“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other… forgive as the Lord forgave you. Colossians 3:12-13
Here’s an observation that hits us right off the bat in these verses: God does not tell us to forgive only if the person who wronged us apologises. He does not tell us to forgive if the other person acts better. God says we are to forgive. Period. But here’s the reality check: forgiveness does not come naturally to us.
It is far easier for us to be mad at the person who hurt us, to let anger fester and be unforgiving. Psalm 4:4 says, “Be angry, and do not sin.” The problem does not lie in getting angry — for there is such a thing as righteous anger — but in what we do with the anger we feel toward those whom we should forgive. Ephesians 4:27 takes us a step further, as Paul gives us the reason for controlling our anger: “Do not give the devil a foothold.”
A foothold is “a position usable as a base for further advance”. In other words, when we allow anger to fester in our hearts, we are giving the devil a foothold to lodge himself firmly in our lives. What’s more, the consequences of festering anger fall on us (Psalm 37:8; Ecclesiastes 7:9; Matthew 5:22). Nowhere does it say that the object of our anger will suffer, or that their hearts will change because we refuse to let the matter go. Instead, James 1:20 reminds us that human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. These Scriptures teach us that when we remain angry, and refuse to forgive, we are hurting ourselves.
God does not tell us to forgive only if the person who wronged us apologises… or if the other person acts better
Forgiveness requires deliberate intentionality as it is an active and repeated choice on our part. In Matthew 18:22, Jesus taught that we are to forgive “seventy times seven”. We could perhaps keep track of forgiving a few times, but seventy times seven? The teaching is clear: there is no limit to forgiveness.
This is not to say that choosing to forgive someone means putting yourself back in the same position. There are some exceptional situations where keeping some distance may be necessary for your own safety or well-being. In such cases, it is possible to forgive without allowing that person a place back in your life.
We are the children of a merciful Father, who forgives us and does not deal with us according to our sins (Psalm 103:10). We know we ought to forgive others just as Christ forgave us. We know this in our heads — but head knowledge of the importance of forgiveness is one thing; heart knowledge and real life application are something else altogether.
We know we should forgive, but there can be a big gap between the knowing and the doing. And when we are sitting on the unforgiving side of that gap, we can pay a price. Jesus warned His followers of how big that price can be in Matthew 6:15: “But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
Was Jesus saying that unforgiveness could cost us your salvation? No, He was not. But unforgiveness can disrupt our fellowship and favour with the Lord. God does not damn us for unforgiveness, but He does enact discipline. Whether the matter is major or minor, the path to forgiveness is to realise that the main issue prompting your need to forgive isn’t about your relationship with others — it’s about your relationship with God.
We can remain unforgiving for as long as we wish. While we lick our wounds, we can argue with God and explain the justness of our right to remain unforgiving. But God’s spiritual law stands firm. If we don’t forgive, we remain in a place where God’s forgiveness will not go because sin blocks our fellowship. It reminds me of a quote I read a long time ago: “For never are you more like Jesus than when you forgive. Never are you less like Jesus than when you will not forgive.”
Prayer: Heavenly Father, we praise You for being a God who does not deal with us according to our shortcomings and sins. We are eternally grateful for the forgiveness we have received in Christ Jesus, Your beloved Son. Father, please empower us to forgive and pray for those who have wronged us, as He did. May the reality of the forgiveness You showed us sink deep into our hearts, so that we can forgive more, just as You have forgiven us much. Help us to choose to let go of our hurt, and not sin in our anger. We pray this in the merciful name of our Lord and Saviour. Amen.
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