I am writing this to you all before I left for my sabbatical to touch on the importance and necessity of forgiveness.
“Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive.”
– C.S. Lewis
We have all been wronged and we have all had relationships that disintegrated because of hurt feelings. The amazing thing is how we believe the lie that when wronged, we are entitled to payback. We feel free to go talk with anyone and everyone about this travesty and we exercise our right to stay mad at them as long as we want, because after all, it really hurt.
This is vastly different than what Jesus teaches us about forgiveness. Forgiveness is a foundational expectation for a Christ follower and until we really understand this and begin the hard work of rooting out the unforgiveness and bitterness from our lives, we will never experience the abundant life Jesus offers.
Peter asked Jesus a question about forgiveness in Matthew 18, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” and Jesus answers him “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” Not knowing if Peter was up to speed with his multiplication tables and was able to determine the answer was 490, the number is not important. The idea Jesus communicates is that we should continually forgive and he expounds on his answer to Peter by sharing a parable that clearly communicates God’s heart towards forgiveness.
Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. The servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me, he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded. His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’ But he refused. Instead he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened. Then the master called the servant in. ‘You WICKED servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you? In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.
(Matt 18:23-35 NIV)
In this parable, the master is God. We are the servant who has had a huge debt forgiven and refused to forgive the much smaller debt of his fellow servant. Verse 33 captures the heart of God, “Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?”
This is not an obscure passage, many Christians know it, but for some reason it is often removed from memory when faced with an opportunity to forgive. Our hope is that you consider this passage in a fresh way as a lens through which you see the relationships around you.
1 Peter 4:10 says we are to be “faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” One of the various forms of God’s grace comes in the form of people. Everyone needs grace from God, but we also need to regularly give grace to other people. They need grace from someone with real skin.
Most Christians are clear about the grace of God as it relates to their initial salvation. We understand this as a one-time event. We were lost, but now are found. We were shown grace when he forgave our sins and offered us eternal life with Him when we did nothing to deserve it. But what we are more resistant to see is the fact that God shows us grace on a daily basis. When we realize how He shows us grace moment by moment we will be able to engage others in a gracious manner moment by moment as well.
As we become clearer about the grace God gives us several things happen. First, we find that things that once offended us, no longer do, or at least we are offended to a much lesser degree. For example, losing sight of God’s grace, I may get frustrated and annoyed when a friend doesn’t call me back within 24 hours of my call. I may start thinking about how I always call people back right away and I start to wonder if he is even my friend because of this great offense. However, if I am appropriating God’s grace in my life, I would realize that I also sometimes neglect to call my friends back right away and see this as an opportunity to be more intentional about my own friendships. Then, I would give him the benefit of the doubt, not thinking of myself first. I would even wonder what happened to my friend which will soon turn to concern as to whether everything is OK with him. That is appropriating grace.
When we understand about God’s grace, there will still be times people hurt us, but our response will be vastly different. For example, if someone wrongs you or hurts you, your response might be anger and frustration, which creates a “me versus you” situation in which nobody wins. But, if God’s grace in your life is clear to you, it’s not retribution that you seek when wronged or hurt, instead it is reconciliation. You are able to talk about how what they did impacted you rather than tell them what they did was wrong, thus opening up a conversation that will lead to understanding. Understanding is absolutely necessary in order to have reconciliation.
We can also learn to appropriate grace when we are the one who has done the hurting. Before, if someone confronted you about being hurtful, you might be tempted to get defensive because you don’t want to be wrong. This also creates a “me versus you situation” in which nobody wins. But now, if you are appropriating grace, being “wrong” is not such a threatening concept.
There have been many times where we, the authors of this book, have missed each other or broken a promise or failed in one way or another. We may forget to call the other person when we said we would, break an implied promise, or fall through on some other commitment. In those times, there is no substitute for bringing those failures out into the light through confession. Then we offer and receive forgiveness to one another out loud. This goes a long way in terms of our relational health. The point is people need grace from people too. They need to know that you accept them, even while imperfect, and that you understand where they are coming from. You need to appropriate grace, it is the most powerful force in holding your relationships together.
Our Jail of Bitterness
The end of the parable cited above is very clear about the consequences of unforgiveness. In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. In the first century they had professional torturers which would physically rip the criminals apart in agony. But what is this jail Jesus is talking about in which we will be tortured? Is He just trying to scare us into forgiving others? Jesus finishes with this is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart. There is a prison awaiting us where we will be tortured when we choose not to forgive and it is called bitterness.
There is a great lie perpetuated in our culture which says we have no control over bitterness. “Of course I am bitter, look at what they did to me.” Even looking at the passage above, we may misinterpret God’s punishment in verse 34 by thinking that He makes us bitter. The truth is that we have control over bitterness. We have the antidote, and it is forgiveness. It is not the offense that causes bitterness, it is not God that gives us bitterness, it is a sentence we impose on ourselves when we choose not to forgive.
Steps to Forgiveness
Some Christians are clear that they need to forgive, but are unclear as to how to go about it. Robert McGee outlines a practical process for choosing forgiveness using the acronym CROP shown below.
CONFESSION – of your unforgiveness to God about that person. Agree with God and ask God to show you His perspective on your unforgiveness (that it’s wicked). This takes time, but the sooner we begin to see that unforgiveness is evil, the closer we are to forgiving.
REPENTANCE – After God reveals to us His perspective, we are to change our mind to what God thinks.
OBEDIENCE – This is an opportunity to obey and trust God as we offer forgiveness to the other person from our heart.
PRAISE – We finish by praising God not only for forgiving us but also for allowing us to live a life without bitterness.
Prayerfully walking through this process will assist you in fulfilling God’s command to forgive. We encourage you to use this as a tool.
 Kevin DeYoung. The Hole in our Holiness. (Minneapolis: Crossway, 2014), 87.
 The classic text on this topic is written by John Owen. Mortification of Sin, The: Puritan Paperbacks. Edinburgh: Banner Of Truth Trust, 2016. Paperback.
 The Hebrew concept of meditation (HGH = “Hagah,” Strong’s # 32, Ps 1:2, Josh 1:8) means to tax one’s own mind by repetitive mumbling and deep contemplation of God’s Word in a sincere pursuit of knowing what God is saying, in such a restless way that you chew on it day and night until understanding arises. Baker’s theological dictionary defines biblical meditation as “That silent and secret musing in which the children of God are to exercise themselves.” Harrison, Baker’s Dictionary of Theology. (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1960) 347.
 This quotation was taken from John Piper’s sermon, “If My Words Abide in You.” January 4, 2009. https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/if-my-words-abide-in-you–2 Accessed June 12, 2021.
 1 Jn 4:20, Matt 25:40 et al.
 Ed Stetzer and Michael Dodson. Comeback Churches. Nashville: B & H Publishing Group, 2007. 130.
 C.S. Lewis. The Four Loves. 169.
 Daniel Goleman. Social Intelligence. Bantam Dell, NY, 2006. 4.
 ibid. 4.
 Brene Brown. Speaker session at TEDx Houston 2010, “The Power of Vulnerability.”
 Brene Brown. ibid.
 This is found on the Search for Peace video series. http://www.mcgeepublishing.com/video/peace/Broadband/Peace.html (accessed February 10, 2011).