On Sunday at Westlake we were thinking about forgiveness. One of the points I made was that forgiveness is both a decision and journey and the closer we are to the person who has hurt us the more difficult the decision and the longer the journey to complete forgiveness is likely to be. I outlined quickly what I thought a journey to forgiveness might look like and wanted to unpack it bit.
RECEIVE GOD’S LOVE
Before we can forgive people who have wounded and hurt us so we can “love like we’ve never been hurt” we need to realise how deeply we are loved and how much God has forgiven us and receive that love. The first step to being a channel of God’s love and grace to other people is to realise the enormity of God’s love for us personally and receive that love. We love others like God when our hearts are so filled with His love that it spills over into other people’s lives. Here are some of the Scriptures that talk about the need to realise we are loved by God and receive that love.
- “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8
How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!” 1 John 3:1
This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. ” 1 John 4:9-11
we know and rely on the love God has for us 1 John 4:16
For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love. Romans 5:5
REPENT OF ANY SINFUL ATTITUDES AND ACTIONS
The second step on the journey of forgiveness is repentance. Repentance is a change of mind that leads to a change in behaviour. We change our mind about harbouring attitudes like bitterness, anger, malice and unforgiveness towards people who have hurt us and decide to change our behaviour towards them as a result. Some times it helps to be very honest with ourselves and perhaps someone we trust about the attitudes we need to repent of.
- Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Ephesians 4:31
RELY ON THE HOLY SPIRIT TO FORGIVE
We can’t forgive others, particularly those who have deeply hurt us, without the Holy Spirit. The truth is that we need to decide to forgive people and then go on a journey of forgiveness and we need to rely on the Holy Spirit to do both. This will mean praying perhaps every day for a while that the Spirit would help us forgive, that He would bringing healing to our hearts. Forgiveness is too big for us to try and do it on our own. The Holy Spirit not only wants to give us the desire to forgive others but will also give us the power to do it.
- Forgiving each other Eph 4:32
RECONCILE IF ITS POSSIBLE
- If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Romans 12:18
I love that piece of advice from Paul because he makes a couple of really important points when it comes to forgiveness
- LIVE AT PEACE WITH EVERYONE …. The goal for forgiveness is to live at peace with people. For us as Christians forgiveness isn’t an end in itself we are to aim for reconciliation, the restoration of relationship. God forgives us so we can be reconciled to Him, so a relationship can be re-established and that is what the goal should be for us with people with whom we have a fractured relationship.
- IF ITS POSSIBLE …. Paul, speaking probably from painful personal experience, tells us that reconciliation is not always possible. The truth is that we can’t be reconciled with some people because they will refuse to be reconciled with us. Reconciliation sometimes is also not possible if the relationship previously has been abusive. We should certainly forgive people who have abused us but it would be unwise to reconcile with them and re-establish a relationship in which they could once more abuse us.
- AS FAR AS IT DEPENDS ON YOU … Finally, Paul reminds us that the onus is on us as God’s people to follow His example and to make the first move to reconcile with people- We are to reach out to them, to offer forgiveness and ask for forgiveness if necessary, even if we are the injured party. This may take years to happen.
It May Be A Long Journey
Praise God sometimes all of this happens quickly and with the power of the Spirit, people are able to rid themselves of bitterness, forgive others and find reconciliation.
For many of us however this won’t be a linear process but is perhaps best thought of as a cycle. To come to the place of total forgiveness we are going to need to come back and go through the process of receiving God’s love, repenting of sinful attitudes and actions as they surface again, learning to rely on the Spirit more deeply and reaching out in reconciliation when we have been rejected in the past.
Think of it like this
I hope this might help us think about how we can come to forgive others even when the wounds and hurt are