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.


Jesus taught us how to pray. You all at least recognize it; many of you have it memorized from so much repetition:

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed by Thy name.
Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
For Thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever.
(Matthew 6, but I was going on memory)

I’ll speak for myself here and say that I have “prayed” this prayer without thinking. A lot. I’ve been in many situations–religious and otherwise–where this prayer was recited by a large group. So I recited it. Of course, I glossed over the whole thing in those instances, but I want to talk about one specific part that is nearly always spoken, but ignored. You guessed it: forgiveness. Glance back up and see what you just asked God to do.

Essentially this, “Dear God, please forgive me like I forgive other people.” (Hey, are you sure you want to ask God to do that?)

Have you ever noticed the couple of verses that come after this example prayer? Jesus immediately follows the “amen” with a specific explanation to His disciples:

For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.
~Matthew 6:14-15, emphasis mine 

These are verses that have kept me awake at night, wrestling with God and with my own, self-centered heart.

I have a lot of thoughts on forgiveness, as I’ve done a lot of wrestling. For now, though, I’d be really interested to hear what you think. How do these verses strike you? What are their implications? Why would Jesus say this? Ultimately, though, are we to believe what Jesus says here and act on it, or just hope that things will be okay in the end?