A Forgiving Spirit

Ponder this:

The way to know you had fully forgiven someone was that you no longer felt they owed you anything.
~Jo Saxton, as quoted by Katdish 

When I read this on Katdish’s blog the other day, it got me thinking. Sometimes you just feel like someone owes you an apology, right? I mean, if nothing else, just say you’re sorry.

But sometimes you don’t get that. Sometimes people just don’t feel like they did anything wrong, or they feel justified in what they did, or for some other reason they simply are not going to apologize to you. What then?

Well, holding out for that is detrimental to you. It can easily turn into bitterness, which I discussed here.  Further, doesn’t it keep you from forgiving, which will put your relationship with God in peril? I discussed that here–remember asking God to forgive those who sin against you in the same way that you have forgiven others? Danger!

All of this reminded me of a sermon I listened to or read (I don’t remember which) a few years back. What I remember learning, to my surprise, is that you can’t really forgive someone who is unrepentant–at least not fully.

Here’s Piper (from the sermon linked above):

…I am not sure that in the Bible the term forgiveness is ever applied to an unrepentant person. Jesus said in Luke 17:3–4, “Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.” So there’s a sense in which full forgiveness is only possible in response to repentance.

Think about it: Does God forgive people who do not repent? No. It’s impossible. If you receive forgiveness from God, then that also means you receive the richness of His mercy and enjoy eternity in relationship with Him because you’ve been pardoned from sin. The Bible teaches that you must repent and follow Jesus for that to happen. So if God does not forgive unrepentant people, then how can we?

The difference here is having a forgiving spirit. I think that Piper gives a very helpful and Biblical “checklist” for your heart related to forgiveness. Forgiveness–and I would venture a forgiving spirit–looks like this:

  1. Resist thoughts of revenge: Romans 12:19, “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.”
  2. Don’t seek to do them mischief: 1 Thessalonians 5:15, “See that no one repays another with evil for evil.
  3. Wish well to them: Luke 6:28, “Bless those who curse you.”
  4. Grieve at their calamities: Proverbs 24:17, “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles.”
  5. Pray for them: Matthew 5:44, “But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.”
  6. Seek reconciliation with them: Romans 12:18, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.”
  7. Be always willing to come to their relief: Exodus 23:4, “If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey wandering away, you shall surely return it to him.”

You can do all of those things without someone repenting. Can you achieve full reconciliation and the renewal of a relationship without the other person repenting? I don’t see how. But, just like God does with every human, you can be willing and ready to meet their needs, to love them, and to forgive them. And you can begin letting go of your own hurt, pride, and bitterness and pray for a forgiving spirit in the meantime.

Not easy, but worth it.

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7 thoughts on “A Forgiving Spirit

  1. Pingback: It Is Finished « Amanda Johnston

  2. Good thoughts and bible verses. For me, choosing to forgive someone who is unrepentant has more to do with me than with them. By realizing that they’re never going to be the person I wish they would be and that I have very little control over that process is liberating. I can pray for a changed heart, but only God can do the changing.

  3. I think it is also necessary to look at the opposite end of the spectrum (as I have been quite a bit lately). If you have committed harm against someone in your past, done everything you knew to apologize (and meant it!), have sorrow in your heart for the wrong you did, but the person whose forgiveness you seek refuses to respond or acknowledge your apology, are you still worthy of forgiveness, by yourself or God? Speaking from personal experience, I have forgiven the worst in many people, even people who have broken my heart; yet, I find many people I love unwilling or unable to forgive me for my mistakes, and therefore, I find it almost impossible to forgive myself for them.

    • That’s a really good point. When someone is withholding forgiveness from you, it’s easy to second-guess yourself and wonder if you truly are sorry, or if being sorry is good enough to make up for what you did. You’re letting that person have power over you when they really shouldn’t, though.

      I guess basically this makes me think of two things:

      1. Your loved ones’ refusal or inability to forgive at this time is their problem. Just like you said in your second comment, they’re only hurting themselves by holding onto their resentment. Your obligation is to do your best to live at peace with people. By humbly asking for forgiveness after admitting that you were wrong, you’ve done that, as long as you continue on a loving path in pursuit of relationship with that person that shows you’ve changed. It’s important to remember, though, that the non-Christian is not bound by any law to respond favorably to your repentance. The Christian, however, is. That becomes an issue between them and God, and it will be a stumbling block in their relationship with Him until it is rectified. Again: it’s between them and God; it has no bearing on you. Don’t let it.

      2. The only way out of this feeling of unworthiness–this inability to forgive yourself or to feel that God has forgiven you–is Christ. The fact is that we are all unworthy. Some religions teach that you should try to do enough good to outweigh the bad, but how could you possibly measure that? That’s completely stressful, never really knowing how much good is good enough, or how all these things will be weighted anyway. Besides, it just doesn’t make sense. Doing something good doesn’t undo the bad. I kill your dog because it made me mad, but then I try to make up for it by giving you a new one? What? No. God doesn’t work this way, either, and simply saying you’re sorry doesn’t cut it. The answer, and the only source of freedom from your self-deprecation, is Christ. Our sinful hearts, which are that way from conception, make us act in sin naturally. Sin is an affront to God’s holiness, and is therefore completely unacceptable. You can’t undo it or pay for it. But through the Lord’s mercy, He sent His Son. Once you accept the Son’s substitutionary atonement for your sins (ie His sinless death and resurrection) and give your life to Him, then God sees the perfection of Christ in you, thus making you worthy by proxy. That’s the only way to the Lord’s forgiveness. So staying stuck in this feeling of unworthiness means one of two things. Either you haven’t accepted and chosen to follow Christ, and your feeling is completely warranted, or you have, but your bent toward self-deprecation is preventing you from fully believing in the power of His sacrifice. Hello, my name is Angela, and I’m the second one. I go through regular bouts of feeling unworthy and disgusting and offensive to God, because I know the tendency of my heart. I end up in a terrible depression, and I wallow in Ecclesiastes. (Don’t read that, by the way, if you’re depressed.) It’s during these times that I need Christ to remind me again that it’s already paid for. Which are you? I’d love to talk more with you about it, my friend! Love you!

  4. Also, when I was first trying to forgive people who had hurt me very badly, I wrestled for a long time with the resistance to forgive because I thought that meant I had accepted and ‘put a stamp of approval’ on what they had done. Forgiving someone does not mean you believe what they have done is right or acceptable, simply that you refuse to continue to be locked inside a prison or anger and resentment (while most of the people who you need to forgive aren’t giving you a moment of thought).

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