Forgiveness and Freedom
Forgiveness is "the act of setting someone free from an obligation to you that is a result of a wrong done against you." For example, a debt is forgiven when you free your debtor of his obligation to pay back what he owes you.
Forgiveness, then, involves three elements: Injury, a debt resulting from the injury, and a cancellation of the debt. All three elements are essential if forgiveness is to take place. I believe most people who suffer from an unforgiving spirit do not know that unforgiveness is the root of their problem.
A person who has an unforgiving spirit is always the real loser, much more so than the one against whom the grudge is held. Unforgiveness, by it's very nature, prevents individuals from following through on many of the specifics of the Christian life and practically necessitates that they walk by the flesh rather than by the spirit.
The destructive nature of an unforgiving spirit is such that it is not limited to one relationship. Resentment and other negative feelings spill over into other relationships. This is the second reason a person with an unforgiving spirit loses out on life.
Unfortunately, people are rarely aware when hostility from one relationship affects their ability to get along with others. So they try and try--unsuccessfully--to work out their differences with others, never recognising the real source of the problem. Once they tire of trying to change, they excuse their insensitivity as part of their personality and expect people to "work around" them, emotionally speaking. They develop a take-me-or-leave-me attitude, and in the process they hurt people they love the most.
The third reason a person with an unforgiving spirit loses out in life is closely tied to the other reasons. When a person is wronged in some way, whether in marriage, business, friendship or some other relationship,a feeling of rejection occurs.
There is a fourth reason an unforgiving spirit can devastate a life. Since the person with the unforgiving spirit is usually waiting for the other person to make restitution, a great deal of time may go by. During this time, fleshly patterns of behaviour and incorrect thought processes develop. Even after an unforgiving spirit is corrected, the side effects can take years to deal with, especially in the area of relationships, except by divine intervention.
The irony of the situation is this: By refusing to forgive and by waiting for restitution to be made, individuals allow their personal growth and development to hinge on a decision of others they dislike to begin with. They allow themselves to be held hostage. They say,"If he appologises", "If she comes back to me","If he rehires me","If they invite me". They play the game of waiting for others to make the first move. In the meantime they allow an unforgiving spirit to weave it's way into the total fabric of their lives.
Holding on to hurt is like grabbing a rattle snake by the tail: You are going to be bitten. As the poison of bitterness works it's way through the many facets of your personality, death will occur--death that is more far reaching than your physical death, for it has the potential to destroy those around you as well.
Forgiveness and Confession.
If we are already forgiven, then why does the Bible teach we are to confess our sins ? What is the role of confession ?
The Greek word we use for "confess" means--to agree with--. When we confess our sins to our Heavenly Father, we are agreeing with Him. We are agreeing that sin is against Him, it is destructive to His purpose for our lives, and it carries with it consequences that will prove painful.
Confession also implies that we are assuming responsibility for our actions. We are not blaming our actions on others. Confession is essential. In confession, we experience release from guilt, tension, pressure and emotional stress resulting from our sins. Failure to confess our sins ensures the continuation of those unnecessary negative feelings.
Forgiveness is something that each of us has had to deal with in one way or another. If we refuse to deal with the bitterness and resentments that put us in bondage, we cannot have the fellowship with our Father that we are supposed to have.
The first idea we need to clear up is this: Is justifying, understanding or explaining away someone's behaviour the same as forgiving him ? I can certainly understand that "my brother" was under allot of stress when he raised his voice to me in front of my customers, but does that mean that I have forgiven him? Certainly not ! Understanding someone's situation is part of the forgiveness process, but only a part.
Another mistaken idea we have picked up is that time heals all wounds. I think that is one of the most misused cliches I've heard. The passage of time does not automatically lead to forgiveness.
Finally, another misconception says that to forgive others, we must go to them personally and confess our forgiveness. Confessing our forgiveness to someone who has not first solicited our forgiveness sometimes causes more problems than it solves.
Forgiveness is a much more involved issue than just putting time between us and the event .It is a process that involves understanding our own forgiveness and how that applies to those who have hurt us.
Forgiveness is an act of the will that involves five steps:
One : We are forgiven. First, we must recognise that we have been totally forgiven by God. Once we understand the depth of our sin and the distance it put between us and God, and once we get a glimpse of the sacrifice God made to restore fellowship with us, we should not hesitate to get involved in the process of forgiving others.
Two : Forgive the debt. The second step is to release the person from the debt we think is owed us for the offence. This must be a mental, emotional and sometimes even physical release. It involves mentally bundling up all our hostile feelings and surrendering them to Christ.
We can accomplish this in one of two ways: Either by meeting face to face or by using a substitute, possibly sharing all this with someone.
Three : Accept others. The third step is to accept others as they are and release them from any responsibility to meet our needs. Certain people can make or break your day depending on the amount of attention they pay you. When we decide as an act of the will to forgive, we absolve others of any responsibility to meet our needs.
Four : View others as tools of growth. Fourth, we must view those we have forgiven as tools in our lives to aid us in our growth in and understanding of the grace of God.
Joseph of old certainly understood this principle. After all his brothers did to him, he was able to forgive them. He saw them as the instruments of God to get him to Egypt and to be in such a position of power that he could save his family when famine destroyed all the crops.
Five : Make reconciliation. The last thing we must do is to make reconciliation with those from whom we have been estranged. This will vary from situation to situation. Regarless of how we go about it, we must do what we can to restore fellowship with those who hurt us. Once our forgiveness is complete, reconciliation will be much easier.
After completing the five steps in forgiveness, we should pray for them and ask the Lord to restore balance.
Remember, that forgiveness is for our benefit. The other person's behaviour may never change. It is up to God, not us, to change that person. It is our responsibility to be set free from the pressure and weight of an unforgiving attitude.
Several things will occur once the forgiveness process is complete :
First , our negative feelings will disappear. We will not feel the way we used to feel when we run into these people on the street or in the office. Harsh feelings may be replaced by feelings of love, concern, pity or empathy but not resentment.
Second , we will find it much easier to accept the people who have hurt us without feeling the need to change them; we will be willing to take them just the way they are. We will understand more why they acted and continue to act the way they do.
Third , our concern about the needs of the other individuals will outweigh our concerns about what they did to us. We will be able to concentrate on them, not on ourselves or our needs. Whatever our pain, whatever our situation, we cannot afford to hold on to an unforgiving spirit another day. We must get involved with the process of forgiving others and find out what it means to be really free.
People frequently say,"I know that God has forgiven me. And I'm sure that I have forgiven those who've wronged me. But I still have no peace in my heart. Something is not quite right." Oftentimes, this disquietude can be an unforgiving spirit directed toward ourselves, not directed toward God for what He has done, nor directed toward others for what they have done. But there will be no peace in our hearts until we forgive ourselves for the wrongs that we have committed.
The first consequence of a self directed unforgiving spirit is that we punish ourselves on an ongoing basis. How do we do that ? We replay our sins continually. Satan initiates it, and we foolishly follow.
We spiritually incarcerate ourselves despite the fact that no place in the Bible does God say He has forgiven us of "all our sins except..." Jesus paid it all ! Jesus bore in His body the price for all our sins. No exceptions.
The second consequence of a self directed unforgiving spirit is that we live under a cloud of uncertainty. We do not accept our forgiveness by God; we exist under an abiding question mark. If we never forgive ourselves, we can never be confident that God has forgiven us--and we bear the weight of this guilt.
The third consequence of a self directed unforgiving spirit is that we develop a sense of unworthiness. Because we are guilty, we also feel unworthy. This sense of unworthiness hinders our prayer life, our intimate relationship with God, and our service for Him.
The fourth consequence of a self directed unforgiving spirit is that we attempt to overcome our guilt by compulsive behaviour and expresses in our lives. We try to escape from the incessant self-pronoucements of guilt. Some of us invest huge amounts of energy into work--we work harder, faster, longer.
The fifth consequence of a self directed unforgiving spirit is that we develop a false sense of humility when we feel permanently judged guilty and sentenced by God. We wear but a facade of humility when we declare ourselves so unworthy to serve God. And our "humble face" serves as a mask to keep us from seeing our true face.
The Sixth consequence of a self directed unforgiving spirit is that we deprive ourselves of things God wants us to enjoy. Self deprivation is the opposite of compulsive behaviour and excesses. We do not achieve a state of forgiveness by arbitrarily abstaining from enjoyable things in our lives. God does not ask us to deprive ourselves in order to "deserve" forgiveness.
How do we forgive ourselves ? Regardless of how long we have been in bondage, we can be free if we follow four Biblical steps.
One : Recognise the problem. We must come to grips with the fact that we still hold ourselves in bondage. "Lord, I realise I haven't forgiven myself and am in bondage because of it."
Two : Repent of sin. We must repent of sin for which we cannot forgive ourselves. And we must thank Him for His forgiveness as we confess our sin to Him."I thank you, Jesus, for forgiving me."
Three : Reaffirm trust. We must reaffirm our trust in the testimony of Scripture; "As far as the East is from the West, so far has He removed our transgressions from us."(Ps 103:12) "Lord, I reaffirm my trust and my faith in the Word of God."
Four : Confess freedom and choose to receive it. We must confess our freedom and choose to receive it freely. "Lord Jesus, I accept my forgiveness and I choose to be freed, please confirm my freedom by the power and presence of Your Holy Spirit."
Forgiveness is liberating, nut it is also sometimes painful. It is liberating because we are freed from the heavy load of guilt, bitterness and anger we have harbored within. It is painful because it is difficult to have to face ourselves, God and others with our failures. It seems easier to blame others and to go on defending our position of being right, even though we continue to hurt. But the poison of an unforgiving spirit that permeates our entire lives, seperating us from God and friends, can never be adequately defended. It is devastating to our spiritualand emotional well-being and to our physical health.
Are you still unable to forgive someone who hurt you deeply and you still bear the scars? How long will you remain a prisoner of your own unforgiving spirit? Jesus can give you the power to forgive, to be healed and to be set free tolive your life to the fullest !