The following is a report on the practical applications of Dr. Leah Coulter's new book, Rediscovering the Power of Repentance and Forgiveness: Finding Healing and Justice for Reconcilable and Irreconcilable Wrongs, (Ampelon Publishing, 2006).
If you’ve wronged someone, God expects you to repent before He’ll forgive. If someone has wronged you, God wants that person to repent to you first before seeking His forgiveness. Repentance and forgiveness are inextricably linked, because God’s goal for both is reconciliation – reconciling people to each other and to Him.
Here’s how you can repent and forgive to heal broken relationships:
* Commit to keeping a clean slate. Don’t let injustices and wounds fester without dealing with them. Regularly pursue healing for both your own sins and those of others against you. Make it a top priority to keep a clean slate in your relationships with God and other people. Ask the Holy Spirit to continually bring to mind people whose forgiveness you need to seek. Then be obedient to that leading.
* Live horizontally as well as vertically. Understand that, to fulfill Jesus’ command to love God and your neighbors, you need to live in two relational dimensions: vertically (your relationship with God) and horizontally (your relationships with other people). Realize that the way you live in relationship with other people – believers and nonbelievers, friends and enemies alike – will affect your relationship with God. Know also that your relationship with God must affect how you live in relationship with others. Remember that God has called you to live in a community that is bound to Him and others in love. Recognize that you can’t ever justify harboring hatred against another person.
* Don’t settle for cheap forgiveness. Recognize the need to confront people who have wronged you to encourage their repentance before you forgive them. Know that if you simply forgive them unilaterally in prayer with God but don’t bother to confront them to try to restore the relationship, you’re cheating both yourself and them. Understand also that if you simply ask God to forgive you for sins you’ve committed against others without first seeking forgiveness from people you have wronged, your prayers may be hindered because you haven’t made the effort God wants you to make before coming to Him about it. Be aware that just “letting it go” isn’t enough because reconciliation is not a one-sided transaction. Pursue true forgiveness – which is tied to repentance – to truly transform your relationships.
* Don’t settle for cheap repentance. Understand that repentance involves more than just feeling sorry for your sins. Decide to truly repent by making a U-turn away from sin and returning to a right relationship with God. Pray for His help to do so, and rely on His power to make necessary changes in your life for the better. Be humble and diligent in prayer throughout the transformation process to avoid falling back into old sin patterns.
* Make restitution whenever you can. If at all possible, do what needs to be done to right wrongs you’ve committed against other people. Don’t just offer apologies and ask for their forgiveness; try to pay them back for what they lost as a result of your actions. Be gracious and specifically ask those you have wronged what restitution they would like. Then follow up as best as you can.
* Revoke revenge. Instead of retaliating when someone wrongs you, trust God’s promise that He will avenge and ultimately bring justice to the situation. When the person who has wronged you is unwilling or unable to repent (such as if he or she is dead or mentally incapacitated), or unsafe to confront, you can: remember and mourn the sin, hold the offender responsible, and transfer the debts owed to you to God instead, knowing that He will hold the offender accountable.
* Get into right relationships before worshipping. Don’t just go through the motions of worship and religious acts without being in right relationships with God and other people. Understand that the way God receives your worship and prayers is directly related to how you live in your interpersonal relationships. Make sure you seek reconciliation and justice with others before approaching God in worship. Use the reconciliation steps mentioned in Matthew 18. Know that if you truly love God, you will also love other people.
* Become a peacemaker. Do all you can to prevent and resolve conflict. Regularly help people work through their relational issues for the sake of community peace. Help people who have left the church of the faith because of believers’ sins against them to find healing, and welcome them back. Try to love your enemies into repentance through your acts of kindness.
* Let minor annoyances go. Remember that not every action can be classified as being sinful. Whenever people simply irritate you, be willing to let it go and move on.
* Be willing to keep on forgiving. Whenever people repent and ask your forgiveness, know that you must choose to forgive them – without limits on the number of times you do so. Be patient if they are genuinely trying to change, but need time for the process. Remember that God expects you to forgive others because He has mercifully forgiven you for your own sins.
* Use your anger in the right ways. Know the difference between righteous anger (which brings about a godly action that facilitates a change) and unrighteous anger (which often hurts people and destroys relationships). Make sure you channel your anger in ways that can lead to reconciliation.
Dr. Leah Coulter, who has an M.Div. degree from Oral Roberts University and a Ph.D. from Fuller Theological Seminary in Practical Theology, teaches at The King’s College and Seminary in Van Nuys, Ca., and is senior associate pastor of the Channel Island Vineyard Church alongside her husband, Bill. With more than 25 years of experience in the ministry, she speaks regularly at conferences and seminars across the country on topics such as emotional and spiritual healing, as well as forgiveness and repentance. She and her husband reside in Camarillo, Ca., and have one grown daughter, Kairee, and a son-in-law, Eddie.