SOURCE: Charles Stanley
Forgive me? How could God ever forgive me? You don’t know what I’ve done.”
“Forgive that person after what she did to me? You’ve got to be kidding!”
“I can’t believe I’ve done such an awful thing. I can never forgive myself for doing that.”
These are confessions I have heard often as a pastor. They are the confessions of people who have godly parents, who have grown up in church, and who have heard sermons about forgiveness all their lives. And yet, they persist in believing that there is something unique about their situation that puts them beyond the realm of God’s forgiveness.
The result is bondage.
The bondage of living in guilt and unforgiveness stifles a person’s ability to love and to receive love. It stunts the growth of a marriage and friendships. It keeps a person from entering into all that the Lord might have for him in the way of ministry or outreach. It keeps a person from enjoying the full abundant life that Christ promised to those who believe in Him (John 10:10). And bondage, my friend, is never the desire of God for His children.
God’s desire for you today is that you be free in your spirit—free to embrace all the blessings, challenges, and joys that the Lord has for you now and in your future. God’s desire is for you to experience complete forgiveness, which is forgiveness of your sins and a full restoration in your relationship to the Lord God, forgiveness of others who have wronged you, and forgiveness of yourself.
Limited forgiveness will never do. Complete forgiveness is required if you are to know personally and fully that God is your loving heavenly Father, and if you are ever to reach your personal destiny in this life.
A Definition of Forgiveness
Forgiveness does not mean, “It didn’t matter.”
If you have been hurt by someone, or if you have committed a sin, it does matter.
There is no justification for sin that stands up in God’s presence. If you have sinned, you need to recognize that your sin is a blot on your soul, one that you can’t and therefore shouldn’t attempt to sweep under the rug or ignore. Sin matters. Hurt, pain, bondage, and guilt come in the aftermath of sin, and you are unwise to try to deny their reality.
Forgiveness does not mean, “I’ll get over it in time.”
The memory of a particular incident or action may fade with time, but it never disappears.
If you have committed a sin before God, the effects of that sin remain in your life until you receive God’s forgiveness for it. You may not immediately feel the consequences of your sin—which can cause you to think that God has overlooked your sin or that it has been resolved in some way—but the consequences of sin will manifest themselves. They lie as dormant “bad seeds” in your life.
The same holds true for a wrong that another person commits against you.
You may think that time will heal. Time by itself doesn’t heal anything. Only the Lord Jesus Christ and His forgiveness working in and through you can heal the hurt you have felt. A wrong that you attempt to bury will only rot in your heart and very easily can turn into bitterness, anger, and hatred—all of which are not only destructive emotions to the person who harbors them, but the root of destructive behavior that may affect others.
Forgiveness does not mean, “There will be no penalty.”
Some people believe that God skips over certain sins when He surveys the hearts of people. This is usually the response of people who hope that God will make a detour around their sin and that they’ll get away with their sin.
There are other times, however, when we are fearful that God will forget to punish those who have wronged us. They may even seem to be prospering, and we feel a need to hold on to our unforgiveness until we are certain that the other people are punished in some way. We hold on to the prerogative of vengeance just in case God has forgotten about the incident or in case He intends to do nothing about it.
At still other times, we know we deserve to be punished, but God doesn’t seem to be taking any negative action against us, so we refuse to forgive ourselves as a form of self–punishment.
These definitions don’t hold water when they are subjected to the truth of God’s Word.
Sin matters. It always matters.
Sin and the effects of sin don’t disappear over time of their own natural accord. Sin must be forgiven, or it remains unforgiven.
Sin always has consequences. It always bears with it the ultimate penalty of death.
What, then, is forgiveness?
Forgiveness is “the act of setting someone free from an obligation to you that is a result of a wrong done against you.”
Forgiveness involves three elements:
1. An injury. A wrong is committed. Pain, hurt, suffering, or guilt is experienced (consciously or subconsciously).
2. A debt resulting from the injury. There is a consequence that is always detrimental and puts someone into a deficit state of some kind.
3. A cancellation of the debt.
Stanley, C. F. (1996). Experiencing forgiveness. Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.