What Does Christian Forgiveness Look Like?

Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict, 3rd ed.(This is a repost from April, 2009)

It is often incredibly difficult to forgive someone who really wronged you.  Sometimes even little things that others do to annoy, irritate, or just tick us off make it nearly impossible to forgive that person.  Remember that neighbor last fall who threw all his leaves on your side of the fence?  If we’d have things our way, next year he’d get twice the amount of leaves on his side!

Well, obviously revenge (even “leaf revenge”) is not becoming for a Christian.  As Ken Sande wrote, “Christians are the most forgiven people in the world.  Therefore, we should be the most forgiving people in the world” (p. 204).  In other words, we should treat those who wrong us like God treated us: with abundant mercy and forgiveness.

Here are a few notes from Sande on what our forgiveness should look like, based on the gospel.

1) Forgiveness is an act of the will.

2) Forgiveness is not a passive process of forgetting or letting something fade in memory.  Rather, it is an active process which involves a conscious choice and deliberate course of action.  Is 43.25 says that God has willed to remember our sins no more.  Same for us: we draw on God’s grace and decide not to think or talk about what others have done to hurt us.

3) Forgiveness is not excusing by saying, “Its okay, it wasn’t that big of a deal.”  Forgiveness is the opposite of excusing – forgiveness says, “yes, we both know that what you did was wrong, but since God has forgiven me, so also I forgive you.”

4) Forgiveness can be costly and painful.  Sometimes certain effects of a person’s sins linger for quite a long time – you have to fight against painful memories, work on trusting the person, and sometimes you may have to deal with physical costs such as finances or injury.  The forgiving heart will put the other person first and self last.

Again, Sande repeatedly reminds the “forgiver” of the gospel:  I will remember their sins no more…he has removed our transgressions from us…love keeps no record of wrongs (Jer 31.34, Ps 103.12, 1 Cor 13.5, etc).  This radical forgiveness results in our radical forgiveness of others.

I’ll close with a few promises a forgiving person makes when he or she says, “I forgive you.”

1) I will not dwell on this incident.

2) I will not bring up this incident again and use it against you.

3) I will not talk to others about this incident.

4) I will not let this incident stand between us or hinder our personal relationship.

This is where our faith in Christ hits the road: if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other, as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive (Col 3.13).

See The Peacemaker 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004), 204-224.

shane lems

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2 comments on “What Does Christian Forgiveness Look Like?

  1. Shane, did you know that this “Peacemaker” teaching from Ken Sande has been used in churches to do great harm to victims of domestic abuse?

    We have three posts about this on A Cry For Justice. http://cryingoutforjustice.com/tag/peacemakers/

  2. a prodigal daughter returns says:

    God’s forgiveness is indeed absolutely astonishing. The depth of it and cost of it is beyond human comprehension. Yes, believers have been forgiven more than we even understand by a God that paid for that forgiveness with His life and at great pain. Yet, because of that forgiveness God promises to send discipline into this children’s lives. They learn to reverence and obey him because of consequences he kindly and mercifully allows in order to train them

    God’s perfect love is also expressed when He allows people to choose hell. His love is expressed perfectly when he rebukes too Revelation 3:19 Those I love, I rebuke and discipline. Therefore be earnest and repent.

    Knowing that God says of His love “I rebuke those I love” I find the following advice inconsistent with the love of God

    “work on trusting the person, and sometimes you may have to deal with physical costs such as finances or injury. The forgiving heart will put the other person first and self last.”

    The forgiving person puts the other first by rebuking them for their sin and allowing natural consequences to land on them, just as God does. If I want to maintain a false peace with someone built on accepting sin, abuse, injustice and unrighteousness I can contort myself to turn a blind eye to their need of repentance, or I can love them truly and say “at the cost of this relationship, if this relationship ends because you refuse to walk in right conduct toward me, that is the cost I will pay and you will pay”.

    Jesus let those that did not want to repent walk away from him. He didn’t chase them and say “I’ll change the standards rich young ruler, you don’t have to give anything away, I’ll just accept you with your compromise because that’s forgiveness and I want peace with you at any cost including the truth” No, Jesus loved too perfectly to enable people on their trajectory to hell to not at least have some speed bumps.

    I was once friends with a true thief. He stole from me, he stole from family, he stole from friends, I kept forgiving him, he kept stealing. Finally I realized one day that I was culpable if I drove to the store and he stole something while in my company. He got better and better at stealing the more he practiced it and every time he talked his way out of consequences he became more skiled at evil.

    He didn’t need a soft anything goes forgiveness, he needed jail time and for people to actually love him enough to quit enabling him.

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