Do We Have to Forgive Those Who Sin against Us if They Don't Repent?
- Cindi McMenamin Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
- 2016 25 Oct
You’ve been hurt. And the person who hurt you doesn’t appear to be sorry. That often makes it difficult to forgive that person, doesn’t it?
We often believe those who have hurt us must apologize, express their remorse, and ask for our forgiveness in order to be forgiven. Or, we expect them to somehow make up for the hurt they have caused us. Yet in many cases there is nothing your offender can do to make up for the pain he or she has caused you. The damage has been done. But you and I are commended to forgive whether the other person asks for it or not. Whether the other person is remorseful or not. Whether the other person deserves it or not.
Having ministered to women for more than 30 years, I’ve seen how withholding forgiveness toward another can negatively affect one’s spiritual life and relationships. On the other hand, I’ve also seen how it frees a person to love and live more fully.
To forgive someone who has hurt you doesn't mean you're letting that person off the hook. It doesn't mean you're excusing that person for their offenses. It doesn't even mean you're completely over what they've done to you. It simply means you are being obedient to God and letting yourself off of their emotional hook. When we admit that our offense was real, it hurt, and it’s inexcusable but so is our offense to God, we can forgive another person just as God has forgiven us.
Here are three reasons extending forgiveness is not contingent upon our offender’s remorse or repentance.
1. We forgive because God commands it, not because another person requests or deserves it.
If you are waiting for your offender to show remorse and apologize for the offense, that remorse might never happen and that apology might never come. Even if it did, your offender will never be able to undo the hurt he or she caused you. If an apology by the offender were necessary in order for you to forgive, then you would never be able to forgive someone who has died and never come clean with you? We are commanded to forgive an offender regardless of that person's remorse or efforts to gain our forgiveness. Think of forgiveness as a gift that you give to someone because of how God has unreservedly forgiven you. In fact, think of your forgiveness toward your offender as a gift to God, not necessarily the other person.
2. We forgive because God has forgiven us, even when we didn’t deserve it.
The New Testament tells us to forgive others as we have been forgiven (Ephesians 4:32). When Jesus went to the cross for you, He forgave your sins before you ever asked for His forgiveness (Romans 5:8). He wants you to model that same grace and forgiveness to others, regardless of the measure of pain they have inflicted upon you.
Colossians 3:12-13 exhorts believers to be “bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”
Every one of us has offended, betrayed, or hurt God in some way or another. Yet He has freely and generously forgiven us. The debt of gratitude we owe Him is paid out as we freely and generously forgive others.
3. We forgive to move forward personally and spiritually.
When we refuse to forgive another person, we are letting their offense against us determine how we live, and therefore we are allowing them and their offense to continue to control us. A lack of forgiveness leads to bitterness and an inability to move beyond the offense. Don’t allow yourself to become emotionally or spiritually stuck due to how you were hurt. Forgive your offender as a way of moving on and continuing to grow personally and spiritually.
In my book, When a Woman Overcomes Life’s Hurts, I address the healing power of releasing yourself through forgiveness. We remain in chains of emotional bondage to those we refuse to forgive. By withholding forgiveness we are saying "You will never be able to make this right." But what we are ultimately saying is: "I will always hold onto this pain." That is where you don't want to be… stuck in a place of pain. When you're stuck like that you end up living with the burden of bitterness. Instead, you can live freely by freely forgiving.
Are you still in chains to the person who has hurt you? Would you like to be free from the bitterness that is binding you and preventing you from moving forward in your life? Take some time right now to admit to God that you have been hurt. Go ahead and acknowledge to the Lord that the person who hurt you owes you for what they have done to you. Then confess any desires for revenge you may have felt, and pray along these lines:
Lord, I choose to forgive (name of person) for (list what the person did that hurt you) even though it made me feel (painful memories or feelings).
Whether your offender is sorry or not, whether he ever expresses remorse or not, your decision to release him of his offense and debt to you will release you from your prison of bitterness and enable you to move forward.
Cindi McMenamin helps women and couples deal with the struggles of life through her books, When Women Walk Alone (more than 125,000 copies sold), When a Woman Overcomes Life’s Hurts, When Couples Walk Together and When God Sees Your Tears. For more on her books, national speaking ministry, and free resources to strengthen your soul, marriage or parenting, see her website: www.StrengthForTheSoul.com.
Photo courtesy: Thinkstockphotos.com
Publication date: October 25, 2016