To know you are forgiven is one of the greatest gifts this side of heaven. Yet few people experience the fullness of forgiveness toward themselves or others.
A question I often hear repeated is, “How can I counsel others to godliness when I fail so miserably myself?”
The answer is, “We are people of promise not prisoners of our past. The past neither defines nor limits us.”
Like most people, forgiving others and receiving forgiveness is a recurring pattern. I can go through the process of forgiving and think I have overcome, until …
I see the offender,
rehearse injustice mentally or verbally,
or a sadness infects
with recurring pain.
Have I really forgiven? Am I forgiven?
Jesus taught the disciples to pray,
“And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.”
Forgiveness is a pivotal piece! To be forgiven, first we must forgive!
“For if you forgive other people
when they sin against you,
your Heavenly Father will also forgive you.
But if you do not
forgive others their sins,
your Father will not forgive your sins
To forgive and be forgiven is not optional! God explicitly states, “To be forgiven, one must be forgiving!” Our willingness to show mercy, opens the gate to receive mercy.
Forgiveness removes the invisible but powerful bondage of past hurts. Setting others free releases us to live unhindered.
Neil Anderson in his book “The Bondage Breaker” defines forgiveness as a “crisis of the will.” Rightly so!
There are many misconceptions surrounding forgiveness:
- Forgiveness is not forgetting. It does begin the healing of wounds, however.
- The offender is not “let off the hook” through forgiveness. Everyone remains fully accountable to God.
- Forgiveness is a choice of the will not a feeling. Feelings will follow choice.
- Forgiveness never approves hurtful conduct.
- No circumstance is too difficult to forgive. Only after forgiving will you be released from the pain.
Jesus carried every offense to the cross. In the midst of indescribable agony he prayed,
“Father, forgive them,
for they do not know what they are doing.”
Jesus set the example, giving each of us the ability to forgive and be forgiven. Every act of forgiveness demonstrates God’s grace.
We all remember Peter’s sincere confession before the cross,
“Even if all fall away on account of you,
I never will.”
We also know how that scene played out! Jesus knew the frailty of His closest followers. Three times Peter betrayed the Master; each time more vehemently,
“He began to call down curses,
and he swore to them,
‘I don’t know this man
you’re talking about.'”
Tears of grief and shame were powerless to wash the agonizing pain of his betrayal! One moment confessing unquestionable allegiance; the next cowering in fear and treachery.
As Jesus hung on the cross, He spoke words that span all time or circumstance,
“Father forgive them,
for they don’t know what they are doing.”
It would take even more than this to penetrate Peter’s wounded heart.
Often the hardest ones to forgive are ourselves. Where is the limit on God’s grace? Does it include my adultery, my lying and deception, my thievery, or shedding of blood through abortion or even murder? Does forgiveness have limits?
Agonizing questions many have wrestled long and hard over. Can I be forgiven? Is the blood of Christ enough?
Jesus confronts the point of Peter’s deepest pain, his betrayal. Three times Peter rejected Jesus and three times Jesus presses his hand of compassion and grace on that tender spot:
“Simon son of John,
do you love me more than these?…”
“Simon son of John, do you love me?…”
“Do you love me?”
The painful public reminder of Peter’s personal failure cut deep. Betrayal of Jesus tore every thread of Peter’s resolve. For days he was stuck in the quagmire of guilt and shame, questioning his identity, purpose and calling to “feed my sheep.”
Like a skilled surgeon, Jesus took the knife of forgiveness cutting away Peter’s failure. Every cancerous source of doubt exposed and removed forever!
In the natural, I view such public confrontation of a man’s failure as bordering on cruel and unjust. Since the offense was public, Jesus knew the restitution also must be public. What to me seems cruel became a powerful turning point in Peter’s life!
How am I so certain forgiveness became personally grasped and possessed in that moment?
A few days later, forgiven, and free, Peter declared to the Jewish crowd,
“The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,
the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus.
You handed him over to be killed,
and you disowned him before Pilate,
though he had decided to let him go.
You disowned the Holy and Righteous One
and asked that a murderer be released to you.
You killed the author of life
but God raised him from the dead.”
Peter could never so boldly confront others for disowning Jesus if he remained haunted by personal guilt, condemnation, or self-loathing. “Forgiven” was stamped across every word! By God’s grace alone, he “fed the sheep”!
His words, unmarred by condemnation, were bathed in the compassionate mercy and grace only those fully forgiven can express. From the depths of a heart radically forgiven, Peter grants to others what he so lavishly received.
The Greek word rendered “refreshing,” means “breathing,” or “refreshment“, after being heated with labor, running, etc. It denotes “any kind of refreshment, rest, or deliverance from evil.” Only here is this word used.
Peter rested forgiven before the Saviour he once denied. He experienced the deep refreshing, strength and energizing promised!
Many Christians who declare Christ as Saviour continue to
live as powerless victims,
prisoners bound by personal sin or
the offense of others,
weaponless warriors worn from fighting
battles long gone and eternally won.
Jesus still speaks clearly as He once did to a paraplegic (Mark 2:5), a woman caught in adultery (John 8:11), and a notorious sinner and social outcast (Luke 7:39),
“My child, your sins are forgiven.”
Who are we to withhold from others or ourselves, what Christ has freely given?
Steps to Forgiveness:
Neil T. Anderson recommends making a list of every painful memory and the persons involved. Then one by one go through the list with this prayer:
“Lord Jesus, I choose to forgive (name the person)
for (what he or she did or failed to do)
because it made me feel
(Share the painful feelings,
such as rejected, dirty, worthless or inferior).”
After you have forgiven every person for every painful memory, pray this prayer as well.
“Lord Jesus, I choose not to hold on to my resentment.
I relinquish my right to seek revenge,
and I ask You to heal my damaged emotions.
thank You for setting me free from the bondage of bitterness.
I now ask that You bless those who have hurt me.
In Jesus’ name. Amen.”
(Taken from Interactive Workbook, The Bondage Breaker, Pg 73-74, Harvest House Publishing)
“What Christians Should Know About the Importance of Forgiveness” by John Arnott, Sovereign World Limited