Thinking the best about people, not the worst
It might not always be easy to forgive someone, but it will become much easier if we keep in mind that Jesus is always ready to forgive us our sins – if we are remorseful about our trespasses. We gain much by taking the role of a defense attorney when it comes to other people’s actions. This does not mean that we should always excuse and justify all sorts of wicked behavior that we see in others, but rather that we should try to find extenuating circumstances rather than aggravated circumstances.
Real defense attorneys are not expected to deny their clients’ crimes and actions despite obvious evidence of their guilt, but apart from what is already proven it is sometimes possible to find circumstances in the case which could reduce the sentence or acquit the client altogether. There is a difference between acting knowingly compared to acting recklessly (or out of ignorance), and there are some perpetrators who act without a culpable mental state.
We should always be ready to forgive others since our Lord is willing to forgive us – under certain conditions. God does not accept an apology unless we truly mean it and show our repentance with our actions. We should do what we can to repair the damage that we have done, and if we are at fault for having mistreated someone it is not enough to just ask God for forgiveness in silence without also contacting the person we have hurt and make some efforts to rectify our trespasses.
Col. 3:13 Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.
If someone is currently mistreating you and beats you with his/her fists, it is naturally not possible to be persuaded that this person is remorseful about his/her ongoing actions and deserves to be forgiven. Nevertheless, we can live with the hope that this person on a later occasion might regret his poor attitude and would have asked you for forgiveness if he/she had the chance to do so. For this reason we must always be ready to forgive. Christ forgives us our sins if we repent, and we should forgive others in a similar manner, using Christ as our role model. The Bible says “IF he repent, forgive him” (Luke. 17:3). Notice the word “if”.
Maybe we have had encounters with individuals in our past – either as children or as adults – who have mistreated us and sinned against us. Our attitude should not be that we are not required to forgive them because we have not met them for many years and have no knowledge if they are remorseful. No, we must live with the assumption that they have indeed repented and would have asked us for forgiveness should they meet us. Is this not how we would like to be treated ourselves? We might have done things in the past that we deeply regret, and we live with the hope that those we have sinned against will not use it against us.
We gain a lot by not trying to think the worst about people, but rather always seek to find extenuating circumstances so that we can think the best about people – without living in denial. We might end up having a conflict with people who have offended us, but there are lots of things we do not know about their background and circumstances. Maybe they have misunderstood something? Maybe I have misunderstood something? Maybe I am not aware of the whole story leading up to the conflict? Maybe they have had previous bad experiences in life? Maybe they did not mean to offend you but said things as a joke? Maybe their upbringing was not normal? Maybe they did not intend to cause such drama? Sometimes we might get more light on the matter if we talk about it, and at other times we do not get such chances but have to make assumptions about what really transpired. God is the one who will make the final judgment. Maybe there are no valid excuses for being a jerk, and God can judge our hearts.
If we have not always behaved as the ideal friend/colleague/family member, then we are probably thankful for those who are willing to forgive us our wrong doings and who are willing to draw the best conclusions available about us.
Erasing memories not required
To forgive someone does not mean we must forget all his/her sins against us. The case might be that people have sinned against us for many years, and it is not possible to just erase those years from your memory – particularly not if those sins made a huge negative impact in your life.
The Bible says that your salvation is dependent on your willingness to forgive others who ask you for forgiveness. If you do not forgive people for their trespasses, neither will God forgive your trespasses.
Matt 6:14 For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you:15 But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
Mark 11:25 And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.
Luke 6:37 Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven
John 20:23 Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.
I do not believe we are required to forgive people who are in the midst of their sins, and who are fully aware of that they are sinning against us, without showing a shed of remorse. If someone is breaking into your house and is busy stealing your money, he/she clearly does not mean an apology if he/she keeps on doing it.
Jesus and Stephen forgave people who sinned against them and who did not ask for forgiveness, but in those cases (see below) they motivated their forgiveness with the other people’s ignorance – that they really did not think they were doing something wrong. We must be ready to forgive also during such circumstances. To forgive someone does not mean that we must at once cease to be cautious about this person and assume that he/she will never risk to fall back in to old habits.
Luke 23:34 Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; FOR they know not what they do. And they parted his raiment, and cast lots.
Acts 7:59 And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.60 And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.
Also Paul expressed thankfulness that Jesus showed mercy on him despite his actions since he (Paul) did not know better. Paul was convinced he was doing the right thing when he persecuted Christians because he desired to live as a righteous Jew according to the Jewish laws (as he interpreted them). Paul did not show any remorse as long as he lived in ignorance, but once he realized his sins against Jesus and his fellow-man, he repented and changed his mind.
1 Tim. 1:12 And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry;13 Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, BECAUSE I did it ignorantly in unbelief.
When Jesus says that he remembers our sins no more (Hebr. 8-10), it means that he will no longer use them against us. It does not literally mean that God will select certain parts of his all-powerful knowledge about us and cease to remember them. (We also know this based on the parable in Matt. 18 below.) The promise to no longer remember our sins when we repent, concerns our past sins and cannot be used as a free card for any future sins.
“Forgive me”, means people must forgive?
There might be people who believe that it is the combining of the two words “Forgive” and “me” which requires the other person to forgive, just like a magical “abracadabra” that open doors. The words mean nothing if they just constitute a lip service and when the heart says something different. IF we repent, God will forgive. It is the repentance which is the key, and it can be expressed with the mouth.
Luke 17:3 Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and IF he repent, forgive him.
Eph. 4:32 32 And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.
+ Col. 3:13
Acts 8:22 Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee.
Acts 26:15 And I said, Who art thou, Lord? And he said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest.— 17 Delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee, 18 To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me.
Mark 4:12 That seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them.
Jeremiah 36:3 It may be that the house of Judah will hear all the evil which I purpose to do unto them; that they may return every man from his evil way; that I may forgive their iniquity and their sin.
Jesus taught us the importance of forgiving. ALL sins can be forgiven if a person is truly remorseful and decides to leave all the sins behind:
Luke 11:4 And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil.
Luke 7:47 Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little.
Paul criticized the Corinthians for being too lenient when it comes to sins, as per i 1 Cor. 5, but when the sinner has been confronted and shown true remorse (an important condition), the congregation must be ready to forgive him and comfort him so that he will not give up in his grief.
2 Cor. 2:6 Sufficient to such a man is this punishment, which was inflicted of many.7 So that contrariwise ye ought rather to forgive him, and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow.8 Wherefore I beseech you that ye would confirm your love toward him.9 For to this end also did I write, that I might know the proof of you, whether ye be obedient in all things.10 To whom ye forgive any thing, I forgive also: for if I forgave any thing, to whom I forgave it, for your sakes forgave I it in the person of Christ;11 Lest Satan should get an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices.
Forgiving seventy times seven times
Below is the parable about forgiving seventy times seven times in Matt. 18. This means that there is no specific maximum number when it comes to forgiveness, but we should always be willing to forgive a person who shows true repentance. If someone combines righteous living with sins against you, he/she has clearly no repentant heart.
Something to note about this parable is that the servant who managed to get his debt erased (a symbol for getting his sins forgiven) unfortunately got back the same debt when he in his turn refused to forgive another. This shows that “once saved always saved” (or unconditional security) is not a Biblical concept, since a forgiven and cleansed person can become filthy once again and be spiritually separated from God. Note also that the servant started out asking the king for mercy (forgiveness) resulting in the cancelled debt, and it was not the king who initiated the idea.
The servant in the parable did not show true remorse, or perhaps we should say that he was truly sad about his debt and thankful for its removal, but he proved to not be ready to stay away from future debts/sins, despite that further debt would throw him right back into trouble. God can see in our hearts if we truly regret our sins and would like to leave all our sins behind. We must treat others the way we would like to be treated ourselves. We must be ready to forgive others the way Jesus forgives us our sins. We should always have a forgiving attitude.
Matt 18:21 Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?22 Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.23 Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants.24 And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents.25 But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made.26 The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.27 Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt.28 But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellowservants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest.29 And his fellowservant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.30 And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt.31 So when his fellowservants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done.32 Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me:33 Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee?34 And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him.35 So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.
We need to have forgiving hearts, but God is the one with authority to forgive people their sins.