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- Jacob Ninan
Sometimes our ideas about forgiveness are unrealistic. Perhaps the most common mistake is to think that God's forgiveness has no conditions. We must remember that God forgives us only when we repent and believe, and not just believe (Mk.1:15). 'Believing' as it is taught in the New Testament includes repentance. Jesus said also very plainly that unless we forgive others our Father in heaven will not forgive us (Mt.6:15).
God's forgiveness is not irrevocable. Jesus gave a parable to teach that God can withdraw the forgiveness that He once gave us if we refuse to forgive someone else down the line (Mt.18:32-35).
God promises us that He will be merciful to our sins and will not remember them any more (He.8:12). Of course this does not mean that He forgets them, because God cannot forget anything. What He means is that He will not hold them against us any more.
When God forgives us it does not always mean that we suffer no consequences of our past sins. God may sometimes do such miracles, but usually the physical and social results of our sins continue (to humble and discipline us).
When it comes to us forgiving someone else, we must remember that we are not God but only men. God has the authority to forgive or to punish. But we must leave vengeance to God (Ro.12:19). We have no option but to forgive those who do wrong to us, if we want to be forgiven ourselves. We cannot even wait for others to repent before we forgive. One of the most powerful examples Jesus gave us as a Man was to forgive those who were killing Him in a most cruel way (Lk.23:34).
It is unrealistic to try to forget what others have done to us. What we can do is to make sure that we don't hold people's sins against them any more. We don't wish them any evil and on the contrary, we wish and pray for their welfare (Lk.6:27,28).
We cannot wait for the pain and sorrow to disappear before we forgive. Forgiving is an act of the will which we do first based on our knowledge of God. God gives us grace to do that, and then takes us slowly out of the pain and sorrow.
We cannot forgive if we think of what people deserve. But we can forgive when we think about how God forgives us, not according to what we deserve (Ep.4:32).
Forgiving others does not always amount to becoming the best of friends with them. If others continue to be hostile towards us, we certainly have to be careful in associating with them (Ro.12:18).