Our forgiveness of others should look actually the same as God’s forgiveness to us (look at my post right before this one—Understanding God’s Forgiveness). There should be no difference; forgiveness is forgiveness. Of course, since we are human, our forgiveness will not be as complete as His is; however, the nature of our forgiveness and its aim should be exactly like His in every way. So as we plan to forgive others we must endeavor to make our forgiveness as His. He has set the example and the standard for us. Now here are six aspects or parts of forgiveness, which taken together, will help you to see the big picture of what it should look like.
1. It is confrontational. First of all, we must understand that though we should always unconditionally love our offender (as God has loved us), we should never offer them our forgiveness unless they repent and are therefore ready to receive it (Read Luke 17:3). For they cannot receive it unless they repent. Again, we should always love our offender and be kind to them, but that love must be with truth—always trying to bring him to repentance. Accordingly, we should never try to block out or cover up sins against us without dealing with them correctly (Read Matthew 18:15-19 for the correct process). If someone has wronged us and he has not admitted his wrong, it is up to us to confront him and tell him his fault (Matt. 18:15); then after he repents, that is the time we should we tell him that we forgive him.
2. It is rooted in love. When I said that we should not forgive someone when they don’t repent, I did not mean that we should hold a grudge against them and be unloving and bitter toward them. I just meant that we should not let them off the hook; we should not tell them “it’s okay,” because it’s not. Hence, though we don’t let them off the hook for their sins, we should always love them. And when we love them with God’s love, even though they hate us and have not repented, it will serve to make them feel guilt and shame, and to bring them to repentance. Romans 12:20 describes this process as heaping coals of fire on the head: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.”
3. It is kind and tender. True forgiveness is kind and tender, and it is the way we should forgive our offenders. In Ephesians 4:32 we read, “And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.” Psalms 86:5 also gives us some insight into this forgiveness and how we ought to offer it. David prays, “For You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive, and abundant in mercy to all those who call upon You.” Here we see that God’s forgiveness is given as soon as the offender asks for it. And God is seen as waiting and ready to give it. This should also be our attitude in giving it. We like God should be waiting and ready to give it. This attitude of course is incompatible to any feelings of bitterness. Therefore, instead of being slow to offer forgiveness, with this kind of forgiveness we patiently and eagerly wait for the offender to repent so that we may joyfully offer him or her our forgiveness with kindness and tenderness.
4. It is complete. Forgiveness is refusing to keep a record of all the things a person has done against us. It never brings up past sins. The idea here is that when we forgive we also forget, because true forgiveness is pardoning the sin; it is wiping their slate clean. Thus, as God has forgiven us and justified us, our forgiveness of others also works to justify them. It is allowing Christ’s blood, through us, to blot out their sins against us; it is casting their sins into the deepest sea.
This aspect of forgiveness is childlike. I’m sure you know how children can so easily forgive and forget. One minute they are angry with each other, the next minute they seem to completely forget the fault. Oh how we need to forgive as a child—instantly and completely. It is how God forgives us.
5. It is costly for us. True forgiveness will always incur suffering on me, because, when I forgive someone I am letting Christ’s sufferings and death for their sins touch them and heal them through me. Thus forgiveness is agreeing to live with the consequences of another’s sin without retaliation. As Neil Anderson points out in his book, The Bondage Breaker, “All true forgiveness is substitutional, because no one really forgives without bearing the penalty of the other person’s sin.” This is what Jesus did. While we were yet sinners He died for us (Rom. 5:8). Yes, when we hated Him, He loved us and died for us. “He bore our sins in His own body on the cross” (1 Pet. 2:24).
Now just as Jesus suffered, bearing the penalty for our sin, we must also suffer for sins against us. This whole concept is in a sense wonderful, because it puts us right in the middle of a special kind of fellowship with Christ; a fellowship of suffering (Phil 3:10). What a glorious thing it is to bare the pains of another’s sin against us; for then we realize some of what He had to go through, and we then can say, “because of this pain I bare, I know Him better.” And through the pain, and in our fellowship with Him, He gives birth in us a renewed power to keep on forgiving others.
6. It believes God is in control. True forgiveness never takes offences personally because it believes God is in control. Remember the time David was cursed by Shimei and how he cast rocks at him. David never got angry with him, but forgave him, believing that God may have, for some reason, ordered him to curse (2 Sam. 16:11). Likewise, Joseph also forgave His brothers for selling Him into slavery, because he realized how God meant it for good (Gen. 50:15-21). Let us also believe, as these men did, that God is in control and will always be there to help us and to keep us from bitterness against others. In fact, He uses all evil things that come against us to refine us in His own furnace of suffering (Is. 48:10).