If God expects us to forgive others, then what does healthy, biblical forgiveness look like?
“Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:31-32 NIV)
Too many of us don’t really understand what forgiveness is. We struggle through all kinds of misconceptions about what it means to forgive others. I mentioned a few of these specific misconceptions in yesterday’s devotional. I’m convinced that if more people knew what real forgiveness looked like, they’d be much more willing to forgive instead of holding onto past hurts at an unhealthy level.
The Bible clearly calls us to forgive others. Galatians 6:1 says, “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently” (NIV).
So if God expects us to forgive others, what does healthy, biblical forgiveness look like? Here’s a four-part process that we should walk through as we’re dealing with pain brought upon by others.
1. Recognize no one is perfect. When we hate somebody, we tend to lose our perspective about that person. When we’re filled with resentment and bitterness and hurt, we tend to dehumanize the offender. We treat them like an animal.
But we’re all in the same boat. The Bible says, “Not a single person on earth is always good and never sins” (Ecclesiastes 7:20 NLT, second edition). We’re all imperfect.
2. Relinquish your right to get even. This is the heart of forgiveness. The Bible says, “Never avenge yourselves. Leave that to God, for he has said that he will repay those who deserve it” (Romans 12:19a TLB). You deserve to retaliate, but you must commit not to do so. It’s not fair, but it’s healthy. This isn’t a one-time decision but a daily one that may even require moment-by-moment decisions.
3. Respond to the evil with good. This is how you know you’ve fully released someone from the wrong that has been committed against you. Humanly speaking, it’s nearly impossible to respond to evil with good. You’ll need God’s help. You’ll need the love of Jesus to fill you up. Why? God’s love doesn’t keep track of wrongs (see 1 Corinthians 13).
4. Refocus on God’s plan for your life. You stop focusing on the hurt and the person who hurt you. Instead, you refocus on God’s purpose for your life, which is greater than any problem or pain you might be currently facing.
As long as you continue to focus on the person who has hurt you, that person controls you. In fact, you can take it a step further. If you don’t release your offender, you will begin to resemble your offender.
So don’t sit another day in your resentment. If you’ve been holding onto pain caused by someone else, go through these four steps and move on to the rest of the life you were created to live!
Talk It Over
Can you think of a time when you responded to evil with good? How did the situation turn out?
Which of the four elements to healthy, biblical forgiveness mentioned above is usually the most difficult for you to master?
Why do you think so many people would rather hold onto their hurt rather than release it? How does bitterness affect someone emotionally and physically?