I’ve never met a person who didn’t need to forgive someone. Never. The sad reality is that many Christians know they need to forgive, but they harbor resentment. Some think they have forgiven, but the process was left unfinished. Their lack of forgiveness becomes a heavy, silent burden they carry for years, which they may not even be aware of. We see it every week at GLI.
We can erroneously think we have forgiven someone for any number of reasons. Here are a few:
- We don’t think about what happened anymore.
- We pray for the other person.
- We act nice to the other person.
- We ask the other person to forgive us.
- We ask God to forgive the other person.
However, none of these actions represent true Biblical forgiveness.
What is true Biblical forgiveness? Let’s start with Jesus’s words to His disciple, Peter. In Matthew 18:21–35, Peter asks, “‘Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?’” (NASB).
The religious leaders and rabbis of that time taught that a person needed to forgive someone only three times; so, Peter was more than doubling the current standard. He was asking Jesus if forgiving someone seven times is enough.
Jesus told Peter to forgive seven times seventy, which is 490 times. This number was so high that what he meant was, “Peter, you always forgive.” It makes you wonder who this person was who was offending Peter over and over. Was it his wife? Was it his kids? Was it one of the other disciples of Jesus?
Let’s face it. Sometimes it’s difficult to forgive someone for even one offense they’ve committed against us. Yet, Jesus is telling you and me the same thing He told Peter. We are to always forgive. Why? God has forgiven us completely. We are like our Heavenly Father in that we are forgivers in our identity in Christ.
This does not mean God wants you to be hurt over and over again without confronting the offender. (See Matt. 18:15–16.) But regardless of the steps you may take to protect yourself, you still need to forgive.
As He often did, Jesus tells a story to teach about forgiveness. In this story in Matthew 18:23–35, the king represents God, the first slave represents you, and the second slave represents people you need to forgive.
The king discovers the first slave owes him about ten million dollars in today’s money. This represents the debt we each owe God. This debt is for the many, many sins God holds us responsible for that we will commit from the day we are born until the day we die.
The slave deserved to be punished for not being able to repay the debt he owed the king. We also deserve to be punished by God for every sin we commit. This man begged for mercy, and the king gave it to him though he did not deserve it. In the same way, God had mercy on us in Christ and forgave us when we did not deserve it.
We would think that this slave, forgiven of his debt, would be happy to forgive the comparatively small debt another slave owed him. Instead, he threw him into prison. In the same way, because God has forgiven us our many sins, it would seem to make sense that we would forgive people the debt we feel they owe us. Yet we still struggle to forgive them. Why?
We put people in the prison of our minds and keep mulling over what they did and what we wish we could say or do to them to let them “have it.” We want them to hurt like we hurt. Doing this, though, keeps us in prison, too, because bitterness and resentment hurt us, not them!
Have you heard the saying, “Hurt people hurt people”? How true that is! When you harbor unforgiveness toward someone, it not only hurts you, it hurts the people you care about. You may lash out at your spouse, children, or friends because you have not forgiven them or someone else. On the flip side, “Healed people heal people.” That’s another reason forgiving people is so important.
If you have really deep wounds, you may need help from us at GLI to face your pain so you can forgive. Jesus still wants you to forgive. He knows it will give you great healing and freedom.
(C) God’s Best-Kept Secret: Christianity Is Easier Thank You Think, Chapter 9 “Christians Will Not Feel Free unless They Forgive”, pp 148-160