The words of Jesus and certain scriptures of the epistles make it clear that the willingness to forgive is a necessity in furthering the progress and process of moving toward Christ-likeness. God knows us very well. He knows we need a lot of practice when it comes to forgiving. Yet, when we look further into the words of Jesus to Peter, we find some not only spiritual, but very practical advice we can apply to maintaining our mental health. It is said we are the ones who suffer most when we choose not to forgive. First off, when we have been hurt it is common to feel anger toward the one who vexed us. If we let that anger go unchecked, it can turn into a monster. Anger eats at us and can consumed enormous amounts of energy and focus. Anger can end good relationships. Furthermore, anger that is not resolved deprives all parties involved of a needed closure to cleanse the conscience. In Christ’s church, the consciences that should be cleansed is not only by the one who has trespassed against the other, but also the one who was offended and held harsh feelings against them. Both must heed a call to repentance.
The victim of an offense committed by a believer or non-believer must realize they are also a sinner that has been forgiven by God’s grace thousands of times over. The display of love in the form of unconditional forgiveness is a great witness to a person’s faith and trust in God’s sovereignty in all human affairs. Only God can rightly judge. Knowing that, we can leave all of our emotional baggage at the foot of the altar. Please don’t get me wrong. There is a place for righteous anger. "In your anger do not sin": Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.” Ephesians 4:26,27 NIV “In your anger do not sin...” means that it is fine to despise those things God has called and decreed sin while not letting it control us. But it is wrong to be angry at a person, for they are God’s creation, and yet as imperfect and as prone to sin as we are. We are especially admonished not to be angry at our brothers and sisters in Christ, because one of the hallmarks of Jesus’ teachings to all His disciples is to love one another and by doing so, the whole world will know we are His. “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” Colossians 3:13 NIV
Concerning confrontation with non-believers - “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” Luke 6:37 NIV We’ve already talked about how the inability to forgive can cause anger and bitterness that stems from judging the person who offends us. We need to go to the Koine Greek for a few words here. The word “judge” actually means to “condemn” or “damn” and typically refers to a person’s final spiritual destination. The word “condemn” means “to pronounce guilty” and also usually refers to a spiritual final judgment. “Forgive” means “to free fully; dismiss”. This is how important it is to God that we forgive. We should be thankful that we have the privilege of the Holy Spirit who is ever working within us toward perfection when we work with Him and repent. The prayer of repentance is extremely important, because we can then realize we are in just as much need of God’s mercy than the one who has sinned against us.
I want to write a little about the concept of “forgive and forget”. Is a Christian required to actually forget sins against them? This phrase is not found in the Bible, even though it is, in fact, a spiritual ideal. Let us first ask the question does God forgive and forget our sins through the blood of Christ? Hebrews 8:12 does say, “For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more”. However, the writer was echoing the word of Jehovah concerning His people Israel. You decide whether we can suppose those same words apply to all who are covered under the covenant of grace through Christ. Supposing they are, it still remains that God is omniscient (all-knowing) and literally cannot “forget anything that will have ever happened. However, having been forgiven, we are justified. “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus...” Romans 8:1 NIV So, in that sense, our sins are forgotten by God.
But our human brains carry information and memories that cannot selectively be forgotten. Therefore, we have two options. We can choose to forgive our offender and move ahead with our lives fully aware of the hurt they have caused us, because Christ has commanded us to do so. Or we can be naive and act as if the offence never occurred, which can set us up for being needlessly hurt by the same person again down the road if they have not repented of their ways. We are to be wise as serpents, but gentle as doves. Being cautious doesn’t mean we haven’t forgiven. It means we are not God, so we cannot know for certain if someone has had their heart and mind changed by Him.
In summary, since many of us humans seem to be slow to forgive, we need to understand a true act of forgiveness cannot be accomplished by our own will. The ability to truly forgive comes through faith that God will work to change our hearts and minds in His own way and time. “And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” Philippians 1:6 NLT If we try to convince ourselves we have forgiven someone just to feel a sense of closure or we just don’t want to deal with it, it simply will not work. It will remain inside us and manifest itself in some negative way or another. In our relationship with God, we do our part in making a choice in forgiving, and God honors our decision to please Him.
If you are finding it hard to forgive, you’re best solution is to pray right now for God’s help. He will answer that earnest prayer, because He wants all of us to be beacons of truth to the world. And you may find God will also change the heart of the one who has offended you. By your forgiveness “you will heap burning coals on his head." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Amen.