Forgiving Others, Forgiving Ourselves
While most of us know how important it is to seek God’s forgiveness, we are often not clear why it is so critical to our emotional, physical, and spiritual health to forgive others and ourselves, too. Only as we are willing to turn from trying to collect on the debts, or retaliate against those who caused the wounds in our lives, are we free to explore and embrace more positive alternative solutions that will lead to the restoration of our well-being. But forgiveness must come first. It is the first step towards wellness.
Why must we learn to forgive?
~ By understanding that as we practice forgiving others, we are better able to understand the price that God paid in forgiving us. Thus, practicing forgiveness helps us to internalize the very essence of God’s personality, and it is required by Him for that very reason.
~ Just as a heart that is full of anger cannot be full of love, cannot speak love, and cannot be tender (Ephesians 4:15, 29, 31, 32), An unforgiving heart cannot experience the emotional and spiritual freedom that God had intended for His children (James 5:15-16) and is living contrary to God’s will (Matthew 6:14-15; Mark 11:25-26).
As we learn this process of continually and consistently choosing to trust in God’s provision and sovereignty—Who has an abundance of resources for our healing and growth—rather than focusing on those who have caused us pain, we practice the habit of the heart called forgiveness.
Is forgiveness an option for Christians?
Romans 12:14-21 answers this question for you—no. Revenge belongs to the Lord. Our response is to trust in God’s sovereignty and to love and forgive our debtors. When we seek revenge, we are overcome by evil (Ephesians 4:27). But when we seek justice and forgiveness, we vanquish evil with good (Romans 12:21). The key word here is the implied action seek. This word expresses the process that we choose to undertake. This cross-road offers only two options: we may own and harbor our ill-feelings, or we may submit them into God’s hands. But forgiveness must start with an act of the will.
What prevents us from forgiving?
Two distinct problems often prevent us from accomplishing this task even when we desire to forgive. The first is selfishness (pride). We are challenged to put aside our feelings and desires, and place our debtors needs above our own. This is also called the “Big I” syndrome. The only way to live in a state of perpetual forgiveness from God is to perpetually forgive others (Matthew 6:14-15). So then, by not forgiving, we step outside of our intimate union with God.
The second problem is the “I forgive you …but” scenario. Keep in mind it is impossible for anyone to fulfill the requirements that we set for them, just as it is not possible for us to live up to the requirements set by God; but that is where mercy begins. Instead, we set ourselves up for the unforgiving spirit cycle to start over again. How freeing it is to let go of the “me first” mentality and hold all of our life experiences up to Calvary’s cross.
- There is great peace in knowing ahead of time—“whatever happens to me in my life, I will forgive because I have been forgiven.”
- We do not have the right to be bitter against other people. To be unforgiving is a sin and is disobedience to God.
- You cannot tap into God’s inexhaustible resources until you choose to forgive and relinquish your unforgiving spirit to God. Once you do, the floodgates of heaven open up and pour forth healing to you because God’s grace has the opportunity to flow into your contrite, humble heart. Even greater than this, His grace will also overflow you and saturate all those in your life with His love if you yield to His work in your life.
How Do We Forgive?
I John 2:1-6 speaks directly to this issue. Jesus paid the penalty for my sin and the sins of the whole world (v.2). We forgive because we have been forgiven. We choose to live in obedience to His word (v.5) so that the love of God might truly be perfected in our own lives. How can we not forgive those who Christ has already forgave? It is more than words, it is application and action (v. 4-6).
Furthermore, according to Ephesians 4:31 and Colossians 3: 8-14, we are called to lay aside the old self and put away all of the negative attributes that seek retaliation and revenge and to put on the positive attributes as manifested through God’s Spirit of love. Once again, God has created all of us with the free-will to decide who we will serve. If we choose to be self-serving, our resources are limited to our finite minds and self-interests. If we choose to relinquish the authority of these situations over to God, we have an abundance of resources to meet our need. But a choice is required. Choose to let God own the weight and burden that you cannot bear in your own strength. Let go of your stubborn pride which insists that the situation must be resolved your own way.
“Forgiveness is the fragrance of the violet on the heal of the one who crushed it.” —Mark Twain
Five Steps Towards Forgiveness
1) Acknowledge your true feeling of anger, bitterness, resentment, disappointment, etc. Do not lie to yourself by saying, “I have not been hurt” (denial and repression) or “It’s not that bad, I can handle it with my own resources” (suppression).
2) Own those feelings and take the personal responsibility for your actions, and the choices you make in your reactions.
3) Confess it to God (1 John 1:9).
4) Talk it out. Employ the empty chair technique and/or the careful counsel of a brother or sister in Christ, or a therapist, to talk the issue through in a biblical manner for healing (James 5:16). Bathing the issue in prayer.
5) Choose to forgive and release your negative feelings on the basis of God’s forgiveness toward you (Matthew 18:21-35; Matthew 6:14,15). Trust that God will deal with the other person according to His sovereignty and in His time.
What is involved in forgiving oneself, and why is it so important?
Forgiving ourselves is no more than our heartfelt expression of saying thank-you for the gift of forgiveness that we have received (Romans 3:23-25; Romans 6:23). Simply stated: “I learn to affirm the sufficiency of the work of God in Jesus Christ on my behalf and say thank-you for doing for me what I could not, and cannot, do for myself.”
Continually saying these thank-you’s creates within out hearts the habit of relying on God and His provision, and the ability to receive forgiveness; which in turn should motivate us to forgive too. Also, these thank-you’s are the antidote of self-condemnation which arises from believing that we can or should be able to remedy our debts, guilt, and shame on our own rather than accept the new beginning that mercy and grace affords us.
This is why it is also important to praise God. Praising God is most evident by our continual subjection to His authority in our lives so that we may stand as a holy, pure people before Him and the word. Praising God is also demonstrated in prayer and song. By doing so, we transcend our temporal problems and situations and enter into the magnificent presence of our loving Creator. As we stand before Him, we have the opportunity to see our lives through the eyes of the Sovereign Lord of all creation. We can once again taste His refreshing grace and mercy as we realign our lives to the proper relationship of Father and restored, forgiven children. The loneliness and weight of life dissipates as God cleanses and restores.
To not forgive oneself after he or she has been forgiven by God is the same as saying that the shed blood of Jesus Christ is not sufficient, not all-cleansing, not able to atone; which contradicts Romans 5:9. Take a personal inventory of yourself to see what is beyond the all-powerful redemptive work of Jesus Christ. Claim the truth of the Scriptures that proclaim nothing is beyond Him—there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus!
Why give a blessing rather than returning a curse?
I Peter 3:8-17 speaks about a lifestyle that transcends the worries and need for retaliation. Instead, we are commanded to be a blessing to those who curse us (v.15) because we are commanded to worship Jesus Christ as Lord of our lives. To not be a blessing would directly contradict Christ’s Lordship over our lives. Most people will respect your desire to seek peace (v.13), but even if you suffer for doing right, God oversees all and He sees those who choose to do right, and He hears their prayers (v.12a). “But the Lord turns His face against those who do evil” (v.12b, NLT).
Pray, Pray, Pray
1) When you pray, you surrender the authority of the situation and the control of your response into God’s hands. This prevents Satan from gaining a foothold (Ephesians 4:27) because it is no longer your battle.
2) When you pray, you are fulfilling your calling and doing what God has designed you to do.
3) When you pray, God is pleased and the blessing you bestowed upon your debtor perpetuates blessings in your own life (Job 42:10).
Prayer opens up the flood gates of heaven and all of its abundance upon you and your situation. This is pleasing to God because it maintains our proper relationship with Him as submissive, obedient, trusting children and it allows Him to work in our lives—instilling the very essence of His character as the One who bestows love, forgiveness, mercy and grace.
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