us. Paul says this so well in Ephesians 4:32. God has extended his amazing grace to us, and we are called to extend that grace and forgiveness to all those who have wronged us or sinned against us. Forgive as freely as Christ has forgiven you. Did you know you will never be asked to forgive anyone more than God has already forgiven you? That is a hard pill to swallow, but I believe if you pray about this and reflect on it, you will agree that it is true. Forgive because you have been forgiven!

Second, we must forgive, because we will need to be forgiven in the future. Jesus is clearly making this point in Matthew 6:14-15.

Someone came to John Wesley once about the issue of forgiveness. The man told Wesley he could never forgive this particular person for the hurt and pain they had caused him. John Wesley had a surprising response. He said, “ well, I hope you never sin again.” The man said what do you mean? Wesley answered, “your bitterness, anger and lack of forgiveness will burn the bridge upon which your forgiveness will come in the future.” In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus teaches us to pray, “forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.”

Forgiveness is clearly a core teaching of Jesus. We have been forgiven by God through Jesus Christ. He paid the price for our sins by his death on the cross. And therefore, we are to freely offer forgiveness to others, because we have experienced Gods forgiveness. In fact, our own forgiveness for future sins against God and other people is dependent upon how we live out offering forgiveness to others.

Therefore, the call by Jesus for us to forgive others is not optional. Whether we feel like it or not. Whether we want to or not. Whether we think we can or not. We must forgive others who have intentionally or unintentionally wronged us.

What forgiveness is Not

Forgiveness is not saying that what happened to you doesn’t matter. Forgiveness in no way minimizes the the seriousness of the sin against you. The fact that you need to forgive them means that it was serious and that it did matter.

Forgiveness does not mean that you have to trust that person or that you must resume the relationship with them without some changes. Forgiveness and restoration are two different things. You can forgive someone and not necessarily restore the relationship. It should be a goal to be reconciled to them if possible. But restoration and reconciliation require trust. And trust must be earned or re-earned over time. Most of the time, if possible, we should seek restoration or reconciliation with the person who wronged us. However, there are certain people and particular cases where we should not seek to restore the relationship. If fact, there are some people we need to forgive and then separate ourselves from them and move on.

Forgiveness is not forgetting what happens to you. The Bible never says forgive and forget. The truth is you may never forget it. The key is not to forget but to focus on God’s love for you and for the person who wronged you. Focus on God’s power to bring good out of what was others may have intended for harm. God never causes evil to happen to us, but God can use any and all situations for our good in the long run to strengthen us and to use us to help others in the future.

Finally, forgiveness is not dependent on the person who wronged you. They may never ask for forgiveness. But you can forgive them anyway. They may not be present for you to tell them you forgive them. They may have moved away. They may be dead. You may not have any idea where they are now or how to contact them. But it doesn’t matter. You can forgive them. It is not conditional on their response in any way. So, whether they ask for it, accept it, receive it, or know about it .... it doesn’t matter. This is primarily between you and God. Now there are many cases where you might want to share with that person that you have forgiven them. And, in some cases, they need to hear that and know that. But you forgiving another person is not dependent or conditional upon their response. I have found that this truth is very freeing to many people and helps them on the journey of forgiveness!

Forgiveness is not optional. But we will need God’s help and God’s grace to be able to offer it!

More on how to forgive next month.


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