What does real forgiveness look like?

As Ken Sande wrote, “Christians are the most forgiven people in the world.  Therefore, we should be the most forgiving people in the world.”  In other words, we should treat those who wrong us like God treated us: with abundant mercy and forgiveness.  Pastor Shane Lems draws our attention to Sande’s observations on what our forgiveness should look like (based on the gospel) (http://reformedreader.wordpress.com/2009/04/08/what-does-real-forgiveness-look-like/):

1) Forgiveness is not a feeling.  It is an act of the will.  We are to call on God to change our hearts, minds, and attitudes.

2) Forgiveness is not forgetting.  Forgiveness is not a passive process of letting something fade in memory through the passing of time.  Rather, it is an active process which involves a conscious choice and deliberate course of action.  Is 43.25 says that God has willed to remember our sins no more.  Same for us: we draw on God’s grace and decide not to think or talk about what others have done to hurt us.

3) Forgiveness is not excusing by saying, “Its okay, it wasn’t that big of a deal.”  Forgiveness is the opposite of excusing – forgiveness says, “yes, we both know that what you did was wrong, but since God has forgiven me, so also I forgive you.”

4) Forgiveness can be costly and painful.  Sometimes certain effects of a person’s sins linger for quite a long time – you have to fight against painful memories, work on trusting the person, and sometimes you may have to deal with physical costs such as finances or injury.  The forgiving heart will put the other person first and self last.

Again, Sande repeatedly reminds the “forgiver” of the gospel:  I will remember their sins no more…he has removed our transgressions from us…love keeps no record of wrongs (Jer 31.34, Ps 103.12, 1 Cor 13.5, etc).  This radical forgiveness that we receive by grace alone, through faith alone, in the blood and righteousness of Christ alone, results in our radical forgiveness of others.

Here are four helpful promises a forgiving person makes when he or she says, “I forgive you.”

1) I will not dwell on this incident.

2) I will not bring up this incident again and use it against you.

3) I will not talk to others about this incident (which means that I won’t bring up the incident again in a negative way to throw fuel on the fire or to use as leverage/blackmail).

4) I will not let this incident stand between us or hinder our personal relationship.

By making and keeping these promises, you can tear down the walls that stand between you and your offender. You promise not to dwell on or brood over the problem or to punish by holding the person at a distance. You clear the way for your relationship to develop unhindered by memories of past wrongs. This is exactly what God does for us in Christ, and it is what he calls us to do for others.

This is where our faith in Christ hits the road: if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other, as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive (Col 3.13).

See Ken Sande, The Peacemaker 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004), 204-224.

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