Forgiveness: What is it?

By Tricia Kinsman
In Got Questions
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Forgiveness is one of the most challenging and complex things we are called to as followers of Christ. It’s a calling that often convicts our hearts as we’re wracked with guilt over how we feel about someone else. And the word forgiveness often leaves us with a sense of Christian duty, yet we scream inside:

“But what about what THEY did?”

“Why should I forgive them if they don’t forgive me?”

“How could I possibly forgive the abuse, the violence, the losses they caused, or the dignity they shredded in front of others?”

These are things we all struggle with. Scripture says that if we don’t have a heart of forgiveness toward others, then we will never be able to fully grasp God’s forgiveness of us. I think we often have a problem with our understanding of what forgiveness truly is, and once I realized my definition was skewed, I was freed to recognize that there were multiple levels and layers of forgiveness. Some I had responsibility for, and others depended on God and the other party involved.

We do much damage to ourselves and others when we blindly forgive all wrongs done to us; when we hold harmless the one who sinned against us. We need to take a deep dive into the relationship and ask four important questions. Once we have done that, we are able to come before God and ask Him to change our hearts toward forgiveness.

1. What was wrong?

    The first thing we must ask ourselves is whether this was truly the wrong thing for this person to do, or whether I think they just should have done it my way. Define for yourself whether this was a sin against you, or whether you just don’t like someone or what he or she is doing. That should determine what needs to come next. The hope is that you have a clear understanding of yourself first: your personality type, your personal issues. If there has actually been no harm done to you, then there is nothing you need to forgive in the other person. The issue is really what triggered something in you that you didn’t like and exploring that by finding out more about yourself.

    2. How did it affect our relationship?

      If you have determined that this was a sin against God AND a sin against you, then you need to do a little research. Ask yourself these questions:

      What have I lost relationally because of the wounds they inflicted?

      Trust in them? The trust of others? Intimacy? Safety? Friends or Family? My understanding of God and His kindness and goodness to me? What other things have I lost because of their wounds? My sense of self-awareness (an inability to trust my gut)? Material things like my home or safe haven, money? My job?

      What am I responsible for in forgiving them?

        I am not responsible for the forgiveness of someone else’s sin. Only God can provide judicial forgiveness. And that would require repentance on their part. We should never hinder this work of God in their lives by making excuses for their sin, covering up their sins, or telling them “it’s okay.”

        I am not responsible for relational restoration without the offender’s full repentance, meaning that I cannot blindly restore the relationship to where it was before without full repentance on his or her part. If someone continues to wound and harm, then we should enact firm and appropriate behavioral boundaries.

        Now, before moving on, I want to take a quick yet deeper look at repentance. It’s not something to mention lightly.

        Repentance in relationship will look like: (taken from the book Mending the Soul)

        • Acknowledging the widespread and extensive damage done and demonstrating remorse for the harm
        • Taking full responsibility for it—making confession
        • Enacting new boundaries that demonstrate respect for you and helping ensure that the words or actions will not happen again
        • Taking active steps to change the pattern of behavior that led to the hurtful way they acted or things they said.
        • Making restitution to you, however that looks

        Without a full repentance, relationship will often have to look different, if it can continue to be there at all. So, I need to be sure if I want to restore the relationship, I need to see these clear steps of repentance first.

        What I am responsible for in my heart?

          Personal forgiveness. This is the work between me and God of getting my heart attitude right before Him. It is the recognition of all I have lost because of the wrong done to me, but then asking the Holy Spirit to bring His character, His grace, and His lovingkindness into the situation. It is recognizing the humanity of us all. It is a process of renewing our minds and hearts. Let me say that again: IT IS A PROCESS of renewing our minds and hearts. That means it takes time. It takes work. And that work is the work of the Holy Spirit as we surrender our will. And it is, over time, learning to let go of our revenge and hatred. It is offering grace, even if we only find that grace in our hearts alone before God, knowing that God will judge righteously.

          So now it’s your turn. Is there someone you are struggling to forgive? Is there a situation that needs resolution? Take yourself through these steps to see where your responsibility lies. I encourage you to hold the other person responsible for his or her part, but take responsibility for your own, seeking God for the hope of healing and restoration.

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