First Steps in Giving Forgiveness
Giving forgiveness requires getting forgiveness. God gives forgiveness freely at the cost of the death of his own Son. All mankind has nothing but need. We cannot make up for our sins. We are completely dependent upon God’s mercies, and God demonstrates his love for us while we were sinners Christ died for us (Rom.5:8). God accepted this sacrifice of himself and verified this payment for sin by raising Jesus up from the dead. Therefore, all who live by faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins have their debt paid in full and are acceptable to God for the sake of Christ. Therefore, since we are freely forgiven in Christ, we freely give forgiveness to others as we look to God forgiving us in Christ.
Giving forgiveness freely is costly. We acknowledge this when we put others in our debt. The natural assumption we have about other people is: People should get what they deserve based on the activity of their life. We live by the principle when we refuse to forgive. But when God forgives us, we have done nothing to cause his forgiveness. There is no reason in us for his mercy. God pays our debt in the death of Jesus Christ, freely forgiving us. Jesus got what we deserve, so we could get what we don’t deserve. We struggle to forgive when we lose sight of our true selves, and do not dwell on God’s mercy.
Forgiving someone else’s debt is costly and painful. Someone has hurt you because of what they have taken from you. The pain you feel is absorbed into your aching soul. There is grief and some degree of suffering depending on the extent of the offense. The suffering extends to your whole being, physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. It cannot be minimized. The mantra, “Forgive and forget”, won’t work. You have suffered rejection. You’re avoided, excluded, judged and treated coldly. You have been used or abused for someone else’s pleasure. Other’s sins have a powerful and costly effects on us. Yet we are called each day, as we ask for forgiveness, to give forgiveness (Mt.6:12).
However, when we experience pain we want to make others pay. We inject coldness into the relationship. We may try to control the relationship by becoming demanding. We treat them shamefully as we judge them thinking about their wrongs. We become embittered accusing and slandering their reputation before others. We resent them and refuse to trust them. In this pain we hurt others and ourselves.
Traveling this road leads us to distrust people, and the God who made them. We become hopeless cutting ourselves off from relationship. We refuse to be hurt by anyone again. We are filled with ingratitude toward God, and we distrust him to ever do anything good in relationships again. This pained and unforgiving heart refuses to pay someone else’s debt. We are shrouded by our inability to see how indebted we are to God, and how merciful he is to pay that debt by the death of his only Son.
Therefore, the steps we need to take to give forgiveness are through the cross of Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul wrote, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Eph.4:32). Kindness, tenderheartedness and forgiveness are God’s gifts to restored human relationships. Yet, they come with a cost. That cost was absorbed by Jesus Christ and is now extended through his church. Therefore, we have a continual need to know ourselves as indebted to God needy of his mercies, his kindness to lead us to repentance (Rom.2:4), and his tenderheartedness toward the ungodly, who he has accounted as righteous (Rom.4:5). This knowing of ourselves and dwelling upon God’s mercies in Christ will allow us to absorb and pay another’s debt. We will be willing to absorb the pain and hurt ourselves, the pain and hurt to the depth of our souls, forgiving from the heart (Mt.18:35). What does this look like?
First, I think about my own sin. I look at my own unforgiving sinful heart. I look at my own sin that put Jesus Christ on the cross. I think about the debt I owe God that I could never pay. Second, I confess my sin to God. I ask him to show me what my heart is really like and I confess it’s coldness and hardness. I look by faith, not to try to make myself better, but to Jesus Christ who paid the debt of my sin on the cross. I look at the height and depth and the length and width of God’s love in Christ. I look at the power of God’s love that raised Christ from the dead, as he demonstrated his righteousness. I ask God to work this love toward in Christ to me, filling me with himself, and his power toward me in Christ, that I may live to pay another person’s debt in kind tenderhearted loving forgiveness. Now I am ready to forgive another. I acknowledge to God the hurt and pain it has caused. But I do not demand that they make up the loss. I absorb the loss by faith in Christ and I forgive them, asking God for the grace to believe, hope and love. Finally, I ask God for the grace to help me not to rehearse this person’s sin. I entrust this person to God, and when I am tempted by remembrances, I entrust them to God again.
"To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you." C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory, On Forgiveness.