Need To Forgive Someone You Know You Should? Read this…

Hands holding piece of paper with word Forgive

Recently, I was struggling to forgive someone. As a Christian, I knew that I should forgive, but it seemed that every time I replayed in my mind what this person had done to me, forgiving them was just so hard to do.

You see, forgiveness is a sacrifice…a living sacrifice. Why? Because to truly forgive, you must put to death your “right” to take revenge, to spread gossip, or to give the offending party anything else you believe he or she deserves. This can be very hard to do. Indeed, I once heard a pastor say that the problem with a living sacrifice is that it can keep crawling off the altar.

In any case, right before Christmas, I had a real breakthrough that helped me tremendously. I was having coffee with a new friend and as we shared about our upbringing, I mentioned that my oldest brother drowned when he was 10 years old and I was 8. Ironically, this new friend also lost a brother when he was young. Tragically, a drunk driver hit his brother while he was crossing a street.

Then he told me something that just blew me away…

After the police caught the driver, his grief-stricken parents asked for him to be brought to their home. When the police arrived with the handcuffed perpetrator, his parents asked the police to remove the handcuffs. Then, they escorted him into their home, offered him a seat and, in the presence of their remaining children, forgave the man who had hurt them in a way that is not easily healed.

Wow.

As I considered how my friend’s parents responded, God gave me several key insights that transformed my thinking about forgiveness. First, God reminded me of the parable of the unforgiving servant that Jesus told his disciples, which can be found in Matthew 18:21-35.  In the story, a servant who was forgiven much debt by a king refused to forgive a fellow servant who owed him much less, even having him thrown in jail. As a result, when the king found out, he reversed course and punished the unforgiving servant harshly, having him thrown into jail until he could repay all that he owed.

You see, the unforgiving servant did not link the forgiveness that he had received, without merit, to the forgiveness he needed to extend, without merit. In the case of my friend’s parents, they clearly understood this principle. In God’s economy, they knew that they had been forgiven much more than they could ever repay. So, they forgave much, too. Moreover, they understood that unforgiveness is a “bitter root” that yields a “bitter fruit” for generations. They did not want the fruit of unforgiveness to poison their living children. A legacy is not what you leave, it’s what you live every day. Indeed, their legacy of forgiveness set captives free. In this case, the captive was not just the drunk driver that killed their son, but also the countless generations, in their family and beyond, who will hear the story of what they did that day and do likewise.

Second, in order to truly forgive others, you must separate a person’s “doing” from a person’s “being.” You see, we are all created in the image of God and our doing, no matter how heinous, does not negate this immutable fact. So, God is calling each of us, especially when we have been wronged, to look for his image in the wrongdoer. Indeed, this is not an easy calling.

But Jesus Christ clearly modeled this principle in his ministry on earth. In fact, Romans 5:8 says that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. In other words, while we were sinning in our doing, Christ died for us because of God’s image in our being. Even in the hour of his painful death on the cross, he said to forgive his tormentors for “they know not what they do.” And, as a final example, he extended grace and eternal forgiveness to a thief on the cross next to him because, despite the thief’s crimes, Christ saw the image of God in him.

In any case, as you can imagine, once God downloaded these principles and examples into my head, it was so much easier to keep that “living sacrifice” of forgiveness on the altar for now…and forever. Amen.

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  • Whoa. I love this, Roland! Truly one of your best. Thank you for sharing both your struggle and God’s grace. I needed this.

  • Roland

    Thanks Gina! So, glad that you liked it. 🙂 Blessings to you daily.

  • Ivlia Vespasia

    A really good article, but I would like to know if it is possible to forgive someone for a life changing ‘crime’ and if you have to see them on a regular basis? My in-laws have made serious allegations about someone, which for a number of reasons can be proved to be false. However, as the sayings go mud sticks or there is no smoke without fire, and to compound the problem my father-in-law committed the exact same crime himself when he was of a similar age to the person they have now accused (I found this out by accident from someone who was told – in secret – at the time, also from others who ‘knew’ something had happened at the time from other people, but in the main most of those who knew have since died and most of the immediate family, except for my mother-in-law, don’t know). I can forgive their hypocrisy, albeit with difficulty given that the accusation is probably one of the worst that can be made and the victim will always be under suspicion because people prefer to believe the worst, but I am not sure I could continue to forgive if I am forced to see them on a regular basis. I have avoided them now for 32yrs but that may not be possible for much longer. How do you continue to forgive when the original sin/crime is constantly being pushed in your face. (I won’t say what they alleged though you can probably work it out, but even now they insist that they are right and everyone else is wrong, they refuse to admit they did anything wrong and can’t understand why they are not to see my grandchildren, even when supervised. My daughter knows all about it and isn’t as forgiving as I am though she is trying but they keep on trying to see her kids while continuing to make the original accusations and complaining because that person does see the kids. Yes, it was proved beyond doubt that this person was innocent, there is some doubt that a crime was ever committed as the person has mental health issues but if it was then the guilty party was someone else.). Your thoughts would be appreciated.

  • Kyllein MacKellerann “

    Holding a grudge against someone for anything is a very bad idea. First, it gives them power over you. Secondly, it warps your perception of them and of their associates. Third, it limits you in your growth toward betterment. Forgiveness releases all that garbage and sets you free.

  • Stephanie O’Leary

    Oof. I won’t share details, but let’s just say this clear and logical exploration of forgiveness hit a nerve. It will also be re-read many times as I face choices I know can only free me but continue to struggle with. Finding the humility to release the offender and the event, while accepting that the past cannot be undone is truly a Test of Faith. I’m trying to focus more on the thought that whatever happens now comes from me; a tainted past does not mean a tainted future. This piece will serve as another stone in the foundation of building my New Day – thank you *