Bitterness Versus Forgiveness

Released From Bondage, by Neil T. Anderson

We need to forgive others so that Satan cannot take advantage of us (2 Corinthians 2:10,11). We need to be merciful just as our heavenly Father is merciful (Luke 6:36). We are to forgive as we have been forgiven (Ephesians 4:31,32). Ask God to bring to your mind those people whom you need to forgive by expressing the following prayer aloud:

Dear Heavenly Father,

I thank You for the riches of Your kindness, forbearance and patience, knowing that your kindness has led me to repentance (Romans 2:4). I confess that I have not extended that same patience and kindness toward others who have offended me, but instead I have harbored bitterness and resentment. I pray that during this time of self-examination You would bring to mind only those people whom I have not forgiven in order that I may do so (Matthew 18:35). I ask this in the name of Jesus. Amen.

Forgiveness is not forgetting. People who try to forget find they cannot. God says He will "remember our sins no more" (Hebrews 10:17), but God, being omniscient, cannot forget. "Remember no more" means that God will never use the past against us (Psalm 103:12). Forgetting may be the result of forgiveness, but it is never the means of forgiveness. When we bring up the past of others, we are saying we haven’t forgiven them.

Forgiveness is a choice, a crisis of the will. Since God requires us to forgive, it is something we can do. But forgiveness is difficult for us because it pulls against our concept of justice. We want revenge for the offenses suffered. But we are told never to take our own revenge (Romans 12:19). "Why should I let them off the hook?" you may ask. That is precisely the problem -- you are still hooked on them, still bound to your past. You let them off the hook, but they are never off God’s. He will deal with them fairly -- something we cannot do.

"But you don’t understand how much this person hurt me!" you may protest. But you don’t see, they are still hurting you! How do you stop the pain? You don’t forgive someone for their sake; you do it for your sake so you can be free. Your need to forgive isn’t an issue between you and the offender; it’s between you and God.

Forgiveness is agreeing to live with the consequences of another’s sin. Forgiveness is costly. You pay the price of the evil you forgive. You’re going to live with those consequences whether you want to or not; your choice is whether you will do so in the bitterness of unforgiveness. Jesus took the consequences of your sin upon Himself. All true forgiveness is substitutional because no one really forgives without bearing the consequences of another person’s sin. God the Father "made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Corinthians 5:21). Where is the justice? It’s the cross that makes forgiveness legally and morally right: "For the death that He died, He died to sin, once for all" (Romans 6:10).

How do you forgive from the heart? First, you acknowledge that hurt and the hate. If your forgiveness doesn’t visit the emotional core of your life, it will be incomplete. Many feel the pain of interpersonal offenses but they won’t acknowledge it. Let God bring the pain to the surface so He can deal with it. That is where the healing takes place.

Decide that you will bear the burden of your offender’s offenses by not using the information about their offenses against them in the future. This doesn’t mean that you tolerate sin. You must always take a stand against sin. But don’t wait to forgive until you feel like forgiving; you will never get there. Feelings take time to heal after the choice to forgive is made and Satan has lost his place (Ephesians 4: 26-27). Freedom is what will be gained, not a feeling.

For each person on your list, say aloud: Lord, I forgive (name) for (specially identify all offenses and painful memories). Don’t say, "Lord, please help me to forgive," because He is already helping you. Don’t say, :Lord, I want to forgive," because you are bypassing the hard-core choice to forgive, which is your responsibility. Stay with each individual until you are sure you have dealt with all the remembered pain.

As you pray, God may bring to mind offending people and experiences you have totally forgotten. Let Him do it, even if it is painful. Remember, you are doing this for your sake. God wants you to be free. Don’t rationalize or explain the offender’s behavior. Forgiveness deals with your pain, not other’s excuses. Positive feelings will follow in time; freeing yourself from the past is the critical issue.

From Released From Bondage, by Neil T. Anderson. Underlining mine (JW)

The Freedom In Christ study comes from Freedom in Christ Ministries (www.ficm.org)