My dad was murdered when I was twenty years old. It was a deliberate, senseless act committed by a man whose selfish desires had left him blind. This man had taken my dad from me––stolen what was rightfully mine––and quite honestly, I hated him for that.
Forgiveness was one of the first things God spoke over my life when I came to Christ nine years later, and though I was receptive to His leading, I was a bit confused. You see, I thought I had already forgiven that man. I honestly didn’t think about him very much at that point, and when I did think about him, I didn’t feel the hatred I had felt before. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I didn’t like him one bit, but if he came to mind, I was able to keep my feelings in check.
Still, I figured if God was calling me to forgive then that obviously meant I had not yet forgiven as I thought I had, and so I began to pray. I asked Jesus to show me what true Biblical forgiveness is. I asked Him to show me how to forgive. I asked for Him to give me enough grace to forgive. I asked for Him to lead me toward healing that I might be made whole. And boy, did He deliver.
Over the course of a year’s time, God took me on a crazy messy journey. He called me to have correspondence with the man who murdered my dad (which continues to this day), and together, we worked toward forgiveness and healing.
Throughout that time, I learned quite a bit about the ins and outs of forgiveness. The concept of forgiveness seems pretty straight forward at first thought, but for whatever reason, when we’re called to forgive, the realities behind forgiveness suddenly seem a bit murky. The concept is one thing, the reality is quite another.
There are many misconceptions about forgiveness––what it is, what it is not, and how to do it––and so I believe it’s extremely important to understand some of the keys elements of Biblical forgiveness. Let’s take a look at them now.
1. Forgiveness is a command.
God’s call to forgive is not merely a suggestion. It’s a command. Colossians 3:13 tells us, “as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Luke 6:37 says, “forgive, and you will be forgiven.”And Matthew 6:15 goes on to say, “but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”God does not take forgiveness lightly. As followers of Christ, we have been forgiven by God, and we are without exception called to give that which we have been given.
2. Forgiveness is a gift.
Forgiveness can certainly be painful, but I can assure you that everything God calls us to is for our benefit. God is not some cosmic dictator who arbitrarily commands His subjects to do things simply for His amusement. Instead, he is a loving Father who truly wants the best for His children––and who asks His children to do that which will bring them life. We are called to forgive so that we might experience all the beauty life has to offer. Forgiveness sets us free. It is a gift given to us by our all-knowing, loving God for our good and His glory.
3. Forgiveness begins with prayer.
There is nothing we can do of any worth apart from Jesus. True Biblical forgiveness cannot take place without prayer and guidance from the Holy Spirit. We are told “the prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working”(James 5:16). Prayer is an essential element that we must devote ourselves to in all areas of our lives, but if we are to make any progress toward forgiveness and healing, we must first humble ourselves and drop to our knees.
4. Forgiveness is a decision.
Our feelings are not to be trusted. They will never lead us toward forgiveness, and so ultimately, forgiveness becomes a decision we must make. It’s a decision that we may need to make many times until we receive the grace needed to forgive. As we commit ourselves to the pursuit of forgiveness, we will see Jesus heal our emotions little by little as He brings them in line with His will.
5. Forgiveness is a process.
Forgiveness takes time. It does not happen over night. The process will look different for every one of us, but it is a process for each of us, nonetheless.
6. Forgiveness requires close communion with God.
It’s important to remain close to Jesus throughout the process of forgiveness. We need to seek His will and pray for His guidance to show us the “hows”of forgiveness. Remember, the process is unique for each of us, and so we it is essential for us to hold fast to God, seeking His will as we take each step toward forgiveness.
7. Forgiveness allows God to be the judge.
God is judge. We are not. When we refuse to forgive, we take the place of God as judge over those who wronged us. Ultimately, we must understand that justice will prevail. God is a good God––a just God who ensures justice is done.
Romans 12:19-21 tells us, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ To the contrary, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
8. Forgiveness is not reserved for more “acceptable” offenses.
Just as God forgives all sins, we are called to forgive every offense committed against us regardless of how terrible it was. No sin is unforgivable.
9. Forgiveness is unconditional.
Biblical forgiveness is unconditional. It may take us a while to get to this point, but ultimately, forgiveness is not complete until we have forgiven unconditionally. It seems God often tests our forgiveness along the way until we get to that point.
Jesus is ultimately our example of forgiveness. I remember pondering the story of Jesus dying on the cross when I was first called to forgive. Tears rolled down my cheeks as I read the words Jesus spoke. He said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,”as he hung on that cross dying a death He did not deserve (Luke 23:34). I was totally and completely astounded by this account. By the fact that Jesus prayed for the forgiveness of those who were in the process of murdering Him, and I thought to myself, This is the example we all must follow.
That, my friend, is what we fix our eyes on when we’re called to forgive. Jesus’response to the evil committed against him demands the same response from us. His response compels us to forgive as He forgave.
But it’s not easy. Forgiveness is quite possibly one of the most difficult things you will ever do. True Biblical forgiveness is gut-wrenching. It requires us to allow Jesus unhindered access to the deepest, darkest parts of our souls. Forgiveness is difficult and painful, but let me tell you, it is the most life-giving gift you can receive from the One who desperately wants to see you thrive.
So, come to Him. Lay your burdens down. Pray for guidance and the grace needed to forgive. Pursue forgiveness, and I guarantee that you will begin to experience the bounty of blessings forgiveness brings.
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Laurie Coombs is a passionate writer and speaker on the issues of forgiveness, redemption, and the blessings associated with following Jesus. For more information about Laurie or to book her for a speaking engagement, please visit her blog, LaurieCoombs.org.