I couldn’t believe it. The man who had helped me come to Christ, who prayed the sinner’s prayer with me, was now full of bitterness! His love for Christ had seemed so genuine, but now it seemed to be dying out. What had happened? By the way he talked, he sounded like a completely different man.
I found out there were problems in his marriage. He had married a widow with kids. Things got complicated, and many problems did not get resolved. When I spoke with him, he would talk about how bad his family was treating him. But instead of working through the problem, he withdrew into a shell to protect himself. The marriage dissolved because of it, and things were dire.
As the years went on, he would still speak about how unfair everything was and how wrong he was treated. It became clear to me what had happened. He was refusing to forgive. He was still holding onto those offenses.
Jesus said unforgiveness bring “tormentors.” Jesus said the one who refuses to forgive is like one forced into a prison where they are tortured. This Christian brother of mine was in that prison. But Jesus was offering a “get out of jail free” card. To walk out of that cell of bitterness and out from under that heavy burden of pain required him to forgive his wife. Unfortunately, he refused to forgive, and so he remained in that prison.
Jesus said because we have been forgiven so much from God, we must forgive others.
Then the king [who represent God] called in the man he had forgiven and said, ‘You evil servant! I forgave you that tremendous debt because you pleaded with me. Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?’ Then the angry king sent the man to prison to be tortured until he had paid his entire debt. Matthew 18:32-34
Of all the things I have seen destroy people’s lives, the one that I have seen most is not, alcohol, drugs, or adultery. It’s unforgiveness, hands down. Unforgiveness destroys families, businesses, churches, sports teams, and staffs. It makes it grand entrance through offenses and wreaks havoc on relationships.
Jesus was emphatic about this thing of forgiving others because He knew it would be a huge stumbling block. But to show us how important it is, He said,
But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins. Matthew 6:15
How do you know you’ve actually forgiven?
Well, first let me tell you this. I’ve had to forgive the same people for the same offense over and over again. I may not “feel” different (at least not right away), but I choose to forgive every time I remember it.
Here are some things forgiveness is not:
Forgiveness is not conditional. Forgiveness is given regardless of how the other person responds. They may not earn it, deserve it, or promise to do something to receive it. Real forgiveness isn’t waiting for the offender to apologize, it is given anyway.
Forgiveness is not pretending there was no offense. It takes courage and truth to admit you were hurt. When Jesus taught us to pray, He said we should speak to the Father this way, “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” That means they took something form you, or maybe you trusted them and they betrayed you. There are many things people take from us:
If they owe you an apology, guess what, they owe you something. Don’t pretend that they don’t. To say, “It’s no big deal, I’m fine” is a lie.
Forgiveness does not mean you must trust them again. Trust is earned. Some people are afraid to forgive because they believe they will go have to go back to trusting that person. Forgiveness doesn’t mean you have to be their best friend again, or go into business again with them. It simply means that you’ve released them from the debt they owed you.