More on Forgiveness
If you are entering this page without having read
Guilt & Forgiveness
you are strongly encouraged to read that page first as it lays the basis for forgiveness and this page assumes a knowledge of the information that is contained there.
One of the essential components of forgiveness is not something that GOD does but something that you and I must do. It involves forgiving others. Many of us have missed this important element in our own forgiveness even though it is laid out for us in a section of the Bible that almost everyone is familiar with, even if they are not Bible students. In fact, it is a section that most people can repeat from memory. It is called The Lord's Prayer and is found in Matthew 6:9-13. I would like to focus on verse 12 which reads: "and forgive us our debts (some versions read 'Trespasses'), as we forgive our debtors".
Many of us have breezed right over this text and have never discovered its true meaning. I used to believe that this text meant something like this: "forgive me my debts, just like I forgive my debtors". I can tell you that I sincerely pray that it doesn't mean that! If God forgave me in the same way that I forgive others I might be waiting a very long time for Him to forgive me! Another misconception is that the text is saying that we are forgiven because we forgive others. But that is not what the text is really saying. God's forgiveness is not based on my forgiving others (although we cannot expect to receive forgiveness while we ourselves are unforgiving -- see vs.14-15 which is explained even further in the parable of Mat.18:23-35 -- the indulgence of an unforgiving spirit is sin and one cannot expect forgiveness for a sin while he is continuing to commit it). Because the Lord has forgiven me I must be willing to extend that forgiveness to those who have wronged me. God has forgiven you -- and that becomes a reality to you the moment you sincerely ask for it. We ought to exhibit this same willingness in our interactions with others. We ought to forgive them immediately, whether they seek our forgiveness or not. And herein lies the secret of our Lord's instruction "forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors".
We are not forgiven because we forgive others, but as we forgive others. God's forgiveness of ME is not dependent on MY forgiving others. If it were, I would be the one initiating my own forgiveness -- and this denies the fact that "God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:8). GOD has taken the initiative in our forgiveness -- but Forgiveness does not become a reality for us as long as we are unwilling to forgive others -- as long as we are holding onto a grudge. Let me illustrate it this way: If someone has wronged me and I become bitter and hateful toward that person (even if I never express that hatred and bitterness and even if I never act it out toward them by trying to harm them or by trying to "get even" with them) that bitterness and hatred remains in me. It may never harm the person I am hating in any way -- but it does harm ME! It reacts within me in a hundred different ways (i.e. becoming an obsession, affecting my attitude to others who may not have harmed me, coloring my whole attitude toward life, making me miserable, or even effecting me physically through sickness and disease). As long as I "hold on" to these negative feelings (whether they are "justifiable" or not) they serve only to harm me! If I do not come to the point where I am willing to forgive the person that has wronged me -- letting go of the injury it has caused me -- then I will continue to suffer the consequences of that injury! MY own "Forgiveness" never becomes a reality for me and I am unable to be free from my own guilt as long as I perpetuate the sin that someone has inflicted upon me. How can I be "free" from my own guilt as long as I am carrying around the guilt of someone else? -- as long as I am perpetuating the sin of another? This is one of the primary reasons Christ stressed that we are forgiven "AS" we forgive others -- and why it is so important for us to forgive others.
We also need to understand that our forgiveness of "our debtors" -- includes ourselves! Often times WE are the ones who harm ourselves through our own poor choices and actions. Indeed, we harm ourselves much more frequently, and often times much more grievously than we are harmed by others. Think about it. Do you feel worse about your own poor decisions and actions, or about the decisions and actions of others? Which ones have caused you MORE grief and pain? I think that if you are honest with yourself you would have to conclude that YOU have sinned against YOURSELF far more often and far more grievously than someone else has against you (and that may include your unwillingness to forgive someone else). The fact is that we harm ourselves much worse than anyone else can harm us -- and we need to forgive ourselves just as much as we need to forgive others! How else can God's forgiveness become a reality to us? If I am unwilling to forgive myself, what good is God's Forgiveness? I effectively cancel it out! It can NEVER become a reality for me as long as I am unwilling to let go of my own guilt and my own negative feelings toward myself! I have met many people who do not believe that God can forgive them (I have even felt this way myself at times) but I believe that at least 9 times out of 10 the reason they believe that GOD cannot forgive them is because they are unwilling to forgive themselves! YOU MUST FORGIVE YOURSELF if you ever expect to receive God's Forgiveness!
So the next time you are saying the Lord's Prayer and you come to the part where it says, "Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors", remember to include yourself as one of your debtors. And remember that your refusal to forgive anyone (yourself included) only works to harm yourself and prohibits you from EXPERIENCING GOD'S FORGIVENESS and the freedom and healing that forgiveness brings. Let it go! Speak the words out loud to yourself (spoken words have the ability to act upon our thoughts!) simply say: "Bruce (obviously you need to insert your own name here!), I forgive you" -- and then let it go. It is NOT in God's plan to have you walking around in a spirit of un-forgiveness. Be good to yourself today and as you are asking God to forgive you -- remember to forgive those who have wronged you, including yourself, and step into the forgiveness of God!
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