Ezer Equipped | Forgiveness
Welcome to the September 2021 edition of Ezer Equipped!
Last month, we talked about our fractures. Some of those fractures are the result of wounds we’ve suffered and some are because of harm we’ve inflicted. The pervasive reality of sin in the world means that we will go through life as both wounded and wounder. It’s an unavoidable part of the human experience. But God has not left us without hope. One of the ways we experience God’s mending is through forgiveness. So this month, we want to explore forgiveness—what it is and what it’s not—and look at some of the ways we’ve misunderstood it.
I recently read a quote from an author named Lewis Smedes who said, “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” That really resonated with me, but I think I would carry it one step further. To receive and extend forgiveness is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you. When we sin against God and inflict harm on another person, the prison walls are built of guilt, shame, a burdened conscience, and sometimes despair. When we’ve been wounded by someone, the prison bars are bitterness, resentment, hypervigilance, self-protection, and sometimes hatred. So whether you are the wounded or the wounder, you can become imprisoned by toxic emotions that rob you of peace, joy, and hope. But we do not have to remain this way. God has provided a key to set the prisoners free, and that key is forgiveness.
Forgiveness is foundational for a believer; in fact, the entirety of our faith is bound up in it. And it’s integral in the life of both the wounder and the wounded. As the wounder, we regularly sin against God and those he made in his image and, as a result, the Scripture’s indictment against us is grave. By our very nature, we are subject to God’s anger (Ephesians 2:1-3). But God, who is rich in mercy and love, sent Jesus to absorb the full weight of God’s judgment in our place. So now there is no more wrath, no more accusation, no more condemnation for those who believe in Christ as their Savior and Lord (Romans 8:1-2). This means our sins are fully forgiven. But we don’t often live in the freedom of that forgiveness. Instead, we treat God’s forgiveness as secondary and fall prey to the false belief that we need to learn how to forgive ourselves. But this isn’t true. God, himself, offers us the lavish gift of forgiveness. We just need to choose to receive it. It’s like a coat; you have to put it on and wear it. You have to remind yourself of it over and over again—rooting your identity in his forgiveness and acceptance. While we are called to confess, repent, and ask forgiveness of those we’ve have harmed as part of following Jesus (Matthew 5:23-24), only God’s forgiveness extended to us through Christ can ultimately free us from the prison of a sin-weary conscience.
But sometimes we are the wounded. What hope for freedom do we have when we’ve been harmed by another—especially if that person is unrepentant? Our freedom lies in the very character of God. He is a God of justice and vengeance. This means sin and evil cannot go unpunished. If it did, God would be unjust. The Old Testament and the Prophets are unapologetic about the fact that God is a God of vengeance (Deuteronomy 32:35; Psalm 94:1; Romans 12:19). He is committed not only to seeking vengeance against his enemies but also to avenging the evils committed against his children (Deuteronomy 32:39-43). Extending forgiveness is possible because of God’s commitment to justice and how he executes his justice through vengeance. Contrary to what you might think, extending forgiveness to someone who has harmed you—whether they are repentant or not—doesn’t let them off the hook. It lets you off the hook. I remember a mentor telling me once that resentments are like allowing a person to live rent-free in your head. Bitterness and resentment keep you tethered to the wound and the wounder. But forgiveness sets you free. It doesn’t deny or minimize the pain you suffered. It entrusts that pain to God and leaves it to him to avenge you—whether that justice is executed through Christ’s sacrifice on behalf of the one who wounded you or through God’s future vengeance toward the one who wounded you. And while God’s future vengeance may not bring immediate satisfaction for the injustice you’ve suffered, a day is coming when your sorrow and mourning will be no longer (Isaiah 35:1-10). So until the day the Lord comes with vengeance, you can entrust your wounds to him for healing and the wounder to him for judgment.
Ultimately, forgiveness is an ongoing, incremental surrender to God—entrusting your sin to him and reminding yourself of the sufficiency of his mercy and forgiveness and entrusting the injustices you’ve suffered to him and reminding yourself of the sufficiency of his justice and vengeance. My prayer is that you would find refuge and rest in forgiveness, both from God and towards others.
Grace Church Women’s Discipleship Advisor
This month, are exploring how forgiveness provides freedom and healing for both the wounded and the wounder. We also explore a parable Jesus uses to illustrate forgiveness. We encourage you to be intentional and spend time this month meditating on these Scriptures. Ask the Holy Spirit to illuminate the areas in which you need healing and freedom—whether through extending forgiveness or through receiving the forgiveness Christ has extended to you.
Throughout Scripture, the Lord provides examples of his lavish forgiveness and redemption for those who turn toward him in faith. These stories are important as they remind us that
the Lord longs to extend his mercy to us—far more than we are willing to receive it. Scripture is clear that if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us from all our unrighteousness. We are assured that he will remove our sins as far as the east is from the west and that he will remember our sins no more.
“He does not punish us for all our sins; he does not deal harshly with us, as we deserve. For his unfailing love toward those who fear him is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth. He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west. The Lord is like a father to his children, tender and compassionate to those who fear him.” Psalm 103:10-14
Freedom for the Wounded: Psalm 94
Stories of God’s vengeance against his enemies and the enemies of his people can serve as reminders that God has not forgotten you—even if justice is delayed. God’s vengeance is not an empty promise; it is a certainty. It is the reality of this that leads the Psalmist to cry out to the Lord for vengeance in the midst of the injustice he is suffering. A right understanding of God’s justice and vengeance, frees us from the prison of bitterness and resentment and the burden of seeking justice on our own behalf. Because we know the Lord will see to it that justice is done, we are free to entrust our cause to him.
“But the Lord is my fortress; my God is the mighty rock where I hide. God will turn the sins of evil people back on them. He will destroy them for their sins. The Lord our God will destroy them.” Psalm 94:22-23
Picture of Forgiveness Matthew 18:21-35
Parables are mirrors—helping us to see our true selves. But they are also windows—allowing us to peer into the Kingdom of God and see what it is like. In this passage, Peter asks Jesus how often we are to forgive others. Peter certainly must have thought seven times to be more than adequate, but Jesus replied that we are to forgive seventy times seven. Jesus then goes on to tell the parable of the unforgiving debtor. This parable allows us to see not only the potential limits we place on forgiveness, but also how, as citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven who have been forgiven so much, we are to extend that same grace to those who have offended us.
“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.” Matthew 18:32b-33
This podcast captures a conversation with Lysa TerKeuerst, her licensed professional counselor Jim Cress, and theologian Joel Muddamalle about the topic of forgiveness and its connection to healing. The question isn’t always “are you ready to forgive” but “do you want to heal”?
“Forgiveness does not rise and fall on someone else’s actions. You don’t have to wait for someone to say they are sorry or acknowledge that what they did was wrong. Otherwise, you are attaching your healing to someone else’s actions, which you cannot control.”
We encourage you to use these conversation starters as a means of self-reflection and for discussion within your community. Before we get into the questions, we want to lay some simple groundwork for what forgiveness is and isn’t. You may want to refer back to this, as you reflect on the questions.
Forgiveness is not:
- A feeling
- A one-time event
- Dependent on an apology, confession, or remorse from the offender—nor does it require a conversation with them
- Condoning, legitimizing, excusing, or justifying the offense
- Forgetting, minimizing, or denying the harm that has been done
- Reconciling with the offender—reconciliation requires agreement, confession, and repentance born out over time—forgiveness does not
- Giving up the demand for justice
- Freeing them from the consequences of their choices
- Peace at any cost
- Both a one-time event and a continual process
- Remembering, naming, and grieving what has happened
- Remembering what Christ suffered to pay for this sin, how much you have been forgiven, and the coming judgment that will make all things right
- Transffering desire for vengeance and claim of justice to God for him to handle
- Trusting that God’s wrath is sufficient
- Relying on God for protection and promises
- Relinquishing your right to keep punishing the person
- Freedom from resentment, bitterness, and power that the offender has over you
- The pathway to freedom and peace
- As you think about your own sin, what keeps you from entrusting your sin, suffering, and shame to God? What keeps you from ‘wearing” your forgiveness?
- Forgiveness is not a feeling or one-time event. It is usually a process that evolves over time. It is tempting to rush to forgive someone without taking the time to identify the harm that has been done and how it has impacted you. If you continue ruminating over a past wound, it may be that you offered forgiveness before fully acknowledging the pain and harm done. Have you ever rushed to forgive someone too soon? What happens when you view forgiveness as a one-time event?
- Forgiveness does not minimize or excuse what someone has done. It doesn’t let them off the hook. In fact, it does just the opposite. It is taking your rightful claim for justice and transferring it to God—for him to settle. This transfer sets you free from the prison of bitterness, hatred, self-protection, and resentment—all of which are toxic for your soul—and releases it to God to enact in the way he sees fit. What are some ways you have been harmed by holding on to resentment and trying to settle things your own way? What keeps you from transferring the injustice of the harm you have experienced to God?
- Forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation, which is only possible if there is agreement, confession, and repentance born out over time. How has confusing forgiveness with reconciliation kept you from forgiving someone?
Scripture warns us to not just be hearers of the Word but to be doers of it as well. All of life is repentance. What is a believable next step God is calling you to take in response to all you’ve learned? Pick one or two of the below steps to take.
- If you have wounded someone, what steps do you need to take to seek reconciliation and ask for forgiveness?
- Is there someone who has wounded you that you need to forgive? Forgiving someone is not dependent on their apology, confession, or remorse. You may be surprised to learn that you can forgive someone without even having a conversation with them. Forgiving someone is between you and God. It is a process that involves naming the harm, grieving the losses, and transferring our right to justice to God.
- If you struggle with believing that you are forgiven and find it difficult to “wear your forgiveness,” what can keep you anchored to the truth of the Father’s acceptance of you?
- Both sin and suffering hinder us from experiencing the freedom that God has for us. If you are struggling as the wounder or the wounded, consider joining re:generation, our care and recovery ministry that will help you process relational wounds within an authentic community. Re:gen is offered at our Downtown, Harrison Bridge, Pelham, and Powdersville campuses. Click here to register.