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Today’s episode is Part 7 of our Gracious Life Series, and—Lord willing—we will tie this series up with Part 8.
I’m glad you made it this far, and I pray that it was has been a challenge, blessing, encouragement, and admonishment for you. I pray that the Scriptures we’ve studied have convicted you and equipped you to be gracious as God is gracious.
Now, if you like this podcast and you are a parent, work with children in any capacity, or minister to families, I want to make you aware of the Truth.Love.Parent. podcast. That was my first podcast which I started in 2016. As of today, there are 519 episodes about all sorts of marriage, family, and parenting topics. Please check it out. I pray it will equip you to lead the next generation into God’s perfect will for their lives.
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So be sure to subscribe to Truth.Love.Parent.
And now let’s turn our eyes to the topics of grace and forgiveness.
I hope you’ve seen from the very beginning how each of the 8 character traits we’re discussing are an absolutely vital part of a truly gracious life.
Early on it may have seemed a little confusing how humility was required to be gracious, but the necessity of being kind, compassionate, gentle, patient, enduring, and now forgiving are all pretty obvious.
Can a gracious person refuse to forgive? Absolutely not, and I doubt that any Bible-believing Christian would dare to argue that point.
But—practically—I believe we all contradict that reality on a pretty regular basis. We all like to see ourselves as gracious people—people who not only don’t give others what they deserve, but we treat them far better than they deserve.
At the same time, we often struggle with forgiveness. Sometimes we don’t understand how it works, and other times we justify withholding it, and sometimes we even think we’ve forgiven someone only to have our lingering bitterness uncovered later.
So, we need to take the time to understand exactly how grace and forgiveness interrelate lest we fail God and others by not being gracious.
So, let’s start with a basic definition, and then get into our four points for today.
According to Merriam-Webster, to forgive is “to cease to feel resentment against, to give up resentment of or claim to requital, to grant relief from payment of,” and those definitions are pretty decent.
I especially like the words “cease,” “give up,” “grant,” and “resentment.” I believe we’re going to see each of those concepts in the biblical understanding of forgiveness.
But I think the definitions are a little too self-focused. Merriam-Webster is viewing this concept the way the rest of the world views everything—from a “me” perspective. But forgiveness isn’t about us just like humility, kindness, compassion, gentleness, patience, and endurance aren’t about us.
So, I’m looking forward to considering a much better focus for our forgiveness.
By the way, we have a bonus point for you at the end of today’s show that deals with the question, “How do I forgive myself?”
Okay, so let’s start with the observation that . . .
1. Forgiveness is required to live a gracious life.
Ephesians 1:7 tells us the glorious news that, “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace.”
And Luke 7:42-43 reads, “When they were unable to repay, he graciously forgave them both.”
Forgiveness is always a blessing of grace! I can’t be gracious if I don’t forgive.
If you sin against me, if you fail to repay your debt to me, if you hurt me, then you deserve to receive the consequences of those actions. Some of those consequences will be physical, some will be spiritual, and some will be relational.
And—don’t get me wrong—giving certain consequences doesn’t mean that you’re not forgiving. If you ground your child, that doesn’t mean that you’re not forgiving.
The problem is that the one consequence we’re not allowed to give people is the one we most often believe is our inherent right. What is that consequence? Well, if someone has wronged you in some way, it’s so easy to believe that you have the right to hold a grudge, resent them, be mad at them, or be bitter, to treat them unkindly, give them the cold shoulder or silent treatment, and the like. But that’s literally the one consequence that is never appropriate for a believer, and an unforgiving spirit is at its root.
To not forgive is to take God’s job and to relationally condemn them to an eternal separation.
Now, again, I need to clarify. I don’t want you to think that there are absolutely no relational consequences that are appropriate when someone has sinned and regardless of whether forgiveness has been granted or not. We’ve already discussed the fact that God is gracious as He gives consequences. Grace is not an absence of consequences.
And relational consequences are sometimes necessary. For example, if a young couple sins against God, each other, and their authorities by having premarital sex, the right answer is not to force the to get married. In fact, that’s a pretty awesome reason for them to stop spending time together. They have proven themselves to be idolaters willing to high-handedly sin against the most important people in their lives. They’re immature, and they’re spiritually (if not physically) dangerous for each other. Therefore, it’s completely appropriate for them to not be allowed to continue interacting.
And if you think that’s too puritanical of me, something tells me that if someone raped your child, you wouldn’t be okay with the rapist continuing to fraternize with your child. Obviously that’s a bad idea. So, what’s the difference between the two examples? Does the fact that the first example was “consensual” change everything? Is it no longer a sin, so it’s suddenly okay?
In fact, depending on their age, they are incapable of legally consenting, which means that premarital sex is legally considered statutory rape.
My point is, we can graciously forgive those foolish children for their sins, but that doesn’t mean that there won’t be appropriate, loving, relational consequences for their choices.
Consider Titus 2:11-12. It reads, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, 12 instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age.”
In this passage we learn that God’s grace does two things. It brings something and it instructs in something. What does it bring? It brings salvation. What does it instruct? It instructs us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously, and godly. But what’s important to note is that the Greek word translated “instructing” is also translated “disciplined” and “punished” in other passages. In fact, the very first time we encounter this Greek word in the New Testament is in Luke 23:16. In that verse Pilate, referring to Jesus, says, “Therefore I will punish Him and release Him.”
You guessed it, the word translated “punished” is the same word translated instructing in Titus 2:12.
My point in all of this is that sometimes the most gracious thing you can do for someone when they have sinned is to give them appropriate consequences that are designed to teach them to deny ungodliness and live godly.
But the bigger point being made is that the one relational consequence we frequently like to give people who have sinned against us is the one consequence we are categorically not allowed to give them. We are not allowed to resent them, to be bitter against them, to not love them with the love of God, to be unkind to them, be sinfully angry against them, and the like.
So, yes, forgiveness is absolutely required in order to be a gracious person. From a fleshly perspective, that person may absolutely “deserve” for you not to forgive them, but it’s not yours to withhold. That means that you must be willing to give it freely.
Now, in my biblical counseling, this truth always seems to bring up an important question. What if the other person doesn’t want our forgiveness? Can we or should we simply forgive people who haven’t asked for it or people who don’t want it?
2. Forgiveness is the only gracious act we cannot do all the time.
You can and must always be humble. You can and must always be kind and compassionate. You can and must always be gentle and patient and steadfast. Jesus was all of those things all of the time with all of the people He encountered. But you cannot practically forgive everyone.
Allow me to explain.
Romans 13:8 says, “Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.”
You owe everyone in the world love, and everyone owes you the same. If someone has sinned against me, they have failed to give me what they own me. Now, even though it’s rarely helpful to reduce our interpersonal sins to a form of accounting, we’re going to continue the metaphor.
According to God, that person owed me love all day every day, but for 5 whole minutes they didn’t love me as they should. By the decree of God, they owe me that love, but how do they repay it? They can’t. We are finite beings who have been commanded to love everyone at all times. If I owe you 1,440 minutes of love, and I only give you 1,435 minutes of love, I won’t be able to make that up tomorrow because I will already own you 1,440 minutes of love. There won’t be any extra time. It’s not like I don’t have to love you on the weekend, so I’ll be able to make up those 5 minutes then.
Therefore, that person will be in debt to me—spiritually speaking. Therefore, if they are going to respond to their sin correctly, they need to acknowledge their debt by confessing their sin. They also need to ask for forgiveness. Just like someone who can’t pay a financial debt will ask their lender for debt-forgiveness, a sinner needs to ask the person against whom they’ve sinned for forgiveness.
Since it’s impossible for them to ever make up what they owe, they’re simply asking not to have that debt held against their account. And then, Lord willing, they will start to change through repentance so that they don’t ever owe me like that again.
Confession, Apology, and Repentance are the three-fold requirements for making our sin right with another. And then—of course—it’s required of us to grant them that forgiveness.
But what if they never ask? What if they don’t want to be forgiven?
I don’t have the time to dive into a full biblical treatise on the subject, but I will say that the best example for this question is God Himself. God is eternally forgiving. He isn’t willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance, but that doesn’t mean that He automatically forgives everyone even if they don’t ask. If we believed that, we would be Universalists. But God doesn’t just forgive everyone. Those who wish to be forgiven must humble themselves, believe His good news, and ask.
And, no, none of those are works that earn salvation. The ability to do any of those things is a result of His grace anyway. But the point is that God forgives those who ask to be forgiven. All of the examples in Scripture of someone being forgiven all include the person in debt (financially or spiritually) asking to be forgiven.
Now, in some cases, the actual request wasn’t recorded in the Scriptures. For example, Christ healed many people and then proclaimed, “Your sins are forgiven,” but we have no record of them actually requesting to be forgiven. However, in each of those cases the individual had sought out Christ, and often Jesus mentioned something about their faith in the interaction. The reality is that each of those people wanted to be forgiven. They trusted in Christ. And the ones who came to Christ with ulterior motives were not forgiven (even if they may have been physically healed).
It’s also important to remember that Jesus knew the mind of the individuals in front of Him. Unfortunately, we don’t; so that makes the verbal request really important.
Now, before we go on, some of you are still uncertain about my claims. In fact, some of you are thinking about Jesus’ words in Luke 23:34, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” Isn’t that a perfect example of Jesus forgiving someone who hadn’t shown any interest in being forgiven?
Well, no. First, Jesus did not say of the men nailing Him to the cross, “I forgive you.” Being God and forgiving so many other people before, Jesus could have simply given them forgiveness, but He didn’t.
Second, Jesus directed the request to the Father. Why? Well, everything Jesus said from the cross was very powerful and important. His final sayings beautifully walked through the Gospel. And I believe this saying had two purposes. On one hand, Jesus wanted everyone to know that forgiveness was accessible regardless of how sinful and spiritually ignorant they were. And on the other hand, Jesus was asking the Father to do whatever was necessary to draw those men to Him. This is consistent with everything we see in the Bible about praying for another’s salvation.
I love how GotQuestions.org dealt with this verse. They said, “It is important to note that Jesus’ prayer, ‘Father, forgive them,’ does not mean that everyone was forgiven, unilaterally, without repentance and faith. It does mean that Jesus was willing to forgive them—forgiveness was, in fact, the reason He was on the cross. The words ‘Father, forgive them’ show the merciful heart of God.”
So, the point is, spiritually speaking, you cannot forgive someone their debt who does not want to be forgiven.
However—and here’s the key—you must have (what I like to call) a Spirit of Forgiveness. This means three things.
A. A Spirit of Forgiveness is willing to forgive at any moment.
Someone with a Spirit of Forgiveness is not going to have to be caught at the right time. Whenever the sinner realizes their need for forgiveness and asks for it, the forgiver is immediately ready to do so.
B. A Spirit of Forgiveness doesn’t require anything beyond a simple request for forgiveness.
It’s not ours to demand acts of penitence or some kind of proof of repentance. In fact, we’re not even allowed to wait until we see some kind of “real change.”
We’re going to see the passage soon enough, but Jesus tells us that we’re to forgive someone when they ask even if they have committed the same sin against us multiple times in the same day. And at no point in that process are we allowed to not forgive because no “real change” has been observed.
Forgiveness isn’t about anything else other than releasing a person from their spiritual debt.
And . . .
C. A Spirit of Forgiveness will continue to be gracious to the person who has sinned but who has not yet asked for forgiveness.
A person who is truly ready to forgive will not be bitter, resentful, sinfully angry, depressed, discontent, unjoyful, or any other sinful response. They will continue to be merciful, gracious, kind, compassionate, gentle, patient, and so on.
Though we have not as of yet been given the opportunity to release the individual from their spiritual debt to us, we’re ready to do so, and we’re relating to them accordingly.
Now, again, that doesn’t mean that there won’t be relational consequences for their refusal to seek forgiveness. But that doesn’t change the attitude God commands me to have toward that person. If my attitude is right, I will not sin against them, and—Lord willing—when they do seek forgiveness, I will be quick to give it.
I believe this Spirit of Forgiveness is illustrated in Mark 11:25-26. It reads, “Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions. 26 But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your transgressions.”
We’re going to look at this Greek word more closely in a moment, but this understanding of forgiveness has the idea of letting something go. I don’t believe you can transactionally forgive a person who is not there in from of you asking for forgiveness, but you can and must let go of that which you’re holding against the person.
Now, some people may ask, “How is that any different than actually forgiving a person?” And, to be honest, it’s not too different. The key thing that’s missing is the very important verbal transaction. For those who have sinned, the Bible is expressively clear that their responsibility is to see their sin the way God sees it, confess that sin, ask for forgiveness, and repent. And it’s that transactional moment where forgiveness is sought and given that makes all the difference.
It’s not mystical or contractual, but the verbal request and granting of the request is a necessary step in the forgiveness process.
So, yes being a forgiving person is required to be gracious, however, no, you can’t just hand out forgiveness to people who don’t want to be forgiven. Not even Jesus did that. But—on the other hand—you must be ready and willing to give that forgiveness the moment it’s sought.
Alright, that was a longer point. If you have any additional questions about this, please don’t hesitate to email us at Counselor@CelebrationOfGod.com.
Moving right along . . .
3. God gets to set the expectations for our forgiveness.
Now, the Bible has a lot to say about forgiveness, and we don’t have time to look at all of it, but I do want to consider a couple important Greek words and pull out some really important practical applications.
The first word I want us to consider is a word that the vast majority of the time is translated “send away” or “divorce.”
It’s this word that was used to describe how Joseph was tempted to send Mary away when he found out she was pregnant.
It’s the same word Jesus uses in Matthew 5:32 when he refers to a man divorcing his wife.
But in Luke 6:37 Jesus says, “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; pardon, and you will be pardoned.”
The last couplet, “pardon, and you will be pardoned” uses this same word twice.
I love the imagery there. To pardon someone, to forgive someone, is to send the offense way, to divorce the offense. It’s a huge break. It’s an absolute separation.
When discussing compassion we read Matthew 18:27 which says, “And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt.” The word “released” is the same Greek word.
In Luke 13:12 Jesus tells a woman that she was “freed” from her sickness.
And many of these usages carry a permanence along with it. Therefore, it’s important for us to recognize that . . .
Forgiveness is a permanent removal.
Now, let’s consider another Greek word which is very similar in its meaning but which is translated more often as forgiveness. This particular word refers to release from bondage and imprisonment. It also has the idea of sending away and liberation.
Keep those images in your mind as you listen to the next two passages.
Matthew 26:27-28 tells us, “And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you; 28 for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins.’”
Jesus’ blood was spilled so that our sin could be released from us!
And Hebrews 10:18 is very important: “Now where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin.”
Forgiveness is a permanent removal. There is no longer an offering for sin because there is forgiveness. Amen!
Now, let’s start to consider the practical necessities of forgiveness by turning to some passages that are likely more familiar to us.
In so doing, we’re going to be looking at a Greek word that is grammatically similar to the one at which we just looked.
This word also refers to sending away or sending forth and it also refers to completely cancelling something. Of this word, Vine’s Expository Dictionary says, “In this latter respect the verb, like its corresponding noun, firstly signifies the remission of the punishment due to sinful conduct, the deliverance of the sinner from the penalty divinely, and therefore righteously, imposed; secondly, it involves the complete removal of the cause of offense; such remission is based upon the vicarious and propitiatory sacrifice of Christ.” It goes on to say that, “Human ‘forgiveness’ is to be strictly analogous to divine ‘forgiveness, . . . .’ If certain conditions are fulfilled, there is no limitation to Christ’s law of ‘forgiveness, . . .’ The conditions are repentance and confession.”
Let’s look at this word in action.
In Matthew 3:15, Jesus said, “Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then he *permitted Him.” Here the word refers to allowing something.
In Matthew 4:20 the word carries the idea of leaving something. “Immediately they left their nets and followed Him.”
The same is true in Matthew 5:23-24, “Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.” I love that our Greek word is being used in a passage about reconciliation, but not in reference to forgiveness.
But it’s this same word used by Jesus in Matthew 6:12-15 to refer to actual forgiveness, “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.13 ‘And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. [For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.’] 14 For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.”
A similar passage in Luke 11:4 reads, “And forgive us our sins, For we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us.”
Here we learn some practical truths.
First . . . Forgiveness is assumed.
When teaching the disciples to ask God to forgive them, the assumption was that they would obviously be forgiving others.
But we also learn, second . . . Forgiveness is a prerequisite to forgiveness.
Now, don’t be confused. The truth being taught here is that if I’m living in unrepentant sin by not forgiving people who are seeking forgiveness, then God is not going to just forgive me of that sin. In order to be forgiven by God, I need to ask for forgiveness and consequently live in repentance. That means I need to strive to live graciously. Remember, God knows our hearts in a way that we don’t know other’s. We can’t lie to God. We may mouth the words, “Forgive me,” but God will not forgive us if we didn’t mean it or if we had an idolatrous motivation for asking.
Moving on . . .
Forgiveness is conditional in that—as we already discussed—the individual who has sinned needs to ask for it.
But Forgiveness is unconditional in that we must not withhold it for any other reason.
For these two points, let’s read one of the most familiar passages about forgiveness.
Matthew 18:21-35 says, “Then Peter came and said to Him, ‘Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?’ 22 Jesus *said to him, ‘I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.”
Now, here we see the unconditional nature of forgiveness, but you may be wondering about the condition that the sinner confess and ask for forgiveness.
Well, in a parallel passage (Luke 17:3-4) Jesus says, “Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. 4 And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”
But this truth is also taught in the Matthew passage. Jesus then illustrates His teaching with a parable. We’re going to start in verse 23; pay close attention. “For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24 When he had begun to settle them, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. 25 But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made. 26 So the slave fell to the ground and prostrated himself before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.’ 27 And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt.”
Notice that this particular slave did something that—potentially—other slaves had not. He asked for patience.
Now, it’s true that in this parable the slave didn’t ask for the forgiveness the master granted. But keep in mind that Jesus’ parables were not a point for point comparison. For example, we cannot repay our sin debt to God no matter how hard we try.
And it’s also important to note that in the Disciple’s Prayer that Jesus taught the disciples that they needed to ask for forgiveness. It wasn’t just a silent transaction. Even though God knows our hearts, Jesus still instructed us to ask.
However, there’s another lesson to learn from this passage.
Forgiveness produces forgiveness.
The parable continues, “28 But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and he seized him and began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay back what you owe.’ 29 So his fellow slave fell to the ground and began to plead with him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you.’ 30 But he was unwilling and went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed. 31 So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened. 32 Then summoning him, his lord *said to him, ‘You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?’ 34 And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. 35 My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.”
If we have been genuinely, spiritually forgiven by God, it should be the most natural thing in the world to forgive others.
Now, we’re quickly running out of time, so let’s consider our last Greek word for forgiveness.
This word is different from the previous ones because it doesn’t carry the practical idea of letting something go or cutting something off. Instead, this word refers to bestowing an unconditional favor on someone. What’s interesting is that the root word of the word we’re considering is actually the Greek word translated grace.
So, let’s see how it’s used and what we can learn about it.
Luke 7:21 tells us, “At that very time He cured many people of diseases and afflictions and evil spirits; and He gave sight to many who were blind.” The word translated “gave” is our word.
In Romans 8:32 we read, “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?” You guessed it, “freely give" is the word we’re considering.
So, let’s look at a passage where this same word is translated “forgive.” In II Corinthians 2:7-10 Paul writes, “So that on the contrary you should rather forgive and comfort him, otherwise such a one might be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. 8 Wherefore I urge you to reaffirm your love for him. 9 For to this end also I wrote, so that I might put you to the test, whether you are obedient in all things. 10 But one whom you forgive anything, I forgive also; for indeed what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, I did it for your sakes in the presence of Christ.”
In this passage Paul is referencing the immoral man he rebuked in I Corinthians 5. It appears that this man has acknowledged his sin and and repented, and what’s Paul’s response? Forgiveness, forgiveness, and more forgiveness.
I think an important lesson here is that . . .
Forgiveness is inherited. What do I mean by this?
Well, Paul tells us in II Corinthians 2:5 that the man’s sin was not directly against Paul but was against God and the rest of the Corinthian church. This is why Paul can say that he would have no problem forgiving what had been forgiven by the people against whom the man actually sinned.
A practical example of this is that I encounter people all the time who have sinned against others. Sometimes they have sinned against people I love dearly, but the individual’s sin wasn’t against me. In fact, it would actually be inappropriate for one who had sinned to ask my forgiveness because I had nothing to forgive. So, if he had received forgiveness from the ones against whom he actually sinned, then I need to make sure I extend him that same Spirit of Forgiveness. Basically, I mustn’t hold that sin against him because he didn’t expressly confess and apologize to me.
Don’t justify holding a grudge against someone or being bitter because someone sinned against a loved one. That would be a sin whether they apologized or not. Instead—and especially—when they have asked for forgiveness from your loved one, be sure not to hold that sin against them yourself.
And finally . . .
Forgiveness is a mark of maturity.
Ephesians 4:32 admonishes us, “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” We studied this verse in our Merciful Life Series. As we mature and learn to withhold that which people deserve, that maturity will lead us to willing extend forgiveness as we have been forgiven.
And Colossians 3:12-13 says, “So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; 13 bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.”
Again, it’s clear that the sanctified, holy, and maturing life of a believer is going to bear the fruit of forgiveness.
It has to. How could it not considering the great sin from which we have been forgiven?
And I Peter 3:8-9 sums it up nicely when it says, “To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; 9 not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing.”
Let’s bless others by living a gracious, forgiving life.
Now, there’s one more point we have to discuss. This question comes up every time I talk about forgiveness. The world is constantly trumpeting that you have to learn to forgive yourself. Well . . .
4. You cannot forgive yourself.
Of all of the verses and passages and chapters in the Bible about forgiveness, none of them deal with this idea of having to forgive oneself.
Now, I want to do this justice, and I appreciate the amount of time you’ve already invested today, so I want to lay this out simply, and if you have any further questions, by all means, please contact me at Counselor@CelebrationOfGod.com.
A. Forgiveness is only necessary when you owe someone a debt.
B. Your sin always puts you in debt to God.
C. Your sin often puts you in debt to others.
D. Your sin doesn’t put you in debt to yourself.
E. Therefore, there’s no way for you to forgive yourself.
Even if your sin did put you in debt to yourself, and even if it were necessary to forgive yourself of that debt.
F. Forgiving yourself would be very easy had you already been forgiven by God.
In addition . . .
G. Forgiving yourself would be even easier had you already been forgiven by others.
H. Therefore, a struggle to forgive yourself would be to elevate your own forgiveness above that of the people against whom you sinned and the God against whom you sinned.
I. But that kind of self-focused, pride is not the mindset of someone who is truly forgiven. It’s the mindset of someone who isn’t.
My friends, if you have been truly forgiven by God, then the conviction, shame, and sorrow should melt away and be replaced with joy, freedom, and thanksgiving. Honestly, we don’t even need human forgiveness to feel that way. If you’re being ungracious and refuse to forgive me, there’s nothing I can do about that, and it really won’t matter because I will know that God has forgiven me.
So, for people who think they need to forgive themselves, there are two main possibilities.
First, you don’t truly understand Who God is and beauty of His forgiveness.
If you did, you wouldn’t be working to forgive yourself because you would realize that you have already been forgiven by the only One who matters.
Or, there’s another possibility . . .
Second, you haven’t been truly forgiven by God which is why you continue to experience shame, guilt, and sorrow over your sin.
Because of this, you’re trying to do everything you can to remove the weight of your debt, and you’ve listened to wrong thinking for too long that you somehow have the power to liberate yourself from the debt you own to God and others.
“But, Aaron,” you may be asking, “Is there a third option? Is it possible that I recognize and accept the forgiveness of God with joy and gratitude, and—as a bonus—I’m joying in the forgiveness that I’ve received from my fellow man, but there’s still a weight in my soul because if I don’t learn to forgive myself, I’ll never be free from it?”
And my answer would be, “No.” I think the way the question is asked shows the futility and foolishness of such an endeavor. What kind of forgiveness are you going to grant yourself that hasn’t already been granted by the Creator, Savior, King of the universe?
But, let’s pretend for a moment that you can and must forgive yourself. Do you remember what forgiveness is? There are two main parts. Gracious forgiveness is first a perpetual readiness to forgive. It’s a God-empowered choice to not be bitter or resentful. And the second part of forgiveness occurs when the other person asks for it. That transactional moment is a conscious understanding that you will no longer hold that sin against their account, and they are free to experience the liberty of interacting with you as someone who hasn’t wronged you.
It’s a Holy Spirit empowered choice and a conscious recognition.
Therefore, if this is something you truly have to do for yourself, will you at least recognize that a failure to do it is a failure to accept the reality of forgiveness, it’s a failure to be gracious, and—even worse—is a failure to rely on the Hoy Spirit to empower you to forgive yourself in the same way you forgive others.
That, my friends, would be just as much a sin as to ungraciously refuse to forgive someone else. And the problem is the guilt you should now be feeling having rejected God’s command and power still has nothing at all to do with your forgiveness. The real issue is that you’re currently living in sin, and you need to confess it, ask God for forgiveness, and repent.
And let me tell you what will happen. When you finally recognize God for Who He is, submit to His will for your life, and seek forgiveness, you will categorically experience the liberation that comes from being forgiven by the God of the universe . . . without ever having to “forgive yourself.”
And—if you still struggle—there’s still more you have to learn about God and His forgiveness.
You guys have been a great audience today. I pray that each of you knows the joy of God’s forgiveness and—consequently—love graciously forgiving others as you have been forgiven.
Please share this series with your friends so that they too may know the forgiveness of God and grow in His likeness, and never hesitate to reach out to Counselor@CelebrationOfGod.com if you need some personalized help.
And join us next time as we seek to better know, love, and worship God and help the people in our lives do the same.
To that end, we’re going to wrap up this series by showing how the ability to be biblically gracious absolutely requires being biblical loving.
The Year Long Celebration of God is a discipleship experience designed to equip followers of Christ to better know, love, and worship Him as they help others in their lives do the same. We exalt God, teach His people how to practically worship Him every day of the year, and train them to disciple others.
Whether it's a small group, church, classroom, one-on-one, or community relationship, this resource is guaranteed to draw people closer together as they draw closer to God.
AMBrewster is the creator of The Year Long Celebration of God and host of its podcast.