What's So Important About Forgiveness Anyway?
by Lonnie Lane
My 88 year old Jewish mother and I were having a conversation about a woman who had contacted her after many years. This was someone who had hurt her very deeply many years ago. "It took me a long time to forgive her," Mom said, even though she did so many years before. My dear Mom has been a Believer in Yeshua for over 25 years and is no doubt one of the nicest people you'd ever want to meet. She pretty much loves everyone she knows and everyone she knows loves her. But even nice people get hurt. And unhealed or unresolved hurts have to be forgiven or they can slide into resentment or bitterness. Find bitterness in someone and trace it back and you'll find somewhere a hurt that has not been forgiven or resolved. Another manifestation of unforgiveness or unresolved hurt is self-pity. Self-pity binds the unforgiving person to the past, maybe even more than resentment, because its accompanying victim mentality robs the person of the power to move forward in freedom.
Experiences such as abuse in its various forms, or rejection, abandonment, humiliation or betrayal can be quite damaging to us. Simply put, what is not of love as God intended it can be quite destructive. And since none of us has always loved as God loves, which of us can say that we have never disappointed or hurt another person either unintentionally or deliberately? Let's face it, life in this Fallen world in which we live is in fact damaging.
The flip side of all this unforgiveness for what has been done to us is guilt for what may have been done by us. Whether of omission or commission guilt has a most damaging effect on our personalities. Guilt will distort our sense of reality more than most anything else. Adam and Eve's first "fallen" emotion was guilt which was quickly followed by fear. Only God knows whether they blamed and never forgave one another or how far they departed from the marital bliss they'd known in the Garden. But we do know at least one of their sons felt quite justified in his resentment toward his brother, enough so that it makes me wonder if such bitterness wasn't something he learned at home from Mom and Dad, until finally he committed the first murder on earth. Mankind has been at odds with one another since.
When God gave Israel the Torah, He gave them specific instructions for settling disputes from minor infractions to intentional, and even unintentional, murder. Part of learning to live as the people of God was to learn to respond to such issues in a godly and just manner. But even the best of Old Covenant intentions did not cleanse the conscience of the transgressions. It would take the blood of Messiah to do that and even then only by faith in the redemptive power of His blood is one's conscience cleansed to bring us into the freedom God wants for us.
What exactly is forgiveness and why should we forgive those who trespass against us? The first and foremost reason is, because God said so and as He points out over and over upon giving a command to Israel, He is Lord. End of discussion. The commands we are to obey are His laws. They are not arbitrary. They are just and true. They are given to us for our own good and pretty much cover most areas of life. However, we continue to miss the mark and sin. I once asked God, "Does sin hurt you or does it make you angry?" He immediately replied, "I hate sin because it hurts you." Wow, was that answer insight into God's intentions that I had missed to that point. God's motive for His commandments was for our protection and wellbeing, that we not be hurt, that is to say, damaged. More proof of His love!
The commandments He gives to us are for our shalom, for our happiness and so that we will live in a society that is safe and secure and loving. Consider the Ten Commandments. If we actually abide by His commandments, we would live in a society in which we all loved God and loved each other as we love ourselves. We'd want the same honor for God and others that we want for ourselves; we would never steal from each other on any level, or even covet anything belonging to one another; we would never fear anyone misunderstanding us and then bearing false witness against us to anyone else, nor would we have any ill-will toward any one else; infidelity would never threaten a marriage and our children would always be lovingly respectful and obedient to their parents even when they were grown. The crowning delight of our weeks would be the time we spend on the Sabbath with people we love, resting and enjoying one another and God. All the energy we spend not being like this would be used for being joyful and creative and helpful to one another. Wouldn't that be wonderful? That's how God intended for us to live. That's what He wants for us -- security, safety, trust, freedom, mutuality of honor and respect for one another...in a word, love.
But as we know, we have been unable to pull that off. Not the Israelites and not the Christians. Both our histories are replete with stories to the contrary. And so, God in His kindness and mercy toward us, has sent us His Son -- to remove the guilt, and to teach us how to live by His Spirit.
I've finally gotten to the part I intended this article to be about in the first place -- Forgiveness. The Son of God emptied Himself of His glory and came to earth as a Man. He lived by the Spirit of God though He Himself had no sin nature in Him, having God as His Father. All He asks in order to partake of the release for our sins He bought for us with His precious Blood on the cross is that we believe it and put our trust in Him so that it becomes ours by faith. Or said another way, be believing it.
Unless you've experienced receiving something from God by faith, you may have a disconnect in your seeing this as cause and effect. Faith is the cause in this case, release from guilt is the effect. How can that happen, you may ask? Does my believing it change anything. Yes, it changes you positionally with God. I tend to ask God a lot of questions. One of them was, "Why faith, Lord?" I just couldn't see the reasoning behind it. And so again He gave me the answer. When Eve disbelieved what God told her, she came out of oneness with God. She believed instead the doubt in His goodness the devil suggested to her. The doubt caused her to be of a different spirit than God. When we come into agreement with God in what He's told us in His Word or feel He's speaking to us, we come back into agreement with God in His very nature and character which is entirely good. Eve doubted His goodness toward her so she took action. When we believe God we come into agreement with not only Who He is but how He is -- good only, only good. Then we know we can trust Him.
If we say we are Believers in Yeshua and Yeshua says that He came to pay the price for the sins of mankind, if we hold onto the sin of anyone without forgiving them, even if it's ourselves we are not forgiving, then we are not truly being Believers. If we hold anything against anyone, we are disbelieving that Yeshua paid the price for their sin and we are in unbelief. And if we, who claim to be Believers in Yeshua, refuse to forgive, we are dishonoring the death and the Blood of Yeshua. I once met Richard Wurmbrandt, a Jewish Lutheran pastor who was imprisoned for his faith in the former Soviet Union. So he couldn't share his faith he was put in solitary confinement for 14 years so that he forgot there were colors in the world. Through an organization of Jewish believers who paid his "ransom" price, he was released. He had with him several other prisoners for their faith whom he had just worked to free through his organization, I was struck by the radiance on their faces. Rev. Wurmbrandt said, "I've never seen a true Christian who hasn't forgiven and therefore loved their captors." These believers had it in their hearts to honor the Blood of Jesus and so to forgive. No doubt it was a decision that had to be made by each of them. That same grace is available for us all.
Yeshua said, "If you would forgive all other people their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you would not forgive all other people, neither will your heavenly Father forgive your sins." (Matthew 6:14, 15. The Power NT). That's pretty clear. If your sins are not forgiven, you're not going to heaven! Do you believe that's true? If not, you are in unbelief. If you hold an offense and refuse to relinquish it to God, then you hold the offense in higher regard than you do God and that is idolatry. God said, "You shall have no other God before (or besides) Me." Idolatry is giving place to something or someone that God should have. Idolaters do not have entrance into the Kingdom of heaven either. (1 Cor 6:9; Rev. 21:8; 22:15)
Forgiving someone doesn't mean that it was okay for them to do whatever it is that hurt you. It doesn't justify their ungodly actions. In fact, if we release them without letting them know they still must be accountable to God, we leave them in a state of sin thinking they're exonerated when they clearly are not. They still need to repent to God in order to be right with Him. Scripture tells us that we are to correct those who are in error. (e.g., Gal.6:1) What you forgiving them does, is release you from the place of demanding justice or restitution as you turn the matter over to God. It now becomes a matter between God and the person.
If a sin was involved, it is first and foremost a sin against Him as they were His moral laws that were transgressed. Sin basically is a violation of Torah. Yeshua summed up all the commandments in the Torah as "love." (Matthew 22: 37-40) If you were hurt, it is because someone violated God's law of love. Or your idea of love, but somewhere it's about love at its root. Even if it's about money in a business deal, it's still about being honored and trusted, which are expressions of love.
Hurt, bitterness and unforgiveness are shackles that keep us bound. The Cross is the place of liberty. Yeshua died so we could be free. He "hurt" so we could relinquish our hurts to God and be released from the crushing burdens that sin brings. If satan is the accuser and God is the Forgiver, choose you this day whom you will serve. God extends His opportunity to you today to lay your burdens down at the foot of His cross and forgive as you have been forgiven, in Yeshua's name. May you, by God's great grace, stand before the Father blameless and in great joy. Amen.
Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright ©1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.