“All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in Him (Jesus) receives forgiveness of sins through His name.”
Acts 10:43 (NIV)
“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
Ephesians 4:32 (NIV)
These are just two of the many verses in the Bible that deal with forgiveness. They’re pretty straight forward, basically saying that if you repent (that is, to turn away from) of your sin and ask to be forgiven, you will be, and if you forgive others for their sins against you, you will also be forgiven. Simple, huh? Well …
I don’t know about you, but there are quite a few people that I’ve had to ask for forgiveness from over the years and still more that I probably need to ask forgiveness from today … whether I know it or not. It isn’t always easy, even for Christians who know that in order to be right with God, forgiveness is a must. Whether it’s a family member we haven’t seen in a while, a friend who doesn’t come around much anymore, a co-worker or even a church member, there are people that if we took a minute and said “I’m sorry” … well, it couldn’t hurt.
There are, in my humble opinion, three very important concepts about forgiveness that it’s essential for you to understand:
First: Some of the people that you need to forgive … DON’T WANT YOU TO FORGIVE THEM! They may really feel justified for (or may not even be aware of) whatever it was that they did to warrant your forgiveness. This is a really tricky one because, once you’ve made the decision to forgive them, (and this in itself can be very difficult) and you see them at the reunion or the party or in the hallway or at the mall, and although you have the best of intentions, two things may happen that just make things worse. Either you walk up and say,
“Insert child of God’s name here, I just want you to know that what you said/did isn’t worth the rift that it’s caused between us, so I forgive you”
in which case they might look at you as being all “high and mighty”, trying to show them how much better a person you are than them and become offended, or they may have no idea what you’re talking about and see your gesture as an attack or feel like you’re just being thin skinned …which can also (not to be redundant) make things worse. I suggest that, instead of confronting these people and risk (yup, I’m saying it again) making things worse, that you simply FORGIVE THEM and move on. No “sit downs” or “face to face” is needed to forgive someone. Heck, you don’t even need to say it out loud. God knows what’s in your heart, and He will honor it.
Second: Some of the people that you need to ask forgiveness from MAY NOT WANT TO FORGIVE YOU! Granted, these people are wrong for feeling this way, but keep in mind, they may not be Christians, whether they call themselves one or not. You can’t expect non-believers to act like us, and it’s not fair if you do. Don’t get me wrong, it’s tragic if this is the way that they feel, but it’s still unfair to expect Christian behavior from non-Christians. But, let’s face it, if the person whom you need to ask forgiveness from is so bitter that they won’t forgive you (or worse, they feel that since you’re asking for forgiveness, that it’s something that they can lord over you) IT DOESN’T MATTER. If you ask with sincerity, and they won’t forgive you, IT’S ON THEM. You’ve done what you needed to do, and God knows that. He will honor it even if they don’t.
Third: There may be someone that you either need to ask forgiveness of or that you need to forgive that, for whatever reason, there’s no way you’ll ever have an opportunity to do so. Whether they were a childhood friend that you’ve moved away from and have no way of contacting, etc., or tragically, it’s someone who has died, you can still be forgiven for you sin and forgive them for theirs. Now, this was a difficult concept for me to wrap my head around, so I’ll illustrate it by using my parents. My mother, whom I believe was an angel here on earth, because I never heard her say a bad thing about anyone … except me, and I deserved it … died on July 9th, 1994. I’m just being honest when I say that I treated her terribly when I was a teenager, and although I had many chances over the years to ask her for forgiveness, I never did, because I wasn’t saved until 2006 and I didn’t understand the importance of it. And then there’s my dad. He died on April 4th, 2004 and, although he was never physically abusive to us kids, mental abuse was certainly a factor in my childhood. I won’t go into detail here, but he wasn’t the nicest guy to me growing up. There were many things that I needed to forgive him for, but again, I didn’t, mostly because I didn’t want to. In both cases, it became important to me a few years ago to both forgive them and ask for their forgiveness. How did I accomplish this? I asked God to forgive me of my sins against both of them, and I expressed my forgiveness of both of them to God. He honored that.
Forgiveness, whether it’s asked for or given, isn’t about the other person. It’s about us making things right with God. He provided His Son for our salvation. We ought to be able to swallow our pride in order to cleanse our soul for it.
G. J. Fortier is a member of IronMen Ministries and of First Baptist Church, Centerville, Georgia. Look for his new novel, Mirrored Man: The Rob Tyler Chronicles, Book 1 available on Amazon for Kindle. www.mirroredman.com