BY PASTOR T. O. BANSO
Forgiveness is a big problem for human beings, including Christians, especially when the offences are considered serious. However, the Bible says we should forgive all wrongs or hurt, big or small. It doesn’t say, “Forgive and forget” because human beings are not like God, who said, “And I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins” (Jeremiah 31:34b NLT). Human beings don’t have the device to wipe or delete events from their memory!
What the Bible says is to forgive, no matter the offence against you. You may still remember the offence, but your memory of the offence shouldn’t be as fresh as it was initially.
If you remember an offence you’ve sincerely forgiven the offender, it’s not a sin provided you don’t have resentment (bitterness) towards the person as you had formerly, and even if remembrance wants to make you resentful again, forgive the person again! Any time you remember an offence you’ve forgiven, remind yourself and the devil that you’ve already forgiven the offender! To assure yourself, forgive again and pray for the person! Avoid thinking, talking or speaking negatively and bitterly about the person to avoid opening old wounds.
The real issue is not remembering an offence you’ve forgiven, but refusing to forgive from your heart, forgiving sincerely, not just saying it. “So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses” (Matthew 18:35 NKJV). Forgiveness is Jesus’ command, not a piece of advice.
Two views on forgiveness
There are two views on forgiveness in the body of Christ: conditional and unconditional forgiveness. Conditional forgiveness means that the offender must repent before he is forgiven. In this case, the offence is a serious one that requires repentance before forgiveness.
On the other hand, unconditional forgiveness means that forgiveness is not dependent on the offender’s repentance or plea for forgiveness. While some believe that this relates to offences that are not so serious, others believe that this relates to serious and unserious offences. In other words, forgiveness should not depend on repentance by the offender.
Jesus said in Luke 17:3-4, “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” (NKJV). In this scripture, forgiveness is dependent on repentance.
Also in Matthew 18:15-17, Jesus said, “Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector” (NKJV).
Within the context of conditional forgiveness, what should be the attitude of a Christian if the offender refuses to repent so that he can be forgiven? Matthew 5:44a says we should love our enemies, and bless those who curse us. We should have an attitude of forgiveness (be ready to forgive) and not keep malice or hold grudges; we should pray for the offender to repent. Whenever he repents, we should forgive him. In the meantime, we should leave the matter to God.
However, Jesus said in Mark 11:25-26, “And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses” (NKJV). In this scripture, there is no mention of the offender’s repentance or asking for forgiveness as a condition for forgiveness.
Proverbs 19:11 says, “The discretion of a man makes him slow to anger, and his glory is to overlook a transgression” (NKJV). The latter part of this scripture tells us to overlook offence. This could be regarded as unconditional forgiveness. This scripture does not talk about the offender’s repentance or confronting him with his wrongdoing. We are to overlook transgressions. “The [arrogant] fool’s anger is quickly known [because he lacks self-control and common sense], But a prudent man ignores an insult” (Proverbs 12:16 Amplified Bible). There are times we should overlook wrongdoing and forgive even when the offender has not asked for forgiveness.
Proverbs 25:21-22 says, “If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink; For so you will heap coals of fire on his head, and the LORD will reward you” (NKJV). Unless you forgive, you may not be able to do this.
Forgive because of yourself
Forgiveness benefits the offender but it also benefits you. For instance, regarding the offender, the Bible says, “Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24 NKJV).
When you forgive and allow peace between you and a fellow Christian who has wronged you, you help the person to make his/her gift acceptable to God. The person can go and present his/her gift to God after you have forgiven him.
On the other hand, you’re to forgive not only because of the offender but also because of yourself. Jesus said if you don’t forgive, your Father in heaven won’t forgive your trespasses (Mark 11:25-26). In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus said in part, “Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation” (Luke 11:4 NIV). You’ll be a liar if you recite this aspect of the prayer, yet you harbour unforgiveness.
I’m not trivializing the offence against you. Nevertheless, the greatest hurt can never justify unforgiveness. “Then Peter came to Him and said, ‘Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven’” (Matthew 18:21-22 NKJV). That means forgiving others should be your lifestyle. There is no limit on forgiveness.
Forgiveness is different from the restoration of a relationship
However, that you’ve forgiven the offender doesn’t mean that you should immediately restore the relationship or reconcile with the person. Whereas forgiveness is immediate, reconciliation depends a lot on the attitude of the offender, the seriousness or gravity of the offence, and the frequency of the offence. Reconciliation is a process that requires the restoration of trust. The offender who is forgiven must show genuine repentance and prove it for a reasonable period depending on the gravity of the hurt.
The offended must be convinced before he reconciles with the offender. That, however, doesn’t mean that the offended can’t still be deceived to believe the offender has truly changed. The Bible says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9 NKJV)
There are those who speak friendly words to their neighbours while planning evil in their hearts (Psalm 28:3). They break promises; their words are as smooth as cream, but in their hearts is war. Their words are as soothing as lotion, but underneath are daggers (Psalm 55:20-21). King David’s enemies pretended to be friendly, but cursed him in their hearts (Psalm 62:4). God said of the people of Judah, “For their tongues shoot lies like poisoned arrows. They speak friendly words to their neighbors while scheming in their heart to kill them” (Jeremiah 9:8 NLT).
The offended must do his best, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to confirm genuine repentance so that he is not easily deceived. It’s not a sin to patiently confirm the genuineness of the offender’s repentance – not for forgiveness, but for the restoration of the relationship. Reconciliation is a process which takes time where it’s still possible. For instance, you can’t reconcile with the dead, someone you don’t know his whereabouts or an unrepentant person, but you can FORGIVE. Trust must be restored before reconciliation can take place.
In marriage, husbands and wives should learn to forgive and also ask for forgiveness. They should forgive every sin including adultery and the guilty spouse should work towards reconciliation.
Why should you forgive?
1. You are a beneficiary of God’s forgiveness. If God has not forgiven you, there’s no way you would have become a child of God. God sent Jesus to come and die for our sins (1 Peter 3:18). According to Galatians 1:4, “Jesus gave his life for our sins, just as God our Father planned, in order to rescue us from this evil world in which we live” (NLT). 1 Corinthians 15:3 says Christ died for our sins just as the Scriptures said.
In doing that, He had to shed His blood because, without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sin (Hebrews 9:22). In Christ, we have our redemption, the forgiveness of our sins (Colossians 1:14). According to Psalm 103:12, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us” (NKJV).
Therefore, if you’re a beneficiary of God’s forgiveness, you’ll be an ungrateful person to fail to forgive those who wrong you. You’ll be like that servant who was forgiven a huge debt of millions of dollars by the king, but went to arrest a fellow servant who owed him just a few thousand dollars and jailed him until the debt was paid in full – this was despite the servant’s plea to be patient with him just as the unforgiving servant had pleaded and the king had forgiven him (Matthew 18:23-35). Whatever offence anyone commits against you is far less than your sins forgiven by God.
2. You will always need forgiveness. You’re not perfect. God forgave you your sins through the death of Jesus on the cross, and that’s why you became a child of God. However, the truth is that you still sin; you’ve not attained sinless perfection. So you still need God’s forgiveness, and He’s promised to forgive you when you confess your sin. So if God forgives you your sin, what justification do you have not to forgive others? “There will be no mercy for those who have not shown mercy to others. But if you have been merciful, God will be merciful when he judges you (James 2:13 NLT). The Bible says if you don’t forgive, your Father in heaven won’t forgive you your own sins (Mark 11:26; Matthew 6:15).
Not only that, you need to forgive because you’ll also need others’ forgiveness. You can’t tell me you’re a hundred per cent all right, perfect, in your relationship with others. You wrong them, even if unintentionally. Should they hold it against you and not forgive you?
3. Unforgiveness hinders your prayers. Without forgiving others, God won’t answer your prayers If lack of forgiveness hinders God from forgiving your sin when you’re praying, as seen in Mark 11:25-26, it can also hinder God from granting your other requests.
Sin is a great barrier between man and God, and if man’s sin is not forgiven when he starts praying, how can his other requests be answered (Isaiah 59:2). Unforgiveness is a sin which will short-circuit your prayer. Forgive so that your prayers won’t be hindered.
4. Forgiveness shuts the door against the devil. Forgiveness doesn’t give the devil an opening to come in and operate in your life. On the other hand, unforgiveness gives Satan a foothold – an advantage, it gives Satan room to operate. “Now whom you forgive anything, I also forgive. For if indeed I have forgiven anything, I have forgiven that one for your sakes in the presence of Christ, lest Satan should take advantage of us; for we are not ignorant of his devices” (2 Corinthians 2:10-11 NKJV).
Just as “anger gives a foothold to the devil” (Ephesians 4:27 NLT), unforgiveness gives a mighty foothold to the devil. Satan exploits unforgiveness to cause a problem for the believer. Be careful.
5. Forgiveness enables God to fight for you. Forgiveness is refusing to fight your battle yourself; it is refraining from getting justice by yourself and for yourself. But only God can give you true justice. “For the LORD is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for Him” (Isaiah 30:18b NKJV). The Lord says, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay” (Romans 12:19 NKJV).
If you forgive, you give room for God to fight your battle. God helps those who have decided not to help themselves!
6. You need to move on with your life. Holding on to past offences ties you to the past. Whenever you want to think about tomorrow or the future, you’ll be drawn back by that incident. Is that how you want to continue to live your life? You must let bygones be bygones.
It doesn’t matter what anyone did to you or said to you to write you off in the past, you can’t rewrite the past, but you can prove them wrong by taking advantage of today, and in cooperation with God, let Him take you to the greater place He has destined for you.
Joseph didn’t hold anything against his brother who sold him into slavery. “Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God? But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive. Now therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones.’ And he comforted them and spoke kindly to them” (Genesis 50:19-21 NKJV). That is the spirit! Forgive and move on with your life. Your future will be better than your past.
7. Unforgiveness is not good for your spiritual and physical health. It ruins your fellowship with God and fellow humans. Unforgiveness has been associated with bodily pain, headache, heart problem, and even a weak immune system.
Unforgiveness and resentment (bitterness, wrath, anger) go hand in hand, which isn’t good for your health. Corrie ten Boom said, “Forgiveness is the key which unlocks the door of resentment and the handcuffs of hatred. It is a power that breaks the chains of bitterness and the shackles of selfishness Resentment is defined as “aggrieved feelings caused by a sense of having been badly treated.” Who treated you badly? Don’t be resentful.
Proverbs 27:3 says, “A stone is heavy and sand is weighty, but the resentment caused by a fool is even heavier” (NLT). Resentment is bad, either because of a foolish action of someone or someone’s well-intentioned action. Don’t let anyone’s action make you resentful; it kills. “Resentment kills a fool” (Job 5:2 NIV). Don’t be a fool! Forgive offences. Protect your heart against offences. “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life” (Proverbs 4:23 NLT). Out of your heart is the wellspring of life.
Unforgiveness can hinder divine healing. “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results” (James 5:16 NLT). Even some healthcare providers have added “forgiveness therapy” to the treatment of some health conditions. Forgiveness has great health benefits including giving you peace of mind and healing your emotions. You become healthier and your relationships become richer. Someone said, “Every person should have a special cemetery lot in which to bury the faults of friends and loved ones” (Anonymous). Proverbs 17:9 says, “You will keep your friends if you forgive them, but you will lose your friends if you keep talking about what they did wrong” (CEV).
Conclusion: The worst treatment anyone can receive was what Jesus received. He went through an unjust trial and was crucified on the cross even when he was not found guilty of any offence. Despite this, he said on the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34 NKJV). He didn’t curse them; he didn’t seek revenge. He simply ignored their action. “A person’s wisdom makes him slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense” (Proverbs 19:11 NET).
You may think, your case is different from that of Jesus – those who wronged you knew what they were doing therefore they don’t deserve forgiveness! No. They may think they knew what they were doing, but they really didn’t. They weren’t acting voluntarily; they were under some control. However, even if you don’t believe that, forgive them in view of the reasons I’ve discussed in this message. Great shall be your peace if you do so, and God shall give you justice.
If you are not born again, you need to give your life to Jesus now. I urge you to take the following steps: *Admit that you are a sinner and you cannot save yourself and repent of your sins. *Confess Jesus as your Lord and Saviour. *Renounce your past way of life – your relationship with the devil and his works. *Invite Jesus into your life. *As a mark of seriousness to mature in the faith, start attending a Bible-believing and Bible-teaching church. There they will teach you how to grow in the Kingdom of God.
Kindly say this prayer now: O Lord God, I come unto You today. I know I am a sinner and I cannot save myself. I believe that Jesus is the Son of God who died on the cross to save me and God raised Him on the third day. I repent of my sins and confess Jesus as my Lord and Saviour. I surrender my life to Jesus now and invite Him into my heart. By this prayer, I know I am saved. Thank You, Jesus, for saving me and making me a child of God.
I believe you have said this prayer from your heart. Congratulations! You will need to join a Bible-believing and Bible-teaching church in your area where they will teach you how to live your new life in Christ Jesus. I pray that you flourish like a palm tree and grow like a cedar of Lebanon. May you grow into Christ in all things and become all God wants you to be. I will be glad to hear from you. The Lord be with you.
T. O. Banso is the President of Cedar Ministry International, Abuja, Nigeria.
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