Unbiblical Forgiveness

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Believe it or not, there is a lot of unbiblical forgiveness in this world, and sadly many who say they follow Jesus practice such.

If the word “unbiblical” throws you for a loop, then think “fake forgiveness”.  Not true, genuine, real forgiveness.  

Jesus talks alot about true forgiveness. He even goes as far as to demonstrate it more than anyone ever has.

Thanks to some quality teaching content from ACBC (Association of Certified Biblical Counselors), let’s look at what forgiveness is not and contrast that with what Jesus says forgiveness is.

Three Unbiblical Perspectives of Forgiveness

1. I will forgive the person, but I will never talk with them again.

When forgiveness is disconnected from restoration, it is not real forgiveness. Restoration does not mean you become best friends with the person who offended you. However, you make efforts to bring healing to the relationship. Yes, you, the offended one, forgiving and seeking restoration. Rebuilding trust takes time, but it is what Jesus calls forgiving people to do. As a sidenote; if the offender refuses to repent and refuses restoration, then as far as it depends on you, live at peace.  Let it not be said you hold a root of bitterness towards the unrepentant offender. 

2. If you forgive, then everything is good. 

Telling someone who hurt you “I forgive you.” and concluding that is all there is to fixing the relationship is naive. You can’t forgive and assume all is now good.  Forgiveness is the release of a debt someone owes you. However, the person who offended you must have a repentant heart for the transaction of forgiveness to mean anything. 

This brings up the issue of time. If the person who offended you is truly repentant, they will demonstrate such over time. 

How much time is the $64,000 question. 

True change starts with the heart. Behaviors flow from the heart. Out of the heart, a man speaks. How much time do you, as the offended one need to see if the person who hurt you is changing? 

This is a very important question to ask.  The amount of time it takes for you to see that a person has changed means you must be in close enough proximity to know they have changed.

You know you are practicing unbiblical forgiveness if regardless of how much the person who offended you has changed, you deny they have.  

A friend who has been the offender in a relationship and is now demonstrating true repentance asked the question. 

 “If I have changed, by God’s grace, and a thousand people attest to my change, but the person I offended refuses to accept that I have changed, have they truly forgiven me?”

3. If I forgive the person, then I am letting them walk all over me again.

Forgiveness does not mean letting them take advantage of you again and again.  Healthy boundaries were probably missing when the offense happened.  Forgiveness means I release you from the debt of your offense, and in the process of restoration, (which is rebuilding trust), you mutually set up boundaries to keep the sin from repeating.

The offender’s sin must be addressed and a resolution for true repentance talked through. Talking it through is not to be done via text or email. It has to be face-to-face. And, yes, that can risk wounded emotions rising their ugly head. However, with the filling of the Holy Spirit, a Jesus follower has what it takes to seek resolution. 

Jesus talks about the Unforgiving Servant in Matthew 18:21-35. 

21 Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.

23 “Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. 24 When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. 25 And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. 26 So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29 So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. 31 When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. 32 Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. 35 So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

When Jesus says “seventy-seven times”, it means unending forgiveness.  If your wife offends you 1000 times, you forgive her 1000 times.  If you as the husband offend her a million times, she is to forgive you a million times.  

Forgiven people are to be forgiving people.

You are an unforgiving person when you only see their offense and refuse to see their repentance.

So, what is true forgiveness?  The forgiveness Jesus demonstrates to us.

You give up your right to payment and absorb the cost by passing over the offense and freeing the offender. 

Forgiveness is both an attitude of grace and mercy and a transaction of transferring the cost of the offense to Jesus. 

My response to being sinned against is a reflection of my understanding or lack thereof of the Gospel.

Jesus forgives me seventy times seven by his death and resurrection, and I cannot forgive someone who offends me; this is unbiblical forgiveness.

Like the servant who was forgiven everything, and then turns around and won’t forgive someone who has offended him very little in comparison, so is the one whom Jesus will not forgive.

Then, who can forgive?  

You can attend church, carry your Bible, attend a small group, have daily quiet times, and do all the “Jesus things” from an outward perspective,  but if you do not forgive from the heart, you are not truly forgiving and you will not be forgiven.

What goes around comes around.

Not to end on a sour note, but to draw a contrast between the unbiblical forgiveness many of us practice, consider the weight of your sin and the tremendous cost Jesus bore on your behalf; because He loves you.

Love conquers all.

Jesus, do such a work in my heart that I live out true forgiveness.

Warrior On!

David Riffel is the Founder and Executive Director of Having gone through his warrior years (18-30) essentially without a mentor, God has placed in him a heart for warriors, to come alongside them in various ways as they figure out life. David’s newly released book, Mentoring Warriors: Coming Alongside Young Men 18-30, outlines principles for mentoring and gives advice for warriors in six key areas of life: self-management, life skills, education/career, relationships, faith, and identity.

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