Understanding Authentic Forgiveness

Understanding Authentic Forgiveness

Just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.
—Colossians 3:13

It is important to understand what forgiveness is and how we can extend it to those who wrong us. First, genuine forgiveness acknowledges the offense. Acknowledging the reality of a wrong is no small issue when it comes to the process of forgiveness. You cannot release someone from a debt that does not exist. Likewise, you can only forgive those you are willing to blame.

Is it necessary for us to confront our offender in order to acknowledge the wrong that has occurred? Whether we confront our offender or not depends upon our motive. If we are hoping that such a confrontation will elicit an “I’m sorry,” we may be setting ourselves up for disappointment. The person who has hurt us deeply may not realize or even care that he has injured us. However, if our motive for confrontation is to pave the way for reconciliation with someone we have already truly forgiven, then it may be helpful to let that person know we have forgiven him and want to reestablish a relationship with him. But acknowledging the reality of an offense is always a vital first step in forgiveness, even if that acknowledgment only occurs in our own heart.

Second, genuine forgiveness calculates the debt. Before we can release someone of a debt we must clearly understand what that debt is. Wrongs create an obligation. Running a red light results in a fine. Selling cocaine results in a prison term. Violating God’s commands results in eternal separation from God. Although the police officer who stops us, the judge who sentences us, or the God against whom we rebel has latitude in how to deal with our transgression, the obligation is nevertheless real.

Before we can appreciate the great freedom that comes from forgiveness, we need to have a clear understanding of the debt from which the offender is being released. When someone has been deeply wounded by another person, I often counsel him not to only acknowledge the offense but to specify the punishment the offender deserves, such as, “Because you betrayed me, you deserve to have our friendship end” or “Because you betrayed me by having an affair, you deserve a divorce.”

I’m not suggesting that you should necessarily voice this to your offender. Getting into an argument about the severity of the hurt is counterproductive. However, a mental calculation of your offender’s obligation toward you is a crucial step in the forgiveness process. You can only release offenses you have acknowledged, and you can only cancel debts you have calculated.

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Today’s devotion is excerpted from “How Can I Know How to Forgive Someone Who Has Hurt Me?” by Dr. Robert Jeffress, 2012.

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.