Why Must I Forgive?
So important is the issue of forgiveness that it is one of the primary factors and criterion that God uses to identify His children:
Matthew 5:43-45 "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. (NRSV - italics and emphasis added).
Toward the end of our group last night, the question was asked, "Are you saying that if we don't forgive someone we won't go to heaven?" I did not answer that question tuesday night for a number of reasons. First, I did not want to be the only voice that speaks in our group. Second, it's an important question and I did not want to speak unless I could prove my point biblically. Third, time was a factor, and fourth, I didn't want to publicly step over anyone's opinion too quickly or unnecessarily. Upon reflection however, I've come to the conclusion I would be greatly remiss in my loving obligation to you if I did not say something.
Here are some things that I would like you to consider if you please:
1.) If we forgive those who sin against us, then God will forgive us. If we don't forgive them, God will not forgive us (Matthew 6:14-15) - can we afford not to be forgiven by God?
2.) If we do not forgive and therfore God does not forgive us, then where does our sin go? It is still attached to us, and we'll have to pay the penalty for it (Matthew 18:21-35; Ezekiel 18:4; Romans 6:23).
3.) In every single instance of New Testament scripture, being listed as an unforgiving person is associated with some very ugly heart conditions. In fact, God lists being unforgiving in the same list with hating God and murder:
Romans 1:29-31... being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; (NKJV) (see also 2 Timothy 3:3)
THE BOTTOM LINE
While no Scripture uses the precise words: if you do not forgive, you are not going to heaven, that principle is clearly implied in Scripture. Since everyone of us is desperately in need of God's forgiveness, we don't have a legitimate option of withholding it from others. To put it simply, being unforgiving is roughly the equivalent of playing Russian roulette with one's immortal being. Living with unforgiveness is simply too expensive and too great a risk to our soul.
How Can I Forgive When I Hurt so Much?
First, let me assure you that I understand that forgiveness is not an easy thing. I am as aware as any of you regarding the cruelties people can inflict on eachother and the hurts it causes. Nevertheless, receive and giving forgiveness is absolutely essential a Christian life. I don't mean to minimize your burden or difficulties, but I do want to give you some practical advice on how you can forgive.
1.) Admit and verbalize that you yourself would like to be forgiven by God for any of the wrongs that you have done. Acknowledge that you understand that in order to receive God's forgiveness, you must also be forgiving to those who have harmed you. Express the fact that even though it may be difficult you want to obey God in regard to forgiveness. If necessary, ask God to give you the "want to."
2.) Pour out your honest feelings about the situation before the Lord. He knows it anyway. Get your feelings out, but at the end ask the Lord to cover them over with Christ's blood.
3.) Remember that forgiveness is not a feeling but a choice. God does not require that we feel good about being harmed. He doesn't require that we have warm fuzzy feelings about the person, but he DOES require that we make the decision to forgive. "Lord Jesus, in obedience to Your will, I make the deliberate choice of my will to forgive ____ for___. I ask you to forgive them and bring them to genuine repentance so that you can bless them. I ask you to perfect Your forgiveness in my heart toward them, but protect me from being harmed by them in the future."
4.) If you are having trouble praying for the person who has harmed you, try a role reversal. What I mean is approach the prayer in your mind as though you were the one who did the hurting instead of the one being hurt. If you were the offender instead of the one being offended against, what would you need and or want God to do for you? That'll give you a great idea on how to pray for the person.
Anyway, I hope this helps with both scriptural and practical advice. I will miss you Tuesday. I look forward to seeing you again the following week. God bless you.
Your loving brother in Christ