The topic of forgiveness is common within the church. We discuss giving it, desiring it, accepting it, rejoicing in it, and enjoying the ultimate – forgiveness in Christ. However, we are less likely to talk about the process of forgiveness. Extending forgiveness will require prayer and can cost significant time. And for some, a substantial amount of time. There’s a huge difference between forgiving someone who spoke badly about you, and forgiving someone who has deeply hurt you – emotionally, physically or both.
This discussion is not intended to hurry you to the point of forgiveness, but rather my desire is to lend some clarity to what you might expect as God moves you closer to what may seem impossible. Even more so, I would like to share what I believe to be a more complete view of forgiveness – one that is more for the forgiven. It is also important for me to say that if there has been any history of violence, fear of it occurring, danger for the victim or those involved – a discussion with a pastor or a qualified therapist is mandatory before any contact should even be considered. As a victim of violence by a complete stranger myself, I would not pursue that relationship.
In recent history, the church has fallen short in revealing the depth and greatness of offering forgiveness. For many reasons, we have focused on teaching Christians that the greatest benefit to forgiving is to be enjoyed by the forgiver. Freedom and closure are promised. But as difficult as it may be to accept, this type of forgiveness falls short of what we are offered through Christ. I wrote more on that HERE.
Forgiveness and the results of forgiveness can look quite different. Are both Christians? Is the offender an unbeliever? Are they related? Is the offender a friend, or a stranger? The truth is that regardless of the offense and who is involved, God’s heart and all of scripture indicate forgiveness is always for reconciliation and restoration. In some circumstances, this may mean parties are reconciled. In other circumstances, parties are not reconciled. However, forgiveness should always create a way for the offender to be reconciled to God. This post is intended to walk through part of this process for arriving at forgiveness. In no way is it intended to be an all-inclusive discussion, or meant to be overly simplistic.
THEIR RESPONSE, YOUR RESPONSIBILITY
As it sometimes happens, the offender does not recognize, whether by intention or not, that they even committed an offense. In some cases, they will adamantly reject that they are responsible, or that any offense ever occurred. In those cases, our obedience to God is never contingent on another person’s response. If the Holy Spirit is leading you to extend forgiveness, your response is obedience.
The offender’s failure to recognize the offense, or outright rejection of it, while frustrating and difficult, is of little consequence with regard to your obedience. Once you present forgiveness and the path to reconciliation it is the Holy Spirit’s responsibility to draw that person to their own realization. If the person is not a bother or sister in Christ, their response is still not your responsibility. In every case, your obedience should communicate the grace of God, and everything beyond that is dependent on God.
IT BEGINS IN THE MIND
In Romans 12:2 the Apostle Paul instructs us to, “be transformed by the renewal of your mind,” then goes on to talk about what it looks like to be a true follower of Jesus. Paul speaks of love, grace, and dealing with those who persecute you while refraining from revenge (being forgiving.) He is indicating to us that as we spend time in God’s word, the Gospel will renew our minds, and change the way we approach and think about everything – including forgiveness. If this is true, once the Holy Spirit begins to move us toward forgiving, should it not begin as a decision of our mind, rather than our heart? In fact, I would contend that making a cognitive, or logically reasoned, decision to forgive is the easier part of the process. Often times, as the Holy Spirit leads us, we will easily know it is right and just to forgive. However, it is our heart, which is “deceitful above all things” that typically complicates the issue.
THEY MUST KNOW
Once the decision is made to extend forgiveness, it is important that the offender knows forgiveness is available and, when appropriate, reconciliation is the intended outcome. This is not to say that it will be an easy task. However, the offering is necessary for reconciliation to occur. When we look at the forgiveness that God offers to us, the cross of Christ makes its availability known to us, even if we fail to acknowledge our need. Without knowing you are offering forgiveness, the offender’s ability to accept and pursue reconciliation does not exist. Telling the offender is necessary, even if they do not claim responsibility for the offense.
ACTIONS SPEAK LOUDLY
After you tell the offender, your actions have to reflect that you have forgiven them. Christ did not simply tell His followers that they were forgiven; He showed them. Christ on the cross was the evidence of what He said. What we say must be followed up by evidence. For some, this may be time offered to spend with the offender. Whatever it looks like for you, it has to communicate forgiveness to the offender.
BOUNDARIES GUIDE THE PROCESS
Once forgiveness is expressed, and the potential for reconciliation is made known, you are not obligated to a free for all on the part of the offender. Instead, we see Christ offering forgiveness that establishes healthy and safe boundaries, guardrails if you will, that we should operate within. Even after we offer the gift of forgiveness, there are still expectations for how we are to behave with regard to God and the offender. While the learning curve is wide and the process of transformation is long, a lifetime even, the boundaries still exist. What those boundaries look like are up to you, but remember that they cannot be prohibitive to the offender being reconciled, potentially with you, and especially to God.
YOUR HEART WILL FOLLOW
At the end of the above process, you may still feel the hurt and anger in your heart. That should not be a surprise. The intention is that you make forgiveness known and visible. The implication of the renewal of your mind, as Romans 12:2 speaks of, is that you will be transformed. This can take time, can be messy and includes the complication of our deceitful heart. In being transformed, we are able to know the will of God, which we can see from 2 Corinthians 5:18 and 1 Timothy 2:4, is centered on people being reconciled to Him. As our mind is renewed, our heart is transformed and we interact with people in more Christ-like ways.
In the end, the extension of our forgiveness is an act of obedience to God so that we might fulfill our role of ministers of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18). May the desire of our heart be that of our Savior’s, to trust in and show the love of the Father.