by Jeff Merrick
Questions about forgiveness are nothing new. It is the same subject Peter questioned the Lord about in Matthew 18:21 where he asked, “…Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?”
Peter’s question centered on the same concerns people raise today. “Aren’t there some offenses so serious that I cannot be expected to forgive the offender?” “How can I be expected to forgive someone when they refuse to even acknowledge that what they did was wrong?” The most oft asked question is of course, “How can I forgive someone when I can’t forget what they did?” Confusing this issue is the fact that while everyone has an opinion about Christian forgiveness, there is precious little understanding of what the Bible actually says on the subject.
A right understanding of forgiveness is important to the Christian life because failure to practice it biblically always leads to greater harm. Someone once said that failure to forgive is like brewing a poisonous concoction on the stove. First, you place a large portion of offense in a pot. Next, you stir in a helping of hurt, a helping of anger, and finally a generous helping of pride. Let the concoction boil over a slow heat until it turns bitter. Once it is bitter, you cover it up and let it simmer until it turns to hatred.
One of the problems in defining forgiveness is that few people understand the difference between forgiveness and restoration. The word “forgive” in essence means to “release or set free.” Jesus defined forgiveness in the illustration He gave immediately following Peter’s question in Matthew 18:23-27. In the illustration, a certain man owed a King a large sum of money. The man could not pay and the King intended to cast him into prison for his failure to make good his debt. Yet, at the last minute the King had compassion on the man and in Mathew 18:27, “…loosed him, and forgave him the debt.” The King released the man even though he could not make good what he owed. The King said in essence, “I am releasing you….though you did owe me, you now owe me nothing – I am setting you free.”
This is the very essence of forgiveness. It is when a person says, “Someone hurt me, caused me harm or offended me. I have the right to an apology. However, I am releasing them and they now owe me nothing.” It is the refusal to become bitter because we feel that we are owed something due to a hurt inflicted upon us. Forgiveness only requires the offended person to be involved and the offender’s participation is irrelevant. It is to say, “You hurt me and you did owe me an apology, but I forgive you – I am releasing you of any obligation to me.” Forgiveness doesn’t require the unrealistic idea of having to forget the offence. Forgiveness is releasing a person of any obligation even though you may never forget what they did. Forgiveness is setting someone free from any obligation to apologize, even though they have made no effort to do so.
Restoration is different. Forgiveness is simply a release of obligation and is not the same as restoration to fellowship or a relationship. We can release someone but we may never again share fellowship or a relationship with them. While forgiveness requires only one party, restoration requires both parties to engage. Restoration is the same thing that takes place in salvation where we are restored to fellowship with the Lord. The restoration in salvation requires a confession of wrong doing on our part, that our sin or wrong be atoned for, and that we change our actions and behavior. Paul explains our restoration to the Lord in Colossian 1:20-22 where he states that we were able to be restored to a relationship with God because Christ atoned for our offences. Restoration requires the offender to acknowledge and own their wrong behavior, and to make positive changes. Forgiveness is possible regardless of the actions of the offender, but without a change in their behavior there can be no restoration.
Forgiveness in the minds of many today has come to equal acceptance and thus restoration. People falsely believe that forgiveness means the offended person is required to accept their wrong actions or choices and then continue a relationship regardless of what they have done. It is saying, “I know that what I am doing offends you, hurts you, or is an offence to what you believe, but if you are a Christian then you must accept my behavior, put away any offense and maintain a relationship with me.” This view of forgiveness requires all on the part of the offended person and nothing of the offender. When the offender demands restoration without making any change in their behavior, they are inevitably attempting to make themselves the victim. They are attempting to make the offended person look as if they are victimizing the offender because they won’t tolerate their wrong actions.
We need a biblical view of forgiveness and restoration. Forgiveness requires only the offended person to act. Forgiveness is releasing someone of any obligation to me. In releasing them I am releasing myself. If they owe me nothing, when I do not receive an apology I have nothing to become bitter over. There can be no hatred toward someone over the absence of an apology when we have made the decision that we are not owed one.
However, restoration requires the offending person to confess and acknowledge their wrong, seek forgiveness and change their behavior. To ask someone to forgive us when we are unwilling to change is utter selfishness. Further, to accuse someone of being un-Christian because they will not accept our choices and be resorted to fellowship with us when we are unwilling to change, is nothing more than trying to cover our wrong by making ourselves appear the victim.
Forgiveness is a choice to release the offender, while reconciliation is seeking to be restored to fellowship with the offended.
Forgiveness involves a change in thinking about the offender, while reconciliation requires a change in behavior by the offender.
Forgiveness is an act of grace toward someone who has broken our trust, while reconciliation is restoration based on their effort to restore trust.
Forgiveness is given even if it is never earned, while restoration is made possible only after it has been earned.
Forgiveness is unconditional and requires no repentance, while reconciliation is conditional and based primarily on repentance.
Forgiveness is always possible, while reconciliation may never be possible.
Forgiveness is removing the obligation of an offense, even though there is no restoration, so that we do not have to carry an offense.
Forgiveness is setting the offender free so that we might be free.
Forgiveness is not something we do for others. We do it for ourselves so that we can be healed and move on.
by Jeff Merrick
Original article can be found at http://www.cbckn.org/home/content/releasing-ourselves-through-biblical-forgiveness