Learning to Forgive, Part 1

Proverbs 19:11 — “A man’s discretion makes him slow to anger, And it is his glory to overlook a transgression.”

I have been reading through a series of messages on forgiveness by John MacArthur (if you listen to the Grace to You radio program on Moody Radio, you might be familiar with him). I have found some rather profound insights and have been quite convicted about what I have believed about forgiveness and the expressions of it in my life. Here are some excerpts from the outline of the first message in the series entitled Learning to Forgive which particularly piqued my interest.

The Types Of Forgiveness

God forgives a Christian in a judicial sense whether he confesses his sin or not. Judicial forgiveness occurs when you are saved and God forgives all your sins…past, present, and future. But then, there is a daily relational kind of forgiveness, which opens up the loving fellowship and communion you desire to experience with God. Whereas the judicial kind of forgiveness is a once-for-all positional act of God, the relational forgiveness is that daily cleansing from God that just keeps the channel open. These two types of forgiveness are to be expressed among ourselves as well.

For example, when a believer sins, you are to immediately forgive that person in your heart. This resembles the judicial act on the part of God. However, he doesn’t experience full forgiveness, relationally speaking, until he has repented of the sin and then entered back into the joy of that broken relationship. So, the two kinds of forgiveness that we see as characteristic of God are also characteristic of our forgiveness as well. The immediate forgiveness we should have for someone is identified in 1 Peter 4:8, where Peter said, “…for love shall cover the multitude of sins.” Then, when the restoration process takes place, we can give him the full forgiveness of fellowship. This is the attitude, I believe, that the Lord is teaching in Matthew 18:21-35.

We always forgive, then, by forgiving in our hearts whether the person ever gets right in their life or not; that’s the internal forgiveness. And then, later on when they have restored themselves and things have been set right, we give them that external kind of forgiveness that makes the relationship all that it should be. That’s a very important concept.

I hadn’t really thought about there being two types of forgiveness. There is a positional or judicial forgiveness in which we do not hold their sin against them (which is not unlike God’s forgiveness to the Christian) and which is always available to us if we so choose. There is also a relational forgiveness in which, when someone who has wronged us has repented of that sin, we are to restore them to relationship. This depends on the person who has sinned to repent of their sin. Once they have done so, though, regardless if they seek to restore the relationship or not (perhaps they are afraid you might not have forgiven them), we are to seek to restore that person to relation with us.

I’m reminded of some Amish folks who forgave a murderer and sought reconciliation with his family immediately. I honestly wonder if I have really done this in my life. I have not been seeking this second kind of forgiveness with my mother. It does not matter that it has been out of apathy and not malice. I am still wrong for having not attempted to reconcile with my mother. I honestly don’t know why I have hesitated. Is it because she is over 1000 miles away? Is it because I still harbor some bitterness from the hurtful things that were said and done to me as a teenager and even until now? Perhaps it is all of these which have contributed to my heart’s disinterest in seeking reconciliation with her. But I am obligated to action by Jesus Christ, who sought to forgive me both positionally and relationally even before I sought to be forgiven, and I here confess to you my brothers and to God that I have not been faithful in this. If I desire mercy for my sins against God and against others, I must show mercy to those who have wronged me. Father God, forgive my sins even as I have forgiven those who have sinned against me.

So how do I go about practically demonstrating this forgiveness? MacArthur expounds upon the product of forgiveness:

The Product Experienced

What is the effect of us forgiving others? Simply that God forgives us, which means that we can experience the fullness of fellowship and take ourselves out of the place of chastening, and into the place of blessing.

How to convince others that you have truly forgiven them

When someone sins and you have forgiven him in your heart and have restored him into your fellowship, I recommend that you seek to convince that person of your sincerity by giving him something of value. This will demonstrate to him that your heart is truly with him, for Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Mt. 6:21). It may be that you need to show him you trust him again by putting something you highly value into his hands, thus demonstrating a tremendous sense of forgiveness. Never say, “Well, I forgive you, but I’m not getting close to you again.” Maybe the item of value you give him is yourself or your child, as you say in effect, “Last time you chewed me up and spit me out in little pieces, but I’m coming right back in again because I forgive you. The true evidence of my forgiveness is that I give you something of value because I trust you.” Sometimes we hold back all of the treasures of our life from that person because we’re afraid that they will repeat the same offense against us. But true forgiveness trusts and is even willing to open itself to abuse again.

Fear of being hurt again has often held me back from truly demonstrating my forgiveness. I’m afraid that maybe they haven’t really repented. I’m afraid that they will break my trust again. I don’t want to be hurt again! But if I am to truly forgive from the deepest depths of my heart, I must allow myself to be vulnerable again, not in a naive sort of way, but I must allow them the opportunity to demonstrate their repentance and rebuild that trust. I must allow them, yes, even the opportunity to sin against me. Now this is not to say that I seek to restore the relationship when there is no repentance. Certainly not! That would be foolish. But when my brother says to me “I repent.” I am to demonstrate forgiveness just as God has demonstrated His forgiveness to me.

God, help me to overcome my fear of being hurt again so that I may truly forgive. You said that perfect love casts out fear. Help me love perfectly, even as you love so that I will not withhold forgiveness from my brother when he tells me that he has repented. Help me to lovingly restore relationships when there is demonstrated repentance. Make my heart always ready to welcome back a brother when he says “I repent” just as you welcome me back when I have sinned against You and seek forgiveness.


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