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10 Things Forgiveness Is Not
What happens when you’re not the one who sinned but you were the one who was sinned against? What do you do then? In this week's sermon on Luke 11:1-4, Pastor Mark preaches on the Lord's prayer, and specifically on how Jesus addresses sin that is committed against us, and he explains how there are two options: forgiveness or bitterness, and the former is the one biblical option. Below is an excerpt from that sermon where Pastor Mark lays out ten things forgiveness is not. You can read and download the full transcript here.
And I say this … with a tremendous sense of love and empathy and compassion and hope for you. But you need to forgive that person or those people who have wounded you most deeply. …
Because I think many Christians do not rightly ascertain what forgiveness truly is and is not, and so I’ve got a long list for you:
1. Forgiveness is not approving or diminishing sin.
It’s not saying, "Well, it’s okay. Nobody’s perfect. Everybody makes a mistake," or, "It’s not a really big deal. Worse things have happened." No, it is a big deal! It’s so big that God died for it. So don’t dishonor the cross of Jesus and approve or diminish something that required the death of God.
2. Forgiveness is not enabling sin.
I see this frequently with wives who misunderstand submission. "Okay, the husband is the head of the home, he’s supposed to lovingly lead." Great. He’s supposed to lovingly lead by following Jesus, and if he’s not following Jesus, the wife shouldn’t follow him because her ultimate allegiance is to Jesus and the first job description of the wife is to be a helper. And sometimes husbands are foolish. They make stupid decisions financially. They make reckless decisions spiritually. They buck godly, spiritual authority trying to correct them. And in the name of forgiving them, the wife comes along and enables him. She just is complicit in his rebellion and sin and folly.
You can forgive someone without enabling their sin, participating in it. You can have a friend or a family member who is an addict, for example, you can forgive them without enabling them. Forgiving is not enabling. Forgiving can even include confronting and rebuking, and sometimes it must.
3. Forgiveness is not denying a wrongdoing.
"It didn’t happen. I forgot all about it. I just moved on. I pretend like it never happened. I didn’t let it affect me." That’s not true. It’s not the denial of a wrongdoing. Forgiveness is not denying that you were sinned against.
4. Forgiveness is not waiting for an apology.
Some of you say, "I will forgive them as soon as they say they’re sorry." I hate to break it to you, some people are never going to apologize. Some people are going to continue in their destructive, rebellious, and foolish life course. Some people will be stubborn and religious and self-righteous and they’ll never confess or admit. Some people will move away, you’ll never speak with them again. Some people will die before they articulate repentance. And so you forgive them before they apologize.
5. Forgiveness is not forgetting.
This is one of the great Christian myths. "Well, we forgive and forget." No we don’t! You can’t forgive and forget. You can’t. You were raped, molested, abandoned, beaten, abused, cheated on, betrayed, lied about. "Forget it"? You can’t forget it. It’s impossible. And some will appeal to Bible books like Jeremiah, where it says that God will remember their sin no more. And they’ll say, "See? God doesn’t remember our sin." And let me tell you this, God does remember our sin. He’s omniscient, he’s all knowing, he forgets nothing, he knows everything. Right? It’s not like God’s in heaven going, "I forgot a whole bunch of things." He would cease to be God.
What does it mean that God remembers their sin no more? It means that God chooses not to interact with us based upon what we’ve done, but instead interact with us based upon what Christ has done. It means that he chooses to see us as new creations and he chooses to work for a new future. It means that at the forefront of God’s thinking toward us is not all of the sin that we’ve committed, but all the work that Jesus has done for us and in us and, by grace, will do through us. But it’s not like God has no idea what you did yesterday. He forgets nothing.
And I see this sometimes in counseling, where one person will sin against another person and they’ll say, "Well, you shouldn’t even remember that." It’s impossible. I had one situation recently. I looked at the husband, I was like, "You slept with her best friend. She’s not going to forget that ever. Now, she can choose not to interact with you in light of that. She could choose to forgive you. She can choose to not be stewing on that every minute of every day and seething. But she’s never going to forget that this happened because it was cataclysmic."
6. Forgiveness is not ceasing to feel the pain.
Just because it hurts doesn’t mean you’ve failed to forgive. It still hurts. Some of you have had horrible things done to you. Horrible things done to you. With all sincerity, I’m sorry. And it would be so cruel to say, "Well, if you’ve forgiven them, it shouldn’t hurt anymore." Well, sure it does. See, we don’t hear in the Bible that all the tears are wiped from our eyes until the resurrection of the dead in the final unveiling of the kingdom. It means people are crying all the way to Jesus. It still hurts. It’s okay for it to bother you.
7. Forgiveness is not a onetime event.
It’s not like you forgive someone and it’s over. Sometimes, they keep sinning, so you need to keep forgiving. Or sometimes you forgive them, but there are emotional moments where it feels fresh.
There’s one woman that I know, her husband committed adultery on her. And he earnestly repented and she honestly forgave him and they have sought biblical counseling and they have worked it out. But she confesses there are times, sometimes even at church, where her husband is doing nothing wrong, and it’s been some years, that she’ll just see him talking to another woman, maybe even a mutual friend, and just the sight of him with another woman causes her to feel all of that betrayal again and it rises up in her soul. And she needs to forgive him again for what he did in the past. Sometimes forgiveness is something that is regularly required.
8. Forgiveness is not neglecting justice.
You can forgive someone and call the police and have them arrested. You can forgive someone and testify against them in court. Romans 13 says to obey the government. They’d say, "I thought you forgave me." "I do. I forgive you. But you’ve committed a crime. You’ve broken the law. And so these are the consequences." If you’ve stolen, you need to pay it back. If you’ve lied, you need to go tell the truth. It’s not a neglecting of justice. You can forgive and pursue justice.
9. Forgiveness is not trusting.
I hear this all the time. "My dad molested me. He said he’s sorry. Can he babysit my kids?" Answer? No way. No way. "My boyfriend or husband hit me, but he said he’s sorry. Should we just pick up where we left off and keep going?" No way. See, trust is built slowly. It’s lost quickly. Trust is built slowly.
Those of you, now hear this, I’m your pastor who loves you. Let me put an airbag around this. For those of you who are naive and gullible, trust is to be given slowly, lost quickly. Some of you give your whole heart away and never take it back. Give it away slowly and if someone sins against you grievously, trust has to be rebuilt over time. It’s not trusting. It’s not trusting. Some people can be trusted in time with fruit and keeping with repentance after they’ve gotten help. Other people should never be trusted because the risk is simply too high. This is particularly true with children who are vulnerable. We need to be exceedingly careful with who we trust.
10. Forgiveness is not reconciliation.
It’s not that you’re friends and you hang out and everything’s okay. You’re close and it’s back to normal. Not at all. It takes one person to repent. It takes one person to forgive. It takes two people to reconcile. That’s why Paul says, "In as much as it is possible with you, seek to live at peace with all men." Here’s what he’s saying. Do your best, but you can’t be at peace with everyone. But if it doesn’t work out, make sure it’s their fault, not yours. Right? It takes two people to reconcile.
This is where I’ve got a friend right now who’s in the midst of a divorce because she is acknowledging her own sin, her husband really is the problem, and she’s saying, "I love you, I forgive you. If you’ll meet with counselors, if you’ll submit to the authority in our church, I extend a hand to you and we can reconcile and save this marriage." He’s saying, "No. I don’t think I did anything wrong. I don’t think I need to listen to the pastor. I don’t need to meet with a counselor. I don’t need to listen to anyone. It’s your fault." There will be no reconciliation. Not with a man like that. Repentance takes one, forgiveness takes one, reconciliation takes two.
Forgiveness and Justice
Now, in hearing this, some of you, like me, will have strong sense of justice. You say, "But if I forgive them, where’s the justice?" Justice comes, friends, ultimately from Jesus. Either they will come to faith in Christ and you will get your justice at the cross, where Jesus’ blood was shed in their place for their sins as Jesus’ blood was shed in your place for your sin, because Lord knows we’ve hurt people too, or, if they remain unrepentant, your forgiving them does not mean that they are ultimately forgiven.
They’ve sinned against you and God, and as you forgive them, you’re leaving them to Jesus. And if they live in a state of unrepentance and they don’t come to Jesus for forgiveness, they will stand before Jesus in the end. And they will be judged and sentenced to the conscious eternal torments of hell to suffer forever for all of their sin, paying their eternal debt to the living God.
So, in forgiving someone, we are not neglecting justice. We’re leaving it to the perfect judge to enact perfect justice, either at the cross or in hell, but either way justice will be served. And we forgive in light of that.
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