If you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.
One of the strongest motivations for forgiving people is what forgiveness does for us, not what it does for our offender. Some Christians say, “Wait a minute; that sounds so self-serving. Shouldn’t we forgive whether it helps us or not?” If you live under the kingdom rule of Christ, if you allow Him to rule in your heart, then there are real benefits you can experience right now for living as Christ instructed you to live.
To develop a forgiving heart, we must realize the consequences of unforgiveness. Notice what happened in Matthew 18 when the slave refused to forgive his fellow slave. The king “handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him” (v. 34). When we refuse to forgive people, it’s like we enter our own private torture chamber. The word resentment means to relive something. When you go into the prison of resentment instead of forgiving, you are reliving over and over again the hurt that has been inflicted upon you. But when you refuse to forgive, that is what you’re allowing yourself to do. You are reliving that experience over and over again. When you genuinely forgive someone, you not only set them free but you set yourself free as well. Of course, there is also an eternal consequence of unforgiveness. Jesus said clearly, “If you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions” (Matthew 6:15).
Another key developing a forgiving heart is to return good for evil. Jesus said, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:27–28). Frankly, it’s words like this that make people think Jesus is completely unrealistic. “Now, it’s one thing to let go of offenses, but are you telling me I am supposed to do something good to the people who have wronged me? That just doesn’t seem right.” But you know what I’ve discovered? When Jesus gave us that command, He was not adding an extra requirement to forgiveness. Instead, He was teaching us the way to experience forgiveness, to do something good for those who have wronged us. It is impossible to hate somebody and be praying for God’s blessing in that person’s life at the same time.
Now, pay attention. When you forgive somebody, you may or may not experience reconciliation with that person. Just because you have let go of an offense and are praying for God’s best in that person’s life doesn’t mean the relationship will be restored. As somebody said, “Forgiveness depends on me; reconciliation depends on us.” Before a relationship is reestablished, there may have to be rehabilitation, repentance, restitution, and rebuilding of trust. But to forgive somebody means to let go of the offense, to give up your right to hurt that person for hurting you, and to pray for God’s best in that person’s life. And you’ll find that the more you pray for God’s blessing in their life, the easier it will be to forgive that person.
Many times the only way to extinguish the burning ember of resentment in our hearts is to do something good for those who have wronged us. Return good for evil.
“Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing,” Jesus said (Luke 23:34), leaving for us an example to follow. Somebody has said, “We are most like beasts when we kill. We’re most like other men when we judge. But we are most like Christ when we forgive.”
Today’s devotion is excerpted from “Developing a Forgiving Heart” by Dr. Robert Jeffress, 2008.
Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960,1962,1963,1968,1971,1972,1973,1975,1977,1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.