Forgiveness Is More Than Letting God
"And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, 'I repent,' forgive him"(Luke 17:4).
Many Christians have asked the question, "Should we forgive the person who has wronged us even if they do not ask our forgiveness?" The question would be so much easier for us to answer if we better understood what "forgiveness" means!
Think about how God forgives people who have wronged Him. He has been practicing forgiveness since He first created man, and through stories in the Bible about His forgiveness, we can learn these lessons:
1. Because it is a relationship that is involved, forgiveness requires action from both parties. "Come to me . . . and I will give you rest," Jesus says (Matthew 11:28). That is forgiveness - one person comes, the other accepts.
2. Though God is wronged often by mankind, He never becomes, as we do, bitter or hold grudges against people. Peter said of Jesus, "And while being reviled, He did not revile in return . . ." (1 Peter 2:23). For God, forgiveness does not mean that He'll stop being angry and "put it behind Him." It does not mean that He will say, "OK, I'll be the bigger person and stop holding a grudge and start being kind to that person." God never held a grudge in the first place! And God was never bitter at the beginning!
3. God is always ready and willing to forgive! He looks into the distance to see if anyone is coming, as the father of the prodigal son did in Luke 15, looking for the invitation to forgive.
We misunderstand forgiveness! We think that forgiveness means to quit being bitter and holding grudges. But we should not have had those feelings toward people in the first place. Paul said in Ephesians 4:31-32, "Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you."If you have bitterness and malice toward someone, put it away from you. And do it now!
So just what is forgiveness? It is restoration of a relationship! That is what happens when God forgives us, and that is what happens when we forgive other people. When the question is asked, "Must we forgive a person before they ask for our forgiveness?," Usually they are asking, "Do I have to stop being bitter toward this person before they ask for my forgiveness?" Actually, we cannot forgive a person before they come to us in repentance, because forgiveness requires action from both parties! Does God forgive before a person comes to Him asking for forgiveness? He does not.
Here is a summary of how forgiveness works:
1. Eagerly wait for the person to come to you and restore the relationship, as God does for us.
2. Do not take into account the wrong (1 Cor. 13:5), but rather want the best for others.
3. Pray for the soul of the one who wronged us.
4. Harbor no resentment, bitterness, anger or malice all the while.
5. The final part of forgiveness is up to the other person, and forgiveness cannot be complete until they take the step necessary to fully restore the relationship.