Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free~ John 8:32 NIV
Humans believe all sorts of weird lies.
It all started with Adam and Eve and little has improved since our predecessors bought into that first stupid lie (Genesis 3). Even really smart people believe really weird stuff about relationships, what actually makes us happy, sex, money, the moon landing, God’s goodness, and what gender they are.
Sadly, Christians also believe lies.
It’s true that most Christians believe in the goodness of God (at least on most days) and know what gender they are. However, believers in Jesus are still predisposed to believe lies about every other topic under the sun. The lies most Christians believe are spiritual lies that contain a small seed of truth. In my experience the number one issue Christians are most likely to believe lies about is forgiveness. Following are six lies we believe about forgiveness that keep people from forgiving.
You haven’t really forgiven unless you have also forgotten the offense.
Christians are commanded to forgive others just as God forgave them (Ephesians 4:32). Fun fact: God does not simply forgive sins He actually forgets them. God says this of Himself in Isaiah 43:25…
I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.
This statement and has created massive confusion in the minds of some people. There are Christians who beat themselves up mercilessly because they think they’ve done a terrible job of forgiving because they remember people’s sins. Others have become bitter towards God because they believe He has set a ridiculously unattainable standard for forgiveness. Here’s the deal: unlike God, humans are limited beings. God can do whatever He chooses to do. Conversely, there are some things humans simply cannot do. Humans cannot create other humans from the dust of the earth and humans cannot forget the sins of other humans. It’s critical we remember two truths: God is not a jerk and He is fully aware of our limitations (He made us). God does not ask us to do more than we can do. All He asks is that we let go of our “right” to seek revenge and trust Him to work out justice on our behalf.
Authentic forgiveness always includes restoration of the relationship-
This is a filthy-rotten-lie the devil uses to keep good people from forgiving and moving on. After all, who in their right mind would choose to forgive their rapist or abuser if forgiving means they have to become friends with them? It truly is possible to fully forgive a person without building or rebuilding a relationship with them. Sometimes (not every time) forgiveness without reconciliation is the safest, wisest route to take. Reconciliation is more complicated than forgiveness because reconciling with a stubbornly unrepentant sinner usually leads to more hurt. Hurt leads to bitterness. I believe that Hebrews 12:25 cautions Christians against placing themselves in situations that will likely lead to bitterness. No situation is more liable to produce bitterness than being repetitively hurt by the same person. That being said, in cases where reconciliation can be achieved every effort should be made to attain that end. A skilled Christian counselor or a Pastor can be helpful in bringing about healthy reconciliation in relationships damaged by sin.
Forgiveness is a “one and done”-
It’s not. Because humans are powerless to forget pain (see point one). Hurt has a way of returning usually about the time we think we have conquered it. If you have forgiven someone and feel the old feelings of bitterness return, take those feelings to God and ask Him to help you let go of the anger and resentment you feel. Ask until your heart changes (Matthew 7:7-8).
Forgiving should feel good-
Being free of hurt feels great. However, getting free from hurt is one of the most awful, painful and emotionally agonizing things a human being can experience. The good news is that God Himself will walk you through that awful process and you will come out the other side on a better, healthier path transformed into a new and freer person.
We don’t really have to forgive-
If God asked us to forgive for the sake of others this would be true, but it’s not, because He doesn’t. Christians are commanded to forgive (Matthew 6:14-15, Matthew 18:35, Mark 11:25) because forgiveness is the best thing for us as individuals. The other person is more-or-less irrelevant. Forgiveness frees us from the mental and spiritual distractions that comes from nurturing a spirit of bitterness. When we harbor unforgiveness we become a shadow of what we might have been if we had been willing to fully obey the Lord.
We only have to forgive the repentant-
Only forgiving people who are truly sorry would certainly make forgiveness much easier and a lot more fun. Even a heathen can forgive someone who is sorry for what they’ve done. Alas, God rarely asks His people to do the easy thing. Instead, He asks His people to the character-building thing.
Forgiveness is the character-building thing.