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Answering the Hard Questions About Forgiveness

My last sermon was on the parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18. The point Jesus makes is that those in His kingdom serve a great King who has forgiven them of an immeasurable debt, and so they should also forgive one another. And yet, forgiveness can pose difficult questions. Here are some of the major ones.

What is the difference between asking forgiveness and apologizing?
Apologies fall short of asking forgiveness in that they are often merely a means of deflecting personal responsibility: “I’m sorry if you were offended by what I said…” Genuine repentance is an admission of personal wrongdoing: “It was unkind of me to say that. Will you forgive me?” Additionally, apologies are statements that require no response. Asking forgiveness involves a humble request that allows the injured party to respond and heal the relational damage.

What if the person who has sinned against me does not ask forgiveness?
Colossians 3:13 says that we are to “bear with one another”. That word bear is used of Jesus putting up with the failings of the disciples (Matthew 17:17). We can overlook
minor irritations and offenses as Proverbs 17:9 says, “He who covers a transgression seeks love.” But in the case of intentional sin, we should go directly and humbly to that person as the Lord says in Matthew 18:15, to show him his fault. This is a response of love (as seen in Revelation 3:19, where Christ says, “Those whom I love I rebuke…”).

But what if the person refuses to repent? In that case, it is important that bitterness does not take root in the heart of the one sinned against (Hebrews 12:5). The Lord says, “Pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:37) and we should pray that we would not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21), trusting that the Lord will work in that person’s heart.

Is forgiveness the same as absolution?
Absolution is the release from consequences, obligations, or penalties. David’s sin in 2 Samuel 11 is a good example of how forgiveness does not necessarily erase the consequences of sin. David was forgiven when he confessed his sin, but he had to deal with the grievous consequences of his sin for the rest of his life (2 Samuel 12:10-14). What this means with one another, is that while forgiveness can be granted immediately, the violation may require a significant rebuilding of trust in the relationship. Scripture indicates that it took ten years for the relationship between John Mark and Paul to be restored after John Mark abandoned him (Acts 13:13; Colossians 4:10).

Is the forgiver to forget the offense?
You have heard the phrase, “Forgive and forget.” This comes from a misunderstanding of Scriptures such as Isaiah 43:25, where the Lord says, “I will not remember your sins” and Hebrews 8:12, “I will remember their sins no more.” But these verses don’t say God forgets our sins. Obviously God, is omniscient—He knows all things. Rather, these verses say that He will not remember forgiven sin. The difference is that He refuses to call them to mind, He promises not to bring them up. It’s what 1 Corinthians 13:5 says, “Love keeps no record of wrongs.”

What if I can’t forgive myself?
The idea of forgiving yourself has become made popular by contemporary psychologists, but is not found in Scripture and is actually contrary to the teaching of God’s word. The person who says, “I can’t forgive myself,” may do so for different reasons. It may be expressing an inability or unwillingness to receive God’s forgiveness. It may reflect an unwillingness to acknowledge the reality of his sinfulness. It may express a heart that is trying to create its own standard of righteousness.

May you experience the freedom and joy of forgiveness, the blessing that God wants you to receive/to give.

~Pastor Ron