A Sunday School teacher was talking to her class about forgiveness. She asked her students what a person needs to do to receive forgiveness from God. There was a moment of silence, and then a little boy raised his hand and said, “You have to sin.”
That is true. You have to sin. And all of us qualify. We sin more often than we realize. So yes, we have to ask God to forgive us. Most Christians understand that God graciously gives us his forgiveness, though we don’t deserve it. He tells us that “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9 NIV).
That is amazing. We understand that for the most part. But here is where it gets tricky for some. Forgiven people should be forgiving people. We have received the forgiveness of God, and therefore we should extend that same forgiveness to others – especially to those who have wronged us.
As C. S. Lewis wrote, “Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive.” Isn’t that true? Forgiveness is great in theory, but it is much harder in practice.
I read about a study that was done on the topic of forgiveness. It revealed that 75 percent of those surveyed believed God had forgiven them for past sins, but only 52 percent had forgiven others. We have a problem.
The Scriptures say that if we ask God to forgive us, then we should forgive others. Life is filled with hurt and disappointments. We have people who hurt us. And guess what? There are people we have hurt as well. We need to learn how to apologize, and we need to learn how to forgive.
Some might say, “Wait a second, Greg. You don’t know what people have done to me. You don’t know what I’ve had to face in life.”
No, I don’t. But this is what the Bible says. And here is the most important reason we should forgive people who have hurt us: God commands us to. I don’t think we need any other reason, but there are a few others.
The Bible tells us, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you,” and “bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:13 NIV).
Failure to forgive others also can bring your prayer life to a screeching halt. Jesus said, “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins” (Mark 11:25 NIV).
The bottom line is that forgiven people should be forgiving people. Yes, we have been hurt in life, but we have a choice. We can rehearse what happened, or we can release it. We can go over it again and again and again, justifying our anger and our bitterness, or we can put it behind us.
What does it mean to forgive? What it doesn’t mean is condoning someone’s bad behavior. I think sometimes we feel that if we forgive someone who has wronged us, we are condoning what they did. But that is not what forgiveness means. It is not dismissing what was done. It is not even necessarily reconciling with that person, because this isn’t always possible.
There might be someone who has done something cruel or unkind to you. You forgive that person, but he or she still doesn’t want to be reconciled to you. To forgive him or her simply means you are surrendering your right to get even. It means you will not pay back that person what they may indeed deserve. Instead, you put the matter into God’s hands. The Bible tells us, “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Romans 12:19 NIV).
There are 75 different words used in the Bible to describe forgiveness. In the New Testament, the primary word translated into the words forgive and forgiveness is one that means “to release, to let go of something, to free yourself from something.”
Another term the Bible uses to describe forgiveness is canceling, as in canceling a debt. In other words, we have to keep a short account. This is especially true in marriage. If you want a marriage that lasts, you had better learn how to forgive. You will hurt and be hurt in marriage, and as Ruth Graham wisely said, a successful marriage is made up of two good forgivers.
We should be willing to forgive others. It comes down to this: When you forgive someone, you set a prisoner free – yourself. You can be the prisoner when you fail to forgive. You can be the one who is getting hurt more. To withhold forgiveness is not only detrimental to the person we are withholding it from but also to us. It harms us spiritually as well as physically.
A study that was done revealed that resentful people took 25 percent more medication than people who practice forgiveness. If you want to save money at the drugstore, then forgive. If you want to be a happier person, then forgive. If you want to be a healthier person, then forgive. Most importantly, if you want to be an obedient Christian, then you must forgive.
Forgiveness isn’t giving in to another person. It is getting free of that person. My friend Craig Groeschel put it this way: “The first to apologize is the bravest. The first to forgive is the strongest. The first to forget is the happiest.” Just put it in your rearview mirror.
There is no greater example of forgiveness than Christ himself when he hung on the cross. After he was crucified, after they ripped his back open with the Roman whip, after they pulled the beard from his face and he hung there at Calvary, he gave seven statements in total. The first one was, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34 NIV).
Did those Roman soldiers deserve forgiveness? Did those religious leaders deserve forgiveness? No, but Jesus gave it anyway. That is how God feels toward us. He loves us and will forgive us if we will turn from our sin. And forgiven people should be forgiving people.