“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Ephesians 4:32 (NIV), bold and italics mine
Forgiving others doesn’t come naturally. If anything, I have to shift my mind away from the hurt so I can focus on what I need to do. Sometimes, I have to walk away from a relationship in order to get a grip on my actions and my emotions.
Most of the time, I just need to think and pray. If I don’t, my emotions and feelings will cloud my judgment and resentment will set in. It feels easier to wallow in anger and pain. It feels impossible to run to Christ so I can forgive someone who has deeply hurt me.
I know resentment and forgiveness don’t mix. If anything, resentment leads to bitterness. Having bitterness in my heart does very strange things to me. God did not hardwire me to walk around carrying grudges. It takes a toll on my life and others around me suffer the consequences.
So when do we know we’ve forgiven someone completely and fully?
In order to answer this question, we have to understand what Scripture says about forgiveness. We need to know what forgiving others requires.
Remembering the grace that comes with our own forgiveness. We have to remember how much God has forgiven us. If we don’t feel forgiven, we won’t want to forgive others. The more forgiven we feel by God, the more grace we’ll extend toward others.
Resisting thoughts of revenge. Romans 12:19 says, “Never avenge yourselves. Leave that to God, for he has said that he will repay those who deserve it” (LB). Life seems so unfair, but one day God’s going to eliminate all the wrongs.
Seeking to do good. Luke 6:27-28, “Do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (NIV). 1 Thessalonians 5:15 also says, “See that no one repays another with evil for evil.” How can you tell when you’ve really forgiven somebody? When you can look at the other person’s hurt and not just your own and pray for God to bless him or her (Matt. 5:44). If you allow the love of God to penetrate your life, you will seek to do good towards those who hurt you. Only the love of God can help you do this.
Focusing on reconciliation. Romans 12:18, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” God focused on reconciliation the moment sin entered the world. We should do the same.
Repeating forgiveness as long as necessary. Peter came to Jesus and asked, “‘…Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?’ ‘No, not seven times,’ Jesus replied, ‘but seventy times seven!’” (Matthew 18:21-22, NLT) How long do we have to keep forgiving? As long as God continues to forgive us.
Forgiveness doesn’t mean the absence of anger at sin. We shouldn’t feel good about evil and sin. It hurts, it wants to destroy and it wants to break our spirit and hearts. However, through Christ, all things are possible. God can produce repentance and faith in the heart of anyone (Luke 1:37, Gen. 18:14).
If forgiving others doesn’t come naturally for you, remember God’s love for you. Shift your mind away from the hurt and focus on what forgiveness means. If you believe in your heart what God has done for you and in you, you can and will extend grace to others who hurt you. You will forgive.
What hurt do you need to let go of? How can you extend grace to them today?