No other words eliminate guilt and shame as well as these, “I forgive you.” Undeserved and unmerited, they come. Forgiven and free, we leave. The cost of forgiveness always runs heavy. The one wounded carries both the wound and weight. Yet, by God’s immeasurable grace, the one who forgives gains the most and receives the best.
Whether “Please forgive me” or “I forgive you,” I’ve hesitated too long to utter these necessary words on both sides of offense. I’ve stuttered and stammered, delayed and doubted, justified and judged.
I’m not alone!
The rich reward of freedom flows only through forgiveness. Isaiah watched his people perform unlimited religious duties and ceremonies with excellence while ignoring compassionate care for others. God rebuked them sharply for it.
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?”
None of us need to look far to witness injustice, yokes, and oppression. How do we — in this generation — respond better than they and previous generations to similar issues? How do we move compassionately with love toward those around us? May I suggest that forgiveness plays a strategic role.
My dictionary defines injustice as “an absence of justice, violation of right or of the rights of another, and unfairness.” It also defines justice as “the maintenance or administration of what is just, impartial, or fair; to treat fairly and adequately; to show due appreciation for; the establishment or determination of rights according to the rules of law or equity.”
Truthfully, everyone faces injustice — some minor, some extreme.
God doesn’t mince words,
“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
What does God mean by “loose the chains of injustice” or as another version puts it, “to break the chains of wickedness?” The Hebrew word for chains means “bond, pain, or torment, referring to unjust, wicked bonds usually indicating social, economic, or political oppression.” How do abusive cycles break — cycles where the rich dominate the poor, the strong intimidate the weak, and people emphasize differences and ignore similarities?
Jesus showed us. He came low and stayed low.
” . . . he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross!”
Forgiveness follows the low road that leads to the high way. Jesus never needed to be forgiven, but forgave us all. Jesus, worthy of honor, dignity, and praise, came only to serve. He thought of us, putting us first before His own needs or desires.
Forgiveness is the highest form of servanthood. Forgiveness bridges the widest gaps, breaks through the strongest chains, and levels the field of injustice. But it requires humility.
Undoubtedly, the unbearable chains of your past exceed mine. However, even some of mine have been difficult to overcome, including molestation and rape. Perpetrators rarely seek forgiveness, but when the abused offer it (even if only before God) chains break — for real, for good, for always.
The greatest injustice in history occurred at the cross where the holy Son of God died for wicked humanity. Yet from that cross, He prayed,
“Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’ . . . “
Ever since, chains break and people experience freedom.
Untie the Cords
The Hebrew word for untie contains two separate meanings. The first is “to jump, leap, or startle, describing a rapid rush forward that startles or shocks.” The second meaning encompasses “setting free, loosing, releasing, and letting something go.” To “untie the cords of the yoke” requires decisive action, both a moving forward and a letting go of the past.
Owners place yokes on horses, mules, or oxen to pull heavy loads. It is the owner, not the animal of burden, who also removes the yoke. Isaiah states clearly our responsibility to remove yokes worn by others, placed there by whoever, and kept there for whatever reason. Action is needed!
Perhaps nothing startles the kingdom of darkness as much as the words, “Please, forgive me.” Nothing rattles the enemy so deeply as, “I forgive you.” That one radical choice to forgive looses offense, keeps accounts short, and removes unbearable, even generational, yokes.
“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
If all my offenses lay exposed and visible before others, how ugly and disturbing they would prove to be — thoughts I’ve thought, attitudes I’ve carried, and sins I’ve committed. But God!!! But God forgives even me, releasing me from them all.
In the same way, He calls me to forgive — to forgive the grotesque, forgive the unjust, forgive the vindictive, and forgive the defiling. He both asks and gives the ability to do what He commands. Through forgiving others, I instantly become forgiven and free. In one shocking, startling undoing, I’m set free! Yokes break! Cords sever.
Set the Oppressed Free
The word oppressed means more than I thought. It means “to crack in pieces.” Are you willing to see the cracked remnants of humanity? Am I? They live close to us. They walk beside us. The broken bundle themselves behind busy facades, glossy exteriors and fake smiles. They are here. And there. Everywhere.
Often our own brokenness overwhelms us, incapacitating us from releasing others. As we begin to live as those forgiven and free, we gain the tools to free others. Until we forgive, we remain slaves — victims of the crimes of our assailants. Only through forgiveness does healing flow and gates fling open.
“Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”
What grievance do you carry? What bitterness clouds your wounded heart? May I encourage you today, set yourself free by freeing others through forgiveness. Open the cage of oppression, so that healing may enter and every broken place be restored.
Forgiven and Free
God has graciously led me into many areas of ministry. None brings me greater joy than to walk people through the steps of forgiveness. Yes, there are steps! The most effective steps I’ve found come from Neil Anderson’s The Steps to Freedom in Christ.
- Forgiveness is a decision of the will. As long as we refuse to forgive, we remain “hooked” to that person, bound to the past, and held by bitterness. Until we willingly forgive, that person maintains the power to continue hurting us.
- Forgiveness agrees to live with the consequences of another’s sin. The sins of others affect us all. Will it be through the bondage of bitterness or the freedom of forgiveness?
- To forgive must be genuine — from the heart. We must truthfully acknowledge the pain we feel, without diminishing or excusing it. God heals from the inside out as we honestly face the pain others have caused us.
- Forgiveness chooses to not hold someone else’s sin against him, her, or them. God does not tolerate sin. Neither should we. In forgiveness, we release others to God. He will deal with them. Through forgiveness, we take a stand against sin by exercising God’s grace.
- Forgive before you feel like forgiving. Emotion will follow action.
“We don’t heal in order to forgive; we forgive in order to heal.”
– Neil T. Anderson
“Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.'”
We live forgiven and free by forgiving quickly and continuously, without keeping score or counting the times.
Here is a sample prayer to assist you as you continue your process of forgiveness. Don’t rush! Take your time to feel the pain, acknowledge the disappointment, and face the consequences you have endured because of another person’s hurtful and destructive decisions. Then surrender it to God. He is the only one strong enough to bear the burden.
“Dear Heavenly Father, I choose to forgive __________ for __________, because it made me feel __________. Lord Jesus, I choose not to hold on to my resentment. I relinquish my right to seek revenge and ask you to heal my damaged emotions. Thank You for setting me free from the bondage of my bitterness. I now ask You to bless those who have hurt me. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.”
If this is a struggle for you, please contact Freedom in Christ Ministries in your area. Someone will walk with you as you process these steps. My desire is for everyone to walk forgiven and free, with chains of injustice loosed, yokes untied and broken, and the oppressed free forever.
Bless you on your forgiveness journey.