Let’s look again at Jesus’s discussion about forgiveness with Peter. Matthew 18:34–35 says, “His lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. My heavenly Father will also do the same to you if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart” (NASB). These verses are clear. Jesus is saying God will take back His forgiveness from anyone who doesn’t forgive. In other words, they will go to hell! But let’s remember something here. Jesus was speaking to people who were under the Old Covenant. That’s how it worked. If you obeyed, God blessed you. If you didn’t obey, God punished you.
Today, we are under the New Covenant. In the New Covenant, God blesses us because of Jesus’s obedience. If we don’t forgive, because we are under this New Covenant of grace, God will not take away our forgiveness, and we will not go to hell. Our motivation for forgiving is not fear but love. Ephesians 4:32 tells us to forgive because we have been forgiven in Christ, not to prevent God from removing our forgiveness. “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” However, the consequences of unforgiveness will feel like hell in our personal lives. This is not God’s punishment, but we will be tortured by our unforgiveness. Let’s look at Ephesians 4:26–27: “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.
God knows we are going to feel angry at times. When we do, we haven’t necessarily sinned yet. It’s how we handle that anger that determines if we sin. If we talk it out and work it out with the person who offended us, we will often avoid sinning. If we forgive quickly, we will often avoid sinning. This is why we are told, “Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.” God wants us to deal with offense quickly. He doesn’t want us to become bitter and sin. He knows how detrimental that will be to us and possibly to other people. He loves us and wants what is best for us.
If we don’t deal with offense quickly, however, our unforgiveness gives the devil a foothold. In other words, this makes us vulnerable to Satan’s attacks. This is where the torture in us often occurs. It’s not punishment from God; it’s the consequences of unforgiveness. In my counseling experience, I’ve observed five types of torture people experience when they don’t forgive others:
- Mental Torture
Satan is allowed to feed our unforgiveness with further thoughts of anger. We then become increasingly obsessed by these thoughts of what they did and what we would like to do to get justice against them. That is where we want them to experience pain because of what they did. This alone is mental torture for most of us. It consumes our thoughts for long periods of time.
Some believe unforgiveness can cause certain mental illnesses. That may be true, but it is certainly not the cause of all mental illnesses.
- Emotional Torture
Unforgiveness results in all kinds of other sins. Without forgiveness, these sins can be expressed through increasingly painful emotions, which grow into monsters that control us. Ephesians 4:31 describes these sins and the accompanying emotions: “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.”
It is also well known that unforgiveness can result in depression. We see in our counseling all the time that unresolved anger turned inward can cause depression. We also see that unresolved anger turned on others can inflict depression on them!
Please know clinical depression and anxiety are, in most cases, not related to unforgiveness. They are physical conditions where the body’s brain chemistry is not functioning properly. In this case, you need to see a doctor for medication, which God can use to help you.
- Relational Torture
People with unforgiveness most often are unable to have close relationships, and they often can’t figure out why. It’s because they have a wall up to protect themselves from further hurt. In other words, they are afraid of closeness. They also give off the vibe that they will not allow anyone in, and others sense it.
- Physical Torture
Human beings cannot internalize negative emotions week after week, month after month, and year after year without causing damage to their bodies. Unforgiveness is a poison that can bring great pain to us physically.
Some believe people can develop specific physical maladies from unforgiveness, such as high blood pressure, arthritis, bulimia, anorexia, heart disease and cardiac arrest, elevated blood pressure, stomach ulcers, arthritis, back problems, headaches, chronic pain, and even cancer. But unforgiveness is not always behind these or other diseases and afflictions.
- Spiritual Torture
Long-term unforgiveness gives Satan the opportunity to oppress people. This is not demonic possession. (Demonic possession is not possible for a Christian.) However, oppression from Satan can still control a Christian in varying degrees.
Christians who are oppressed often feel a heaviness, almost as if it is in the atmosphere around them. It’s like a fog always there, such as the ever-present cloud of dirt surrounding Charlie Brown’s friend Pigpen in Peanuts.
An oppressed Christian’s mind and emotions can become so negative that he or she has difficulty functioning in daily life. New Covenant counseling can help close doors to oppression by taking a person through the forgiveness process.
Considering the various types of torture caused by unforgiveness, doesn’t simply forgiving someone sound better? You have everything to gain by forgiving and nothing to lose! The benefits are multiplied many times over.
Forgiving is not only obedience to God; it’s one of God’s ways of loving you! However, you may be wondering how to forgive from your heart, as Jesus told Peter. We will look at that next time.
(C) God’s Best-Kept Secret: Christianity Is Easier Thank You Think, Chapter 9 “Christians Will Not Feel Free unless They Forgive“, pp 155-158