What happens when we forgive

Father David Epps's picture

What happens when we choose to forgive someone, even if they have not asked our forgiveness nor admitted their fault?

This is an important question for someone who has experienced being wronged and is struggling with the concept of forgiving the perpetrator.

Here are nine things that happen when we make the choice to forgive:

1. We recognize that wrong, real or perceived, has actually occurred. We leave the place of denial and we no longer make excuses for another’s bad behavior.

2. We choose to be victorious rather than to remain as victims. Exercising forgiveness means that we rise above whatever has happened. We choose to be proactive; we choose to exercise godly authority and to be Christ-like in the matter.

3. We cease holding the person accountable to us. As long as we do that, we have expectations and those expectations — which may never be fulfilled — can dominate our lives. We choose not to be their judge.

4. We transfer accountability of the person and the offense to God. In doing so, we actually release ourselves — we declare ourselves to be free from the heavy burden of judgment and we leave the matter to God. Totally.

5. We recognize that forgiveness is a choice, not a feeling or an emotion. It is a conscious choice to obey God, who has freely forgiven us.

6. We recognize and admit that refusal to forgive is a sin with consequences and that we must repent of our own sin of judgmentalism and unforgiveness.

7. We come to realize that forgiveness must be granted while trust must be rebuilt. If someone borrows money from us, for example, and does not repay the debt, we may come to the place where, for our own peace of mind, we choose to forgive the debt and no longer hold the person accountable. However, that does not mean that the next time he or she comes to us to borrow money we should grant their request. To do so, in fact, would be foolish. Trust is built on a pattern of trustworthy behavior. Forgiveness may be freely granted, but trust must be earned.

8. Forgiveness opens the channel of grace and mercy in our own lives. We reap what we sow. If we desire mercy, grace, and forgiveness from others or from God, we must be “sowers” of those seeds. If we withhold forgiveness, forgiveness will be withheld from us. It is simply a biblical truth and a universal principle. If we desire an answer to the prayer, “Lord, be merciful to me a sinner,” we need to be able to pray, “Lord be merciful to him/her a sinner.”

9. Forgiveness allows us to participate in the redemptive work of Christ Himself. John 3:16-17 speaks of the reason for Christ coming as love and life. Jesus says that God did not send the Son into the world to condemn or judge the world. If we participate in forgiveness, we are participating in the work of Christ.

St. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:19 that “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them,”(Orthodox Study Bible) or not holding their sins against them, and that He has committed to those who are Christians the same word and message of reconciliation. We, then, are not to “impute their trespasses to them,” but we are to reflect and walk in the ways and example of Christ Himself.

Forgiveness, then, is a profound act of self-sacrifice in which we lay down our own hurt, our own offense, our own “need to be right or vindicated,” and move to a higher plane. Forgiveness is not a natural act for someone who has truly been wronged.

Forgiveness can be, however, a supernatural act that can change the person who forgives and, perhaps, even bring change to the one who offends.

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