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Posts tagged ‘repentance’

4 Steps Every Couple Needs to Take When Trust Is Broken

SOURCE:  MARISSA GOLD/Women’s Day

How to Rebuild Broken Trust:  Experts Share a Four-Step Plan

When trust is broken in a relationship, it can seem impossible to repair. But many couples have dealt with dishonesty—from financial problems to infidelity—and made it through to a happier, more honest place. Here, experts share the exact steps to take to get back on track.

We may enter a relationship with high hopes and rose-colored glasses, but nobody’s perfect. Most couples will run into a trust issue of some sort over the course of their relationship. The most common? “Cheating,” says M. Gary Neuman, LMHC, creator of the Neuman Method. But that doesn’t necessarily mean catching your husband in bed with another woman is the only thing that can cause a rift between you and your partner. “Trust is broken whenever there is lying that creates a shift in the couple’s life,” says Neuman. “Gambling, drug use, and even emotional and online infidelity often lead to severe trust issues.”

The fact is, all of the phones, laptops, and social networks we’re glued to 24/7 provide ample opportunity for foul play. “It’s more common now for affairs to be emotional—on social media, reconnecting with a high school sweetheart—or using office chat apps or email accounts to carry on a flirtation,” says Dr. Vagdevi Meunier, PsyD, a Gottman Institute master therapist. “As Shirley Glass, author of Not Just Friends, has said, affairs are about access and opportunity.”

If trust has been broken between you and your partner, whether it was a physical affair, an emotional affair, or a gambling or drug habit, we’ve asked relationship experts to outline the exact steps you need to take if you want to work on rebuilding your relationship.

Step One: Confrontation

First things first (and no, we’re not talking about yelling and screaming): Have the confrontation in person. “Once you’ve discovered the infidelity, you need to evaluate your partner’s response,” says Neuman. “Is he apologetic and remorseful, or confused and ‘in love’ with this other person?” Don’t assume anything, fight via text or email, or make decisions about your future before having a face-to-face conversation.

In addition to talking to your partner, “you’ll feel a need to tell some people what happened because you’ll need to vent,” says Neuman. “But try to limit this sharing to those who will really be there for you and give you a safe space to share—NOT a lot of advice.” The idea is to get support without being swayed one way or another. You also don’t want to be sitting around the Thanksgiving table a year from now knowing that everyone in your family knows your dirty laundry. So be careful about who you tell, and how much you tell them.

Finally, watch out for urges to “even the score” or make some questionable decisions of your own. “Don’t create a toxic relationship by taking revenge, being vindictive, or bringing other people in,” warns Meunier. In other words, reconnecting with your own high school sweetheart for comfort is not the best idea, nor is recruiting your in-laws to chastise your partner about what he did.

Step Two: Atonement

This is a time for full transparency: “The person who made the choice to commit the act of betrayal should take time to understand the impact of his or her actions, tell the full story of the betrayal, and answer any questions their partner has,” says Meunier. “Your spouse has to want to make this relationship work, be apologetic and—in the case of an affair—be willing to completely end it with the other woman,” stresses Neuman.

It’s also a time for emotional support. It’s not uncommon to lose sleep, stop eating, or even have trouble functioning after discovering an infidelity, so Meunier encourages the offending partner to “be available to support and comfort the hurt partner.” Translation: He needs to be patient and kind and cater to you for a bit, not pop off angrily every time you want to talk about the issue.

You also need to give yourself some extra love right now: “Practicing meditation, daily gratitude, reading books on affair recovery (the ones based on scientific research are best) yoga, and journaling are all good techniques,” says Meunier. “I also encourage both partners to engage in light and easy activities that preserves a sense of continuity, fun, and a feeling of family. This can be as simple as having breakfast or dinner, watching a show on the couch together, or going grocery shopping. If there are children present, this is even more important.”

Step Three: Reconnecting

 

Once you’ve talked through all the details of the betrayal and have decided to recommit to one another, it’s time to start limiting how often you bring up the infidelity. “I encourage couples to only talk about the betrayal in the counselor’s office, or to set a scheduled meeting, like lunch, to do this,” says Meunier. “Avoid talking about it in closed intense environments such as the car or in the bedroom. Instead, go out on the porch—the fear of neighbors hearing will make both of you behave better.”

After you eliminate the constant “threat” environment that comes with discussing the issue, you can begin to learn how to be more connected and emotionally present with each other. How do you do that, exactly? “Once broken, trust has to be earned by small things each person does every day,” says Meunier. It’s about consistency and kindness: Be home when you say you will, avoid that work event where you know the affair partner might be, and give regular, sincere compliments to build back your partner’s self-esteem. It may take time, but if your partner is willing to show you he is committed and consistent in his actions, he’ll slowly earn back your trust. This isn’t always easy—the betraying partner has more of a burden during this time, explains Meunier—but if he sticks it out, you’ll see results. And remember, the effort shouldn’t feel one-sided: “Eventually both people need to be making small gestures of kindness,” adds Meunier.

Step Four: Building a New Relationship

At this point, you’re building a brand new emotional, physical, and social contract for the relationship. You’re connecting in a more honest way, asking for what you really need, and, “Doing whatever is necessary to affair-proof your relationship going forward,” says Meunier.

The key here on out is positive responses: “We use a term developed by Dr. Gottman called turning towards,” says Meunier. “Intimacy is built by repeated experiences of one partner bidding for their partner’s attention or affection and receiving a positive response,” says Meunier. When you receive consistent, positive reactions from one another in everyday life, trust returns. Here’s an example: “If the betraying spouse says ‘Will you watch Real Housewives with me?’ I want the hurt partner to say ‘yes’ not because they suddenly forgive their partner or love the show, but because they recognize that it costs nothing to sit quietly next to someone and watch a television show, and that doing so gives them points in the emotional bank account. Similarly, if the hurt spouse calls while you’re apart and says ‘Can you turn on Facetime and show me who is in the room with you?’ I encourage the betraying partner to do that whenever possible. Not ignoring your partner, not rejecting each other, and being kind are all ways we build a sense of normalcy and safety, which in turn builds trust.”

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Does Forgiveness Mean Instant Trust?

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

Can I Trust You?

Sometimes the burden to trust again has been unfairly placed upon the shoulders of the betrayed person and linked with forgiveness. The thinking goes like this: if you forgive me, then what happened between us is in the past. We don’t need to discuss this anymore and trust should be automatically restored.

But that’s not true.

We can genuinely forgive someone and still not trust him (or her).

Forgiveness is something we do because God calls us to do it, not necessarily because someone is sorry, repentant, or is genuinely interested in rebuilding trust. However, reconciliation of the relationship, including trusting again, requires forgiveness but not just forgiveness. It also requires the one who broke trust to show genuine repentance as well as make efforts to rebuild broken trust.

Typically we think of broken trust, especially in marriage, only in the sexual realm. However below are three additional areas where trust can be broken and must be rebuilt if a relationship is to be restored.

1.  Authenticity: People immediately mistrust someone who feels false. When you are married to someone, work with someone, or are close to someone who has one persona in public and another in private, you intuitively do not trust him, even when you have no specific reason not to. You don’t trust his public persona (i.e. great guy), because you also bear witness to his or her hypocrisy elsewhere. This person’s core self is not authentic and therefore he cannot or should not be trusted.

To rebuild trust with someone who has been inauthentic requires him or her to acknowledge his or her false image and learn to be more real. In most instances a person who has a double self will not acknowledge it nor do they typically change. When confronted, they just get more devious.

2. Reliability: When we are in relationship with someone, personal or professional, we want to know whether we can count on that person to do what he says he will do. Or, likewise, can I trust that he will stop doing the things that he says he will stop doing?

In rebuilding broken trust with someone who has a track record of unreliability, we must look at what the person does, not what the person says that he or she will do. For example, does he say he will put filters on his computer but never does? Does she say she will stop drinking, or spending money on the credit card but does nothing? Does he say he wants restoration of the marriage but won’t go to counseling or do any work towards that end? Does she tell you she will make more efforts to call you and reach out to you in order to have a more mutual relationship but her promises don’t turn into real phone calls?

Proverbs 25:19 says, “Putting confidence in an unreliable person in times of trouble is like chewing with a broken tooth or walking on a lame foot.” It’s foolish.

John Mark was someone who was not reliable and as a result, lost the apostle Paul’s trust (See Acts 15). Later on we see that trust was restored, not because Paul gave him trust, but because John Mark proved he was reliable and Paul’s trust was restored (2 Timothy 4). In the same way, building consistent reliability into our character rebuilds broken trust, not empty promises.

3. Care: In our closest relationships we ask ourselves: can I trust that you care for my good? My well-being?  When I share my thoughts and feelings do you hear me? Value me? Protect me? Or is there mocking, contempt, avoidance, or indifference? Proverbs 31:11,12 says, “The heart of her husband trusts in her.” Why?  Because, “He trusts her to do him good not harm all the days of his life.”

One of the foundations of relational trust is that love does not intentionally harm the other (Romans 13:10).  And, if in weakness and sin there is harm, every effort is made to make amends and not repeat that harm.

A destructive person does not want to hear the other person’s grievances against him. It’s true; it does hurt our feelings (and pride) to hear how we have hurt someone. It takes effort to listen and care about the other person’s feelings when you have broken her trust. Yet without consistent compassion, empathy, and care for the other, rebuilding trust is not possible. And if we don’t trust that someone cares for our well being, a close relationship with that person is not possible.

Rebuilding broken trust takes time and specific evidence of change, not merely words or promises of change.  

3 Characteristics of a Repentant Spouse

SOURCE:  Family Life/Eric Mason

Would you like to revolutionize your marriage?

Then try starting with a little repentance.

It’s amazing how much healing can occur between a husband and a wife when 10 little words are said: “I am so sorry for what I did. I repent!”

As we grow as believers in Jesus Christ and become surrounded by more and more Christians, it’s easy to put on a facade. Often we aren’t willing to admit where we are spiritually because we’ve become skilled at hiding our weaknesses.

But for Christian husbands and wives who want a strong marriage, there comes a time when we have to own up and be honest about ourselves. Will we live our lives bare before the Lord? Will we open ourselves up to our spouses? If so, then we need to learn how to be repentant.

Face-to-face with sin

If you are looking for an example of repentance, go no further than 2 Samuel 12. You probably know the story. The prophet Nathan came to King David to confront him about committing adultery and murder. Nathan told David about two men who lived in the same city. One was rich and had a large number of sheep and cattle. The other had only one little female lamb that he treated as a member of his family. The rich man took the poor man’s lamb to use as a meal.

“As surely as God lives,” David said to Nathan, “the man who did this ought to be lynched! He must repay for the lamb four times over for his crime and his stinginess!”

Then Nathan stunned David with his reply: “You’re the man!” (2 Samuel 12:5-7,The Message).

It’s interesting that David had a lot of self-righteousness when it came to somebody else’s sin. But when he realized that he was the man who had sinned, he begged for mercy.

After finally coming face-to-face with his sin of adultery, David penned Psalm 51. It begins, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love, according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. … cleanse me from my sin! … Against you, you only, have I sinned …”

David was far more than sorrowful for his sin. He was repentant.

Psalm 51 gives us a picture of what genuine repentance looks like. Applying it to marriage, here are three characteristics of a repentant spouse:

1. A repentant spouse trusts the character of God. In Psalm 51 David says, in essence, “God, I know I’ve messed up beyond the worst level of messing up. What I need is the God who will deal with me based on His commitment to covenant, not my failure of the covenant.” Twice he mentions God’s merciful character. “Have mercy on me, O God,” he pleads.

It’s important to trust the character of God before you focus on your sin. If you focus on your sin first, you’ll get depressed. You’ll get frustrated. You’ll feel locked in. But if you put your mind on the character of God, then you’ll have encouragement to deal with your sin.

We need the gospel, not self-righteousness. We need to submit ourselves to the beauty of the character of God so that Christ’s righteousness can cover our sin and deal with it.

How does this look in marriage? If you and your spouse mention your sin to each other all the time, then all you’re going to do is argue. “Well, you sinned against me!” … “No, you sinned against me!” But if you focus on God’s mercy, looking at all God has done for you, then the situation seems very different.

A deeply-repentant spouse first sees the attributes of God: His mercy, love, grace, long-suffering, spirituality, omniscience, omnipresence. When God’s attributes permeate your relationship with your spouse, your mind will be more on the Lord and your marriage. You won’t just be focusing on the faults of your spouse, and you’ll be better equipped to deal with your sin.

2. A repentant spouse owns the extent of his or her sin. David says, “I know my transgressions.” Now, the word here for “know” means to be acquainted with something intimately. When he says, “I know my sin,” that means he is able to absolutely, unadulteratedly acknowledge what he did. One of the most authentic and powerful things Christians can do is own their sin. You can’t even get saved until you do that.

If you want a godly marriage, you better get used to learning how to repent. I fight with it every day myself. I have to fight self-righteousness! I have to fight not wanting to acknowledge stuff. I have to fight unforgiveness and anger.

In Psalm 51, David not only talked about knowing his sin, but also said that God would be justified in saying to him whatever He wanted to. “Against You, and You only, have I sinned and have done what is evil in Your sight, so that You may be justified in Your words.”

David didn’t waste a lot of words when he admitted that he had sinned against the Lord. How often have you presented a paragraph of information to your spouse explaining why you have sinned? David didn’t do that. He owned his sin. Likewise, in marriage we need to face up to our individual offenses.

3. A repentant spouse yearns for long-term transformation. Just look at what David says in Psalm 51:6, “Behold, You delight in truth in the inward being…and teach me wisdom in the secret heart.”

When David says “delight,” he is talking about what God likes inside of His people. He is saying to God, “You desire the places that I’ve closed off from You to be reopened in my life, for You to deal with.” In this passage David is getting beyond the sin of adultery and getting to the heart that led to adultery.

Jesus Christ did not die on the cross so that we would have the same old, nasty, funky, trifling, hard heart in our marriages. He says in Ezekiel 36:24-28 (The Message): “… I’ll give you a new heart, put a new spirit in you. I’ll remove the stone heart from your body and replace it with a heart that’s God-willed, not self-willed. I’ll put my Spirit in you and make it possible for you to do what I tell you and live by my commands. …”

Whiter than snow

No matter where we are in life, each of us is in desperate need of the cross of Christ. And that’s what David expresses in Psalm 51:7, “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean. Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.”

The gospel gives freedom to our lives and to our marriages. Jesus has already paid for our sins. He gives us the ability to look into our spouse’s eyes and say, “I am so sorry for what I did. I repent!”

How to Repent: 5 Steps

SOURCE:  Joel Lindsey/The Gospel Coalition

The importance of repentance is hard to overstate.

After all, Jesus’s first public exhortation was “Repent!” (Mark 1:15)—and if it was that high on Jesus’s list, we probably should pay attention too.

But how do we repent well?

Psalm 32 is a wonderful place to explore the nature and process of deep repentance. Here are five vital steps.

1. Be honest about your need for repentance.

How happy is the man the LORD does not charge with sin, and in whose spirit is no deceit! (v. 2)

Repentance requires honesty. No one comes to God with true repentance in their heart unless they’ve first acknowledged their need for forgiveness and reconciliation with him. Only those who have ceased trying to cover up their sin with self-righteousness and deceit can experience the deep and lasting change that comes only through repentance.

2. Acknowledge the danger of sin and damage of guilt.

When I kept silent, my bones became brittle from my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was drained as in the summer’s heat. (vv. 3–4)

Let’s face it: you are seeking repentance because God’s Spirit has convicted you. We often blame others for our stress and general moodiness, but many times we simply feel bad because we’ve done bad things. David describes physical and emotional symptoms associated with a guilty conscience. We must honestly assess the consequences of our sin, which means assessing both personal consequences and the impact it has had—and will continue to have—on others.

3. Confess fully.

I acknowledged my sin to you and did not conceal my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD.” (v. 5a)

Deep repentance demands full confession. Though it seems counter-intuitive, the only way to be truly covered by Christ is to fully expose your sin. In the process of repentance, we must fight to be utterly transparent before God about the depth and breadth of our sin. Only ruthless honesty will suffice—and lead to freedom and joy.

4. Hide in God.

You took away the guilt of my sin. Therefore let everyone who is faithful pray to you at a time when you may be found. When the great floodwaters come, they will not reach him. You are my hiding place; You protect me from trouble. You surround me with joyful shouts of deliverance. (vv. 5b–7)

Adam and Eve hid behind inadequate, self-made coverings to mask their sin and shame. We too often hide behind self-made righteousness in order to make ourselves appear more acceptable than we really are. If you want to change, to really change—which, by the way, is the mark of true repentance—then you must hide in God alone.

It’s not enough just to repent of overt sins. It’s not enough to say, “I admit to my wrong behaviors.” All kinds of people repent that way, especially religious people with an image to maintain.

A Christian doesn’t just repent of their outward sins, but also of their attempts to hide behind shoddy self-made righteousness. Stop hiding in your effort. Hide in God.

5. Seize the hope.

Many pains come to the wicked, but the one who trusts in the LORD will have faithful love surrounding him. (v. 11)

How can you be sure God will forgive you? His unfailing love. Recall and find assurance in the great promises he has made throughout history, and how they have been fulfilled in Jesus Christ:

  • His promise to Adam and Eve to crush the enemy
  • His promise to Abraham to claim and protect a people
  • His promise to Moses to provide a way for sinful humans to meaningfully relate to a holy God
  • His promise to David to provide a once-and-for-all eternal King for his people

All throughout history—right on up to the moment when you’re repenting—God has been saying, and continues to say, “I love you. I will not fail you. I am enough.”

Look to the promises of God, seize the hope, and “be glad in the LORD and rejoice, you righteous ones; shout for joy, all you upright in heart!” (Psalm 32:11).

Does He Need to Confess Adultery to His Wife?

SOURCE:  Russell Moore

Today I have an email that came in from someone who is writing—he is a Christian man, a member of a church, who writes and tells me that he had an affair several years ago, that this affair only lasted about a week, that he put an end to it, but he writes and wants to know whether or not now—even though he has confessed it to God, he has repented toward God, he has talked to a couple of key accountability partners in his life—whether or not he ought to tell his wife. Now, this man says that their marriage is already precarious. It has been precarious for some time. He is not sure whether or not his wife knows the Lord—or if she does, how mature she is in Christ—and he doesn’t want to jeopardize their marriage. He doesn’t want to split up their marriage and really wreck the lives of their children.

And so he says do I have to tell my wife?

Now, what I want to say is first of all I just stopped and prayed for this family because I know that this has to be absolutely agonizing.  It is agonizing for him. It will be soon agonizing for her and for the children—those who are completely innocent in this saga.

I do think that you need to tell her and for several reasons: One of those reasons being, you have sinned against her. Your having this adulterous affair is a sin against your wife, and until you have confessed to her and until you have repented to her I don’t think you are finished with the process of repenting. Biblically she has ownership—that is radical language, I Corinthians, chapter 7—she has ownership over your sexuality, and so your sin affects her, even if she doesn’t know about it. And it affects her in several ways: one of them being you have joined yourself with some other woman outside of your marriage, which has a spiritual, mysterious effect, Paul says in I Corinthians, chapter 6.

Secondly though, you have brought to the marriage a breakdown in intimacy. You are keeping a secret from her about something that is at the core of your marriage. She deserves to know this, and I don’t think you have finished repenting until you confess it to her and until you ask for her forgiveness. I also don’t think that you are going to be free from the weight of conviction that you feel from that sense of guilt that you either feel—or if you don’t feel, it’s because you have covered that over and you have a heart that is numb to that. I think that you need to confess this and get that out in the open.

Having said that, I want to say to you be prepared for the consequences of your sin.

And I think that you need to make it very clear when you confess this to your wife that she is more important to you than the risk that may come along with your confessing this to her. And so you need to own your sin. You need to communicate this to her as a sin, and do not give any indication that you blame her at all. She is already probably going to be looking for that in whatever it is that you are saying. Do not give even the appearance that you are blaming her. So whatever problems you may have had in your marriage, whatever sorts of issues that you may have with her, this is not the time to talk about those things. You have no ground to give any list of grievances to her—regardless of whether or not those things may be legitimate. She is not to blame for your immorality and your sin, and so don’t imply that she is.

And I would also say don’t take her first reaction to be necessarily her last reaction. She is going to feel betrayed. She is going to feel outraged. She is going to feel as though she doesn’t even understand what her world means right now. That is all completely natural because you have broken the covenant. You have sinned against her, and you have done so with a breach of trust. Don’t defend yourself. Don’t give excuses, reasons. And let her express the grief and the anger that comes out of this. You have been carrying this sin with you now for several years. It could feel to you almost as a relief to get it out in the open in front of her. But this is the first time she is hearing about this, and so, you can’t expect her to forgive you immediately, reconcile with you immediately, move on. She has to grieve this, and she has to express the sort of anger that she has. Let her do that, and then wait patiently for her to forgive you. Don’t expect that she owes you some sort of immediate reconciliation. You are going to have to spend in many ways the rest of your life in your marriage rebuilding the trust that is there, even when she does forgive you.

So I am really sorry about this, and I am praying for your entire family, but yeah, you need to tell her. That is the second step for you, after confessing to God, in your repentance.

How Can I Forgive Myself?

SOURCE:  R.C. Sproul

I know God has forgiven me for my sins, but how can I begin to forgive myself?

Frequently in his epistles, the apostle Paul goes to great lengths to describe what we call Christian liberty. In these matters God allows us freedom; he doesn’t set down laws prohibiting something or commanding something. The apostle warns us against being judgmental toward our brothers, giving as an example in the Corinthian community the question about eating meat offered to idols. Paul says this has nothing to do with the kingdom of God. He says, “Those of you who have scruples about it, don’t judge those who don’t” and vice versa. This is a case in which we just have to respect one another.

In those admonitions, Paul uses as his basis this statement: “We are not to be judging people for whom Christ died.” He reminds us that “your brother or your sister belongs to Christ. God has forgiven them. Who are you to withhold forgiveness from someone whom God has forgiven?”

Let’s look at it this way. If somebody sins against me and that person repents, God forgives them. If I refuse to forgive them, can you think how ghastly that is in the sight of God? God is not obligated to forgive that person. That person has sinned against God, and God has never sinned against anybody. Here I am—a person who is a sinner refusing to forgive other sinners while God, who is sinless, is willing to forgive. Have you ever stopped to think about the arrogance that’s in me when I refuse to forgive somebody that God has forgiven?

Now, how could you forgive yourself after God has forgiven you?

I’ve had people come to me and say, “R.C., I committed such and such a sin, and I asked God to forgive me. I’ve gone to him ten times and asked him to forgive me, but I still don’t feel forgiven. What am I going to do?” I don’t have any brilliant theological answer to that. I can only tell them to ask God to forgive them one more time. When they say they’ve done it, I tell them this time I want them to ask God to forgive them for their arrogance. “Arrogance!?” they say. “What do you mean arrogance? I’m the most humble man in America. I’ve confessed this sin ten times.” Doesn’t God say that if you confess a sin one time, he’ll forgive you? Who are you to refuse the forgiveness of God, and who are you to condemn one whom God has forgiven? That’s arrogance. You may not feel arrogant, you may not mean to be arrogant, you may be rolling in humility with all of your confession. But I am telling you that if God has forgiven you, it is your duty to forgive yourself. It’s not an option. You must forgive those whom God forgives, including yourself.

Christians Should be Forgiving People

SOURCE:  R. C. Sproul/Ligonier Ministries

When someone orders us to do something, or imposes an obligation, it is natural for us to ask two questions. The first question is, “Why should I?” and the second is, “Who says so?” The why and the authority behind the mandate are very important to the question of forgiveness.

To answer the question of why we should be forgiving people, let us look briefly at the teaching of Jesus in the New Testament. In Matthew’s gospel, chapter 18, verse 21 and following, we read this account:

Then Peter came up and said to him, ‘Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?’

Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven. Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.

‘But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt.

‘So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.’”

In this parable, the point of Jesus’ teaching is clear, that the why for forgiving others is rooted in the fact that we have been the recipients of extraordinary mercy and compassion. We are all debtors who cannot pay their debts to God. Yet God has been gracious enough to grant us forgiveness in Jesus Christ. It is no wonder that in the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus instructs His disciples to say, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” There is a parallel, a joint movement of compassion, that is first received from God and then we in turn exercise the same compassion to others. God makes it clear that if we lack that compassion and harbor vengeance in our heart, rather than being ready to forgive again and again, we will forfeit any forgiveness that has been given to us.

Thus, the foundation for a forgiving spirit is the experience of divine grace. It is by grace that we are saved. It is by grace that we live. It is by grace that we have been forgiven. Therefore, the why of forgiving is to manifest our own gratitude for the grace that we have received. Again, the parable of Jesus points to one who took the grace that he received for granted and refused to act in a way that mirrored and reflected the kindness of God.

Why should we forgive? Simply, because God forgives us. It is not an insignificant thing to add on to the why the point that we are commanded by that God of grace to exercise grace in turn.

When we look at the question of forgiveness, however, we also have to ask the second query, “Who says so, and under what conditions are we to keep this requirement?” If we turn our attention to another gospel, we see in Luke 17 the following (vv. 1–4):

And he said to his disciples, ‘Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin. Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.’”

It’s important that we look closely at this directive from Jesus regarding forgiveness.

It is often taught in the Christian community that Christians are called to forgive those who sin against them unilaterally and universally. We see the example of Jesus on the cross, asking God to forgive those who were executing Him, even though they offered no visible indication of repentance. From that example of Jesus, it has been inferred that Christians must always forgive all offenses against them, even when repentance is not offered. However, the most that we can legitimately infer from Jesus’ actions on that occasion is that we have the right to forgive people unilaterally. Though that may be indeed a wonderful thing, it is not commanded.

If we look at the commandment that Jesus gives in Luke 17:3, He says, “If your brother sins, rebuke him.” Notice that the first response to the offense is not forgiveness but rather rebuke. The Christian has the right to rebuke those who commit wrong doing against him. That’s the basis for the whole procedure of church discipline in the New Testament. If we were commanded to give unilateral forgiveness to all, under all circumstances, then the whole action of church discipline to redress wrongs, would itself be wrong. But Jesus says, “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents…,” — here is where the command becomes obligatory — if the offender repents, then it is mandatory for the Christian to forgive the one who has offended him. If we refuse to give forgiveness when repentance has been manifest, then we expose ourselves to the same fate as the unforgiving servant. We open ourselves to the wrath of God. If, indeed, I offend someone and then repent and express my apology to them, but he refuses to forgive me, then the coals of fire are on his head. Likewise, if we fail to give forgiveness, when one who has offended us repents of the offense, we expose ourselves to the coals of fire, and we are in worse shape than the one who has given the offense.

In other words, it is transgression against God when we refuse to forgive those who have repented for their offenses to us. This is the teaching of Jesus. It is the mandate of Jesus. As we are united in Christ, we are to show that union by extending the same grace to others that He extends to us.

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