The Essentials of Forgiveness

On September 16th, for the first time ever, students from The Rock in Omaha and Lincoln drove to Des Moines, Iowa for the Fall Retreat, joining other students from area schools for a weekend of learning and friendship. Bill Young, pastor of The Rock Church in Salt Lake City, Utah, did a five-part series about the essential elements of forgiveness that are crucial to living a full and free Christian life.

The power of forgiveness comes from recognizing that we have been cleansed from our past sins. This can be easy to forget (2 Peter 1:9). Kevin Jacobson, who attended the conference, said “It’s incredible to know what God has done with our sins. They are completely gone. He doesn’t remember them anymore.” All of our sins have been forgiven, and this fundamentally changes who we are. If we don’t see this, we might miss out on one of the most crucial weapons we need in our fight to forgive, because everything we do arises out of who we are.

Because God has forgiven us, the following promises now hold true:

  1. There’s nothing left to forgive – God already forgave us all our sins (Colossians 2:13).
  2. There’s nothing left to sacrifice in order to obtain salvation (Hebrews 10:14, 18).
  3. There’s nothing left to confess, because our righteousness is by faith, not works. Confessing our sins to God is a one-time thing, when we turn to Him in faith (1 John 1:9).
  4. There’s nothing left to punish, because Jesus has been fully punished in our place (Isaiah 53:5).
  5. There’s no one left to impress: if we can do anything, then Christ died for nothing. It is impossible to do anything to earn God’s favor. It is either a free gift, or we do not have it at all (Titus 3:4-5).
  6. There’s nothing left to enslave us; the gospel brings freedom. We should not give into anything that tries to enslave us (Galatians 2:4-5).

Guilt. We all face it, but many of us don’t know how to deal with it very well (Psalm 38:4). We may despair because of our shame, we might deny what we have done, or we might get defensive because of fear. Pain in the right context is good for us, though. Guilt is like a warning light in our brains, telling us that something is wrong. We may need to break out the manual to identify the cause and get it fixed. If our guilt is genuine, then we need to receive God’s pardon and come to Him in faith (Hebrews 10:22). If it’s false guilt, we need to recognize the source and refuse to believe lies.

Forgiveness isn’t just something we receive. We also need to give it to others. To do this, we must recognize the effects that sin has on our relationships with God and others. We need to acknowledge the pain, and not just tell people: “It’s okay,” “You’re fine, or “It doesn’t matter.” Forgiveness is an act of our will, and to make this choice we may need to confront our past. We may need to take a look at our lists of people who have hurt us, or who owe us. We need to let those go. It is our own choice to have someone else’s sin infect our lives (Proverbs 19:3).

To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you. – Lewis Smedes

It is not our job to make sure others make things right. We need to accept God’s payment and the fact that He alone is Judge. Revenge belongs to God (Romans 12:17, 19). Our job is to forgive and forget, and freedom is found no other way. This is where our will comes in: we need to choose not to remember the things that other people have done against us. Ike Somanas, another student who attended the conference, shared an important lesson he learned: “Don’t wait to seek forgiveness from others. If you wait, it could already be too late.”

Satan will try to lie to you and convince you that your salvation is not promised, that you are not forgiven, that you can’t be forgiven, that you will always be like this, that you need to get your act together or God will not accept you, that you don’t have enough faith to be received by God. You need to correct him with the Word of God and refuse to believe his lies (John 5:24). Psychiatrist Karl Menninger, who conducted groundbreaking research about the mentally ill, is quoted as saying that 75% of psychiatric patients could go home tomorrow if they believed their sins were forgiven. It may be that many of our own problems stem from similar sources.

Your salvation is protected. You are in good hands (John 10:27-28). Nothing can separate you from God (Romans 8:39), and if nothing can separate you, then you can’t go to hell. Wyatt Osborn, sharing what he learned from the conference, said “The only question is ‘Are you covered by the blood?’ It’s not about you. It’s about the blood. You can’t even separate yourself. Might as well enjoy the journey.”

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