One of the most humbling truths in salvation is the realization that we have been forgiven by God. Regardless of what we have done, the places we have gone, the things we’ve said, God, through Christ, has forgiven us for it all. It’s a treasured truth that can crack even the hardest of hearts – to know we have been forgiven (and loved) in spite of ourselves.
Forgiveness in salvation truly is all about receiving, but in our daily dealings with others, it often becomes more about giving, which is what this article is about. Learning to forgive others as God has forgiven us. And, in turn, receiving again, by way of God’s healing grace through this same forgiveness.
Forgiving Friends & Enemies Alike
Most are no doubt familiar with what has been termed "The Golden Rule." The Lord spoke, in Luke 6:31, "As ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise." This includes forgiving others, friends and enemies alike, as He’d affirmed in Matthew 5:44:
"Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you."
To forgive a friend or loved one would obviously seem easier than forgiving an enemy. One reason would be because a friend is more likely to apologize than a known enemy, and the other is because the reason our loved ones are called "loved" ones is that our love for them is already present. Once we learn to love our enemies ("in a social or moral sense," according to Strong’s Greek Dictionary) and to genuinely pray for them, forgiveness should be a natural next step – if not verbally when one hasn’t asked, then at least in our hearts.
Concerning those who do ask for our forgiveness, the Apostle Peter once questioned, in Matthew 18:21, how often we should forgive a brother who has sinned against us. He added, "Till seven times?" At the time, seven was considered a large number due to Jewish pardons only being granted up to three times, so Peter would have no doubt felt he was being generous in naming this number. Still, Christ responded, "I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven."
If we are instructed to forgive someone who asks for our forgiveness far above the number of times we would personally consider acceptable and "right," then it should give us an idea of what our true duty is. To forgive. And to forgive often and with sincerity.
"Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful." (Luke 6:36)
Forgiving Deeply Felt Past Hurts
I mentioned above that it would seem easier to forgive a loved one than it would be to forgive an enemy. And, for the most part, this is true. However, for those deeply imbedded old wounds in our hearts, the sad truth is that enemies, or those who are strangers to us, simply don’t have the power to hurt us with such an impact. Only those who matter to us can do that.
It could be a parent or a child, a husband or a wife, a sibling, a friend, or even an acquaintance we might admire. It doesn’t really matter who the person is or why they matter so much to us; it only matters that they do, for whatever the reason. Because of the deep emotional connection, when this person who matters so much to us is the one who has hurt us the most, human nature is to bury it just as deep, and then to deny we were ever affected at all.
In the secular-noted five stages of grief, denial is number one. But if we stay at number one, being unable/unwilling to acknowledge (to ourselves) the reality of our true feelings toward someone or a situation itself, then we hinder the process of naturally moving on to the final stage of acceptance. In other words, we can’t forgive someone if we haven’t realized we have a need to forgive. They say that to admit you have a problem is half the battle in overcoming it, so a first step in forgiving one of these deep wounds of the past is merely to acknowledge it exists – to acknowledge it happened and that you were, in fact, affected by it. Face it, embrace it, then let it go. It’s the only way to sincerely move on. For you.
This particular topic is really too big for just a section in an article, so consider these few words as only a starting point to healing. It can take months, even years, to learn to let go of old emotional wounds, so for now it’s enough to say, pray often. And for every step in your journey toward true forgiveness, know that God will supply all of the grace and the guidance that you need.
"The LORD is good, a strong hold in the day of trouble; and he knoweth them that trust in him." (Nahum 1:7)
Forgiving Yourself For Making Mistakes
Outside of The Lord Himself, no one is perfect. We all make mistakes, and we all do and say things we later regret. When we’re the ones who are guilty, then it goes without saying that we should be the ones asking for forgiveness, both from God and from the person we’ve wronged. And this should be done with true humility and sincerity – for we all know there’s nothing worse than an empty apology coming from someone who doesn’t really believe they’ve done anything wrong.
Once we’ve sincerely apologized, however, it’s time to let it go. If forgiveness wasn’t forthcoming, we should do as Christ said in Matthew 10:14, "And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet."
Sometimes letting go of our own sins is more difficult than letting go of someone else’s. God forgives us much more completely than we forgive ourselves when the Holy Spirit convicts us of just how wrong we really are. He recognizes us for who we are and how that we’re prone to sin, then He forgives us in Christ without limit. When God forgives, we can rest assured that we have truly been forgiven, and we never have to live with the fear of hearing Him say, "I’ll forgive you, but I won’t forget." His forgiveness is given in full, not in part.
It’s good to remember past sins in a way that would keep us from repeating them, but it’s not good to dwell on them in a way that prevents us from moving on and doing the things God would have for us to do. We’re only human. Forgiving ourselves is just as important as forgiving others – for when we forgive ourselves, we are better able to forgive others.
"Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much." (James 5:16)
God’s Healing Grace Through Forgiveness
When one has learned to forgive another, without conditions, the benefits can be reaped by all, such as in John 4:37, where The Lord states, "And herein is that saying true, One soweth, and another reapeth." When one sows in forgiveness, all can reap in the resulting peace and contentment that follows. With a true forgiving heart, there is no room for resentment, anger, or distrust. There is only room for kindness and love.
This is what God’s healing grace through forgiveness is about. In receiving forgiveness, we learn of humility and what it means to feel undeserving. In giving forgiveness, we learn of grace and what it means to feel "released."
"Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets." (Matthew 7:12)