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How Do You Forgive?

May 20, 2009

We all have multiple opportunities every day to give and receive forgiveness. We all sin against others and are sinned against. We all sin against God, belittling his worth, snubbing his grace. What do we do in these moments, with these sins? Throw out an “I’m Sorry” and carry on? Give ourselves a guilt trip and engage in private penance for three days? How would the gospel guide us into true forgiveness?

It’s Hard to Forgive

Jesus set up the paradigm of 77 times (Matthew 18), which was his way of saying always forgive. But forgiving and asking for forgiveness can be so hard. A lot of us tell ourselves we forgive someone without even telling that person! What we really do is avoid conflict and sweep the offense under the rug, where the lump gets bigger over time until we trip over it and blow up in anger or shut down in despair. However, Gospel progress in conflict with others will always result in a maturing of a relationship, not in slipping back into neutral or a “keep the peace” mode.

It’s Better to Forgive than Forget

Contrary to the popular saying, the gospel does not call us to “forgive and forget.” Forgiving and forgetting, is code for cheap sorrys and faking a bad memory. The reality is that sin is really hard to forget, especially when you are sinned against. Funny, you’d think our sins against others would be more memorable! All too often, when I sin against my wife, resolve to be more sensitive and kind-hearted, I end up forgetting how I offended her and repeat the offense a few weeks later! Why? Because I forgot! True forgiveness stands taller in the presence of sin. Grace shines brighter in the darkness of offense. But don’t misread me here. We should neither minimize not maximize sin, throw out cheap sorrys or berate one another with our memories. However, without the memory of sin, there is no need for forgiveness. The trick is to remember our sins, not others sins!

Forgiving One Another

The gospel calls us to press into grace by pressing into our sin. Instead of disregarding sin against another, we confess it, both to God and to the other, and tell them why we were so mean, impatient, or unkind. We ask for their forgiveness, for wounding them unnecessarily, for putting our desires above their dignity. We press into our sin in confession and repentance, but don’t stop there. We move on through into forgiveness and grace, genuinely forgiving and being forgiven, refusing to harbor resentment. Forgiving again and again with each memory. As we forgive, we absorb the cost of the offense, as Jesus absorbed the infinite cost of our sin, and communicate his grace to others. But how can we do this? Sometimes it is so hard. Tim Lane, author of Relationships: A Mess Worth Making, offers a few principles on how to absorb the cost of an offense and to live in true forgiveness:

  • Choose not bring up the offense again or use it against others. The only reason to raise the offense with the offender is for the purpose of reconciliation, not vengeance. It’s not about forgetting; it’s about forgiving, reconciling, loving.
  • Choose not bring the offense up to others in gossip, or malign others because of it. Where you have forgiven, rest in Christ’s forgiveness and perfect love. Resolve not to use conflict against others, but rather, to use it for others by offering grace and Christ-centered forgiveness.
  • Choose not bring the offense up to yourself and dwell on it. Resolve not to replay the videotape of your own sin or others to relive every detail. Press into grace so that you don’t make the other person pay for what he or she has done.

Next time you are offended or offend, try pressing into sin  (confession and repentance) and pressing into grace (forgiveness and reconciliation). When we do, we lift Jesus up above our demands, the cross over our sin, and we can move into more grace-based, maturing relationships that display the sufficiency and beauty of Christ for everyday life. Take a minute to think of how you could apply these principles towards a situation, sin or person today. Enjoy grace and true forgiveness.

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