It is inevitable that we will suffer at the hands of others no matter how righteous we live. Physical and emotional abuse can leave one feeling bitter, anger and resentful. Our old fleshly nature seeks revenge and repayment, but the Holy Spirit says, “Forgive them just as Christ has forgiven us.” “But you don’t know how bad they hurt me,” cries the victim. The wise pastor responds, “As long as you hang on to your bitterness, they are still hurting you. Forgiveness is what sets you free from your past and stops the pain. You don’t heal in order to forgive; you forgive in order to heal.”
Forgiveness is not forgetting. God says, “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more” (Heb. 8:12). That means God will not use our past sins against us in the future. He will remove them as far from us as the east is from the west (Ps. 103:12). We haven’t forgiven another person if we continuously bring up their past and use it against them. Forgetting may be a long-term by-product of forgiving, but it is not the means by which we forgive. Forgiving is not tolerating sin. God forgives, but He never tolerates sins. We must forgive those who have wronged us, and then we should set up scriptural boundaries to stop further abuse.
Forgiveness is resolving to live with the consequences of another person’s sin. But that’s not fair! Of course it isn’t fair, but you will have to anyway. Everybody is living with the consequences of somebody else’s sin. We are all living with the consequence of Adam’s sin. The only real choice is to do that in the bondage of bitterness or the freedom of forgiveness. If we are required by God to forgive as Christ has forgiven us, then how did Christ forgive us? He took our sins upon Himself. No person has truly forgiven another unless he has taken that person’s sin upon himself. As long as we refuse to forgive, we are emotionally chained to past events and the people who hurt us. Forgiveness is to set the captive free and then realize that we are the captives. It is for our own benefit that we forgive others.
But where is the justice? The cross is what makes forgiveness morally correct. Christ died once for all our sins; his sins, her sins, your sins and my sins. But I want justice now! We will not have perfect justice in this lifetime. That is why there is a coming final judgment. But I want revenge! “Do not take revenge my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Rom. 12:19). But why should I let them off my hook? That is precisely why you should forgive, because you are still hooked to them. If you let them off your hook, are they off God’s hook? What is to be gained in forgiving others is freedom from our past. God will make it right in the end.
Forgiving others does not mean that we don’t testify in court against another. Nor does it mean that we don’t confront a brother who is living in sin for the purpose of carrying out church discipline. Forgiving others makes our own heart right before God and allows us to experience our freedom in Christ. Only then can we righteously testify in court and confront others.
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