Forgiveness is one of the highest attributes of God, the highest attribute being love. When Moses asked God to reveal Himself, God said to him, “The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin.” (Exodus 34:6-7) The first thing that God wanted Moses to know is that He was a God of mercy who ready to forgive us our sins.
In Micah we read, “He does not retain His anger forever, because He delights in mercy.” (Micah 7:18) God delights to show mercy because it is so important to Him. In fact, we read in The Bible says that “Mercy triumphs over judgment.” (James 2:13) God’s Mercy is a higher attribute than His judgment; therefore He would rather forgive us than judge us. If this is so important to God, then it should also be important to us! There are many other verses that also speak about His forgiveness and mercy.
The way we forgive and show mercy will affect our lives. Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?”Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” (Matthew 18:21-22) Jesus also gave us a serious warning, when He gave the parable of the master and the unforgiving servant. He said, “… so My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.” (Matthew 18:35) This means that if we do not forgive others, God will even give us over to the tormenters, which are the devil and his demons. When we do not forgive, we give the enemy a legal right to torment us and influence us and we close the door to heaven and we open the door to hell!
Jesus gave us another serious warning, “… if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”(Matthew 6:15) This implies that if we do not forgive, God will not forgive us. Perhaps there are some people today who thought they would go to heaven, but in fact they have gone to hell as a result of un-forgiveness and bitterness. Paul writes to the Ephesians and said, “Forgive one another, just as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32) We are to forgive the way that God forgives!
Three levels of forgiveness:
Forgiveness starts with words. We can all say, “I forgive you!” or if the person is not present, “I forgive him or her.” We can do this privately before God or before other people. When we speak words of forgiveness with our mouths, the Holy Spirit will begin to change our hearts and give us the ability to mean what we say. In John 20:23, Jesus said, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
When we speak words of forgiveness, we need to know the following:
Firstly, our forgiveness is not based on people’s apology, repentance or restitution. It is wonderful when people do repent or make amends, but in most cases they will not do so. Forgiveness is given and not earned? Jesus is our greatest example. One of the last words that He spoke on the cross was, “Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)
We also have the example of Joseph, who forgave his brothers long before they repented and asked him for forgiveness. King David forgave Saul time and again. That is probably why God loved him so much and called him a “man after My own heart.” (Acts 13:22) Therefore the best time to forgive is the moment people have sinned against us. The sooner we do it the better for us. If they come to you and ask for forgiveness it is great, but we do so even if they do not do so, we still forgive!
Secondly, we must repent of our sin of un-forgiveness. As unfair as it may seem, the sin of un-forgiveness is as serious in the sight of God, as the sin that they commit against us. When we repent of our un-forgiveness, we often release the grace of God to set us free from the influence of the devil.
Thirdly, we must also forgive ourselves. If we have sinned against others and we have repented, God forgives us. The Bible says that “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us…” (1 John 1:9) If God forgives us, surely we ought to forgive ourselves as well.
Fourthly, we may need to go back in the past and repent of any root of un-forgiveness that we may have because of past offences and hurts. If we still feel hurt when we remember what people have done to us in the past, it means that we may still have a root of bitterness. The Bible says a root of bitterness can trouble and defile us. (Hebrews 12:15) It gives the devil a legal right to torment and trouble us. We can ask the Holy Spirit to show us if this is so, and then take steps of faith and forgive, people one by one. We will experience a great freedom if we do so.
2. Release level:
It is not good enough to only verbally forgive people; we need to put action to our words. When the king forgave and cancelled the debt of his servant, he took action and did something! (Matthew 18:25) Some people say, “I will forgive, but I will not forget!” That is not forgiveness! We forgive and we forget! This means we do not take revenge, or desire revenge or demand an apology from those who have offended us, we just simply cancel their debts!
There are a number of ways that we can do this:
Firstly, we do not talk to others about what has happened and expose their sins, even if we are tempted to do so. The Bible says in that “love covers all sins.” (Proverbs 10:12). In Psalm 103:12 we read, “as far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us.” When God forgives, He forgets and will never talk about it again. We are told to “be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.”(Ephesians 4:32) However, there is an exception. If we have been very deeply hurt, we can confide in a spiritual counselor or leader and tell them what happened in order that they can pray for us or help us. But we must not tell everyone else about it!
Secondly, when we forgive, we do not to avoid or break relationship with those whom we have forgiven. We have the example when the angel passed the message of Jesus to the women at the tomb, “Go and tell the disciples and Peter that I go before them to Galilee.” (Mark 16:7) Jesus wanted to let Peter know that He had forgiven him for what He had done and did not want to break His friendship with Peter.
We read that “If we walk in the light as He is in the light. We have fellowship with one another.” (1 John 1:7) People need to know by our actions that they are forgiven. If we withdraw from them it is an indication that we still have something against them in our hearts. Even if it is difficult, we can be friendly and show love to those who have offended us. If we do this we will often break the power of bitterness and remove its sting out of our hearts. However, to forgive people does not mean that we can trust them again; they may have to earn our trust.
Thirdly, we make a decision not to take revenge, or we desire that God would take revenge for what they have done. We have the example of Joseph and his brothers. Instead of punishing them for what they had done, he forgave them and blessed them. (Genesis 50:20,) Paul wrote to Timothy and said, “All men forsook me, I pray that God would not put this to their charge.” (2 Timothy 4:16) We also have the example of David and Saul, where he could have killed Saul, but instead he showed mercy. (1 Samuel 26:9)
3. Blessing level:
This is a decision to bless the people whom we have forgiven. When we do this, we will be totally free from the hurt and offence that people have caused us. Jesus said, “… love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven;” (Matthew 5:44) These are amazing decisions that we can take to bless those who have hurt and offended us. This is the highest level of spiritual maturity!
We have a similar verse in Proverbs 25:21-22 that says, “If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat; And if he is thirsty, give him water to drink; For so you will heap coals of fire on his head, And the Lord will reward you.” Notice it says, “… the Lord will reward you.” Forgiveness opens the door of heaven over us. A good example is that of Joseph and his brothers, instead of punishing them, he blessed them and gave them an inheritance in Egypt. When they felt guilty for what they had done, he said to them in “But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive. Now therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones.” (Genesis 50:20-21) Joseph chose to bless his brothers. No wonder God gave him such favor in Egypt! In the same way can take some action to bless those who have offended us and sinned against us. For example we can also pray for them and encourage them.
The result of forgiveness is like a two edged sword.
Firstly, there is a great blessing that comes on the person who forgives. We have the example of Joseph. His act of forgiveness towards his brothers was possibly the reason why God promoted him to be a ruler in Egypt. We have the same example in the life of David, when he forgave Saul. Therefore, forgiveness is for our sakes, and not only for those whom we forgive!
Secondly, it releases those whom we forgive and can break demonic strongholds in their lives that keep them away from God. When we forgive, it gives God an opportunity to bless them and change those whom we forgive. We have the example of Stephen in Acts 7:60. Soon after Stephen forgave Saul, Saul met with Jesus and became the great apostle Paul. We also notice the change of attitude in the brothers of Joseph when he met them in Egypt many years later. Before they sold him as a slave they were cruel and hard. But when he met them in Egypt they were repentant and humble.
Testimony in Russia: A number of years ago I preached on forgiveness in one of the churches in eastern Russia. In my message I made this statement, “you have no other alternative, you must forgive!” A young man hearing my message had the following testimony. “I was attacked by a group of young people some time ago. I was so badly injured that I landed in hospital with a damaged back. As a result I could not hold down my job. I was so angry and bitter towards these young people. When I heard Dave’s message, I decided to forgive them.
As I did so, I was immediately healed. A short while later, there was a knock at my door, I opened, and saw the group of young people who had attacked me. They had come to apologize and ask for forgiveness.” Not only did God bless him with healing, but also moved in the hearts of those young people to repent!
A woman’s testimony: I remember reading a testimony of forgiveness in a magazine in South Africa. A woman was raped by a young man. He was arrested and sent to prison. The woman, being a Christian decided to bless the young man and took him food every day and told him about Jesus. After a while this young man repented and asked Jesus to come into his heart. When he was released from prison, he had nowhere to live, so the woman and her husband invited him to stay with them until he could find a job and rent his own apartment. Through this act of forgiveness, this woman was completely healed of her trauma.
I have seen the results of forgiveness in my own life. I have sometimes heard the Holy Spirit whisper in my mind, “I am so glad that you forgave.” Forgiveness is therefore one of the greatest keys to the kingdom of God. May God bless you as you apply this wonderful truth to your life. Amen