Tag Archives: forgiveness

How Do You Handle Being Rebuffed When Attempting Reconciliation?

If we’ve lived and loved long enough, we all know the pain of a broken relationship. We also know the joy of reconciliation when that relationship is mended. Unfortunately, loving someone well and trying to reconcile with them provides no guarantee they will welcome restoration. When someone refuses to reconcile a broken relationship, frustration, pain, and self-doubts can grow. The desire to find a way to restore the broken relationship that works intensifies.

Sadly, there is no guaranteed procedure that we can follow to assure restoration of a broken relationship. Sometimes, all we can do is grieve the loss of that relationship. And that is what Jesus modeled for us. He is the perfect example of one who unselfishly poured out His love to His creatures and offered them the opportunity for reconciliation with their Creator. However, they would have nothing to do with Him.

In one of the saddest verses in the Bible, John records in a single sentence the fact that Jesus “came to His own, and His own did not receive him” (John 1:11).

Jesus’ response to the rejection of His offer of reconciliation was a deep grief and sadness that moved Him to tears and prayer for His people. We see the Son of God’s broken heart when He sits outside the walls of Jerusalem and laments: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to you! How often I have wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!” (Matthew 23:37).

One of the most frightening truths that we all must face is the fact that we cannot force someone to love us, no matter what we do. Even if we take appropriate responsibility for harm we’ve done to them, confess our sin against them, and ask for forgiveness, there is no assurance they will respond in kind. They can choose to remain distant.

While an unresolved relationship is deeply disturbing, one of the most freeing truths is that no one has the power to stop us from loving them. And that’s all that God calls us to do, to love others the way He has loved us (John 13:34;15:12).

We all wish there was a “next step” that would make reconciliation work out every time. Sadly, there is no such step. However, at those times when our best efforts at loving are rebuffed, we do have the opportunity to share in our Lord’s sufferings, to experience His pain and His relentless longing for reconciliation (Philippians 1:29).

We need to guard against a false guilt that assumes we should be able to do something to “fix” every relationship — as if it all depends on us alone. While we must take responsibility for our part in a relationship, we must not assume that we are solely responsible for the breach in the relationship. Instead of holding another person responsible for their choices, we can tend to let people off the hook and blame ourselves for “not doing enough” or “missing something” that would be the key to unlocking the relationship.

That kind of thinking is not only demoralizing but controlling and unbiblical. God never asks us to assume responsibility for others, only ourselves. That needs to be our focus.

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Should Forgiveness Be Unconditional?

People often have the impression that the Bible requires forgiveness to be unconditional.

1 But the Bible doesn’t say that. It tells us that we should “Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Colossians 3:13). While God’s forgiveness is undeserved, it certainly isn’t unconditional. The Lord’s forgiveness is offered only to those who confess their sin and repent (2 Chronicles 7:14; Leviticus 26; Luke 13:3; 1 John 1:8-10).

On the surface, it might seem noble to forgive unconditionally. But unconditional forgiveness is usually motivated more by fear than by love. And because of this it’s usually destructive. If a wife continues to forgive a habitually unfaithful and abusive husband unconditionally, her toleration of his behavior will probably result in even more abuse and disrespect. This kind of “unconditional” forgiveness expresses a determination to cling to the status quo. No matter how bad things are, this woman fears that things will probably get worse if she holds her husband accountable. Her passive acceptance of his behavior will probably encourage him to continue in his sin. Instead of her forgiveness being a helpful act of love, it is actually a violation of love that will hinder his growth toward Christlikeness.

Jesus’ specific teaching about forgiveness in Luke 17:3-4 makes it clear that forgiveness should follow repentance:

Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, “I repent,” you shall forgive him.

Undeserved forgiveness and unconditional forgiveness are radically different. It takes courage and character to forgive those who repent and ask our forgiveness. If we forgive them, we expose ourselves to the risk of being hurt again. Their repentance doesn’t earn our forgiveness in any way. They are still responsible for the harm they’ve done. But though their repentance doesn’t make them deserving of our forgiveness, it makes them eligible. We can forgive them because of the example of forgiveness that God has given us in Christ (Matthew 18:21-35).

Unconditional forgiveness is an affront against justice and a denial of the significance of sin and its cruel effects. Undeserved forgiveness is an expression of divine love and the only basis of our hope for salvation.

In a flawed world, forgiveness shouldn’t be given unconditionally. But we should always be willing to share the undeserved forgiveness we have received through Christ. We should be realistic in confronting our enemies, but we should also seek to love them and respond to them in a way that is ultimately in their best interest.

  1. In Matthew 5:38-47, Jesus made three radical statements. First, He said that a person should turn the other cheek when someone strikes him. Second, He declared that His followers should give those who sue them more than they are asking. And third, He said that a person who is conscripted by a Roman officer to carry a load for one mile should offer to go two. Does this mean that we shouldn’t defend ourselves when somebody attacks us? Is it our duty to let others take advantage of us? This couldn’t have been Jesus’ intention. After all, He counseled His disciples to be as “wise as serpents and as gentle as doves” (Matthew 10:16). His well-known “golden rule” (Matthew 7:12) contains the clear implication that we shouldn’t encourage people to do something that would harm their character (like abuse others, steal, etc.). Back To Article
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Should I Offer Forgiveness Without Repentance?

Unconditional forgiveness is canceling a debt to all those who intentionally offend us, whether or not they own up to what they have done. Offering forgiveness without repentance, however, does not follow the biblical model of forgiveness (Luke 17:3,4).

The Bible says that we are to forgive as God forgave us (Ephesians 4:32, Colossians 3:13). God forgives us when we repent (Mark 1:15, Luke 13:3,5, Acts 3:19). He does not grant forgiveness to those of us who are stiff-necked and refuse to repent. We must recognize our sin and repent to receive and enjoy God’s merciful forgiveness. God requires repentance and so must we.

Repentance is important because it’s a person’s only hope for real change (Matthew 18:3; Acts 26:20). If we don’t admit our sin, it’s impossible to be transformed. If we aren’t keenly aware of the sinful direction our lives are going, we will not see a need to adjust the direction. Repentance demonstrates that we need God to help us change our thinking, attitudes, and behavior.

An unrepentant person maintains a sense of control over his life through pride, which can lead to destruction, violence, and animosity (Proverbs 8:13; 16:18; 29:23). Turning toward God (repentance) is necessary to break the cycle of destructive behaviors and patterns of relating to others. If as believers we don’t require repentance on the part of the offender, we stand in the way of that person’s coming to see his need for God and experiencing His forgiveness. To put it simply, forgiveness is a two-way process: repentance on the part of the offender and pardon on the part of the offended.

When only one part of the forgiveness process takes place, the hurt felt by the offended one can lead to hatred, bitterness, and desire for revenge. Because we desperately want relief from the gnawing desire to get even, we can be tempted to let an issue go, or “forgive” without ever confronting the person or waiting for him to show remorse.

It’s wrong, however, to assume that if we don’t forgive someone, we’ll be weighed down with hatred, bitterness, and revengeful desires. That’s not necessarily true because the Bible says we are to love a person regardless of whether or not he or she shows any remorse. We can love our enemies1, but continue to have an unsettled issue with them. In many cases, it is more loving to withhold forgiveness until a change of heart is demonstrated than it is to offer forgiveness without the offender’s acknowledgment of deliberate wrongdoing.

Instead of giving in to revenge, we can soften our hearts toward those who have hurt us when we humbly admit that we, too, have hurt others. It is only by God’s grace that we can enjoy His goodness toward us at all. Just as important, we can have faith that God will avenge if it is necessary (Leviticus 19:18, Romans 12:19-21) and that He will hold each of us accountable (Romans 14:12; Hebrews 4:13 ). We don’t need to worry because our pain doesn’t go unnoticed by our Lord (Psalm 147:3). With that frame of mind, we can demonstrate a deeper trust in God and be led to pray for those who’ve hurt us.

Yes, an unconditional pardon can be granted without the offender ever knowing they’ve hurt us. But this one-sided “forgiveness” is not in our best interest, nor in the best interest of the person who hurt us. It devalues the significance of repentance and robs both the offender and us of the opportunity to grow in Christ.

The ultimate purpose of forgiveness is the healing of a relationship. This healing occurs only when the offender repents and demonstrates remorse and the offended one grants a pardon and demonstrates loving acceptance.

  1. An enemy can be defined as one who intentionally hurts us, is destructive, and can’t be trusted because of his or her lack of remorse. Unconditional forgiveness implies that our response to our enemies should be to offer a pardon with no response on the part of the offender. The Bible teaches, however, that we should respond to our enemies in love (Matthew 5:44). Scripture does not teach that we need to forgive our enemies. Instead, we should love them and pray for them. Love and forgiveness are not synonymous. Back To Article
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Does Forgiving Mean Forgetting?

Many people believe that to forgive someone they must first be willing to forget. By this they mean that they must be able to dismiss from their memory the painful events that caused a break in their relationship. In other words, they need to pretend that nothing bad ever happened.

Simply trying to forget the wrongs that are done against us is like spray-painting a rusty old car. It seems like an easy solution at first, but eventually the rust breaks through and the problem is worse than before.

Well-meaning Christians often support the “forgive and forget” model of forgiveness by appealing to God’s forgiveness, as in Jeremiah 31:34. In their view, this text means that forgetting precedes forgiving. They say that if we don’t forget, we can’t forgive.

There is a sense, of course, in which God “forgets” our sins. Once He has forgiven us, He will never use them as evidence against us. But the all-knowing Creator can’t forget things in the way that we do. Data can be erased from a computer’s magnetic memory, human recollections can be obliterated by time and disability, but all of history is constantly before His gaze. From eternity to eternity, God is the same. The divine Author of Scripture caused the sins of Jacob, Moses, David, Peter, and Paul to be recorded for our benefit. He hasn’t forgotten their sins in a historical sense, but they will never be used as grounds for condemnation. It is our sin’s debt — the rightful wages of our sin — that God “forgets.”

God doesn’t expect us to wipe the sins of others from our memory. In fact, we probably won’t be able to, no matter how hard we try. He certainly wouldn’t want us to pretend that we have forgotten things we can’t forget. What He desires is that we forgive sins committed against us (Matthew 6:14-15) the way He forgives our much greater sins against Him (Matthew 18:23-35).

It takes greater forgiveness to forgive a grievance that we remember clearly than to forgive a grievance that we have partially forgotten. Merely ignoring our memory of a grievance isn’t forgiveness, it’s only suppression of anger. Genuine forgiveness, like God’s forgiveness, clearly sees the offense and then forgives it by withdrawing the penalty and continuing the relationship. It’s natural to deal with our anger by suppressing our memory of an offense, but it’s supernatural to remember it clearly and renounce our right to revenge. Revenge must be left in the hands of the only One who is always objective and just (Romans 12:19-21).

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Should Christians Pray for God’s Wrath on Their Enemies?

Depending on our motives, praying for God’s wrath can be a legitimate cry for justice. That is the cry of the heart you see reflected in such psalms as Psalm 94:1-2:

O LORD, the God who avenges, O God who avenges, shine forth.
Rise up, O Judge of the earth; pay back to the proud what they deserve.

While the desire for God to set things right is valid, Jesus introduced a new attitude to have toward our enemies.

Jesus didn’t teach us to pray against our enemies. He didn’t encourage us to request bloodthirsty revenge or the judgment they deserve. Instead, He called His followers to actually pray for their enemies (Matthew 5:43-45). This was nothing short of revolutionary for his Jewish listeners. In a time when the Jewish religious leaders touted radical vengeance as a virtue, Jesus introduced a whole new way of doing business. He taught that true sons of God are not only concerned for their neighbors, but for their enemies as well.

This seemingly outrageous mindset was an important part of the new era Jesus’ death and resurrection would establish. His willingness to give up his life for a world of people at enmity with their Creator (Romans 5:6-10) and His resurrection from the dead would make it possible to have a restored and better way of life with others—friend or foe. Praying for our enemies also reflected God’s ultimate plan to rescue and to reconcile both Jews and Gentiles to Himself.

It’s a mistake to assume that praying for our enemies means we are to be passive and to let them take advantage or walk all over us. There are times to take a stand and strongly oppose our enemies like the day Jesus overturned the tables of the moneychangers and drove them out of the temple in Jerusalem (Matthew 21:12-13). And the writers of the New Testament call us to appeal to civil authorities to enforce laws that are meant to hold evildoers accountable and keep them in check (Romans 13). Holding others accountable for their actions and seeking justice, however, are not the same as praying for and pursuing revenge.

Though we should never stop longing and working for justice, Jesus took praying for vengeance off the table. By word and example, Jesus urged his followers to replace a heart for revenge with a heart to see our enemies reconciled to God and us. His life, death, and resurrection empowers us to envision the glory of God restored in others, to seek peace and reconciliation when possible, and to leave the matter of vengeance up to a holy and wise God who will mete out revenge in His perfect time and in His perfect way (Romans 12:17-21).

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