Some therefore cried one thing, and some another: for the assembly was confused… (Acts 19:32)
Let all bitterness, and wrath and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you. (Ephesians 4:31-32)
But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (Mathew 6: 15)
One would not be incorrect if one were to say that today’s religious groups are confused on Biblical and theological matters. In other words; one says this and another says that so what is one to do? What is one to believe or to think? The answer is always the same. To gain an understanding of Scripture for one’s own self one must go to the source and to the Source. The source is the Bible and the Source is God. To gain a proper understanding of spiritual matters one must “search the [S]criptures” and prayerfully seek the answer from the Author.
We acknowledge that Scripture contains deep truths and to glean from these truths one must diligently and prayerfully study the Scriptures. Some doctrines can be difficult for some to understand or to even accept. However, their are teachings in Scripture that are not confusing but are taught incorrectly.
One of these teachings is forgiveness. Forgiveness has been confused with bitterness. Forgiveness is an action whereas bitterness is an emotion and choice as well as a revealer of one’s true inner nature.
Have you ever heard someone say, “I’m sorry” to which another replies, “Oh, it’s okay.”? This is not proper forgiveness. Have you ever had someone say to you, “I’m sorry; will you forgive me” to which you respond, ” I’ve already forgiven you.” ? If so forgiveness has not taken place. The only thing that has happened is a condoning of the infraction that caused the request for forgiveness to begin with.
One cannot forgive another lest the other seeks forgiveness hence the words of our Lord, “If he trespasses against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him.” The act of forgiving can only take place when one turns and says, “I repent” or “I’m sorry; please forgive me.” Forgiveness is a formal act. and one cannot forgive if the other is not sorry. If you were to say, “Oh, I’ve already forgiven you” you are more orthodox than God. For God does not, has not, nor will He forgive lest one repents.
However, that does not allow one to be bitter until an offender seeks forgiveness. Bitterness must not be part of the Christ-ian’s wiring. Bitterness has no part in the new creature that is in Christ. In other words, one must not be bitter or have malice in one’s heart for another, nor can one forgive without the proper asking. And this is where the confusion enters.
If one seeks another’s forgiveness the Biblical response would be, “Thank you and yes,! I forgive you.” not “Oh, I have already forgiven you.” This goes to a Scriptural principle and that is what God has done for you you must do for others and you must do it in the order that God has demonstrated. God forgives sinners upon their repentance and His forgiveness is based solely upon the life, death and resurrection of Christ. Therefore, we must forgive others when they repent and we do so as God has demonstrated for us. God does not forgive sin, if it is not confessed and repented of. This is another point of confusion. If our sins were paid for at Calvary by our Elder Brother why then must we seek God’s forgiveness today? Are our sins forgiven or not?
When a person is first forgiven and saved by God it is a legal matter. This is the doctrine of justification. God, as Judge, has declared you justified. As a Christ-ian however, we do not seek forgiveness from God the Judge but from God, our loving Father. When a Christ-ian seeks forgiveness it is sought from God as Father and not as Judge.
If a Christ-ian is trespassed against by another who’s responsibility is it to start the process, if you will, of forgiveness? The world would say it is the offenders responsibility. However, the world’s way is not the Christ-ian way. The Lord teaches that the offended party is to approach the offending party and to address the offense. Why is this? We believe it is because so often the offender is not even aware of the offense. While one is feeling that a wrong was committed the other isn’t even aware of it. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the person who feels the trespass to approach the offender. When this takes place the offender will either repent or not. If the offender repents then the trespass must be forgiven as God has forgiven our many trespasses. If the offending party does not repent forgiveness cannot take place but bitterness must not be harboured within one’s heart. Bitterness must be released even though the matter is not remedied.
Forgiveness and bitterness are two different things. Bitterness harms the offended whereas the act of forgiveness releases the offender. Bitterness is a cancer and forgiveness is part and parcel of the abundant Christ-centered life. To understand these matters is to keep things descent and in order.
We would add this as well. The Christ-ian should not be easily offended. One might look upon an infraction as an opportunity to exercise the Spirit’s fruit of longsuffering. Before one becomes angry at another one should always remember to remove the beam that is in thine own eye first. Besides, ought we to be seeking the Kingdom of God rather than those that have wronged us?
Methinks there are three choices on this matter. First, be not bitter against those that offend you and continue seeking the Kingdom of God; Second, approach the offender and broach the subject of the trespass and third, sit and stew and seek not your Father’s forgiveness of thine own offenses for it will not be granted.