Friday, December 04, 2020

The Art of Forgiving and the Heart of Forgiveness

I've got three seconds to pique your interest to read this article. Some of you have already scanned it and said, "I'm not reading it; it's too long." Here's the reason why you should.

You may be the woman whose husband left you for a younger, prettier version of yourself. 

You may be the adult who endured trauma during your childhood at the hands of one who should have loved you but instead abused you.

You may be someone who has been falsely accused by others in an intentional attempt to ruin your reputation and career.

You may be the church member who experienced spiritual abuse by authoritarian church leaders who seemed more interested in protecting their institution than offering loving support to members of said institution.

In other words,  you may be a person in need of an understanding of biblical forgiveness.

Let's begin:

"Father, forgive them for they know not what they do." 
These words are from Jesus on the cross. In his Concise Commentary on the Scripture, Matthew Henry writes, "As soon as Christ was fastened to the cross, he prayed for those who crucified him."
A couple of things need to be said about those for whom He prayed:
(1). They were intentional. They were intentional in their shouts, "Crucify Him! Crucify Him!" They were intentional in their desires that Jesus is killed. They were intentional in everything they did.
(2). They brought injury.  It's self-evident that crucifixion brought injury to Jesus. Yet, not many consider the injury that came to His mother who watched Him die. Nor do any of us fully understand the injury of those who had followed Him every step of the way for the previous three years.
(3). They possessed ignorance. According to biblical scholar John Gill, "they did not know that Jesus was the Messiah, nor the prophecies concerning him, nor the evil they were committing." Paul said they would not have crucified the LORD (Acts 3:27). This ignorance is simply descriptive of the persons crucifying Jesus. Ignorance is not the basis for their forgiveness. Remember, they were intentionally injurious; the ignorance was concerning "Whom" they were crucifying.

Had not this forgiving spirit been in the Son and His request to forgive been made, the Father very well may have struck all the crucifiers down immediately and catastrophically in righteous judgment.
These ten words of Jesus, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do," comprise the first of seven last statements of Jesus from the cross. They also fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah 53:12; "He made intercession for the transgressors." 

This spirit toward intentional, injurious, and ignorant sinners is a peculiar character quality of God's people. Nobody else in the world has this spirit.

A Difference Between the Spirit and the Act of Forgiveness

Much of the confusion over"forgiveness" can be resolved when one understands the difference between the spirit of forgiveness and the act of forgiveness.  Only God can ultimately forgive sin. ("Father, forgive them...") for in the end, all sin is ultimately against God.

Though our God alone is ultimately the One who forgives, we are called to maintain a spirit of forgiveness toward all people, just as Christ had this spirit of forgiveness on the cross.

Albert Barnes put it like this: 
"No other religion "teaches" people to pray for the forgiveness of enemies; no other "disposes" them to do it. Men of the world seek for "revenge;" the Christian bears reproaches and persecutions with patience, and prays that God would pardon those who injure them, and save them from their sins."
We must actively maintain a spirit of forgiveness toward the injurious, intentional and often ignorant persons who are in the act of harming us. Jesus language on the cross was in the present, active tense, "Father, forgive them for what they are doing..." 

Here's another hard truth about the spirit of forgiveness. When the injurious, intentional and often ignorant person says "I repent," we are to forgive. Forgiveness is not granted until there is repentance, but I've found that as long as there is always a willingness (spirit) to forgive, the act of forgiveness is relatively easy. It's a little bit like "We love Him because He FIRST loved us." 
In a spirit and climate where people are known to be willing to forgive by evidencing a spirit of forgiveness, repentance from sinners grows like flowers in a well-water garden.
Someone has said, "Forgiveness without forgetting is like loving without liking." I tend to agree. That's why it is impossible for people to judicially forgive and why we should remember that ultimately only God forgives sin. Still, we should all possess His Son's spirit of forgiveness. 

We should want the intentional, injurious, and ignorant sinners who cause harm others to come to the place of repentance, find peace with God, and change their injurious behavior. Until they do, we will always maintain a spirit of forgiveness, forgiving them when they say, "I repent." 

Also, until injurious sinners come to repentance, we will, in love, continue to point out sin when it occurs. Further, we will even forgive the intentional, injurious, and ignorant sinners for the same sin, again-and again-and-again - even if they sin repetitively (seven times in one day) or infinitely (seventy times seven) because this is precisely what Jesus commanded us to do.

Two Key Questions

1. So, how do we know that we have the spirit of forgiveness? 

Answer: We don't question the motives of the intentional, injurious, and ignorant people who cause us harm when they say they repent. 

2. If we 'forgive,' does that mean we don't remember their sin in the future?

Answer: No. We are human. Only God can judicially forget. The child predator's actions must be remembered, and standards of accountability implemented. The unfaithful spouse's actions must be remembered, and the consequences of the infidelity felt (i.e., "divorce, annulment, etc...). The action of an oppressive church leadership government that places a covenant above a congregant must be remembered, and steps are taken to stop the spiritual abuse, if not completely abandon, of the abusive church.

But the entire time we stand for truth, we must always display a spirit that is willing, hopeful, and desirous of God to forgive and bring to repentance.

Though Jesus was willing to forgive those who crucified Him, they were not forgiven until they acknowledged their wrong and repented of it (Luke 23:34Acts 2:36-39). When one refuses to repent, he is regarded as a "heathen and a tax collector to you" (Matt. 18:15-17). That means we consider the person without grace. We love sinners without grace like Jesus loved them, but we don't pretend they know Christ when there is no evidence of repentance.

Here's the difficulty for us all. "How do we know someone has 'truly repented?'" Answer: We don't. All we can do is maintain a spirit of forgiveness, speaking truth where we see sin, and granting forgiveness when a brother or sister in Christ says, "I repent." 

So here's the formula: Speak the truth in love. Be a person full of grace and truth. Be willing to forgive when repentance comes, and don't be a judge of whether or not repentance is real by questioning the motive of someone's statement of repentance. Forgive and forget as much as humanly possible, but never be afraid to speak out against sin, and never neglect the protection of the helpless.

Maintaining a spirit of forgiveness means we must make a separation between the injurious person's actions and our acceptance of that injurious person. 
(1). In having a forgiving spirit I will want those who injure to ultimately be blessed by God in the same manner that I am blessed by Him - "Father, forgive them..."
(2). I am not dependent on the behavior of others for my personal happiness; I look to God for my inner satisfaction and happiness. To the extent I am able to trust God with my past, present and future is the measure of my ability to pray- "Father, forgive them...".
(3). I will never confuse actual forgiveness with a spirit of forgiveness. Ultimately God will cast sin and its consequences into the sea of forgetfulness, but until then, I will continue to point out injustice, I will continue to protect the helpless, and I will continue to encourage the broken -- all the while praying for the intentional, injurious and ignorant persons who harm the innocent.  
This spirit is unique among Christians. It's a spirit evidenced in the One we follow. 


Christiane said...

from the Holy Gospel of St.John 14:27, this:
"Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled; do not be afraid."

Bob Cleveland said...

From what I recall of Scripture, God does not say He will forgive and forget. What He promises is to forgive our sins and remember them no more. I looked it up and found that word "Remember" is interpreted "to call to mind".

Like our first pet dog, Dutch, I had not called his name to mind until just now, but I had not forgotten it. As I see Scripture, God says He will simply never bring up our sins again.

I like that!

Wade Burleson said...


Both comments!

Ruth said...

You are going to get really tired of seeing my comments, I am afraid.

Good article, but I do have one quibble – I think your descriptions increase the confusion over forgiveness.

Repentance is not required for us to forgive (Mark 11:25). Our forgiveness (what you are calling a “spirit of forgiveness”) is an act on our part which does not require any action on their part. Jesus expects us to forgive as an active part of our faith in Him, so it does not inhibit us in asking for and receiving His forgiveness of our sins (Matthew 6: 14-15).

What you are calling the “act of forgiveness” can be more accurately called reconciliation. Our forgiveness of their offense is an entirely separate action which often precedes their repentance. Reconciliation comes when we accept their professed repentance.

I have learned over my lifetime that carrying a grudge does more harm to me than it does to the other party. Even if they never repent, I will have a more peaceful spirit and a better relationship with God if I forgive them.

Christiane said...

in the penitential, yet hope-filled season of Advent,
in the sacred Scriptures,
we read how the prophets of old
foretold of the Coming of Christ,
the Light of the World:

"The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light:
they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death,
upon them hath the light shined.
(Isaiah 9:2)

Ronnie said...

Ruth is right. Well said.

Rex Ray said...


You wrote: These ten words of Jesus, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do,” comprise the first of seven last statements of Jesus from the cross.

You didn’t count the very last two: “…Jesus called out with a loud voice…which means My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? “Then Jesus shouted out again, and he released his spirit.” (Matthew 27:46, 50 NLT)

This link explains why Jesus didn’t die from the lack of oxygen, but from a broken heart. (A spear caused blood and water to come out of his side. A broken heart has water around it.)

He always believed his Father would never leave him as he explained to his disciples in John 16:32 NLT “But the time is coming; indeed, it’s here now; when you will be scattered, each one going his own way, leaving me alone. Yet I am not alone because my Father is with me.”

Rex Ray said...


Many years ago, I heard a boy had drown in a near-by lake, and hadn’t been found. The fire-department was there. He had attempted to swim with some other boys across part of the lake that was about a hundred yards across. An eye witness said he went down about in the middle.

They said they were waiting on their diver to arrive. I told them I had my scuba gear and would be glad to help. They had a weighted rope across the water. I swam across the muddy water holding to the rope, feeling with my other hand. I could only see about two feet. The bottom was covered with scraps of steel and trash. Then I’d swim back on the other side of the rope. After half an hour, I realized I was looking at a bathing suit. I brought him up and swam to the bank. I didn’t know the boy’s parents were there, but their mourning and cries cut my heart so bad I never searched for anyone again.

I said all that to believe God cried for his Son when he suffered for our sins.

RB Kuter said...

"What you are calling the “act of forgiveness” can be more accurately called reconciliation."

While agreeing with most of what Ruth wrote, I hesitate to agree with this statement based on limited insight as to her intent.

I do not believe that forgiveness necessarily constitutes the act of "reconciliation" in terms of how I interpret that word.

I believe "forgiveness" to be the decision of one party to forgive another in the sense of having an attitude of not continuing to insist on judgment or restitution being paid by the other party. No matter what the attitude of the other party is, a party considering themselves to have been violated or offended can make the decision that they are going to move on and abandon the insistence that the offending party pay for what they've done. So "forgiveness" is not a binary situation.

In terms of "reconciliation", I do not believe that forgiving someone necessarily constitutes a condition of "reconciliation" or restoration of the relationship. A number of things can prohibit that taking place including the party considered to be the offending party by one side may not recognize their offense, repent, or be receptive to reconciliation, especially to the degree of meeting the party offended to acknowledge that damage has been done.

Another situation that may prohibit "reconciliation" could be that the offense resulted in permanent damage being done that cannot be restored back to its former status. An abusive husband whose abuse results in divorce may be "forgiven" by his former victim-spouse but "reconciliation" may never take place in spite of her personally deciding that she forgives him, as is possible by looking at the situation through the "eyes of Christ". That does not mean she accepts him back into a relationship.

Bob Cleveland said...

In the "Lord's Prayer", Jesus (Himself) told us to pray: "And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors." "Debtors" can be translated as those who sin against us, but regardless, we're to ask for forgiveness as we forgive others. That mandates our forgiving others, if we want forgiveness ourselves.

That seems authoritative to me!

Ruth said...

RB Kuter: We do agree on the definition of forgiveness; Wade’s description is what I was trying to clarify. It is not the same as reconciliation, as my use of the word “reconciliation” is strictly intended to portray the acceptance of the offending party’s repentance. It is not intended to include the offended party’s forgiveness which should be done without regard to the offender’s actions or lack thereof.

Restoration, however, is another subject altogether. Restoration in human terms is not biblically mandated. The breach between the persons can be healed but it does not necessarily follow that the ongoing relationship will be exactly as it was before the offense. I agree completely that a battered spouse, for instance, is not required to return to the relationship. Nor is there either reconciliation or restoration when the offender does not repent of their actions.

Restoration in the Bible is used to describe the relationship between a person and God. If a person repents of an action and reconciles with the offended party, then there can be a restoration of the offender’s relationship with God.

I hope this clarifies things for you.

Christiane said...

Dear people, may I ask for prayers for my medical family as my sister-in-law is very ill in hospital now and my brother is told to 'shelter' for a time. These are difficult days filled with worries and prayers and I am weary from the inability to 'be there' and to do what I might have been able to do to help out, so I pray for them in the way of my faith, the vigil prayers.

Please be careful now. I know the virus has been 'politicized' but the reality is that there is danger for vulnerable people. My sister-in-law is suffering. My brother is, well, there are no words for the depths of his concern. Please pray for my family as I pray for you all to be kept safe from harm. God bless!

Christiane said...

of forgiveness and God's grace,
I remember reading something that 'made sense' to me from Corrie ten Boom, whose family perished in the camps. One evening, a former Ravensbruck prison guard asked Corrie for forgiveness for having tormented her family, and she struggled to forgive him.
She wrote:

"“Even as the angry vengeful thoughts boiled through me, I saw the sin of them. Jesus Christ had died for this man; was I going to ask for more?

Lord Jesus, I prayed, forgive me and help me to forgive him....Jesus, I cannot forgive him. Give me Your forgiveness....And so I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world's healing hinges, but on His.

When He tells us to love our enemies, He gives along with the command, the love itself.”

(Corrie Ten Boom, The Hiding Place)

RB Kuter said...

Thank you, Ruth, for the clarification.

Christiane said...

"Have mercy on me, O God, according to Thy great mercy."


Amazing Teaching!!!

Rex Ray said...


I tried to put this on its proper Post (Party Comparison) but got tired of waiting, so I’m putting it here.


You’ve told us there’s something wrong with C0VID-19 eleven times:
1. Nov. 20, 1:36 PM
2. Nov. 2:01 PM
3. Nov. 4:07 PM
4. Nov. 22 6:18 PM
5. Nov. 23 6:22 PM
6. Nov. 24 10:05 AM
7. Nov. 29 5:54 PM
8. Nov. 35 7:20
9. Dec. 1 9:49 AM
10. Dec. 3 2:28 PM
11. Dec. 3 7:07 PM

Now, on Dec. 6 at 6:33 AM, you really hit the nail on the head with the truth that is convincing to me. Thank you, thank you!

I know some will hate you; especially those that will lose money in failing to sell a vaccine.

If you want to delete any of YOUR comments where you’ve double posted, there’s a symbol at the end of you’re comment that only YOU can see. The symbol looks like a small trash can.

Rex Ray said...

Ops: (Presidents, Vaccines, Mr. Edwards, and Confidence Dec. 3)

Christiane said...

love and light: a celebration of life

Christiane said...

love and light: a celebration of life

Rex Ray said...


Your link of beautiful songs made me sad because I haven’t heard the ‘old songs’ in ten years, ever since our song leaders specializes in ‘7/11 songs’. That’s seven words repeated eleven times.

Christiane said...


this might cheer you up a bit

Excidience said...

Forgivness is really an important topic. And for some people it might be hard to do. But if we rely on God and let remember his love to us, it might help us to forgive others. God had mercy on us by forgiven us how we have been in our past and He has helped us to change. The same way we should hope for others to change when they have made a mistake instead of being angry. The Bible guides us in every second of our life.