Perhaps the greatest visible devastation of the fall of mankind is the reality of broken relationships. Does anything hurt more than when a meaningful relationship is broken? How many of those relationships are broken because of a failure to ask for forgiveness and/or a refusal to offer forgiveness? The vast majority, I imagine.
Why is forgiveness so difficult?
In thinking through the devastating tragedy of unforgiveness recently, my heart has been hurting for those who are stuck in that horrific rut of unforgiveness. How many relationships could be healed by forgiveness? How many churches could be united once again by forgiveness? How many lives could be eternally changed by forgiveness?
While difficult to embrace and live, the need for forgiveness is simple. There are a few things we must do to experience the freeing joy of forgiveness. Together, these three things are essential and inseparable, I believe…
1. ASK FOR FORGIVENESS
Start by looking in the mirror and examining your own heart. We all need to do that and do so more often, do we not? From whom do you need to ask for forgiveness?
Prideful fools claim they do not need to be forgiven. We all need to be forgiven. We all make mistakes. We all sin against God and against others. We all need to ask for forgiveness.
“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
Ask for forgiveness. You might be one of the very rare people who does not need to ask for forgiveness from another person (at this time – though you certainly will need to eventually), but there is no doubt you need God’s forgiveness. No broken relationship is more eternally devastating than a broken relationship with the God who created you. Start by asking for His forgiveness, as well as asking for His help to know whom else you need to ask for forgiveness.
Can you imagine how much better life would be if we were all better about asking for forgiveness?
2. OFFER FORGIVENESS
Ultimately, bitterness hurts the one who is bitter far more than it hurts anyone else. Do not hold on to bitterness and unforgiveness. Offer forgiveness to others and forgive them! I do not believe we will end up regretting having hearts of forgiveness. Sure, we might get burned, but who has ever said, “I sure am glad I refused to forgive and instead, held on to that bitterness!“? Plenty of people have held on to bitterness, but I have never met someone who was glad he or she did.
In the great words of Tony Stark in Avengers: Endgame, “Turns out resentment is corrosive, and I hate it.“
More importantly, in the words of Jesus Christ, “If you don’t forgive people, your Father will not forgive your wrongdoing.” (Matthew 6:15). To be clear, Jesus did not put conditions on that. He did not say that we have to forgive people who “earn” our forgiveness. Rather, He said that if we fail to forgive others, God will not forgive us.
Do you realize how big this is? Eternal life is not possible without forgiveness from our sins, and so, if you do not forgive others who sin against you, eternal damnation in hell is your only option. No exceptions.
Ask for forgiveness and offer forgiveness.
3. RECEIVE FORGIVENESS
If you do not ask for forgiveness and offer forgiveness, then you will not receive forgiveness. Praise God, though, that such forgiveness from Him truly is free when we sincerely turn to Him in faith and repentance, trusting in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection for our salvation.
Now, while God is perfect in His gracious forgiveness, we are not. People are not. Still, when we are humble enough to admit our mistakes and ask for forgiveness, we can and will see the benefits of such behavior. How many of our broken or severed relationships could be restored?
Turn to the Lord to receive His forgiveness, and humble yourself enough to seek and receive the forgiveness of those you have wronged, even if it is not “all your fault.” God honors humility, and He expects it from those who know and follow Him.
You might be thinking, “What about the people who have sinned against me?” Well, if you are faithfully doing the three things above, only then can you rightly respond to those who have sinned against you. I would encourage you to check out Matthew 18:15-20 and follow Jesus’ advice on dealing with those who are sinning against you, sinning against the church, and/or simply living in clear, unrepentant sin.
In the meantime, though, first make sure that you are asking for forgiveness, that you are offering forgiveness to others, and that you are receiving forgiveness. To God be the glory!