It’s a funny thing. You see, to truly forgive someone we must deny ourself. We must lay down our own life, our pain from the offense, our desire to not be hurt again, and we must reconcile. True forgiveness does not happen without the cross. Not the cross of the one who offended, but the cross of the forgiver. Just as Christ, the forgiver, walked the way of the cross, so must we, as the forgiver, walk the way of the cross.
True forgiveness does not happen without reconciliation. I mean on the side of the forgiver. You cannot say that you forgive someone and yet refuse to be reconciled to them. Is that how Christ has forgiven you? Has He said, “I forgive you, but I want nothing to do with you?” Has someone sinned against you in a way that is beyond what Christ did on the cross? The only valid reason for not forgiving someone is because Christ says He can’t forgive them. But Christ doesn’t say that about anyone.
We can be willing and ready to forgive, possibly having already forgiven in our hearts, but remain unreconciled because the other person refuses to repent and ask for forgiveness. There is nothing we can do about that. But if someone sins against us and then repents and asks for forgiveness, we have no right to withhold forgiveness from them. NONE.
It doesn’t matter how bad they’ve hurt me, it doesn’t matter that I can’t trust them to not do it again, all that matters is that Christ did not withhold forgiveness from me and therefore I have no right to withhold it from others. Do I really think that someone can sin against me worse than the world sinned against God? Than I myself have sinned against God? And yet, He forgives me. He reconciles with me and restores our relationship.
This is the transforming power of forgiveness. You see, it doesn’t just transform the person who has sinned, it transforms the person sinned against. Every time I forgive someone, I am putting my life on the altar and trusting all things to the Lord. Every time I refuse to forgive, I am preserving my own life and denying the Lord His right to my life, which He purchased by His precious blood.
The way of Christ is the way of forgiveness at the expense of myself. Did you know that? Did you know that forgiveness actually costs something? To truly forgive someone will cost you something. It will cost you your self. Your way. Your rights. But therein lies the power of forgiveness. Forgiveness can utterly change things. It changes you and it changes me.
Here’s another way to look at it, however. Unforgiveness and forgiveness are the bandages offered to us when we are wounded. Unforgiveness is a filthy, dirty bandage. Like a rag that has cleaned my toilet and floors, sat in my trash can for weeks, and then spent years in a land fill having more and more garbage piled on it, unforgiveness couldn’t be less hygienic. When we refuse to forgive, we wrap our wound in unforgiveness. By our own choice, we cause the wound to become infected and spread to other parts of us, other relationships, other circumstances. By our own choice we cause ourself much more pain, much more sorrow. And we end up causing pain and sorrow to others.
Forgiveness, however, is the very bandage of heaven. When we choose forgiveness, despite the pain we are in, we receive the cleansing power of Christ, Himself, and a spotless bandage to protect and heal our wound. Every time I feel the pain of the wound and choose to remain in forgiveness, I am allowing the Lord to remove His bandage, clean my wound, and cover it with a new bandage. I am protected from infection, and protect others as well. Just as a physical wound is painful to clean and redress, emotional ones are as well. Yet, it is for our good. It is part of the healing process.
If we have chosen to wrap our wound in unforgiveness, we can choose to take that bandage off and choose the bandage of forgiveness at any time. It might take longer to heal, because we might have waited so long that infection set in, and it might hurt more than it would have had we chosen forgiveness from the beginning, but forgiveness has a 100% success rate of healing. No matter when we choose it. The flip side is that we can choose forgiveness, but as the pain of healing happens, we can choose unforgiveness instead. We can stop allowing heaven to heal our wounds and instead begin trying to heal it ourselves with unforgiveness. But unforgiveness has a 100% success rate of killing us. Just as an infection left unchecked would too. Not that I would consider that a success.
I have heard too many times from believers that “I have forgiven them,” but there is absolutely no willingness for reconciliation. If the person who sins against me doesn’t want reconciliation then there is nothing for me to do. However, If they desire reconciliation (which supposes a previous relationship), and I refuse to be reconciled, then I HAVE NOT FORGIVEN THEM no matter what I say.
Go ahead and build your cases for why it’s ok to refuse a relationship with a person who has wronged you. Tell me that this idea of forgiveness goes too far. Tell me they have wronged you too many times. Tell me they must prove themselves first. Tell me that forgiveness doesn’t come cheap.
All I have to say is this:
I am so grateful that Christ didn’t build a case against me. I am so glad that His forgiveness goes farther than my sin. I am so glad that He doesn’t say that I have wronged Him too many times. I am so glad that I don’t have to prove myself, first, for I never could.
And as for cheap forgiveness, there is no such thing. Forgiveness always costs something, and it cost The One Who Knew No Sin everything.