Freedom Through Forgiveness

by Charles Stanley

“Forgive him? Are you kidding? After what he has done to me? I can never forgive him!”

“Forgive me? How could God forgive me? You don’t know what I have done.”

“How could I have done such an awful thing? I can never forgive myself.”

These are the confessions I hear every day as a pastor. Confessions from people who have grown up in churches, grown up with godly parents, and yet grown up without ever fully understanding God’s forgiveness and its intended effect on every level of their lives.

The tragedy of all this is the bondage people find themselves in when they do not grasp the intensity of God’s forgiveness. It is a bondage that stifles their ability to love and accept those they know in their
hearts most deserve their love. It is a bondage that cripples marriages from their outset. It is a bondage that is often passed from generation to generation. It is a bondage that chokes out the abundant life Christ promised to those who would believe.

Only by truly understanding God*s forgiveness and making it a part of their lives will people be delivered from this bondage. Only then will they be able to enjoy the freedom that ensues and be able to live the
Christian life to its fullest.

WHAT IS FORGIVENESS?

Forgiveness is “the act of setting someone free from an obligation to you that is a result of a wrong done against you.” For example, a debt is forgiven when you free your debtor of his obligation to pay back
what he owes you.

Forgiveness, then, involves three elements: injury, a debt resulting from the injury, and a cancellation of the debt. All three elements are essential if forgiveness is to take place. Before we look in more
detail at this process, however, we need to trace the sequence of events that lead to bondage when this process is abandoned. This is important because I believe most people who suffer from an unforgiving
spirit do not know that unforgiveness is the root of their problem.

All they know is that they just “can’t stand” to be around certain people. They find themselves wanting to strike out at people when certain subjects are discussed. They feel uncomfortable around certain
personality types. They lose their temper over little things. They constantly struggle with guilt over sins committed in the past. They can’t get away from the ambivalence of hating the ones they know they
should love the most. Such feelings and behavior patterns often indicate that people have not come to grips with the forgiveness of God and the implications of that forgiveness.

The Real Loser

A person who has an unforgiving spirit is always the real loser, much more so than the one against whom the grudge is held. This is easy to see when we take a closer look at the things most people withhold from those they feel have wronged them. Unforgiveness, by its very nature, prevents individuals from following through on many of the specifics of the Christian life and practically necessitates that they walk by the flesh rather than by the Spirit.

Think about your own experience for a moment. Think back to the last time someone really hurt you or wronged you or took something that belonged to you, whether it was a possession or an opportunity.

Immediately following the incident, did you feel like running out and doing something kind for the person, or did you feel like retaliating? Did you consider responding in gentleness, or did you think about letting loose with some well-chosen words? Did you feel like fighting for your “rights”?

If you were honest, you probably identified more with the latter option in each case. These are the normal responses to being hurt or taken advantage of. But think of these responses in light of what Paul says, and you will begin to understand why an improper response to injury automatically impairs a person’s walk with God.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentle-ness, self-control. Against such things there is no law…Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with
the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22-23, 25).

In a broad sense, Paul’s list here includes all the things we naturally want to hold hostage from the people who have hurt us. We rarely want to give our love to individuals who have hurt us. We certainly have no joy or peace when we have been injured in some way, and we are not generally patient with or kind to people who have wronged us. We could go fight down the list.

In the following passage, Paul accurately describes the behavior of those who do not live by the Spirit. Note the responses of the unforgiving person:

“The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: Sexual immorality,impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy;
drunkeness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:19-21).

An unforgiving spirit prevents a person from being able to walk consistently in the Spirit. The only choice is to walk according to the flesh. The consequences of such a life are devastating, and Paul
discusses what will happen:

“Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the
Spirit will reap eternal life” (Galatians 6:7-8).

The destruction Paul mentions has nothing to do with hell. He is talking about the consequences on this earth. If a person-believer or non-believer makes decisions according to the impulses and desires of
the flesh, the result will always be destruction-a wrecked and ruined life. Those persons who have not come to grips with the concept of forgiveness have by the very nature of unforgiveness set themselves up to walk according to the flesh. They withhold patience, kindness, gentleness, self-control, and the rest. They are held hostage by the flesh and are the ultimate losers.

Taking the Plunge

Have you been hurt? Has somebody, somewhere in your past, rejected you in such a way that you still hurt when you think about it? Do you become critical of people in your past the minute their names are
mentioned? Did you leave home as a child or a college student with great relief that you were leaving, swearing you would never return?

Have you worked hard all your life not to become like your parents? Are there people in your past upon whom you would enjoy taking revenge? Have you made a pastime out of scheming about how you could get back at them or embarrass them publicly? Were you abused as a child? Maybe even molested? Did you suffer through your parents’ divorce as a child? Were your parents taken from you when you were very young?

Were you forced by circumstances to pursue a different career from the one you originally hoped for? Were you unable to attend the school of your choice because of financial reasons? Were you pushed out of a job opportunity by a greedy friend? Were you promised things by your employer that never came about?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may be on the brink of being set free from a bondage that you did not even know was keeping you a victim. You may be about to understand for the first time why you act the way you do in certain circumstances and why you cannot seem to control your temper. You may be on the verge of receiving the God-given insight you need to restore your war-torn home-this time for good.

Whatever your situation, whatever has happened in your past, remember that you are the loser if you do not deal with an unforgiving spirit. And the people around you suffer, too.

FORGIVING OTHERS

When I think about God’s grace and the depth of Hid healing power, I think about a wonderful woman I met through my son. Never before have I met a woman who has suffered so greatly and yet forgiven so deeply. Her story perfectly illustrates how the principles of forgiveness are applied to the particular circumstances of an individual.

When Jill first showed up at the counseling office, she was a very frightened woman. Sitting in a room with only an empty chair to talk to, she began a process that took her back 31 years to when she was 12
years old. That day, as though her uncle were sitting across from her, she began to talk to him about things that had transpired years ago . . . how he had taken advantage of her innocence and abused her time and time again. She told him of the hurt and anger and the hatred that she felt for so many years.

Then the tone of her voice changed…the bitterness gave way to understanding and the hate to words of forgiveness. “What you did to me as a child has been a factor in everything that has happened to me
since then. How can I forgive you? I’ll tell you how. I realized some time ago that I needed to ask someone to forgive me. That someone was God. And when I asked Him for forgiveness, this is what He said. ‘Your sins were forgiven when My Son died on the cross. You are already forgiven. Accept it and begin to live your life as a daughter, not as a slave to your sin.’ I realized that, at the moment when Jesus died on the cross, I was forgiven for everything I would ever do. I just had to accept it. When I realized that God had forgiven me for everything I’d ever done or ever would do, I began to understand that I had no right not to forgive you. So today, I’m setting us both free from what happened such a long time ago. I forgive you.”

With tears that began to wash away the bitterness, she went through a list of names. She went through the same process with each one. Jill spoke of the pain that had consumed her for years. She talked about the rejection, the feeling that it really didn’t matter to anyone if she lived or died. When she came to the last name on the list, she stopped. “How can I forgive you? I don’t know if I can. Yet, I think if I don’t,
I won’t ever be free.” With that, she pictured herself in the chair. She talked about the things she’d done to prove how “bad” she was and to hurt herself. When she had said it all, she said one more time. “If
God forgave me for everything I’ve ever done, what right do I have to not forgive you?”

That day as she left the room, she had forgiven the people in her past who had hurt her so deeply, and she had forgiven herself, too. Because of that, she walked out a free person-free of the bitterness and hate that had made her a prisoner. It took 31 years to forgive the person she had blamed for having “such a miserable life,” but it took only a couple of hours to discover the freedom that God has provided when
someone learns what it is to forgive.

A Personal Matter

Forgiveness is something that each of us has had to deal with in one way or another. What might take you just a short time to work through might be a process that takes someone else’ time, prayer and godly
counsel. But it is a process we cannot ignore if we want to be free to become the persons God created us to be. If we refuse to deal with the bitterness and resentments that put us in bondage, we cannot have the fellowship with our Father that we are supposed to have.

In my years of being a minister and a counselor, I have talked with many people like Jill who have spent years in bondage to someone because they were either unable or unwilling to forgive that person. I
have also seen the freedom they come to know when they finally understand and appropriate the idea of forgiveness.

Let’s look at the practical aspects of learning how to forgive. But before we do, we need to get rid of some stumbling blocks to true forgiveness.

Clearing Up Some Confusion

One of the stumbling blocks to actually forgiving others is all the wrong information that has entered into our theology. Some of these ideas have crept in through the repeated use of cliches. Others have
just been passed on from generation to generation with no biblical basis whatsoever.

* The first idea we need to clear up is this: Is justifying, understanding or explaining away someone’s behavior the same as forgiving him? I can certainly understand that “my brother” was under a lot of stress when he raised his voice to me in front of my customers, but does that mean I have forgiven him? Certainly not. Understanding someone’s situation is part of the forgiveness process, but only a part.

* Another mistaken idea we have picked up is that time heals all wounds. I think that is one of the most misused (and damaging) cliches I’ve heard. How could the passage of time or the process of forgetting lead to forgiveness? How many times have we said that to someone with good intentions? It was 31 years later that Jill forgave her uncle. If time was the healing factor, certainly the hurt she experienced would have been taken care of long before she walked into the counseling office. Yet she admitted that time only made things worse.

* Is forgiving others denying that we have been hurt or pretending that the hurt was no big deal? We may try to convince ourselves (after forgiving others) that what they did really wasn’t such a big thing,
after all. This form of denial works against the forgiveness process. It’s denying that others hurt us in a way that caused us real physical, mental or emotional pain. It’s like denying a real part of ourselves.

* Another misconception says that to forgive others, we must go to them personally and confess our forgiveness. Confessing our forgiveness to someone who has not first solicited our forgiveness usually causes more problems than it solves. I will never forget the young man in our church who asked one of the women on our staff to forgive him for lusting after her. She had no idea he had a problem with lust, and his confession caused her to be embarrassed and self-conscious around him from then on.

I rarely counsel people to confess their forgiveness to those who have hurt them if the other persons have not asked for it. Once we begin to understand the nature of forgiveness, it becomes clear why this
principle holds true. God forgave us long before we ever asked for it. As we have seen, He has forgiven us of things we will never ask forgiveness for. In the same way, we are free to forgive others of things they will never know about.

I say rarely because there are some occasions where confession of this type is appropriate. Keep in mind that there is a difference between telling others you have forgiven them and actually forgiving them.
Forgiving others should begin at the time you are offended, whereas actually confessing our forgiveness may take place later. We need not wait until a person asks for forgiveness to do so, If that were true
many times we would wait forever.

We should confess if one of two situations occurs. First, we should confess our forgiveness if asked for it. This helps clear the other persons’ conscience and assures them that we do not hold anything against them.

Second, we should confess our forgiveness if we feel the Lord would have us confront others about their sin. Their sin may have been directed against us personally or against someone we love. It may be
necessary in the course of conversation to assure them that you have forgiven them and are coming more for their sake than your own. When we confront others about their sin, the issue of forgiveness must be
settled in our own hearts. We must never confront in order to force another to ask for our forgiveness.

Forgiveness is a much more involved issue than just putting time between us and the event or saying some words in a prayer. It is a process that involves understanding our own forgiveness and how that
applies to those who have hurt us.

Steps to Forgiveness

Forgiveness is an act of the will that involves five steps.

1. We are forgiven. First, we must recognize that we have been totally forgiven. Most people get hung up on this point. That is the reason I have explained in such detail the foundation for forgiveness. Paul sums it all up beautifully: “For the death that He died, He died to sin, once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God” (Romans 6:10).

Once we understand the depth of our sin and the distance it put between us and God, and once we get a glimpse of the sacrifice God made to restore fellowship with us, we should not hesitate to get involved in
the process of forgiveness. To understand what God did for us and then to refuse to forgive those who have wronged us is to be like the wicked, ungrateful slave Jesus described in Matthew 18:23-34. (You may want to take a look at this passage before you continue reading.)

We may read the parable and think, “How could anyone be so ungrateful?” But the believer who will not forgive another is even more guilty and more ungrateful than that slave. The first step, then, is to realize
that we have been totally forgiven of a debt we could never pay and thus have no grounds for refusing to forgive others.

2. Forgive the debt. The second step is to release the person from the debt we think is owed us for the offense. This must be a mental, an emotional and sometimes even a physical release. It involves mentally bundling up all our hostile feelings and surrendering them to Christ.

3. Accept others. The third step is to accept others as they are and to release them from any responsibility to meet our needs. I am sure we have all met people who have placed the responsibility for their acceptability on us or someone we know. You may be like that yourself. Certain people can make or break your day depending on the amount of attention they pay you. This is a common trait in people who are unable or unwilling to forgive. But when we decide as an act of the will to forgive, we absolve others of any responsibility to meet our needs.

4. View others as tools of growth. Fourth, we must view those we have forgiven as tools in our lives to aid us in our growth in and understanding of the grace of God. Even with all my Bible knowledge and
education, I cannot understand and appreciate the grace of God as Jill can. Though she would not go through what she has been through again for a million dollars, neither would she take a million for what she has learned about her Heavenly Father.

Joseph certainly understood this principle. After all his brothers did to him, he was able to forgive them. He saw them as the instruments of God to get him to Egypt and to be in such a position of power that he
could save his family when the famine destroyed all the crops. So when his brothers fell down before him, fearful of what he might do to them to get even, he said:

“Do not be afraid, for am I in God’s place? And as for you (speaking to his brothers), you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive. So therefore, do not be fearful; I will provide for you and your little ones” (Genesis 5O:l9-21).

5. Make reconciliation. The last thing we must do is to take reconciliation with those from whom we have been estranged. This will vary from situation to situation. But if there is a family member, distant relative, former employee or maybe an ex-friend we have avoided because we had hostility in our heart against that person, we need to re-establish contact.

We may have to begin by apologizing. Regardless of how we go about it, we must do what we can to restore fellowship with those who hurt us. Once our forgiveness is complete, reconciliation will be much easier. In fact, many people I have counseled have rushed back to estranged friends and relatives to reestablish contact. Once the barrier of unforgiveness is removed, all the old pleasant feelings can surface, and there is actually joy in the process of restoration.

After completing the five steps in forgiveness, we should pray this simple prayer:

“Lord, I forgive (name of person) for (name the specifics). I take authority over the Enemy, and in the name of Jesus Christ and by the power of His Holy Spirit, I take back the ground I have allowed Satan
to gain in my life because of my attitude toward (name) and give this ground back to my Lord Jesus Christ!”

We don’t have to pray this prayer word for word, but it is a suggested model to use when dealing with forgiving someone. It is essential to name the person and what is being forgiven.

What If It Happens Again?

What if the one we have forgiven hurts us again? What if the very same thing happens again? Will it make what we’ve done any less real? At first, we will no doubt feel hurt, bitter or angry-or maybe all three. Satan will remind us of our past hurts. We may be tempted to doubt the sincerity of our decision to forgive that person.

If this happens, it is important to remember that forgiveness is an act of the will. The initial decision to forgive the person must be followed by the faith walk of forgiveness. Standing firm on the decision to forgive that person and applying additional forgiveness, if necessary, allow us to replace the hurt and the defeated memories with faith victories. The new offenses can be forgiven as they occur without linking them to past offenses, which have already been forgiven.

We Will Know We Have Forgiven When. . . .

Several things will occur once the forgiveness process is complete. First, our negative feelings will disappear. We will not feel the way we used to feel when we run into these people on the street or in the
office. Harsh feelings may be replaced by feelings of concern, pity or empathy, but not resentment.

Second, we will find it much easier to accept the people who have hurt us without feeling the need to change them; we will be willing to take them just the way they are. We will have a new appreciation for their situation once the blinders of resentment have been removed from our eyes. We will understand more why they acted and continue to act the way they do.

Third, our concern about the needs of the other individuals will outweigh our concerns about what they did to us. We will be able to concentrate on them, not on ourselves or our needs.

FORGIVING OURSELVES

Forgiveness is based on the atoning work of the cross, and not on anything we do. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works so
that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8,9). We cannot earn God’s forgiveness. It is a gift of grace, and there are only two options in regard to a gift: Accept it or reject it. Confession is a means of
releasing us from the tension and bondage of a guilty conscience, and the way we accept God’s wonderful gift of forgiveness. But we must acknowledge what we have done wrong and repent. When we pray,
“God, You are right. I’ve sinned against You. I am guilty of this act. I am guilty of that thought,” we achieve release from the sin and open ourselves to God’s healing power. Thus, the Holy Spirit works in our lives to make us the kinds of persons we were meant to be.

It is important that we understand that when we sin, we withdraw our fellowship from God; He does not withdraw His fellowship from us. Forgiveness is ours forever as believers. The moment we received Him as Savior, He became our life. But our capacity to enjoy forgiveness-our capacity to live within God’s will-is based on our willingness to acknowledge and confess that sin and to turn away from it.

Consequences of Not Forgiving Ourselves

Sin and self-forgiveness tend to assume inverse proportions in our minds-that is, the greater our sin, the lesser our forgiveness. Similarly, the lesser our sin, the greater our forgiveness. Would we, for instance, withhold forgiveness from ourselves for saying unpleasant things about a friend? Pocketing the extra money when a clerk returns the wrong change? Putting someone down and pretending it’s all in good fun? Lying about why we’re late coming home? Having an abortion? Calling a child stupid or dumb? Injuring or killing a person while driving intoxicated? Fornicating or committing adultery?

We may not think we would be capable of some sins, but not a single one of us fully knows how we would act if we found ourselves in different circumstances. Although some sins bring greater condemnation or
chastisement in the life of believers, God’s viewpoint is that sin is sin. And just as God’s viewpoint of sin covers all sin, so does His viewpoint of forgiveness. But when we choose not to forgive ourselves as God does, we can expect to experience the consequences of a self-directed unforgiving spirit.

Self-Punishment

The first consequence of a self-directed unforgiving spirit is that we punish ourselves on an ongoing basis. How do we do that? We replay our sins continually. Satan initiates it, and we foolishly follow. We even replay the feelings of guilt. And as we do, we put ourselves in a tortured state that God never intended.

We spiritually incarcerate ourselves despite the fact that no place in the Bible does God say He has forgiven us of all our sins “except.” Jesus paid it all. Jesus bore in His body the price for all our sins.
No exceptions.

Uncertainty

The second consequence of a self-directed unforgiving spirit is that we live under a cloud of uncertainty. We do not accept our forgiveness by God; we exist under an abiding question mark. If we never forgive
ourselves, we can never be confident that God has forgiven us-and we bear the weight of this guilt. We are not quite sure of where we stand with God. We are not quite sure what He may do next.

Sense of Unworthiness

The third consequence of a self-directed, unforgiving spirit is that we develop a sense of unworthiness. Because we are guilty, we also feel unworthy. We indulge in a guilt-trip. Satan encourages guilt-trips. He
may inject these ideas in our thoughts. “Why should God answer my prayer? He is not going to hear what I am saying. Look what I have done.” Satan punches the button, and we replay the past sin. Satan
keeps getting us to replay in our minds what God says He has forgotten-and we guiltily oblige. And each time we replay the past sin by not forgiving ourselves, our faith takes a beating and we feel unworthy.
This sense of unworthiness affects our prayer life, our intimate relationship with God and our service for Him.

Excessive Behavior

The fourth consequence of a self-directed unforgiving spirit is that we attempt to overcome our guilt by compulsive behavior and excesses in our lives. We try drugs, alcohol, sexual affairs, material possessions.

Whenever we dedicate huge amounts of energy to divert our attention from the real problem (our unwillingness to forgive ourselves), we try to escape from the incessant self-pronouncements of guilt. Some of us invest huge amounts of energy into work – we work harder, faster, longer. But no matter how furiously we work, our guilt cannot be diminished by our frantic pace. Sometimes we take on two, three or four jobs in the church to prove our dedication. We teach Sunday school, sing in the choir and visit the shut-ins. What servants of God! And we end up making nervous wrecks of ourselves.

Compulsive behavior of this sort is akin to saying, “God, I want to thank You for Jesus’ death on the cross, but it wasn’t enough.” So because we do not accept God’s forgiveness, we double our efforts. (Do
we really think that God wasn’t able to do it alone? that He needs our help?) And we begin a self-feeding, spiritually defeating cycle.

False Humility

The fifth consequence of a self-directed unforgiving spirit is that we develop a false sense of humility when we feel permanently judged guilty and sentenced by God. We wear but a facade of humility when we declare ourselves so unworthy to serve God. And our “humble face” serves as a mask to keep us from seeing our true face.

Does this sound familiar? We may be complimented, “That was absolutely marvelous!” But then we respond, “I don’t deserve your praise. Just give God all the praise and the glory.” Sometimes that’s a sincere response, but sometimes that’s a response motivated by a guilt complex. When we harbor a false sense of humility, it’s very difficult to accept a compliment.

Self-Deprivation

The sixth consequence of a self-directed unforgiving spirit is that we deprive ourselves of things God wants us to enjoy. Self-deprivation is the opposite of compulsive behavior and excesses. We say things like, “Oh, I couldn’t buy myself that. I couldn’t go there. I couldn’t do that.”

Self-deprivation is like an acid that eats away at the truth of Jesus’ sacrifice. We do not achieve a state of forgiveness by arbitrarily abstaining from good things in our lives. God does not ask us to deprive ourselves in order to “deserve” forgiveness. Self-deprivation is self-choice, not God’s choice. Do we presume to know something about our sin that God does not know? Do we dare think that we have some new information about sin and forgiveness that God does not have? Of course not. If our sovereign, holy, righteous God has seen fit in His omniscience to declare us not guilty and to forgive us our sin, we have no grounds for self-deprivation.

To deny ourselves forgiveness and to put ourselves through unending punishment is to sentence ourselves to hell on earth. Satan is a master of deception, and it is Satan who makes us think that we have to suffer until God say, “Okay, that’s enough” At what point do we think we will be free? When will we have suffered enough? It is apparent that this type of thinking is absurd, yet many believers act as if they think that’s how God’s forgiveness works.

An unforgiving spirit is actually unbelief. We fail to exercise faith in God if we fail to forgive ourselves when Christ says He has paid the penalty. Why would He pay the penalty we have yet to pay? Christ paid the penalty so that we would be pardoned, but that does not mean that our pardon eliminates every problem. The after-effects of sin may linger, and even if we forgive ourselves, we still have to deal with
the consequences of our sin.

Satan may try to hinder our understanding of forgiveness by insinuating selfish motives. “I know why you are trying to believe that. You are just trying to get off scott-free.” But we must not allow Satan to
twist the truth in our thoughts. We need to repel his influence by remembering that, indeed, there was nothing “free” about the cross. The ultimate price was exacted and paid.

We must live by grace. If we think we can be forgiven by doing anything other than accepting the blood of our Lord, our theology is warped.

Why We Can’t Forgive Ourselves

Since we know the negative consequences from not forgiving ourselves, what stands in our way? What hinders our acceptance of God’s forgiveness on our own behalf? Our resistance generally can be traced
to one of four general problem areas: (1) belief in performance-based forgiveness; (2) disappointment in self; (3) adjustment and surrender to guilt; and (4) expectation of repeated sin.

Belief in Performance-Based Forgiveness

Performance-based forgiveness is not biblically based forgiveness. We can’t “pay” for God’s unlimited forgiveness by working harder or serving more fervently. The Bible says that God accepts us on the basis
of what He did, not on the basis of what we try to do. But we tend to rationalize. I have got to measure up. Ever since we were children, we have learned that whatever we achieve or receive we do so as a result of our own actions.

“Mom, can I have a cookie?”
“If you are good.”

Performance. Our whole lives are based on performance. If I clean my room, Mom will let me do this. If I take out the trash, Dad will let me do that. If I do well on the tryouts, I may make the team.

Then, when it comes to the grace of God and the Bible’s teachings, what happens? No performance is required. “Hold it,” we may think. “That isn’t right!” But it is right-God’s idea of forgiveness is in a
category all by itself.

As believers, we are forgiven children of God, no matter what we do. This does not mean, however, that we can do whatever we like and go merrily on our way. It means that as believers we have already been
forgiven our sins-past, present, and future. We are separated from God by sin, not by lack of forgiveness. Grace is an unmerited, undeserved, unnegotiable gift from God that comes to us prepaid. It can’t be
purchased, and it is offered freely to all who receive it. And that’s what the grace of God is all about.

Disappointment in Self

We sometimes have a difficult time accepting the truth about ourselves. I can remember a personal experience where God had done a marvelous work in my life. The Lord was blessing me, and I was just moving right along. Then I acted in a very disappointing way. I knew better, but I blew it horribly. The Lord had lifted me up, and I fell flat on my face. I still remember the feelings of shame and depression.

I wrestled with God’s forgiveness for a short period of time before I was able to accept it. At least I thought I accepted it. Because I had sorely disappointed myself, it was difficult for me to forgive myself
for not living up to my own expectations.

Disappointment is the result of unfulfilled expectations. Please understand that God knows we are going to blow it. Our Lord wants us to repent and to learn to trust Him.

Adjustment and Surrender to Guilt

Emotionally, we may live so long under guilt and self-condemnation that the very idea of being free is threatening. We feel comfortable with what we know is guilt. We adjust to our feelings of guilt and surrender the peace we could enjoy if we forgave ourselves.

I have counseled people and clearly outlined what the Bible has to say about their particular problem. After professing understanding, these same people may end up praying the same old prayer they pray all the time, and when they finish praying, they haven’t dealt with the issue.

If we want to be released from guilt, we must change our thinking. We need a thorough cleansing of our thought processes. No more thinking, “I know what the Bible says about forgiveness, but. . . ” Every time we include a “but,” we put one more bar in our prison of guilt. We need to get rid of the bars; we need to break out of the prison. We don’t have to be there. But we have to want to get out.

Expectation of Repeated Sin

“I know God could forgive me. And I know He has forgiven me. I guess the reason I don’t forgive myself is that I know I am going to repeat that sin.” These are the thoughts that cause us so much trouble.

How many sins did we commit before the cross? We weren’t even in existence 2,000 years ago. All our sins for which Christ died were in the future, including sins that we commit over and over again.
God’s forgiveness is all-inclusive, regardless of the nature of our sins or the frequency of our indulgence.

This does not mean we escape the consequences of our sins simply because we are forgiven. This means that we are assured forever of forgiveness, that we need not withhold forgiveness from ourselves because we may sin again. God forgives us every time for every sin, and so must we.

How We Can Forgive Ourselves

How do we forgive ourselves? Regardless of how long we have been in bondage, we can be free if we follow four biblical steps.
Step 1: Recognize the problem. We must recognize and acknowledge that we have not forgiven ourselves. We must come to grips with the fact that we still hold ourselves in bondage. “Father, I realize I haven’t
forgiven myself and am in bondage because of it.”

Step 2: Repent of sin. We must repent of that sin for which we cannot forgive ourselves. We must tell God that we realize that our unwillingness to forgive ourselves is not in keeping with His Word. And
we must thank Him for His forgiveness as we confess our sin to Him. “I thank You, Father, for forgiving me for holding myself in bondage, for keeping myself from You, and for my limiting Your use of me.”

Step 3: Reaffirm trust. We must reaffirm our trust in the testimony of Scripture: “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12 NKJV). “Father, I
reaffirm my trust and my faith in the Word of God.”

Step 4: Confess freedom and choose to receive it. We can do this by saying a simple prayer: “Lord Jesus, on the basis of Your Word, by an act of my will, in faith, I here and now forgive myself because You
have already forgiven me and I accept my forgiveness and I choose from this moment to be freed of all which I have held against myself. Please confirm my freedom to me by the power and presence of Your Holy Spirit.”

Accept God’s Freedom Through His Forgiveness

If we are willing to follow these simple steps, not only will we be set free, but the healing process will be initiated.

When we choose by an act of the will to accept what God has said as true, we experience God’s acceptance of us. And we can tell Him that we have played back that accusing videotape for the last time. When Satan tries to punch the button again, he will find that he has been short-circuited by Jesus. We are free.

(The above information was published by Focus on the Family, 1991)

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