Actions and behaviors are damaging. Things said and done between people often provoke emotions that are hurtful, even destructive, over time. Often, it is the root of bitterness and unforgiveness that lies at the core of unresolved issues and without attention, can deceive and destroy the peace of our relationships. Unforgiveness undermines:
- Our relationship with God and places us in a state of disobedience.
- Our communication with loved ones and provokes a state of disharmony.
- Our self-awareness building instead a response of righteous indignation that becomes impenetrable and condemning over time.
- Our willingness to reconcile, resting instead in our “right” to feel as we do, justifying the return of sin for sin, reviling for reviling, and evil for evil.
The Bible is clear concerning this topic…the heart condition of unforgiveness is unacceptable to the LORD who calls believers to display His character and standards toward others. Jesus said:
“For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.” (Matt. 6:14-15). This statement alone displays the importance of this issue. It goes far beyond what might be right between people…and right to the center of what makes us right before God. Every imperative the Lord gives is for our good and His glory. He has established standards that are true to His holiness. To require anything less excuses us to bask in the human condition and undermines our testimony and walk before our heavenly Father. Yet we justify our embittered hearts by claiming injury that cannot be reconciled. We say the emotion is too great; the pain too intense. But God calls us to remember His grace, mercy, and longsuffering, in the midst of our disobedience. Paul wrote:
“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you” (Eph 4:31-32).
But how are we kind and tender-hearted to a spouse who committed adultery? How do we forgive repeated injuries? The world teaches that my emotions (anger, bitterness, and wrath) are understandable and justifiable. We are instructed to express these emotions for relief and healing. Clearly the forgiveness of others is not easily within our reach as humans. It is an attribute of God He deposits within us through His Spirit. As His children, we are called to a potential and a capacity the world does not have and will not understand. Peter wrote:
“To those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours, by the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ: Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust” (2 Peter 1:1-4).
He has granted to us “everything pertaining to life and godliness.” His Word and Spirit have fully equipped us to do what we could not do before. The Scripture continues that we have become “partakers of the divine nature.” What does that mean? It means the very nature of God, our Abba Father resides within us and our potential is forever transformed. Since we are no longer “flesh alone” but rather “flesh and Spirit” we are not restricted to the default setting of sin.
We can choose to be obedient, bearing fruit of His nature within ourselves, conveyed in, and through, our actions toward others. God calls us again and again to remembrance of His work on the cross…the defeat of sin. He stirs us to recall the power of His resurrection when death was “swallowed up in victory” (1 Cor 15:54). We are to be mindful of His suffering for our sakes so that the fullness of God’s plan could be fulfilled. Peter writes of Christ and our calling:
“For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, WHO COMMITTED NO SIN, NOR WAS ANY DECEIT FOUND IN HIS MOUTH; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed” (1 Peter 2:21-24).
We are called to convey Christ…to live out the Gospel…in our daily lives. Injustice is part of this call. If we are joint heirs to the Kingdom, then we are heirs to the challenge of this alien world. We are to respond to sin without sinning. When reviled, revile not in return. We are to entrust ourselves to HIM who judges righteously…not to the humanistic methods that justify our individual desires for relief. God knows, and teaches in His Word, that we ALL are guilty. No one is innocent before God…nor are we innocent with each other. God stresses that a breach of holiness in one area makes us culpable for the whole law:
“If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you do well; but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all. For He who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:8-13).
“Mercy triumphs over judgment…” It is the preferred way. In fact it is the way we are commanded to take. God’s Word counts all of us transgressors of the Law; for which the remedy is mercy not judgment. If we were judged on our obedience rather than grace given as believers, none of us would see the Lord! We are to impart the same mercy we have been given. But we as humans have developed a hierarchy of sin; serious versus minor, forgivable versus unforgivable. And we judge and distribute or withhold mercy, according to our righteous perception. Again Scripture cautions us to remember the defilement of our own sin and the goodness of God to forgive and restore. Paul wrote:
“Therefore you have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things. But do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgment on those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance? (Rom. 2:1-4).
Ultimately, forgiveness is not given to others because it is deserved; it is given because it is required. It is a tenet of God; a mandate of His throne. To forgive others is central to biblical truth because it conveys the attributes of God and advances the calling of the Gospel. Forgiveness is ultimately an act of obedience that sustains our abiding rapport with the God of mercy. When we claim the actions of others as “too severe” and “too hurtful” to forgive, we must recall our state before a holy and perfect God. Where would we stand if measured with partiality; held to the boundaries of the law; left to our own justification? I am not suggesting the injuries we endure are easy. I would not insult anyone by implying he/she has not been affected by the sins of others. But while we can have understanding and empathy for the human experience, we are called to a godly standard.
The fruit of the Spirit is not dependent upon people or circumstances. Our fruit rests in the constant abiding of Christ in our hearts. Therefore to be fruitful, we must not allow our hearts to become sinful with toxic emotions that undermine our relationship with the Savior. When we grow and harbor a root of bitterness we expand our distance with God and we begin acting as unbelievers. At that point, one is only a short walk away from:
- A cold, distant marriage
- An estranged relationship with our children
- A divorce
- Or a behavioral expression of a toxic heart condition (affair, pornography, alcohol abuse, depression, etc.).
God cautions us through the writer of Hebrews:
“See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled…” (Heb 12:15).
The defilement the Bible speaks about then distorts our perception, blinds us from truth, and undermines our clarity of thought and moral intent. Paul wrote:
“To the pure, all things are pure; but to those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure, but both their mind and their conscience are defiled” (Titus 1:15).
Once this toxin of bitterness and unforgiveness takes root, it not only stirs the defilement of our heart, it undermines our capacity to view others through a pure lens. Instead, one looks out from a defiled heart and everything looks grey, bleak, and hopeless. Even our “mind” and “conscience” are defiled. Put another way, our thought life and moral standards turn upside down. This is how believers end up making choices that were once unacceptable but now seem to be a reasonable response to a bad situation. Some will claim that without repentance on the part of the offending party, forgiveness is not required. And it is true that God clearly requires us to forgive the repentant sinner, no matter how many times he/she returns to repent.
Then Peter came and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven” (Matt 18:21-22).
The Lord also said in Luke chapter 17:
“Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him” (vv. 3-4).
To this directive, the apostles proclaimed:
“Increase our faith!” (v. 5).
Clearly the human condition finds this admonition of the Lord beyond its capacity. The apostles ask for what we all need…increased faith in the sufficiency of Christ, the message of reconciliation, and the empowerment of His grace. And while these two passages reference the requirement to forgive the repentant, nowhere does Scripture make repentance an absolute requirement for the conveyance of mercy, one human to another. In fact, the Word requires us to be proactive about dealing with our heart issues. We are to be aware of the sin in our heart and its dividing impact in our union with the Father. We are to take action to remain in good order with Christ so that we might be in good order with others.
Ultimately, our condition before Christ will define and dictate our relational condition with our spouses, children, extended family, etc. If we retain anger and bitterness in the absence of repentance, it becomes our defilement, sabotaging our peace, and dishonoring God. God will stir our awareness of heart conditions that subordinate His will.
Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions. [“But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your transgressions.”] (Mark 11:25-26).
Remember we cannot have fruitful marriages, productive home lives, godly children, and peaceful coexistence without God’s order as the center of our consideration. As believers we are indwelled with the “divine nature,” trained by the Holy Spirit, taught through the revelation of God’s will, in the canon of His Word…and our faith in His capacity must increase! In Him and through Him we are to convey the manner of Heaven so that others may be blessed; the lost may be saved; and the fallen may be restored. When one doubts he/she can do what has been ordained, remember;
“He who is in you is greater than He who is in the world…” (1 John 4:4).
The work has been completed and the template laid. Follow the way of the Savior:
There were also two others, criminals, led with Him to be put to death. And when they had come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on the right hand and the other on the left. Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:32-34).