Forgiveness is an investment in your relationship with God and in your relationship with others. As with all investments, there’s cost involved. In any investment you make, your concern is that the return will be greater than the cost. So it’s important to consider the requirements of forgiveness for you and your relationships.
1) Forgiveness requires humility. It’s only when we really do believe that life is bigger than us, that there’s something more important than our wants, needs, and feelings, and that we’ve been given life and breath for the purposes, plans, and praise of Another, that we’ll be willing to forgive. When we stand in the center of our own universe with nothing more important to us than ourselves, we find nothing more offensive than a sin against us. Or when pride allows us to think of ourselves as righteous – surely more righteous than the person we live with – then it’s hard for us to forgive. Forgiveness is much easier for the person who lives consciously of the reality of how much he also needs to be forgiven. Nobody gives grace better than someone who’s convinced he needs it as well.
2) Forgiveness also requires compassion. Compassion is being moved by the plight of another, coupled with action to help him or her. Think with me for a moment, does compassion ever grip you when someone sins against you? Are you touched by the other person’s struggle with sin? Do you feel for him or her when they face the disappointing reality of their failure once again? Are you sad for that friend or relative in those moments when he’s easily entrapped? Do you stand alongside the other person in their worst moments; doing anything you can to relieve the burden of their struggle with sin? You forgive her because you love the other person and because you love them, you care about them and the struggle that they’re going through with sin. You know what it’s like to commit to what’s right and end up doing what’s wrong (see Romans 7). You forgive him because, by God’s grace, you look at him through tender, rather than judgmental, eyes.
3) Forgiveness requires trust. Forgiveness is not so much an act of faith in the other person as it is an act of faith in God. You do believe that God is with you. You do believe that his Word is true. You do believe that what he calls you to is right and good. You do believe that he’ll give you what you need to do what he’s called you to do. You do believe that your identity is secure, even if the other person rejects you and doesn’t seek your forgiveness. You do believe that there’s blessing on the other side of the hard work of forgiveness. You do believe that when you fail and take up the offense once again, that God will forgive you and give you the power to change. Because you trust God, you’re willing to forgive.
4) Forgiveness requires self-control. If you’re going to forgive someone for committing a sin against you, you must say no to yourself, exercising the self-control that only God is able to give you. To forgive, you have to say no to bitterness, which permits you to carry a wrong and not give it room to expand in your heart and shape your responses. You have to say no to the desire to lash out with angry words and actions of vengeance. You have to say no to the impulse to share your anger with a relative or friend. Giving way to these things is never a prelude to forgiveness.
5) Forgiveness requires sacrifice. Earlier I said that we fail to approach the other person when he or she has wronged us because we love ourselves more than we love our spouse. Perhaps that seemed harsh to you, so let me explain. Seldom is self-sacrificing love a self-conscious faith in the other person as it is an act of faith in God. It’s when you really do believe that he’s ready and willing to give you everything that you need, that the sacrifices of love are no longer scary to you. Rather, those sacrifices becoming opportunities to not only enter into a deeper communion with another human being, but with God as well.
There’s one thing that forgiveness requires that’s more important than anything we’ve looked at so far. It may be the most important thing of all.
6) Forgiveness requires remembering. Why is it that we’re so skilled at remembering the others weakness, failure, and sin and so adept at forgetting our own? Why are we so good at seeing all the ways that another needs to be forgiven but forget how great our need for forgiveness is? When we’re filled with the grief of our own sin and with gratitude for the amazing forgiveness we’ve been given, then we’ll find joy in giving to others what we’ve received. Perhaps a lifestyle of unforgiveness is rooted in the sin of forgetfulness. We forget that there’s not a day in our lives that we don’t need to be forgiven. We forget that we‘ll never graduate from our need for grace. We forget that we’ve been loved with a love we could never earn, achieve, or deserve. We forget that God never mocks our weakness, never finds joy in throwing our failures in our face, never threatens to turn his back on us, and never makes us buy our way back into his favor.
When you remember, when you carry with you a deep appreciation for the grace that you’ve been given, you’ll have a heart that’s ready to forgive. That doesn’t mean that the process will be comfortable or easy, but it will mean that you can approach your needy friend or relative remembering that you’re just as much in need of what you’re about to give to him or her.
Paul Tripp is the president of Paul Tripp Ministries, a nonprofit organization whose mission statement is “Connecting the transforming power of Jesus Christ to everyday life.” Tripp is also professor of pastoral life and care at Redeemer Seminary in Dallas, Texas, and executive director of the Center for Pastoral Life and Care in Fort Worth, Texas. Tripp has written many books on Christian living that are read and distributed internationally. He has been married for many years to Luella, and they have four grown children. For more information, visit PaulTrippMinistries.org.