Freedom in Forgiveness

Jamie FarquharYouth Ministry Blog

Forgiveness is such a crucial part of following God’s will for your life, because holding on to anger, hate, and bitterness will only grow to harden your heart over time towards everyone and everything. God knows this, and speaks about forgiveness often in Scripture to try and stop us from shutting our hearts down and, as a result, hurt ourselves, others we come in contact with, and cut ourselves off from the very source of light, love, joy, peace, and every other amazing thing (Himself)! It is so important to forgive others, no matter what they’ve done, that it is in the very example of prayer Jesus taught us (continually ask forgiveness for how we wronged others as we continually forgive those who have wronged us – Matthew 6:9-13), Matthew 18:21-22 (forgive 70×7), Ephesians 4:31-32 (forgive because Christ first forgave you), Matthew 5:44 (love and pray for your enemies), Romans 12:17-21 (repay evil with good and let God handle the rest), and Matthew 6:15 (if you don’t forgive others, God won’t forgive you).

That last one hits pretty hard (God not forgiving you if you don’t forgive others). I, as the Lord’s prayer suggests, still personally have to go every day through the people in my life and truly pray about and think through if there’s even a hint of anger or bitterness towards them. It does get easier over time (because there is less to analyze when it’s a constant routine), but it’s also vital to keep doing because of how easy it is to overlook things taking root in our heart that seem small or simple at first (but can quickly grow and fester)!

We all know the struggle to continually forgive is real, though. Just check out the song “Losing” by Tenth Avenue North. They do a great job reasoning through how it feels, but also reference the ultimate Truth of Ephesians 4:31-32: we should forgive no matter how someone acts based solely on the fact we were forgiven first by God (and not because we deserved it either-Romans 3:23). As C. S. Lewis sums it up: “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.” Tenth Avenue North also reveals another Truth God tries to reveal to us about holding on to things: how much control we have over others despite how we feel.

“Why do we think that hate’s going to change their heart?
We’re up in arms over wars that don’t need to be fought.
But pride won’t let us lay weapons on the ground
We build our bridges up, but just to burn them down
We think pain is owed apologies and then it’ll stop!
But truth be told it doesn’t matter if they’re sorry or not
Freedom comes when we surrender to the sound
Of mercy and Your grace, Father, send Your angels down!”

As the band points out, no amount of bitterness, anger, passive aggressiveness, or cold shouldering can guarantee someone will change or apologize, because you can’t actually control their actions and responses (you can only control yours). Whatever scenario your feelings are saying will be okay to release that weight under won’t actually help, because a.) it may never happen, b.) if it does happen, the apology or amends may not measure up to your perceived expectation (especially if you have built the offense up in your mind) and then you will want more apologies or amends made and not let the issue go, or c.) if an apology does happen and you do honestly forgive, there are always other things people will do to start the cycle over. The sad truth of all these outcomes is you are still basing the joy, love, and light you experience in life on other people’s conditional response to a slight someone else may not even know hurt you. Doesn’t that feel like giving a whole lot of your power and quality of life over to someone who may not even know or care you are hurting? Also whatever they did is ultimately between God and them, and, as mentioned earlier, God will take care of it (check out Romans 12:17-21 again and Romans 6:10-13). This is why we should be far more concerned with the condition of our own heart than why someone else is in the wrong based on personal opinions, biases, and feelings.


God speaks so strongly about forgiveness, because, as I mentioned in my last post about His view of justice and righteousness, His ultimate want for us is the restoration of a loving, light filled, life defining relationship with Himself! Since we ultimately choose how much emotional weight we carry, He wants so badly for us to let Him carry that weight and experience the freedom and joy that comes from being rid of it (Matthew 11:28-30)! How amazing is it He cares enough about us being free to take it away from us and bear it Himself (Romans 4:7)?! The command to let go of those burdens is for our own good, and it is the path to freedom in not just our relationship with Him, but relationships with everyone else in our life too! It is really hard to have a deep, loving, trust filled, relationship with people you hold a grudge against, right? That’s why forgiveness is such a key part of the foundation to building or rebuilding true community with God and others; emotional weights and walls must be torn down so something far better and more beautiful can be built! This is why, with an eye towards all humanity’s spiritual and emotional restoration, Jesus said “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40, NIV). How amazing is that?!

Application step: Take some time today away from any distractions, and pray specifically for God to reveal any seeds of anger, hurt, or bitterness that you are holding in your heart. Try thinking through different people you spend a lot of time talking to, interacting with, or people that have had a big impact on your life (including family, friends, boyfriend/girlfriend, wife/husband, etc.) to see if anyone makes those feelings of anger, bitterness, awkwardness, or any other uncomfortable emotion occur. People you are at peace with don’t really make you bristle, become anxious, or change your mood for the worse when you think about talking to or interacting with them.
After doing that and potentially identifying someone (or multiple people), forgive them of the specific things you are holding against them in your heart, and ask God for the strength, courage and trust in Him to continually give those things up to Him when they come back in to your mind! Praying God blesses them like He has blessed you (Matthew 5:44) is another great way to change your focus from feelings back to trusting God when that person enters you mind again as well!
Continually taking time to do these things with focused intentionality will be hard at first, but I promise the freedom and joyous relationships that will flourish with God and others is worth it (Psalm 34:8, John 10:10)!