Chapter 5

Starting Points For Biblical Forgiveness

It has been said that we are never more like God than when we forgive. If this is true, then it is not enough just to go through the motions. We must engage ourselves in the task of forgiveness with the same tenacity and the same priorities that God Himself exhibits.

This is not as easy as it sounds. Country singer Rebecca Lynn Howard, in her hit song titled “Forgive,” sings in response to being hurt and betrayed by her lover. She rejects his plea for forgiveness with blunt honesty: “Forgive. That’s a mighty big word from such a small man—and I don’t think I can.”

In our own strength, we can’t. It is very hard to forgive, especially if we intend to pattern our forgiveness after God’s model. The basis for practicing this difficult but meaningful approach to forgiveness, however, can be found in a value system born in the pages of the Bible. These values give us a place to begin.

It has been said that we are never more like God than when we forgive.

Forgiveness Always Begins In The Heart Of God. He is the ultimate example of what it means to move beyond vengeance toward the one guilty of causing harm. It is God who takes the initiative to remove debts that are no longer owed.

Even for God, such forgiveness would not be right and just if it were not for His plan to accept the shed blood of Christ as full payment for the legal debt of a repentant wrongdoer. This principle is seen in Hebrews 9:22, which says:

The law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.

In order to truly forgive another person in a way that pleases and honors God, we must identify with Christ and His forgiveness, be motivated by His love, and be willing to follow His model of self-sacrifice. This forgiveness involves two different kinds of motivation that come from the heart:

• The primary motivation to forgive should be faithful trust in God (Mt. 18:21-22; Lk. 17:3- 4; Eph. 4:32).

• The secondary motivation should be a loving concern for the wrongdoer.

On the basis of God’s own example, we are asked to offer forgiveness to one another in response to a confession of wrong (Lk. 17:1-4, 1 Jn. 1:9). This is what godly love inspires. Releasing offenders from the wrong they have done allows them to move past their guilt and the alienation they have caused.

Such forgiveness does not rule out accountability and follow-through. Nor does it release us from actively participating in a process of restoration aimed at fostering meaningful change in relationship and growth in character. It merely tries to deal with wrong in a way that reflects the loving concerns of the heavenly Father.

Forgiveness Should Not Be Limited To Sparing The Wrongdoer From Pain. Godly correction and restoration are often very painful. In the book of Hebrews, we are given a lengthy but vital reminder of how the love of the Father is often expressed in pain—pain that is designed to bring us to correction and right choices.

You have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when He rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those He loves, and He punishes everyone He accepts as a son.” Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in His holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it (Heb. 12:5-11).

Some might ask, “If God really loves us, wouldn’t He seek to protect us and shield us from pain?” The answer is, “Not necessarily.” Because He is both infinitely wise and thoroughly good, He knows that sometimes it is in the classroom of pain that we learn life’s most valuable lessons. God’s chastening is not done out of capriciousness or mindless anger. It is done because it is needed to benefit and correct wrongdoers, not to destroy them.

Forgiveness Brings Benefits To The One Who Forgives. When healthy and appropriate forgiveness is offered, it brings significant benefits to the person who forgives and to the one being forgiven.

Recent research by Robert Enright reveals that there are measurable and long-lasting emotional improvements resulting from the meaningful forgiveness of a wrongdoer. There is additional research demonstrating that there are also significant physical benefits when people learn how to truly forgive.

If, however, forgiveness is offered only to gain these benefits, it merely becomes another form of selfish manipulation.

There are significant physical benefits when people learn how to truly forgive.

It could be compared to volunteering to serve at a downtown mission just to get a free meal for yourself. There is nothing wrong with eating the free meal, but love and concern for the needy should be the paramount motivation.

Selfishly motivated forgiveness is not rooted in agape love. Agape love, a reflection of God’s perfect love, seeks the welfare of the person loved—even when it means entering into painful honesty.