In this article I am going to share what the Bible teaches about how to forgive someone. The first thing you must understand is that your enemy doesn’t want you to forgive anyone. I am talking about Satan, Lucifer, the devil, a supernatural created being with real power. The Bible calls him your adversary. One of Satan’s favorite tactics is unforgiveness. We are going to look at what happens in your life when you don’t forgive.I want to give an explanation of what forgiveness is and what it isn’t. We are going to look at what happens when you do forgive. Satan of course loves for people to not forgive. Why? Because it brings them into bondage. It is very apparent that supernatural forces come into play when we deal with unforgiveness.
There is a verse in the Bible that tells us that we should be aware of Satan’s schemes. But did you know that that verse was preceded by a verse on forgiveness? Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 2:10-11 “If you forgive anyone, I also forgive him. And what I have forgiven–if there was anything to forgive–I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.” Listen, one of the schemes of Satan is to promote unforgiveness in people’s hearts. At the time of this writing, I have been a pastor and missionary for 38 years. I cannot begin to count how many times I have seen the enemy sow seeds of discord in the body of Christ because someone got offended, someone didn’t get their way, someone didn’t feel appreciated and because they refused to forgive, and it wound up causing all kinds of problems within the church. Even within denominations, sections, between pastors.
I have seen this. At the same time I cannot count how many families have been destroyed, and marital relationships been burned because people said, I cannot forgive that.
Knowing how to forgive someone is important because the writer to the Hebrews tells us that unforgiveness will not stay small, but it will grow and ultimately spread to others. I think that forgiveness is one of the things that should set Christians apart from the rest of the world. Unforgiveness will not stay small, the invention of the telephone so many decades ago ensured that. The tongue is the hardest member of the body to tame. The bottom line is that when we feel hurt, we talk about it. Many times our talking winds up hurting others. People talk. Bitterness and anger will come out. Unforgiveness is a contagious disease. Hebrews 12:14,15 “Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” Satan loves unforgiveness because it doesn’t stay small. It keeps growing. So that is why he promotes it.
You will see how important it is to know how to forgive someone when you see the following:
- PERSONAL CONFLICT WITHOUT FORGIVENESS
One of the biggest lies that Satan tells is that time heals all wounds. I don’t think so. Time does not heal the effect of conflict. In fact, I believe that if forgiveness is not extended, the inevitable result will be distancing ourselves from others and eventually cutting ourselves off from people we now love. Let’s take a look at what happens in personal conflict without forgiveness.
- Disagreements will happen.
Disagreements are going to happen. Take any two people and no matter how much alike they are, ultimately as time goes on, they will disagree. It is inevitable. There will come a divergence of opinion on issues. That is what makes life interesting. Two people will not always have the same perspective. Of course, having a disagreement is not sinful. It is going to happen. It is okay to disagree.
2. Disagreements turn into conflict when the works of the flesh are evident.
Galatians 5 tells us what the works of the flesh are. Galatians 5:19-21 “ Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like;” So many of these works of the flesh describe what happens when conflict erupts. It could be in the home, or in a marriage, or in a church, or in a small group, or on the job. It could be between groups of people. But the sign that there is a problem in a relationship is when the works of the flesh are evident.
In other words, people begin to sin. The works of the flesh become evident. To put it in common words, “Things start to get ugly”
- A sin occurs.
- A finding out happens.
- A confrontation takes place.
- Selfishness is expressed.
- Hurt is inflicted.
- Words are spoken in anger and like daggers those words can pierce a heart.
- Alienation occurs.
- There are outbursts of wrath.
- It may be the silent treatment. A silent ignoring to disrespect that person.
- We begin to run mental arguments that justify our position.
- We may even justify our sinful actions in order to make our point.
Here is what I think: If we could just step outside of ourselves and become self-aware, as believers we would know that this is not the fruit of the Spirit. That this is the works of the flesh. But we get caught up. Our emotions are involved. Our anger is involved. Every person on the planet knows what it is to walk in harmony with someone. Then there comes a disagreement. That disagreement boils over into a conflict. Or maybe someone’s sinful actions produce the conflict – but the results are the same. There is an explosion. We have all been there. It is not fun. It is painful. Every time there is that kind of conflict
3. Conflict results in separation or distancing.
There is an emotional distancing that is experienced by the people who are involved. You may live in the same house, maybe even sleep in the same bed, there is an emotional distancing that will take place. What is funny are the words people use to describe that distance.
When its two kids they say, “Nanny, nanny, boo boo, I am not your friend anymore.”
In marriage they say, “We just drifted apart. I just don’t love him anymore.”
On the job they say, “He wasn’t a good worker anyway.”
In a church situation it sounds like this. “God is leading us somewhere else.”
The bottom line is that it is separation, distancing, and ultimately cutting someone out of your life. Conflict results in separation. It is not always immediately. It could be 5000 conflicts over 20 years. Here is the interesting part of this scenario. What happens is that the passing of time allows the emotions to die down. Because the hurt lessons a little bit, and people begin using civil tones with one another, our minds get focused on other things. Many people believe that is all that needs to happen. All that needs to happen is for time to pass and all wounds will be healed. There comes a gradual forgetting of the offense- but of course never a total forgetting.
People begin to make statements like: “We’re getting along better now…” Or, “I guess it will be okay…” And yet down deep there is still a breach because forgiveness has not taken place. Even though you try to disregard that breach, it is still there. It may be underneath the surface. It may be even at an unconscious level, but real forgiveness hasn’t taken place.
Now let me show you what it looks like when there is a lifestyle of conflict without forgiveness. This is why knowing and understanding how to forgive someone is so important. Naturally as the pain lessons the two people involved may drift closer together in their relationship but the next time that conflict erupts, the explosion is bigger, its stronger, because they are already divided in their hearts. Gradually they get further and further apart.
The word of God tells us that pride is the number one obstacle to forgiveness. I believe it was Ernest Hemmingway that wrote a little short story. I think it is fictitious. The story is set in Latin America, the story was about a Father and son that were estranged, the sons name was Paco. And one day, the Father humbled himself, he took out an ad in the paper and he said, “Paco, I was wrong! Forgive me. Meet me in the square in front of the church at such and such a time.” That day there were 1000 Pacos out in front. How pride keeps us separated.
Let me give you four stages that people go through as the relationship disintegrates:
Let me say that in every stage, pride is what stops the forgiveness and reconciliation. Here are four disintegrating stages of a relationship. The first stage is
Some call it denial. The explosion has happened. Someone sinned. Someone exhibited the works of the flesh. But here is how we will handle it, we are going to pretend everything is okay. We are going to sweep it under the carpet. There is no elephant of unforgiveness in our living room because we pretend it doesn’t exist. An explosion has happened and transgressions have occurred but we are going to pretend that we don’t need to acknowledge our sinful actions, forgive one another.
The statement can be used to describe this stage is we are “getting along better.” All along someone is too proud to admit they had a problem, or they sinned, and the other is too proud to forgive. Pride can be seen at every stage. Pride is what keeps us from forgiving and reconciling.
Proverbs 13:10 “Pride only breeds quarrels, but wisdom is found in those who take advice.” How many of you know pride breeds quarrels? People with a humble attitude, rarely quarrel. But when you think your right, and everyone else has to acknowledge it and when you have to have your way. Oh my goodness! There is lots of quarreling. Pride breeds quarrels. Pretty soon more explosions come, more arguments erupts.
The second stage is called
It is a sad stage in the relationship. It is similar to pretending, but just takes a little more effort. We are going to tolerate each other even if it kills us. Even if I have to grit my teeth to be around this person, I am going to get it done.
In the first two stages, the same thing in actually happening. No one is really willing to address the real issues in the relationship, so we just keep on pretending and do our best to tolerate each other.
However, there is no honesty going on here. Proverbs 11:2 “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.” Early on in our ministry, we had been deeply hurt because of the actions of a few Christians. My wife and I were wounded. I was ticked. I remember Jureen lying in bed saying, “I am not going to be a bitter old woman. I am going to be a sweet woman when I am an old lady. I am going to forgive.”
We made up our mind to forgive. We learned about forgiveness. Funny thing is, I can remember her making that statement, but I cannot even recall the offense. Without forgiveness, the arguments continue and the third stage is
Satan spins his web as he tells another lie: I guess that is just the way life is. I guess it is just my lot in life. I know of a married a man who had cut his daughters out of his will. He had not spoken to them for 25 years. They were dead to him. He was so resigned to that, he thought it was normal. That is not normal. Satan totally disregards what God can do in a relationship. God wants there to be forgiveness. When there is forgiveness, there is understanding and there is acceptance. There should be repentance. And life will get better, but Satan doesn’t want that. If you are a believer you know that God can change things. But Satan says, “No, that is just the way life is. Get used to it!”
The concept is that people get resigned to live their lives out with problems in the relationship. I read one time of two sisters, living in a house, for 40 years. With every room divided with masking tape. Just resigned to the fact that this is the way it has to be. No one wants to admit fault. No one wants to repent. No one has grace enough to extend forgiveness. Each one stands as judge and jury for the other.
Pride is really taking place. Proverbs16:18 “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” And it is not long until another blow up comes, or series of blow ups move the conflict to the fourth stage.
It is when people say “That is it. I have had enough!” It is when distancing is not enough. Now, it is time for cut off.
I am out of here.
- The marriage is over.
- I want a divorce
- I will never speak to you again.
- I’m leaving this church.
- I quit this job.
- I will never speak to you again.
- It is despair. Despair says, “It’s no use.”
We see the end result of a man’s pride, that a refusal to forgive brings a man or a woman down to the lowest place in life. Proverbs 29:23 “A man’s pride brings him low, but a man of lowly spirit gains honor.”
A few years ago, I watched a documentary of a man who back in the Viet Nam war had been on drugs. His wife found out and she wrote to his captain trying to help him and got him in trouble. After he got out of the war, he disappeared. He went to New Zealand to live under a new name. He left his wife and two kids to fend for themselves. As long as that man’s pride stood in the way, his kids thought he was a low life. But the day came when he realized he was wrong. He came home, and said forgive me I was wrong. The reconciliation was beautiful. That is what God can do. “A man of lowly spirit gains honor.”
So many people live their life in this way. They have a series of broken relationships. Sometimes, it is because they don’t know how to forgive. They are caught up in this cycle. They know the explosions are getting bigger. They know distancing is taking place. They think they are helpless.
In fact, Satan will tell them, there is nothing you can do! That is just not true. We can forgive.
- WHAT IS TRUE FORGIVENESS?
A lot of misunderstanding about forgiveness can be cleared up and avoided if first of all we look at what forgiveness is not. How can we know how to forgive someone if we don’t fully understand it.
1. Forgiveness is not ignoring, tolerating, disregarding, excusing, overlooking, or closing our eyes to the wrong another person has done against us.
A lot of people think that is what forgiveness is. I just have to tolerate this person and their meanness. That is not biblical forgiveness. When God forgives us he does not ignore, disregard, overlook, or tolerate our sin. He deals with us about our sin. He confronts us. He tells us to repent from our sin. He tells us to stop sinning. Some people think they can sin, and sin and sin and that is okay with God. u read the Book honestly and tell me what you think. Forgiveness from God is not God ignoring our sin. And forgiving others is not ignoring their sin. In fact, God in his holiness cannot ignore sin. That is why Jesus had to die. Someone had to pay the price. Without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin. Sin must be dealt with.
Speaking the truth in love is not wrong. So many people think that if I forgive this person, then they have the right to keep offending me. No they don’t. Stand up! Speak up! It must be said that forgiving someone from offending you is entirely a different situation than trusting that person, or maybe in some cases even staying with that person.
If someone is abusing you, or cheating on you, hitting you, stealing from you. It is okay in God’s eyes to separate yourself from that person. God never intended anyone to be a punching bag or to be cheated on continually. Don’t mix up forgiveness with these things.
2. Forgiveness is not forgetting the offense, or pretending it didn’t happen.
That is what some people think. I must pretend it didn’t happen. Guess what? It did happen! Pretending everything is okay is not forgiveness. In fact, shoving your emotions down inside, and living that type of life. It is like trying to hold a beach ball underwater. One day it will come bursting to the surface.
3. Forgiveness is not simply letting time pass after the offense.
Time does not take offences away unless there is forgiveness. Many years ago, someone stole something from me. I knew the person had done it, I had overheard him talking about it. But I chose to let it go. That day I was upset, but as the day wore on, I realized that I had to forgive. A few years later, I had to speak to that same individual on the phone. I am so glad that I had forgiven him because that hurt wasn’t there anymore.
I know people who are still angry and bitter many years after an offense came. That must be very hard to keep up that energy. It is healthy to let it go. Don’t buy into Satan’s lie that time heals all wounds. It doesn’t. Only forgiveness allows for wounds to be healed.
4. Forgiveness is not resigning ourselves to the other person’s actions by saying, “That is just the way that person is.”
Well, Pastor what is forgiveness? Before I give you a definition of what forgiveness is. Let me just say that every believer is required by God to forgive every offense committed against them. That is what God requires for us to be in right standing with him. When someone sins against you God’s word tells you that you must forgive them. That is why it is important to know how to forgive someone. Mark 11:25 says, “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”
Some of you are thinking man, I am not sure I can do that. Maybe there are some very painful memories for you to deal with. I am not saying forgiveness is easy. I am not saying it doesn’t cost you anything. Let me explain something to you, In your own strength and ability, I really think that there is no way you can really forgive. But God does not give commands that are impossible to fulfill. That is against his nature. He wants you to depend upon him. God is your enabler. God enables you to forgive.
Now let us understand something. When one person commits a genuine offense against another that person also sins against God. This makes the offender guilty before both God and before the person he has offended. Let me give you an example. If someone burglarizes my home while I am away on vacation. The person committing the sin has offended God. God holds him guilty, until he deals with God about that. When I come from vacation, I find out what happens, I automatically hold someone responsible. I hold that person guilty. Now I can’t deal with his guilt toward God. The only thing I can deal with is his guilt toward me.
That leads me to this definition of forgiveness:
Forgiveness is a deliberate action of my will – out of dependence upon Christ-in-me- removing from the offender his guilt toward me, giving this to God, and considering the offender no longer guilty toward me.
When we forgive in this way, the offended person gives up their right to sit as a judge against that person. When you forgive someone, it costs you all your demands to make the person pay for or make right the wrong that has been committed.
When that guy stole from me it really upset me. I thought about all kinds of ways to get vengeance. I was going to tell every person, I knew what he had done. I was going to ruin his reputation. I was going to confront him in front of people he respected. What was I doing? I was demanding he pay. Forgiveness is giving up the right to make the person pay for it. When a sin is committed against someone or a person offends someone. Here is what happens:
The offended Gets HURT!
And the offender is now GUILTY!
And it like there is a chain between them. The offended person is bound to that person by the GRUDGE he holds. This is what I think. As long as you hold on to the grudge. It keeps the hurt alive in you. God can’t heal the hurt because you are not forgiving.
Some people think that they should wait to forgive until he or she asks for forgiveness. They may never ask for forgiveness. They may die with out asking for forgiveness. Who is still in chains? The person holding the grudge.
Others think that they must confront the person. (Sometimes this is necessary) But please check your spirit and see if that is still a little bit of vengeance.
Here is the way to forgive.
- Clearly identify the guilt of the offender.
You have to think it through. Write it down. All the stuff. All the things that they did. Clearly identify it. It is harder than you think to actually get this clear in your mind. A person can do something and years later there are consequences to that action. Not only do you have to forgive the offense but all of the consequences that came as a result of the actions. Write it down. Clearly identify the guilt of the offender.
2. Identify the ways you are wanting to make that person pay.
This is the step that many people leave out. It is the subtle things. The little digs. Whatever it is that you want to see this person pay. I will be cold to them. I will speak bad to others about them.
Obviously in cases of criminal activity, justice has to be brought, and since God is a God of justice, we should seek justice. This is not you making the person pay, this is the law of the land making them pay. We must not cover up for the person so they escape justice either, that is not a part of forgiveness.
3. Clearly identify your hurt.
You have to know how you hurt. Write it down. The pain it has caused you. Describe it to the Lord.
4. Tell the Lord you are not going to hold this person guilty
You are taking the guilt off and letting go of it. You tell the Lord, “I do not hold this person guilty anymore. I am not going to function in the realm of trying to get even. I am going to let it go.” Give the person to God.
5. Ask the Lord to heal your hurt.
This is what I believe, a lot of people go through life bitter. They may have forgiven but they don’t allow the Lord to heal them. Really praying about something and really being prayed for makes a difference. It took me several months to get healed from some hurts, but God is faithful and he will heal our broken hearts in His time.
6. Deal with your response to what the person did.
How did you sin? Honestly acknowledge your part. Holding on to bitterness. Slandering others. Pride.
7. Realize you don’t have to tell the person. Prepare yourself for reconciliation.
Telling the person can just cause more problems. Look for the opportunity to reconcile. If they ask you for forgiveness great! You are ready to reconcile. Knowing how to release someone is so important that in that moment you will be ready!
And this is what I believe, you will live free! That is just what God wants you to do!