The Freedom of Forgiveness
A Christian Counselor’s Perspective on Forgiveness
Part 3 of a 3-Part SeriesIn my previous article, I discussed some of the reasons why people hold onto unforgiveness, which include for payback, power, weaponry, and protection. I also brought common misconceptions about forgiveness to light. This third article seeks to define forgiveness and discusses the spiritual implications of the decision to forgive.
What is Forgiveness?
Forgiveness is a deliberate act of the will in which you choose to let go of your feelings of resentment and your thoughts of revenge toward the person who has harmed you. To forgive, according to the Oxford Dictionary, means to “stop feeling angry or resentful toward someone for an offense, flaw or mistake; to cancel debt.” The mindset of forgiveness is: “My transgressor does not owe me anything anymore. I release the violator from paying for the pain they caused me.”
Forgiveness is not easy, nor is it logical or fair. Many people wonder: “Why should I forgive? They were wrong and now I am hurt. Now I am supposed to just forgive them, without having them pay for the offense they caused?! I am the victim here. It’s not fair that they get freedom and I get stuck with pain.” Indeed, forgiveness does not make any sense unless viewed through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.
To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you. – Lewis B. Smedes
We need to forgive simply because God asks His children to do so. God calls us to be obedient, no matter how we may feel. This does not mean that God is callous towards your feelings. You are God’s beloved and you matter greatly to Him. In John 14 Jesus explains that obedience is a sign of our love for God. The obedience you show by forgiving demonstrates that you value God above everything else. Obedience is an expression of your devotion to God that will not allow anything, even your feelings, to get in the way of loving Him.
Forgiveness is at the very center of God’s heart. God chose relationship above everything else, even though He was justified to hold offense. Forgiveness restores God’s standard because it is the only way in which relationship is restored. We have all fallen short and none of us deserved forgiveness, yet God freely forgave us because of His great love. God’s desire is for us to be like our Father and extend that same mercy to others. We must forgive others just our Father has forgiven us.
The Power of the Cross
To not forgive is to deny the power of the cross in our lives. Jesus’ sacrifice of love is radically life-altering. We must choose to let the cross penetrate into our hearts and allow it to transform the way we see ourselves and others. To forgive is to be like Jesus. When you forgive, you cancel the debt – just as Jesus did for you on the cross. Forgiveness is unconditional, which means there is nothing we did to earn it; we simply received it. Hence, forgiveness is a gift that we accepted and a gift we are called to give to others. Every choice to forgive glorifies the cross. When you forgive, you are saying: “Jesus, your work is so powerful that I cannot deny others this gift. Jesus, you know what is best for me. Jesus, you are powerful enough to carry this burden and heal my pain.” When you forgive, you put God first. You focus on Him instead of on the hurt and anger. And, like a good Father, He will take good care of you.
Forgiveness is a Big Deal to God
Unforgiveness hinders our fellowship with God. Mark 11:26 states that if we do not forgive, God will not forgive us. Forgiveness is a really big deal to God. In Matthew 18:23-25, Jesus tells a story about a servant who begged his master to forgive the huge debt he owed. The master was moved with compassion and cancelled the debt. However, after being forgiven of so much, that same servant was unwilling to forgive his friend who owed him only a small amount and sent him to prison. When the master was notified of the servant’s hardened heart, he sent the servant to prison to be tortured. There are a couple of truths that we can learn from this story. First, you can be forgiven but not allow it to transform who you are. Second, when we hold onto unforgiveness, we wrongly put ourselves in the judgment seat that only belongs to God. Third, forgiveness is the key that releases us from oppression. Are constant hateful thoughts not torturing? Is bitterness not poisonous to the soul? Forgiveness aligns us back to God and releases us from the prison that binds us to the trespasser. The reward of obedience is peace and rest. Today’s culture resists commands, yet God established these boundaries for our good in order to protect our relationship with Him. Every command draws us closer to God and in Him we find wholeness, freedom, and victory.
Forgiveness Leads to Healing
Forgiveness promotes healing. It is a life-giving decision that cultivates stronger relationships, physical wellbeing, improved mood, and spiritual fruitfulness. Unforgiveness promotes “stuckness” and pain. When we choose unforgiveness, we take matters into our own hands, as if to say: “God, I can take care of this situation by myself.” But forgiveness gives control back to God. Forgiveness releases the offender so that God can work in the situation because now we are no longer “in the way.” Forgiveness opens up a once-hardened heart and allows God to do restorative soul healing. A forgiving person releases their pain to God because they trust that He is more than able to heal any brokenness – no wound is too big or too insignificant for Him. Forgiveness allows you to move forward. Forgiving people no longer allow themselves to be defined and ruled by pain. They agree with the new thing that God is doing and believe that God will create beauty, strength, and goodness out of ashes.
Christian Counseling to Break the Shackles of Unforgiveness
God is for you and not against you. God asks you to forgive because He wants you to be free. He has not overlooked your situation, but He sees you and is coming to rescue you. God cares deeply about your pain and wants to comfort and heal you. As a Christian counselor, I would love to help you find God in the midst of your adversity and walk you through the steps of forgiveness. You might have chosen to forgive but still feel an incredible amount of pain. This means that you need to process that hurt in order to fully heal. There is grace available to you to be renewed.
“Walk into ocean,” courtesy of 婠 玥,, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY 2.0); “Swept Away,” Courtesy of Donna M. Cowan, Content Mgr, Seattle Christian Counseling