Forgiveness. If you know anything at all about the Bible, you know that forgiveness is one of the main themes running throughout both the Old and New Testaments.
I do not have room here to go into the details, but in the Old Testament Esau forgives Jacob, Joseph forgives his brothers, David forgives Saul, and on and on.
In the New Testament, Jesus often teaches on forgiveness. When He taught His disciples to pray, He included, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” When Peter suggested that seven times was sufficient to forgive someone, Jesus replied, “No, not seven, but seventy times seven.”
When Jesus was on the cross, dying to forgive the sins of all humankind, He looked at the Roman soldiers and said, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
St. Paul wrote to the Ephesians and told them point blank, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
So, here’s the pattern. God loves us. He sent His Only Son Jesus to be, as John The Baptist declared, “The Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” We are forgiven because Jesus paid the full price for our sin when He died upon the cross.
Because of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, we have both the grace and mercy of God. God’s grace is the love He gives us which we do not deserve. His mercy is the punishment God does not give us even though we deserve it.
In 1 John we read, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. But, if we confess our sins, God who is faithful and just, will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
In Christ we are forgiven. Slate clean. “Washed in The Blood.” Made new. Set free. Good to go. This is The Gospel. The Good News. And our response is total thankfulness.
Now what? We are called by God, therefore, in turn to forgive those who have sinned against us. That’s God’s plan. That pattern is loud and clear in all of Scripture. Amen!
So, let’s make some practical application to our everyday lives.
The reality is that not all forgiveness looks the same. Different circumstances yield different types of forgiveness. I want to give you the three I believe are the most common.
The first one I call “Kiss and make-up.” This is when someone has hurt you in a real way. It’s a big deal to you. You’re angry. But that person comes to you and says, “I know I hurt you and you have a right to be angry. I want to tell you that I am so sorry, and I ask you to forgive me. I want never to hurt you this way again. Please forgive me. Please forgive me.”
What do you do? Of course, you forgive them, and you “kiss and make-up,” sometimes even in actuality. This is the perfect ending to a forgiveness story, isn’t it? Unfortunately, I believe this is a very small percentage of the way forgiveness stories end, don’t you?
The second type of forgiveness I call “Cut ‘em some slack.” This is when you have most definitely been wronged by the other person, but even through your hurt you realize that that person has a lot of issues and pressures in their life right now. They probably were having a really bad day when they said or did what they did to you. So, even though they don’t apologize, you “cut ‘em some slack” and forgive them. You let it go. Probably the percentage of this type is a bit more than the previous one.
Now we get serious. I call this last one, “Yikes! You gotta be kidding me!” Unfortunately, this is probably the most common situation. The other person hurts you, insults you, making your life miserable. And they have no intention of asking for forgiveness. They probably even try to make the whole thing your fault. Your life is turned upside down.
This is when forgiveness is really hard. So, we come to the title I’ve given this article, “Seven steps when forgiveness is hard.” I pray these can help you reach the peace God wants you to have, because when we hold a grudge and seek revenge, it’s our life that remains miserable. Remember, holding a grudge and seeking revenge is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.
Here are my seven steps.
1. Acknowledge we live in a fallen world. The other person is a sinner and so are you.
2. Pray and ask for the power of the Holy Spirit, which is the only power that will bring you to forgiveness, the only power.
3. Stay in the Word of God, the Bible, the Holy Scriptures. Google the “forgiveness” Bible passages and stories. Read them over and over. Concentrate on God’s forgiveness of you.
4. Come to church every Sunday. The hymns or praise songs, the Bible readings, the liturgy, the sermon, the Holy Communion all declare God’s forgiving you, and they all empower you to forgive the other.
5. Tell God you are forgiving them because He has forgiven you. You may never get the chance to tell the other person you forgive them, but in telling God, you “lay your burden down.”
6. Move forward, for God and for others. Get outside yourself and serve and care for others. Find your best place in God’s mission and ministry.
7. Set boundaries. Never stay in a physically abusive situation. Set boundaries with a person who habitually hurts you emotionally. Stay away from them and find new friends. If it’s a family member, set boundaries to limit your exposure to their wronging of you.
Dr. Justin Kollmeyer, a thirty-seven year resident of Fayette County, is a retired Lutheran pastor. He offers his preaching and teaching pastoral ministry to any group seeking or needing a Christ centered, Biblically based, and traditionally grounded sermon or teaching. Reach him at email@example.com.