Jesus and the Apostle Paul root our forgiving of people in our being forgiven by God.
In Ephesians, Paul writes, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
God has forgiven us in Christ, and the proper response is to forgive those who have sinned against us.
Jesus, teaching on prayer in Matthew 6, instructs us to pray to our Father for forgiveness, as we forgive those who trespass against us (6:12). Concluding His teaching, He says: “if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (6:14-15)
Being a forgiving person is a sign that we are forgiven. A lack of forgiveness is a telling sign of the condition of our heart; withholding forgiveness shows that we have an issue with our heart. We need the Holy Spirit to work through His word and change our hearts.
When forgiveness is requested, we must grant it.
Restoration and Choosing not to Remember
A critical component of forgiveness is restoration. This has two key components.
One, we restore the relationship to what it was. This does not happen automatically. If I say something unkind to my wife, we can restore our relationship pretty quickly. But, if I am living in a web of lies and keeping parts of my life hidden from my wife, she can forgive me while we take steps to restoring our relationship.
Forgiveness without restoration is incomplete. Imagine, as a child of God, if you asked Him to forgive you for the sin you committed today, and you heard from heaven; “Son, I forgive you, but I am not ready to be close to you. What you have done will be hard for me to overcome.” (Credit to The Peacemaker for this idea).
How would you feel in this case? Would you feel forgiven? I would venture to say that you would not. Why? God, in this example, is not willing to restore His relationship with you. The words of forgiveness would ring hollow because the relationship is still broken.
Sin breaks and disrupts our relationships. When we sin against someone or they sin against us, the relationship is fractured for a time. This is why we need to ask for forgiveness. Forgiveness deals with our sin and acknowledges that we have sinned against God and that person. Restoration is critical because forgiveness deals with the sin and restores the warring parties.
Paul gives an example of this in Ephesians, when we are originally saved through Christ. In 1:7 he writes that we are forgiven through the blood of Christ. But in our salvation, God does not only forgive us, as awesome and wonderful as that is, but He also makes us His sons and daughters through Christ (1:5). We are forgiven and the relationship we had broken is reconciled through Christ.
Second, we must choose not to remember the sin of the one who offended us. I’m sure you have heard the phrase, “forgive and forget”. Or, on the contrary, you’ve heard someone say, “I will forgive them but there is no way I can forget what they have done to me.” There is not a shred of evidence in Scripture that says we are supposed to do this. This is a passive activity, and forgiveness is always active.
Rather, we are to make an intentional commitment not to remember the wrong they have done against us. We must make an effort not to bring up the wrong someone has done against us, especially the next time there is friction in our relationship.
Choose not to Remember
God chooses not to remember our sins; we must do the same. Isaiah 43:25, “I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.” God forgives us, but Isaiah does not say God forgets our sins. God has perfect knowledge; if He were to forget something, He would not be all-knowing.
God chooses not to remember our sins. He forgives us and then actively chooses not to remember our sins or bring them up against us.
We are to be imitators of God as beloved children (Eph. 5:1). Therefore, we must forgive in the same way God does. We forgive the sin against us and choose not to remember the person’s sin. We fight against this and the temptation to bring it up against them once again.
If you are like me, this can be very hard. I am not sure why, but I have a mind that remembers everything. And most of it is honestly not worth remembering. But in this case, when I have friction in a relationship with someone who has sinned against me in the past, I am tempted to bring the wrong up again. In my own strength that’s what I would do. I must ask the Holy Spirit to help me be like my heavenly Father in character, and continue to practice forgiveness as He does.
Guilt and Shame
This could be a product of the connectedness of our Social Media world, but there seems to be a lot of people who struggle with guilt and shame. I wonder if perhaps people struggle with feelings of guilt and shame because they were not properly forgiven.
Maybe their parents would bring up their wrongs when they made yet another mistake. Or the wife whose husband would bring up every wrong when she made another mistake.
Our choosing to remember someone's sins against us not only affects our own souls, but the soul of the person we are not truly forgiving. Continually bringing these up will inevitably lead to guilt and shame on their part.
Christ calls us to a higher standard. He calls us to imitate Him. Jesus is kind and compassionate; He will not break the bruised reed and a smoldering wick He will not blow out. When we are sinned against again we are to start the forgiveness process anew. We forgive them and we choose to forget.
How we forgive those who sin against us is an opportunity to glorify God. This brings God honor and pleases Him. The world will know we are Jesus’ disciples by our love for one another, and our love is shown in how we forgive. Our forgiveness must look different than the world’s.
May the Father grant us the grace and mercy needed to forgive others as He has forgiven us.