132. Feeling Guilty? Is It Conviction By The Holy Spirit Or Condemnation By The Devil?

A friend remarked recently that the motivating factor in the incredible change in his life came through a deep conviction by the Holy Spirit. The experience  gave him a sense of his lost-ness and a feeling of guilt from deliberately living life without God. He also shared that when he first started going to church, a sense of guilt remained for some time. But it raises the question as to whether new believers (or sometimes more mature believers) are suffering from unnecessary guilt.

We need to remember that we live in a fallen world and that none of us are, or ever will be, perfect. One of the ministries of the Holy Spirit of God whom we received at our conversion to Christ, is to convict us of our sin. Jesus said in John 16:8, And when he (the Holy Spirit) comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment. The word for “convict” here is  ελέγχω (elegchō). It has meanings in the New Testament such as these, to convict, expose, reprove, rebuke, show fault, to prove to be wrong. It is used in a similar sense in Jn 3:19-20, where it is said that light “exposes” darkness,  Jn 3:19  And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20  For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.Exposed” here is our word (elegchō).

As many have discovered, the Holy Spirit exposes the sinfulness of sin to human hearts. However humans by and large have no great desire to change. That is why light is so threatening to many people. They believe that if they get close to the light, their sins might be exposed and they don’t want to be unmasked in that manner.  By contrast believers are not afraid of the light because they want to walk in the light, in ways that honour God.  They welcome the light that exposes any sin in their lives, so that they can repent of it and then can ask and receive God’s forgiveness and cleansing.

It raises the question however whether believers should have feelings of guilt? Of course they should if they are guilty in any way. But the Christian life is meant to be an ongoing growth in maturity and in holiness. The Holy Spirit can and does convict believers of their guilt when they transgress or step out of the will of God for them. In spite of our growing likeness to Christ, there will never be a time when we can go it alone. We will always need the transforming power of the Holy Spirit to bring about that transformation. He shows us our faults (convicts us). But He also empowers us to overcome those faults by His grace, love and power.

Throughout my ministry I have come across many believers who were weighed down with guilt. Why? Because they had failed to recognise the difference between the ministry of the Holy Spirit in convicting us of sin and the strategy of the devil in seeking to make us feel guilty. I once put in a diagram to show the difference.

What is the difference between:-  Conviction by the Holy Spirit?  Condemnation by the accuser? (Reading across the columns from left to right). 

The Holy Spirit convicts us of our sin  so that we might repent of our guilt and sin So that we turn to God to ask for and receive God’s forgiveness The end result. So that we might walk in freedom from guilt by the grace of God
The Devil (as Diabolos the accuser) accuses us and condemns us of our sin so that we might feel guilt and remorse (but not repentance) So that he may entice us to turn away from God in our guilt, feeling worthless and useless and “dirty” The end result. So that we might be held captive in our “guilt” to the Devil.

It was quite amazing when I taught this truth in large seminars that so many attendees suddenly realised what was going on in their minds and in their lives.  Some of them later admitted that they had been having troubling thoughts. They were rejoicing in their salvation, but were often plagued with condemning thoughts. Sometimes this had led to thoughts of self-condemnation. Other times they had felt that they were too unworthy to keep on serving God. Many of these folk realised that there was a battle going on in their minds.

We need to remember that our thoughts come from various sources. The Bible teaches something that many of us have come to realise. That is, the Satan, the Devil (Diabolos)  is able to plant thoughts in our minds. He can do that in the realm of temptation as he sows tempting possibilities in our minds. But he is also known as the “accuser” which is the meaning of  the word “diabolos”. As the diagram above shows he accuses us so that we begin to feel condemned and guilty, so that we come more under his power. That is why we need to take stock of what is going on in our thinking.  We need to learn to recognise the origin of the thoughts that form in our minds. Are they from God, from Satan or just our own reflections? Is God trying to convict us of something in our lives that is not according to His will for us? As we respond to Him, we learn to walk in greater freedom. Or is it Satan having a go at us to lead us away from God.

Well, how do we discern what is going on in our minds? St Paul shows us the answer in 2 Corinthians 10:5 We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ. It means not allowing our thoughts to get out of control. Rather we are to take every thought to Jesus to let Him rule on it so that we continue to live in obedience to Him. If we continue to dwell on our thoughts  we can begin to “own” them as the product of our minds, when in fact they may have been thoughts planted by Satan. The German reformer Martin Luther  saw the danger of dwelling on our thoughts. He said regarding temptation, “You can’t stop the birds flying over your heads, but you can stop them building nests in your hair.”  In other words, temptations are sure to come to all of us. It is inevitable in a fallen world where the Devil is opposed to God and to His children. But what we can and must do is to stop those tempting thoughts from taking root in our minds. Otherwise we give them power by feeding them by dwelling on those thoughts.

If you have a troubling thought in your mind you are able to do something about it. You don’t have to remain a “victim”of a diabolical attack. You can take the thought to Jesus for Him to deal with. You could pray a prayer like this one.

“Dear Lord Jesus. I thank You that You know everything about me. You know every thought I have. I confess that I have been focussing on this particular thought ….. . I want to obey you in all that I do. If this thought is from You then give me peace about it and the grace to act on it. If this thought is not from You, I ask that You break the power of that thought in my mind so that I don’t continue to focus on it. Please renew my mind so that You become the Lord of my mind. I ask this so that I might bring glory to your name in all I think, say and do. AMEN.” 

Blog No. 132.  Jim Holbeck. Posted on Saturday 23rd November 2013

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220. Changing The World Through Believing Prayer! Helping people move from where they are, to where God wants them to be! (The audio of a sermon preached on 18th June 2017 refers to the diagram.)

How can you pray for people in a way that helps them move from where they are at the moment, to where they are open to receive all God has for them in His Son?  How can we help people become the people God has eternally planned for them to be and to do what He has eternally planned for them to do?

In the diagram below I share what I believe are the essentials for humans to take hold of for today. It shows the truly wholesome life all of us are meant to live. We can actually use the diagram as a guide for helping us pray for people. We can pray it for ourselves as we move clockwise around the circle.  Someone might ask us to pray that they be filled with the Holy Spirit. However they really need to have repented of their sin, renounced all evil, received Christ as their own personal Saviour and submitted their lives completely to Christ before they are open to be filled with the Spirit of God.

The diagram can help us in counselling other people for it covers most of the things that are necessary for being whole in body, mind and spirit.

Changing the world

In this world of hatred, violence and terrorism, we can make a difference by praying for peoples all over the world that God might work in their hearts and minds to enable them to be willing and able by the grace of God to change as God prompts them to move from where they are to where He can fufil His purposes of love through them.  In the accompanying audio I give some examples of folk who were once in bondage but who came to freedom in Christ through ministry based on this diagram.  I also suggest how you might pray for a relative or friend (or even an enemy) so that you can see them being changed by the grace and power of God as you continue to pray for them.

Just 20 minutes looking at the diagram while listening to the audio could help you change the world for good!

Core 5 summary Picture1

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219. SUMMARY OF TEACHING ON FORGIVENESS. (And suggested ways on how to use the material on Forgiveness)

The material on Forgiveness is actually the content on a book on Forgiveness which I have not had an opportunity to publish at this time. So I am making the material available for anyone in the world to download. (It would be helpful though if people were to acknowledge the source of any of this material if they use it publicly).

i). It can be used for personal study or meditation.

ii). It can be used in Bible Study Groups or for helping others understand what is entailed in forgiveness. (Much of the material has already been downloaded and used in Bible Study Groups in Australia.)  I have also added “Suggested Questions to Ponder” at the end of most articles to help leaders facilitate discussion on the material.

iii). It can be used as resource material for sermons or for material for teaching sessions on Healing.

iv). Parts of the Practical Forgiveness material in Section 4 would be helpful to use in counselling situations in order to enable people to “really forgive.” (Excellent too for helping oneself deal with any unforgiveness and associated bitterness and resentment in our own personal lives.)

The structure of the material below is as follows, giving the blog number on the blogsite and the topic of the article.

For your convenience I am making links in this article to all the different topics so that one only has to find this article No.219 and then click on the number of the topic you want to look at, to be taken to that topic. (Or use could be made of the INDEX to blogs on the right hand side of the articles.)

Section 1. GENERAL TEACHING ON FORGIVENESS

No.001. FORGIVENESS. To Forgive. Is it possible? 2011/02/04

No.002. FORGIVENESS. Do I Need To Be Forgiven? Do I Need To Forgive? Some answers. 2011/02/06

No.003. FORGIVENESS. The Freedom That Comes From Forgiveness 2011/02/08

No.004. Forgiveness. How Can We Understand What It Means? 2011/02/11

Section 2. FORGIVENESS IN THE OLD TESTAMENT

No.005. FORGIVENESS. God’s Nature Is To Forgive. (Selichah). 2011/02/11

No.006. FORGIVENESS. God Brings Release To People. (Salach) Part 1 of 2. 2011/02/14

No.007. FORGIVENESS. God Brings Release To People. (Salach) Part 2 of 2. 2011/02/15

No.008. FORGIVENESS. God Removes Our Sin From Us. (nasa). Part 1 of 2. 2011/02/22

No.009. FORGIVENESS. God removes Our Sin From Us. “nasa.” Part 2 2011/02/23

No.011. Forgiveness. God Covers Over Our Sin. (Kaphar and Kasah) 2011/02/27

No.012. Forgiveness In The 21st Century. A Practical Example 2011/02/28

No.013. Forgiveness. Genesis 45-50. The Story Of Joseph 2011/03/04

No.014. Forgiveness. Psalm 32.  A King Found Forgiveness.  2011/03/05

No.015. Forgiveness. Psalm 51. A King Wanted To Be Forgiven. 2011/03/07

No.016. Forgiveness Of All Sin. Psalm 103. 2011/03/11

No.017. Forgiveness. Removing The Stain Of Sin. Isaiah 1:18. 2011/03/13

No.018. FORGIVENESS. Isaiah 43:25. Sin is blotted out and not remembered. 2011/03/14

No.020. FORGIVENESS. Why “Good Friday” Is “Good”. God blots out our sins. Isa 44:22. 2011/04/21

No.027. FORGIVENESS. HEALING. Isaiah 53:4-6. The Messiah To Bring Peace. 2011/07/11

No.028. FORGIVENESS. Jesus The Messiah Died to Bring Healing. Isaiah 53:4.    2011/07/25

No.029. FORGIVENESS.  Jesus the Anointed, the Messiah Died For Sinners. Isaiah 53:5-6.  2011/08/03

No.030. Forgiveness. Abundant Pardon. Isaiah 55;6-7.   2011/08/08

Section 3. FORGIVENESS IN THE NEW TESTAMENT

No.209.   “STUDIES ON FORGIVENESS.” Is It Possible To Be Forgiven? Is It Possible To Forgive? The Good News! (1st in series of 10).

No.210. FORGIVENESS IN THE NEW TESTAMENT. The Meaning of Forgiveness.  (2nd in a series of 10). 2017/04/14

No.211.  “Forgiveness in the Teaching Of Jesus.” (The Parable Of The Unmerciful Servant. Matthew 18:21-35. (3rd in a series of 10).  2017/04/14

No.212. Examples Of Forgiveness In Action In The New Testament. Jesus. Stephen. Paul. (4th article in a series of 10.) 2017/04/14

Section 4. PRACTICAL FORGIVENESS

No. 213. PRACTICAL FORGIVENESS. Alternatives To Giving Unhelpful Advice such as Saying No.1 “You must forgive God!” (5th in series of 10.)  2017/04/17

No.214. PRACTICAL FORGIVENESS. Alternatives To Giving Unhelpful Advice such as this saying No.2 “You must forgive yourself.” (6th in series of 10.)  2017/05/01

No.215. PRACTICAL FORGIVENESS. Alternatives To Giving Unhelpful Advice such as Saying No.3 “You Must Forgive and Forget!” (7th in series of 10.) 2017/05/01

No.216. “HOW TO REALLY FORGIVE ANOTHER PERSON.” (8th in series of 10.) Some Suggested Steps For Doing So 2017/05/01

No.217. FORGIVING THOSE WHO HURT OUR LOVED ONES. (9th in series of 10.) 2017/05/01

No.218. A PRACTICAL GUIDE TO REALLY FORGIVING ANOTHER PERSON. (10th in series of 10.) 2017/05/02

Blog No.219.  Jim Holbeck. Posted on Wednesday 3rd May 2017

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218. A PRACTICAL GUIDE TO REALLY FORGIVING ANOTHER PERSON. (10th in series of 10.)

There may come a time in many people’s lives where they come to this stage. “I know I should forgive! I now really want to forgive! But just how do I go about doing it?”

In the article which follows we look at how we can put the suggested steps in the previous article No.217 into practice.

What follows can be used by individuals who have decided to forgive another person
It could be used in small groups to show how one can forgive
It could be used by a Pastor or Minister in leading someone through the steps of forgiveness
It could be used in a large group as the culmination of a teaching day on Forgiveness

INTRODUCTION

In the previous Chapters we have looked at what it means to forgive another person. In this Chapter we put what we have learned into practice.

The suggestions that follow are for those who have come to the stage of saying, “I know I should forgive that person. I have now decided that I will. But how do I go about it in practice?”

In this chapter we turn the teaching in the previous chapter into a prayer in which we actually forgive another person.

I have used this with individuals in a prayer-ministry session when someone has asked me to help them to pray that they might forgive someone who hurt them in the past.

I have also used it in larger groups in teaching seminars and even with a group of close to two hundred people during a Mission at a church in Florida. On that day we previously had two sessions of teaching. The first was “The Freedom Of Knowing We Are Forgiven By God”. The second was on “The Freedom That Comes From Forgiving Others”. This final session was on “Let’s Put It Into Practice” as I led people through the prayer that follows.

I had asked people to think about someone they knew they should forgive and wanted to but didn’t know how to do it. I suggested that they didn’t have to begin with their most difficult person to forgive. They could start on someone who hadn’t done as much damage as others and then later graduate up to the person whom they though they would never be able to forgive.

I was surprised how readily people became involved in the process in Florida. In fact there was only one man among the group who seemed to be not participating. At the end of the session an elderly woman came to me and said, “Well I’ve got my first one out of the way. I’m ready for the next one now.” Other people said similar things but in less blunt language. However next morning I saw the man who had seemed not to be participating on the previous day, coming towards me. I must admit my heart sank and I imagined him coming up to tell me what he didn’t like about the previous day’s teaching. He began by saying, “You probably noticed that I wasn’t involved in the forgiving part yesterday.” It wasn’t the time for me to say a loud “AMEN brother!” Then he went on to say that the teaching had got through to him and that he felt very “raw” emotionally as a result. He had wanted to forgive someone desperately but feared if he began the process he would just fall apart emotionally in the presence of 200 people. Then with a smile he said, “But I did it last night when I got home. I was able to forgive someone whom I had never been able to forgive before”.

The important thing to note about what we are about to do is that it is not a gimmick. The process actually works. It works not because it is a clever technique, but because people are entering into a relationship with God in prayer. Through prayer they seek His help to forgive that other person or those other people. He helps them to do what they could not do without His help.

In the following we use the outline from the previous chapter and turn it into a prayer. I have retained the sections in the Notes for convenience but it is really one long prayer seeking to cover all the facets in the teaching in the previous chapter.

PRAYING TO THE LORD

The information on how to really forgive others has been given and now is the time to act on it. We do so in prayer. As we pray we should hold up before the Lord the person we want to forgive. Then we pray something like what follows in the suggested prayer.

1). RECOGNISE THEIR GUILT – THEIR SIN AGAINST US. FACE THE FACTS!
• “Lord I now bring that person/those people before You. I choose to forgive them of their sin against me.
• I forgive them of their sins of commission against me. The things they did or said that hurt me. (This … and … and … and … )
• I choose now to forgive them of their sins of omission. The things they should have said or done and didn’t and I suffered as a result. (I forgive them of failing to do this ….and …. and ….and…. )
• I forgive them for not loving me as they were meant to do and especially when ……….

2). DECIDE TO FORGIVE THE PERSON OF EVERYTHING AND TO RELEASE THE SIN
• Lord, I choose to forgive them of everything large and small. I am letting all those sins go. I no longer want to hold on to them
• I choose not to keep focussing in a negative way on those people or on their sins or on the hurts those people gave me.

3). VERBALISE TO GOD, OUR FORGIVENESS TOWARDS THEM
Lord, I speak out these words of forgiveness. “I forgive them of all those things in the name of Jesus Christ.”

4). ASK GOD TO FORGIVE THEM AND TO BLESS THEM. (Jesus said, Lk 6:27, “… Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”)
• Father I ask that you might forgive them as Your Son Jesus asked You to forgive His enemies as He hung on the cross.
• I ask You that You might bless them, especially that they might come to know You and to love You.
• I ask that they find Your plan for them and fulfil it by Your grace.
• I ask that You might heal them of all that needs healing within them.
• I pray that they may come to be in the centre of Your will for them.

5). ASK GOD TO FORGIVE ME OF ANY PART I PLAYED IN CONTRIBUTING TO THE SIN
• Lord show me if I contributed to their sin against me in any way whether it was deliberate or in ignorance.
• I ask You to forgive me of what I did or said that contributed to their sin against me.
• Lord I refuse to accept guilt that wasn’t my fault. I reject false guilt in Jesus’ name.

6). ASK GOD TO HEAL ME OF THE DAMAGE DONE TO ME
• Lord, I realise that all sin has an effect. I ask that You would heal any damage caused to me through the words, deeds, and attitudes of those people, especially ……………

  • Lord I thank you by faith for the healing you are now imparting to me. Heal me for Your sake so that I might do Your will to Your glory for the rest of my life.

7). AFFIRM TO MYSELF (AND TO OTHERS WHERE APPROPRIATE) THAT I HAVE FORGIVEN THEM
• Thank You Lord for the grace You gave me to be able to forgive those people.
• I declare in Your sight that I have forgiven them of all their sins against me.
• I thank you Lord that You are healing me as I ask for Your healing.
• I choose to focus on Your healing power in my life and not on my previous hurt and pain.

8). PRAY, “LORD, WHAT SHALL I DO NOW?”
• Lord what should I do about those people? Should I contact them? I need Your wisdom.
• Lord what sort of contact should I make with those You want me to contact?
• Lord what attitude do I need to adopt as I make that contact? Help me to be confident in You and give me grace to be appropriate in my approach to them.

Thanksgiving for God’s grace in being freed to forgive

• I thank You Lord that You gave me Your grace to work through this forgiving process. Show me Lord if there are other people You want me to forgive.
• I thank You for the continuing grace You are giving me to become the person You want me to be.
• I thank You Lord that I can dance right now in the freedom of my forgiveness.
• I thank You that I can be free even if those people I have forgiven still reject me.
• I pray that You would work in their hearts so that there might be reconciliation with them in the days ahead if that is part of Your purpose for me.
• I thank You that I am free right now. Help me now to live for You to Your glory. AMEN

AN ADDENDUM. FORGIVING OTHERS. Some verses to reflect on

The Example of Joseph who forgave his brothers
Gen 50:17 … Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him. 18 His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” 19 But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? 20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. 21 So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.

The Example of Jesus as He spoke from the cross
Lk 23:34 And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments.

The Example of Stephen as he was being stoned to death
Act 7:59 And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.

The Teaching of Jesus to His disciples
Mat 6:12, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

The Teaching of Paul in his epistles
Eph 4:32 Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
Col 3:13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.

QUESTIONS TO PONDER

1). What do you think is the hardest part of forgiving someone who caused you harm? Can you describe just why you think it is so difficult?

2). How do you think you can overcome your reluctance to forgive that other person? What Bible verses might help to motivate you to go through the forgiving process?

3). What should you do if after having prayed through the prayer of forgiving someone, you then remembered some other hurt they had caused you?

4). How would you explain to someone enquiring about forgiveness, the meaning of the phrase mentioned in previous articles, “It only takes one to dance, but two to tango?”

Blog No.218.   Jim Holbeck. Posted on Tuesday 2nd May 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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217. FORGIVING THOSE WHO HURT OUR LOVED ONES. (9th in series of 10.)

It is not easy to forgive. But God can give us the grace to forgive those who sinned against us personally in some way.  But it often so much harder to forgive those who sinned against one of our loved ones. The loved one might be one of our children or a sibling or a close friend. We will consider some situations which are all too prevalent in our society today.

Family situations

We begin with one of the most damaging forms of abuse in family situations. A mother discovers to her horror that her husband has been sexually abusing their daughter or their son. (In some cases it may be a mother who is abusing her children. However for the moment we will focus on the father as the abuser in a family relationship. Many of the principles involved in forgiveness will be relevant for other situations as well).

It’s only when one meets such mothers that one discovers some of the depth of betrayal and anguish that such women feel. It is a horrific situation when a man who is meant to be loving and caring and protective for his own flesh and blood is the one who is responsible for such damaging sin. It is even more grotesque when the man is a highly respected person perhaps in some caring profession.

The sin has to be faced up to. It cannot be ignored. If the man is challenged about his behaviour and expresses remorse about his actions then the mother has to be careful about what to do next. Remorse is not repentance. Repentance in such a case involves admitting the sin and asking forgiveness from the child, from the wife and from God (for all sin is sin against God as we have seen earlier).

True repentance also necessitates a desire to turn from that behaviour and to seek God’s help to be different. If the man is not willing to do all those things then he is not truly repentant in a biblical sense.

However if the man does seem to be genuinely repentant before God, the wife still has to be cautious for the sake of the child involved. She may forgive him for his sin against her as his wife and she may even be able to eventually forgive his actions against her daughter instead of being swallowed up in bitterness and anger. What she cannot do is to trust her husband not to attempt to do the same thing in the future. Trust has to be earned by those who have abused trust.

If the abuse continued over a period of time then such behaviour became habitual. Every incident began with a renewed decision to abuse without any due regard for the consequences of his action. Not only that but the conscience of the man would have become progressively hardened as a result of such ongoing behaviour. The writer to the Hebrews wrote in Heb 3:12 about those who turn away from God and from His will in acting in ungodly ways, “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”

Sin hardens those who engage in it. Habitual sin (indicated in the same ongoing perverse behaviour) can deaden such people to the enormity of their crime so that any feeling of guilt is greatly diminished. Sin deceives those who engage in it.

Incest is a long way from normal behaviour and shows the depth of rebellion by the perpetrator against society’s norms and against God’s commandments. It needs the grace of God for the man to become different. Only time will tell whether the husband has drawn on the grace of God to become someone who genuinely abhors his previous behaviour. His protestations such as “It’s your Christian duty to forgive me.” Or “I’m a changed man. You have got to trust me!” have to considered in the light of the degree of sincerity being expressed and the depth of genuine repentance.

Guilty parties need to truly repent (and to earn trust!)

The truly repentant man will recognise the evil he has committed and will see the need for the wife and child to take time to trust him once again. He will need to recognise the depravity of his own human heart and to be aware that he could launch once again into the same behaviour if he is not continually drawing on the grace of God to be different.

Paul stressed the need to walk by the Spirit in order to have victory over the flesh (our human nature) Gal 5:16 “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” He explained that the desires of the flesh are contrary to the Spirit and vice versa, 17 “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.” The person who keeps on seeking to gratify some lust of the flesh through incestuous behaviour is not only grieving the indwelling Holy Spirit but is becoming more hardened to his sin as well.

I had been speaking at a weekend conference for a parish in another state in Australia when a woman came to see me. It turned out that she and her husband had become involved in a so called “Christian” sect. At first it seemed to be a loving body of people but they had drifted further and further away from the Bible and were now majoring on the teachings of their leader who was seen as a prophetic figure amongst them. Eventually she discovered that part of the teaching of that sect was that it was permissible for fathers to have intercourse with their daughters as well as their wives. Because it was the generally accepted belief by the group her husband had become involved in this behaviour.

As the mother later began to read the Bible for herself she discovered that such behaviour was repugnant to God. She shared with her husband what she had read in the Bible and he was horrified to realise that what he had been doing was not “good and acceptable” behaviour but was totally contrary to the will of God. She told me that he had asked forgiveness of his daughter and herself and had given himself up the police for whatever penalty he might have to incur. At the time of the weekend conference he was still in prison and was receiving the ongoing counselling he had requested.

I spoke with the daughter also and both mother and daughter said they had forgiven him for what he had done. It seemed to me that they had both truly forgiven the father because he was so genuinely distraught for his sin and was willing to bear the legal consequences of his actions and to get help to be different. The genuineness of his repentance made it so much easier for his wife and daughter to forgive him and to seek healing for themselves. They both said that they were looking forward to him being released from prison and coming home again. Much healing had already flowed before I met them and they were certainly both very happy for me to counsel and pray with them for God’s healing for them all.

However I do remember her saying with a deep sense of regret, “For a time I did have doubts about what was happening and I did nothing.” How often have I heard that from parents and guardians of those abused! However she was comforted by realising that God is able to forgive every sin and to heal the damage caused to our loved ones who suffered, if they will turn to Him for comfort, strength and healing.

What about those who never seem to want to change their wrong behaviour?

What about the situation where there is no change in the abuser and he never asks for forgiveness?
On a number of occasions I have counselled women whose daughters were subjected to sexual abuse by their fathers but the fathers denied it ever happened. In fact because they held such important positions in the church or in society they were able to convince people that they had done nothing wrong and that the wife and mother were unstable.

What a travesty when the abuser is believed and respected and the victim is victimised even further through false allegations about their sanity or emotional stability! But God knows the truth about every situation and can bring healing to the victimised in this world.

How can such women whose testimonies were disbelieved ever forgive the fathers involved and know healing for themselves and their daughters? It is by following the steps to forgiveness we have shown previously.

The mother can seek healing for herself by doing what Paul said in (Eph 4:32) “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” We saw previously that the Greek word here for “forgive” is “charizomai” which stems from “charis”, meaning “grace”. When God forgave us He gave us what we could never earn or deserve in a lifetime of lifetimes. In grace He “cancelled the debt” that stood against us and “let off the hook” (the principles of forgiveness we saw in Mat 18:27). If we are to forgive in the same way He forgave us, it means cancelling the debt of the person who sinned against us and letting them off the hook of our unforgiveness. In so doing WE become free.

The mother would be able truthfully to say that she had forgiven her husband of the sins committed against her personally. She might by the grace of God find it in her heart to forgive her husband of the abuse he inflicted on their daughter. But she would be unwise to say to her daughter that she had forgiven the father’s sins against her daughter and to encourage her also to forgive her father. That is something that her daughter needs to do for herself for her own healing and release when she is able to do so.

One further aspect in this connection is the guilt that parents feel when one of their children is abused by the other parent. In the situation we have been looking at, a mother might feel terribly guilty that her daughter had been abused during the time of the marriage. Was she a bad mother for placing her daughter in jeopardy while she was out shopping or at a meeting or away from the home for some reason and abuse took place in her absence? Certainly there is no way such a mother would ever knowingly put her daughter in any dangerous situation. The problem with abusers is that they are deceptive and give no indication that they are trying to or are engaging in wrong behaviour. They abuse the trust placed in them by their partner and the innocent suffer.

There is a difference between true guilt and false guilt

We only need to feel guilty if indeed we are guilty. To the extent that a mother knowingly puts her daughter at risk she is answerable to God and needs forgiveness of such sin. But she is not guilty when she has unwittingly put her trust in someone who is charged by God with loving and protecting her daughter who then abuses that trust. The guilt lies with the “intentional” abuser and not with the “unintentional” absent mother.

We once heard a young woman tell why she hated God and the church. Her mother was a keen believer who went to evening meetings from time to time at her church. What the mother didn’t realise at the time was that whenever she left the home her husband took advantage of her absence to sexually abuse their daughter. No wonder the young child hated the mention of “God” and “church” for those words were associated with experiences of fear and pain. Fortunately the young woman was later able to see that God abhorred what had happened to her as a child and wanted to bring healing to her.

What happens when the guilty never admit their guilt?

What if the guilty never admit their guilt and there seems to be no closure? Does one have to go through life being the victim of abuse and are destined never to hear the words from the abuser, “I’m sorry!”

Some years ago a woman and her sisters who had known physical and emotional abuse from their father for decades throughout their lives asked me to take a memorial service for him. I discovered that the father never asked them to forgive him for all the things he had said and done to them. Even when he was close to death he was just as abusive to them as he had always been. When I asked them to tell me about anything good that had ever come from him towards them for which we could praise God, they were not able to think of anything except for the fact he contributed to the provision of food, clothing and shelter for them.

But a couple of the sisters had learned to forgive him and had known great healing in the process. He was after all, their dad and they wanted to honour him as such, even though he never acted as a true dad to them. They had forgiven him for the bad whilst not being able to praise God for any great good they saw in him. I saw what forgiveness is, in a deeper measure as they shared with me. The father never earned the love and respect of his daughters but in love they chose to seek his best interests while he was alive even though he never appreciated them or their efforts. But they were healed emotionally and physically by forgiving him.

Forgiveness is not an option. It is a command from God Himself. He knows all about us and our human situations. He knows that prolonged anger and unforgiveness and bitterness and resentment destroy us as people. That’s why He commands us to repent and seek His forgiveness so that we can live in the freedom of His forgiveness towards us.
It’s why He commands us to forgive because he knows the healing and release we can experience when we do what He tells us to do and forgive those who hurt us or our loved ones.

God not only forgives us in Christ, but as a modern song puts it, He gives us “the grace to forgive” as we seek His help to do so.

A very serious note of caution
Sometimes those who seek to counsel or who try to help other people can do so unwisely. They too are human and can carry into their “ministry” towards other people some unresolved issues in their own lives.

One danger is of identifying too quickly with people who are hurting. That can be so in the case of those who have suffered abuse, trying to help those who come for help for abuse they have suffered. A Christian counsellor referred a woman to me for help. The woman had come to the counsellor for help in dealing with damage suffered in an abusive relationship. The counsellor truthfully told the woman that she felt she could not really help her because she was going through some unresolved issues of her own in that area at that time. I thought that was very brave and wise of the counsellor.

The danger is that we, who try to help others, can read our own situations into the lives of those we are trying to help. I was shocked to hear someone share about their experience of counselling. Their counsellor told her, “I believe from what you have said that you were the victim of sexual abuse when you were a child. Do you have any memories about that? Could your father have abused you?”

The counsellor broke all the rules. She gave an interpretation of what she had heard which may or may not have been true. She encouraged the woman to search her memory bank to find any trace of abuse. (It is easy to read back into our lives that which is being suggested to us.) The counsellor raised the doubt in the woman’s mind about the integrity of her father. The woman could easily have thought, “It must be true because she’s the expert. She knows about these things. It must have happened as she intimated. Perhaps Dad isn’t the man I thought he was.” Unfortunately such so-called counselling may be in fact a form of mind-control as thoughts are sown into the minds of people who are hurting.

Some counsellors in Australia who suggested to their clients the possibility of sexual abuse in their childhood (when they had no memory of it) were subsequently strongly censured when it was proved no sexual abuse had ever taken place. In the meantime though, the false suggestions had destroyed the relationships in the families involved.

It would be a travesty of justice for a man or woman to be accused of sexual abuse in a family situation when none had in fact taken place.

It would also be a great tragedy if a counsellor or friend planted the idea of sexual abuse when none had ever occurred.

In our final article on forgiveness we will look at how we can learn to forgive in a practical way.

Questions to ponder

1).  If a man tearfully admits to his wife that he had been guilty of molesting their daughter (or son) and promises that he has “turned over a new leaf “and that “it will never happen again”, should she forgive him? If she does, should she need to be cautious about her husband’s contact with the daughter (or son?)

2). How should Christian love behave towards someone who is guilty of sinning against a loved one, but who never admits guilt?

3). If someone expresses concern about the relationship of an extended family member (or family friend) towards a younger member of the family, should we give that person the benefit of the doubt or take steps to see if there is any truth in the concern? How might we do that?

Blog No.217. Jim Holbeck. Posted Monday 1st May 2017

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216. “HOW TO REALLY FORGIVE ANOTHER PERSON.” (8th in series of 10.) Some Suggested Steps For Doing So

In the previous articles  we have looked at what the Bible has to say about forgiveness. We have seen in Jesus’ teaching on the subject in Matthew 18 that there are three main elements to forgiveness. i) A decision to show mercy, ii) cancelling the debt that is owed by the other person because of their sin against us and iii) letting them go, letting them off the hook of our unforgiveness.

We have also seen that God commands us to forgive one another in the same way He has forgiven us in Christ, Eph 4:32 “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” But how does one go about forgiving that other person or those other people?

The suggestions that follow are useful for those who want to forgive. They have been taught to individuals, to small groups and also to larger groups. One such group in Florida some years ago numbered close to two hundred people who participated wonderfully. Many attendees shared later what a release they had experienced even in a large group setting.

We begin with one example of a woman who was taught these truths and who then acted on them.

A TRUE STORY. (Names have been changed to ensure privacy and confidentiality.)
Gloria had a problem relating to women. As an adult she still remembered her mother taking her and her young brother into the nearby township. But this wasn’t to be a shopping expedition. Her mother had gone into town to “drop off something”. What she dropped off were here two children Gloria and Stan. That day she walked out of their lives and left them confused and fearful in the street. She never came back.

Gloria had a dad who loved her and when his wife didn’t return he went looking for the children and found them huddled together in the street. He loved them and they knew it. Gloria’s first male authority figure in her life was someone she could love and trust. Women? Well they were difficult for her to trust as she grew up.

But not all male figures were like her father, she was later to discover. As a young woman she was gang or pack raped by a number of men. Later she married and her husband became abusive and twice tried to kill her. She escaped and was left to bring up her daughter alone.

A work accident almost paralysed her. Any sudden movement could have made her a paraplegic. Little hope was held for her that she would ever get any better. On top of all that were her emotions which had been affected by the rejection and abuse she had known. She was in a bad way physically and emotionally. She asked her doctor for help. He was Christian man and suggested that she attend the Healing Service in St Andrew’s Cathedral, Sydney. She did and made an appointment to see Canon Jim Glennon in the Cathedral.

Gloria was shocked when after listening to her for some time, he said to her, “You need to forgive.” Eventually she attended an Inner healing and Wholeness weekend in Sydney where one of the topics discussed in detail was “How To Be Forgiven And How To Forgive.” Much healing took place as Gloria acted on the truths we have been discussing in this book.

Forgiveness brings healing. On that weekend Gloria experienced what her leading specialist in Sydney described as a miracle. Her neck which had been in a brace to stop the possibility of paralysis was totally healed. When I saw her a little later in the day with the neck brace off her neck and turning her head in every direction I was tempted to say “Please put it your brace back on until you see your doctor”. But it was obvious she had been deeply healed, physically and emotionally.

Her specialist when he sees her now visiting in hospital says, “How’s my miracle woman?” Gloria had become a different woman. She has what I call a “Ministry of Hugs” loving to hug anyone, male or female, who wants a hug. Her witness has touched the lives of hundreds of people since that weekend.

Forgiveness brings tremendous release as we forgive in the way God told us to do. There are millions of others in the world who can find the healing Gloria experienced as she forgave. Here are the things she acted on to receive that healing. Her story should encourage us to forgive those we need to forgive.

HOW TO REALLY FORGIVE OTHERS. WHAT IS INVOLVED?
This teaching is relevant for those who are at this stage, “I know I should forgive. I’ve decided that I will. But how do I go about it?” These are some suggested steps that one needs to take to really forgive those who brought hurt and pain into one’s life. In this section we are looking at how we can forgive those who brought personal harm into our lives by their words or actions against us personally as an individual.

In a later section we will look at the situations where someone has brought hurt and harm to one of our loved ones. But the points below will have some bearing on those situations as well.

1). RECOGNISE THEIR GUILT – THEIR SIN AGAINST US. FACE THE FACTS!
a). Do not excuse them. Call sin by its real name, “sin”. Humans can sin against other humans in many different ways and in varying degrees.

They can be “sins of commission” where someone commits an act that brings harm to another person in the form of assault or some sort of violence. Or the sin may have been in the form of words spoken that were meant to hurt. They may have been directed to the person directly or about the person behind their back. Sin can also take the form of adopting an attitude that leads to a hurtful action such as meeting a person’s eyes while walking on the street and deliberately crossing over to the other side of the street to avoid contact with them.

There are also “sins of omission”. These occur when people omit to do or to say what they should have done or said to another person. For example some adults may need to forgive their parents for their lack of care when they were young. Or for not showing affection to them or failing to praise them for their efforts. Even in secular work someone may need to forgive their employer for taking them for granted and for never affirming their work for the firm. The list of sins of this type is unending.

In the General Confession in the Morning and Evening Prayer services in the Anglican “Book of Common Prayer” people confessed their sins in terms of sins of commission and sins of omission, “ALMIGHTY and most merciful Father; We have erred, and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against thy holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; And there is no health in us.”

In the General Confession in the Holy Communion service in the same Prayer Book is the recognition that sin can be in the form of thoughts, words and deeds. “ALMIGHTY God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Maker of all things, judge of all men; We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness, Which we, from time to time, most grievously have committed, By thought, word, and deed… “.

Jesus Himself taught that sin could be in the thought life as well as in speech or action.
• Regarding adultery He said, Mat 5:27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
• Regarding anger He taught, Mat 5:21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment… “.

Humans can be guilty of not loving as they should. The two Great Commandments Jesus taught His followers were that they should love God and love their neighbours as themselves, Mat 22:37 “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

No one has ever perfectly loved God and that means they have broken the Greatest Commandment. Neither have they perfectly loved their neighbour and thus they have broken the second greatest commandment as well. In God’s sight all are sinners, as Paul writes in Rom 3:23 “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

Sin in all its forms needs to be forgiven.
• Sin against God. Naturally every sin humans commit against God, in neglecting Him or rejecting Him or disobeying Him or failing to love Him, needs His forgiveness.
• Sin against fellow humans. Every sin a human commits against a fellow human also needs God’s forgiveness for it is a breach of love, and thus a breaking of the second Great Commandment He gave.
• The prodigal son had it right when repenting of his sins he declared to his father, Lk 15:21 “And the son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” He recognised that in sinning against his father by not honouring him or loving him as he should have, he had sinned against God who had commanded that he had a duty to do so.

It means then that we have to recognise that any sin people commit against us (in their thoughts and attitudes, in their words and in their deeds) does matter. It matters to God. It needs His forgiveness.

He knows that sins in every form cause harm. Perpetrators need to be forgiven, and can be forgiven by God.

The victims whom they have hurt need forgiveness for their own sins but also need to forgive those who hurt them in order to receive more healing. That process of forgiveness begins by acknowledging that they were sinned against by those who hurt them in any way. They are identifying the people who sinned against them and acknowledging the sins that were committed against them.

So no excusing those who hurt us! They are guilty before God.

b). Why people seem to excuse the person who sinned against them.
I remember counselling one woman who shared that her father had molested her as a child over a period of years. Then she added, “But I know why he did it. My mother just couldn’t show any sort of affection to him nor to us as children. So he turned towards me for love and affection. I didn’t like what he did but I understand why he did it.”

She knew she been harmed by her father’s sin but she wasn’t in a situation where she could forgive him. (The reason is that you can’t forgive someone if you don’t see them as guilty).

Eventually I said, “So your father sinned against you as a child?” Her reply was immediate “No, I told you why he did it.” It seemed to be right in this case to push the issue a bit more so I repeated the question, “So your father sinned against you as a child?” Her reply was a little slower in coming, “No, I told you why he did it.” Then after a time of silence she said with a flood of tears, “Yes he did sin against me. I realise now that he did horrible things to me which really hurt me and have affected me ever since.”

Some time later she was in a position to forgive her father for all the damage he had caused in her life. But she had to come to the point of seeing her father as guilty of sinning against her before she could begin the process of forgiving him.

Why do people seem to want to excuse those who hurt them?
i. They want to keep some sort of relationship with them.
This may happen especially in family situations. If the victims were to make known the abuse, they realise there would be consequences. It would bring deep distress to the families. The victims don’t want to tear the family apart and so they live with their secrets. (NOTE: I am using the term “victim” to describe those who were indeed the victims of other people’s aggression or malice. But one has to be careful not to add to any “victim mentality” those who have suffered may already have adopted).

ii. They may be too afraid to reveal the sin.
If they made it known to the family or to some authority figure then there could be reprisals by the perpetrator who may still be seen as a risk. (In their thinking it would be better to steer clear of the perpetrator rather than bring about any dangerous confrontation.)

iii. They may be too embarrassed to reveal the sin against them.
Many sins committed against fellow humans are deeply personal, especially sexual sins. It would not be easy for someone who has known sexual abuse as a child to share those intimate details with other people, even with members of their own family. They may think such thoughts, “I have to live with my secret! Who would believe me?” Many studies have shown that child abuse normally comes from extended family members or from close friends of the victim’s family.

There is the additional difficulty in the minds of the victim of whether they would be believed if they were to share what they believed happened to them. One woman told me that she had some concerns about memories she had about her beloved Grandfather. The memories were of him sexually molesting her as a young child. She shared it with an older aunt who also expressed the same concerns about her own childhood. When they later convened a meeting of the aunts and granddaughters it turned out that they had all been abused except for the very youngest one.

The man was a highly respected businessman and a pillar of his church. When some of them confronted him he confessed it was true and begged for their forgiveness. The woman who shared the story with me felt initially embarrassed as she shared with her aunt but went through that barrier for the sake of the other female members in the family. It led to a lot of healing in the whole family and added protection for the great-grandchildren.

iv. They want to hold on to their self-respect by failing to admit to themselves that the person could have hurt them. (It is living in denial).
The reasoning in some people is like this, “Surely that person would not have done that to me! Surely I must have meant more to the person than that”. They may have suspicions about the behaviour of a person towards them but they balance that with “I can’t believe he could have done that to me. I’m his daughter. Fathers don’t do that sort of thing to their children. I must be wrong.”

v. A distorted view. “Could it have been an act of love to me?” (When “love” is seen as “paying some attention to me”.)
Many times have I come across situations like the following. A child is growing up in a dysfunctional family. Her parents give her no affection. She doesn’t see it modelled for her either because the parents don’t have it for each other. But her life changes when Uncle Bill comes along and asks whether she can go with him to the zoo.

Over the months further trips to the cinema and other exciting venues take place. He tells her she is so beautiful and she begins to feel loved and appreciated and special. At the same time he is becoming more personal and physically closer. She wonders whether what he has begun to do with her body is right. But she has no points of reference to go by. Her parents have given her no sex education or talked with her about morality. She thinks about the latest thing Uncle Bill did to her and questions in her mind, “Could what just happened to me been an act of love from Uncle Bill towards me?”

She realises much later that what Uncle Bill did was not an act of love but rather was a form of abuse. There are many people in our world who unfortunately equate “paying attention to me” with “love”.

vi. The attitude. “This relationship though painful is my security. If I let the sin go and forgive the person who hurt me, what have I got left?”
This can be the attitude of someone who has been in an abusive situation for many years. They can’t imagine what it would be like to be outside that situation. One example would be a woman in an abusive relationship in her marriage. Sometimes the husband is thoughtful and kind (in her estimation). At other times the marriage is sheer terror as under stress or under the influence of alcohol he becomes verbally and even physically abusive. Later he says regrets what he has done and promises life will be better in future. But it’s not long before the abuse returns. The cycle continues.

What can such a woman do? She can continue overlooking her husband’s faults and trying to make the best of a difficult situation. She may go on thinking, “I have coped thus far. Could I cope if I made known the sin against me, and there were consequences?” She may find it difficult to lose the little “security” she thinks she has in the relationship.

Or she could face reality and recognise her husband’s actions as abuse. If she does that she has a choice. She can decide to forgive her husband and then with help be able to decide the best course of action for all concerned.

2). DECIDE TO FORGIVE THE PERSON OF EVERYTHING AND TO RELEASE THE SIN
a). Not just the big things, but the little things as well.
All sin has a damaging effect on those who commit it and on those against whom it is committed. It is contrary to the way God wants the creatures of His world to act.

The effects of sin can be likened to concentric circles or ripples going out from the centre. It affects not only the person sinned against but through them many of their family and friends.
Sins don’t have to be “big” sins to cause damage. A careless word can bring hurt and harm. Matthew records Jesus as saying, Mat 12:36  “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak.” Carelessness is a breach of love. It is a breaking of the second of the two Great Commandments (and of the first commandment as well.)

Individuals then need to be willing to forgive what they consider to be the major sins committed against them. They also need to forgive the sins which may not always be in their memory but which nevertheless influenced them in harmful ways.

b). To forgive does not necessarily mean to forget what happened.
In a previous chapter we looked at the difficulty the words “Forgive and forget” pose for many people. They know they will never forget some of the things done or said to them, so they can’t “forgive and forget.” But they can forgive even though memories of sins committed against them will remain. So it is a help to assure people that they don’t have to wait until they feel they will be able to forget what happened to them before they begin to forgive the people involved.

c). To “not remember” means to try to not consciously bring the memory of their sin back against them again. God promises to “remember our sin no more” even though we know that He as the omniscient (all knowing) one He cannot forget anything. We are to forgive others in the same way God has forgiven us Eph 4:32 “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”  If He has chosen not to remember our sins against us, then we too need to determine not to bring back others’ sins against them, but having forgiven them, to let them go.

d). God can heal the memories.
We saw in a previous article that God is able to help us to forgive other people and to let go of the sins involved. The term “healing of the memories” does not mean that the memories are taken away, for some memories will remain with us. What it does mean is that having forgiven people, we can find that the power of those memories is lessened and so are the emotions associated with them.

It is a help for many people to encourage them to forgive, assuring them that they will in the future not feel the same emotions of pain or shame when the memories return from time to time.

e). God can set us free of bondage to those people, or to the places where hurt occurred.
“Will I ever be free from that person?” That is a remark often made by those who have been badly hurt by other people. It seems that the perpetrators are always “in their face” (as well as in their minds) even though the sin was committed perhaps decades before.

However forgiving others brings a real release that has to be experienced to be believed. Two of the words for “forgive”, (apoluō to loose) and (aphiemi to let go, remit) have that sense of letting go and being freed oneself in the process of forgiving.

People can be in bondage to places as a result of being sinned against in those places. In many cases it is a family home where abuse took place that becomes a fearful place as the child grows older. In one situation I encountered an adult woman could not drive past the family home when she later married and moved to another suburb. In fact so deep was the pain associated with that home because of the abuse suffered there, that she could not drive anywhere near that suburb. As she learned to forgive those responsible for a lack of protection when she was a child and for the abuse, she found she could now drive into the suburb and later stop outside the home and reflect on the healing God had given her.

3). VERBALISE TO GOD, OUR FORGIVENESS TOWARDS THEM
It is not enough to think that forgiving others is a good thing to do. Nor is it enough to think one should do it in obedience to Jesus’ command. We actually need to DO it. Here are some suggestions.

a). We need to verbalise, to speak out our forgiveness before God. Words are powerful. Having decided to forgive someone we need to speak out our forgiveness of that person before God. (In the next chapter will be more detailed suggestions). But it can be as simple as saying before God, “Lord I choose to forgive so and so for all the hurt they brought into my life.” There may be a need later on to be more specific in forgiving individual sins but a blanket cover is a helpful way to begin.

It is amazing what a difference it makes to people when they actually get around to verbalising their forgiveness. I have often seen people change before my eyes as they spoke out their forgiveness for the first time. Not only was there great emotional release but there was a marked change in body language as so much stress was released. There is always freedom in doing what God wants us to do.

b). We need to keep affirming that forgiveness, when the person or the situation hasn’t changed.
It is a wonderful thing when people come and ask us to forgive them for all the hurt they brought into our lives. Even though we pray that it will happen there is no guarantee that those who wounded us will ever ask for our forgiveness. Humans have freewill and can choose to harden their hearts and to fail to repent of the damage they have caused to others. Some people may never ask us to forgive them.

The good news is that our freedom does not depend on whether they ask for our forgiveness. We can forgive them in spite of their unwillingness to change. A situation may not change but we can change within the situation. A young Christian secretary came to see me stating that her boss was sometimes rude and unappreciative of her work. She had retaliated by not making him coffee as she used to do but said that she felt childish in doing so. When we discussed the question, “Whose problem is it?” she recognised that her boss had a problem. But she also admitted that she had created a problem for herself in adopting the attitude she had taken to her boss.

She learned to forgive her boss and when I saw her weeks later she said that the work situation had not changed (her boss was still rude) but she had changed and was again making her boss his coffee and trying to be like Christ to him. She dealt with the problem that was in her power to control (her own attitude) and through forgiveness was released to be the best she could be for her boss, whether he appreciated her as much as he should have or not. Months later she reported that the situation was now changing at work with her boss becoming more thoughtful towards her and sometimes expressing appreciation of her work.

4). ASK GOD TO FORGIVE THEM AND TO BLESS THEM
We saw above that when people sin against one another they are also sinning against God. Our forgiveness of others should also be accompanied by Christian love (agapē) in seeking the best interests of that person. That means praying that they will come to know God and claim His forgiveness for their sins.

It is often a help when an individual declares they are ready to forgive the person who hurt them to see whether they are willing to pray a blessing on that person as well. It can be a test as to their sincerity.

a). We should ask God to forgive them if we are to follow the example of Jesus as He prayed for His tormentors in Luke 23:34. And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” and later of Stephen as he was being stoned to death, Acts 7:60 And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”

We also need to bless them. However we do need to look at the blessing we want God to bestow on them in answer to our prayers. It is not asking that they would be blessed with prosperity. Nor is it praying that they would enjoy abundant health. Nor is it asking that they would rise to positions of power. None of these in themselves would necessarily prove to be a blessing to them.

Rather the blessing we ask God to bestow on them is the blessing of finding peace with God through Jesus Christ. It is the blessing of coming to know His will for them so that by the power of the Spirit of God they can become all God wants them to be. It is the blessing of entering into the centre of God’s will for them so that they play their part in God’s purposes for His world.

If we don’t want God to bless them in this way then we need to examine our hearts to see whether we really want to forgive them or not.

b). Those who have hurt us have made themselves our enemies. What should our attitude to them be according to Jesus? He taught in Mat 5:43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” We are to love them as I said before, in seeking their best interests, and we are also to pray for them even though they might not have changed.

c). Our prayer that God will forgive them doesn’t automatically mean that they are forgiven. They still have to turn to God in repentance and faith personally, to receive God’s forgiveness. What it does mean though is that our attitude to them isn’t a barrier to their salvation. Rather as we learn to forgive and to bless we give a glimpse to them of God’s forgiving love. They have seen the reality of grace at work in us and may become more open to hear of God’s amazing love towards people like themselves. Our prayers for them may enable kingdom power to work in their situation, to provide an opportunity for them to respond to the Lord.

5). ASK GOD TO FORGIVE ME OF ANY PART I PLAYED IN CONTRIBUTING TO THE SIN AGAINST ME
It is so easy to blame others. It is endemic to the human race having begun with Adam and Eve in the Garden as they projected their guilt onto others. We can all too easily do the same. Those who brought us pain are guilty before God but did we in some way help to bring their anger upon us? We need to be open with God and ask the following questions.

a). We need to ask God to show us if we may have contributed to our hurt in any way. Did we do it deliberately, in which case we are guilty before God and need to repent. Did we do it unconsciously perhaps through what we now see as insensitivity or through inappropriate speech or actions?

b). We need to ask God to forgive us of any guilt for our contribution. We may also need to ask His forgiveness for holding any resentment, bitterness or unforgiveness towards those we need to forgive.

However if we believe that we had no part to play in the hurt that came upon us then we need to reject any guilt others try to impose on us. It is well known that perpetrators try to make their victims feel guilty as a means of diverting the blame that would be directed towards them. Some of them have been so successful in this that they have managed to persuade the victim that it was all their fault using remarks such as, “If you hadn’t dressed that way!” “If you hadn’t led me on!” and so on.

One woman who was burdened by her past shared her life story with me. She felt guilty about a particular incident in a relationship in the past. It was obvious she was blaming herself for what happened in the relationship. The more I heard, the more it seemed to me that she had no reason to feel guilty for what had happened. Eventually I said to her, “It wasn’t your fault!” She was shocked to hear me say it. But she began to realise that indeed it was NOT her fault but she had been made to feel guilty by the other person involved.

She later told me, “When you said those words to me it was as though you slapped me across the face and I suddenly woke up. Of course it wasn’t my fault.” She had learned to recognise and to reject false guilt. There must be millions of Christians around the world who are carrying false guilt and not growing spiritually as a result.

6). ASK GOD TO HEAL ME OF THE DAMAGE DONE TO ME
Having gone through the forgiving process it is helpful for us to think about what effects the sin of that person had on us. It is necessary to do so.
a). All sin has an effect. We need healing of the damage caused to us through attitudes adopted to us, through words that were hurtful or unhelpful and through actions that caused us harm.

In counselling, one sees how words spoken decades ago still have power over those who heard them. It may have been a short phrase uttered on one occasion but it is still strongly present in the memory of the person. “You’re ugly!” “You’re unlovable!” “You’ll never make good!” “You’re stupid!” “You’re useless, you can never get anything right!” are some of the words people remember hearing when they were younger and they were affected by them. But wonderful healing can take place as the people forgive those who spoke them and as prayer is made breaking the power of those words in the minds of those who were affected by them.

b). God knows exactly the extent of the damage and how it can be healed. It has been amazing over the years to see how believers can know a greater release and healing. One of the passages of scripture which I have found has been used by God to bring people into a greater freedom is from David’s prayer in Psalm 139:23-24, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! 24 And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!”

God is the omniscient One who knows everything about us from before our birth to eternity. He knows every thing that has ever been said to us or happened to us. He knows whether our responses to what was said or to what happened were healthy or unhealthy.

In verse 23 David asks that God might search him and know his heart and his mind, that is, his thoughts (often translated “anxious thoughts”).

The word for “search” can mean to search and to make known the result of the search. David wanted God to show him if he was carrying unnecessary anxiety. He also wanted God to show him if there was any grievous way in him (also translated “any path in me that brings You grief”). It could refer to any wickedness in David that should not have been there or it could also mean that God could be grieved because of David’s unwillingness to draw fully upon God’s grace, wisdom and strength. If it is possible for believers to grieve the Holy Spirit (Eph 4:30 “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption”) by words and actions unbecoming to new creatures in Christ, then He would be grieved by the same thing in His people today.

David wanted to be all God wanted Him to be and he was willing for God to search him and to show him how He saw him. He can show us what we need to know about ourselves as we pray such a prayer and allow Him to speak to us through His word. We may find that the things of the past had more of a detrimental effect on us than we ever realised. We can also ask Him to bring healing to any part of our lives that He knows needs healing.

7). AFFIRM THAT I AM BEING HEALED IN ANSWER TO PRAYER
If we believe the promises of God in His word then we should be able to thank Him by faith for answers to the prayers that we have prayed for our healing.

We can so easily focus on the hurt and pain others brought into our lives and even see ourselves as “victims” who have been hurt by hurtful people. Or having forgiven those people and prayed a blessing on them, we can believe that God hears our prayers to be healed from all the things of the past (which only He knows).

Instead of focussing on the hurts of the past we can focus on the Lord and on the progressive healing that He is bringing into our lives. That is helped as we affirm the healing that He is bringing, even though we may not see the healing clearly ourselves. One of the blessing of being involved in ministry in one place for a longer period of time is seeing people becoming progressively more healed as they become more open to God and His scrutiny. They may not see it in themselves but others notice the changes in them.

8). PRAY, “LORD, WHAT SHALL I DO NOW?”
Having gone through all those steps above in forgiving other people what else might need to be done? Here are some questions that might need to be faced. We need to pray for God’s wisdom as we make the decisions as to what to do in particular cases.

a). Should I make contact with the people I have forgiven? Would it be wise or unwise?
In many cases it would be very unwise to make contact with those who formerly abused us, especially if we know they have not changed. Renewed personal contact might lead to more of the abuse occurring again.

However it may be different with other people whose sin against us was less gross. For example it may be a family member who gave us a bad time in the past and we have not made contact in years. If one feels that it would be beneficial to all concerned to try to bring about some form of reconciliation then one could make some effort in that regard.

Having prayed for wisdom and feeling that it would be wise to reach out to that person, there are other questions to consider.

b). How will I make contact with that person? What sort of contact should I make? When should I do it? These are important questions to consider. In some cases it might not be wise to personally visit the person unannounced. So the first contact could be in a less personal manner such as by sending a letter or an e-mail or by a phone call to gauge whether the other person is interested in meeting with us. If he or she is open to a meeting then an appropriate venue needs to be suggested such as in a public place.

c). What should my attitude be if I approach them? In general, an attitude of humility. It may be true that you see yourself as the innocent party who was sinned against by that other person. However it does not help the situation by saying something like, “You once hurt me terribly but I’ve decided to forgive you! Could we meet together?”

In one seminar I suggested that in such family situations one can have an approach like this. One could phone or write and to say something like, “I’m sorry we are not closer friends but I would love to be. If there is anything that I’ve ever done which hurt you would you please forgive me?” I suggested that there could be a couple of responses to such a request. The other person might say, “Look I want nothing to do with you so I’m not interested in meeting up with you!” They might even add, “I hope you rot in hell!”

On the other hand they might say, “Yes you did hurt me back then but I have often thought of how mean I was to you and I must have hurt you a whole lot more than you hurt me. I really am sorry about that. I’d love to get together with you.”

Just a few weeks later a woman who had attended that seminar rang me to tell me the following story. She said, “I have a sister who lives on the other side of Sydney but we hadn’t spoken together for fifteen years. She really hurt me back then and I wasn’t going to let her hurt me again in that way. I ceased to have contact with her. But a few days after the seminar it was Good Friday, the day that reminds us of the death Jesus died to bring about reconciliation. So I thought I should try to make contact with her. I rang her and said, “Sis, I’m really sorry that we haven’t spoken for all these years and I’m sad about that. If I ever did anything to hurt you would you please forgive me?”

She said her sister replied using almost the same words I had painted in my scenario at the seminar. Her sister said, “You certainly did hurt me back then but I’ve often thought that the harm you caused me was nothing in comparison with the hurt I must have brought into your life. Would you please forgive me?” (It was as though she was reading the script of the talk at the seminar which of course she knew nothing about.) The conversation continued with the first woman saying, “Of course I forgive you but I’d love to meet up with you soon.” She was amazed and overjoyed when her sister said, “I’ll be there in an hour” and she was. On Good Friday a wonderful reconciliation took place as two sisters who had been at odds with each other forgave each other and vowed to let nothing come between them again. A humble attitude opens doors. An arrogant attitude means they remain closed.

A Principle to keep in mind:-
I close with a principle that is my way of summing up what is involved in forgiving others.
The principle is this. “It only needs one to dance, but two to tango”.

When I have asked attendees at our seminars what this principle means I have been amazed that people grasp it so quickly and how it helps those who come to understand its meaning.

“It only needs one to dance” is a way of saying that it only needs one person in a relationship to forgive for that person to be able to dance in the freedom of their forgiveness (the freedom of being forgiven by God and the freedom that comes in forgiving others). There is always freedom in doing what God wants us to do.

“But it takes two to tango” is another way of saying that it takes two people to bring about a reconciliation between them. One person may long for a reconciliation but the other is not interested. So reconciliation cannot take place in such an instance. But the important and liberating thing to realise is this, that when one has done what God has commanded us to do, forgiving another person in the same way He forgave us, we are personally liberated. We can “dance” in our freedom whether the other person wants reconciliation or not. Our freedom does not depend on a reconciliation taking place. It depends on whether we obey what God has commanded in His word about forgiving others.

It has been a joy to see people come to understand this. I have often heard Christians bewailing the fact that a family member or a friend refuses to ask their forgiveness or to forgive them. They see it as a loose end that doesn’t look as though it will ever be made right. But when they understand that all they have to do is to do what God wants them to do, forgive, then they are free. They might be sad that the other person is closed to any closer contact but they can dance in the freedom of their forgiveness without feeling guilty. As they do so they can keep praying that God will touch the lives of those family members or friends who want nothing to do with them.

In a final article  we will look at how to forgive other people and know that we have done so.

QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:-

1). Are there people you need to forgive but you find it hard to blame them for what they did to you? How can you overcome that attitude?

2). Do you think you have to wait until you feel loving towards someone before you can forgive them? When is the best time to start the process of forgiving those who sinned against you?

3). God commands us to love our enemies. How can we love those who brought hurt and pain into our lives?

4). What would you say to someone who thinks that to forgive someone of their sin is really condoning what they did?

5). On a personal note, are you living with regret that someone has never asked you to forgive them? If so what can you do about it?

Blog No.217. Jim Holbeck. Posted Monday 1st May 2017

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215. PRACTICAL FORGIVENESS. Alternatives To Giving Unhelpful Advice such as Saying No.3 “You Must Forgive and Forget!” (7th in series of 10.)

“You Must Forgive and Forget!” It is probably true for some people who were given that advice that they did get around to trying to forgive the people they needed to forgive. Perhaps many of them then tried to move on in life, trying not to keep focussing on those who once hurt them.  But as counselling many folk shows, not all those who attempt that “cure” are actually helped by the advice. There may be in fact a real danger in using these particular words in giving counsel or advice to some people.

WHAT ARE THE DANGERS OF SUCH ADVICE?

a).        People can’t always easily  “forget”

Most people will never forget all the hurtful things that have happened to them in life. Many things will gradually fade away as they learn to focus on them less and less. But there will be some memories in everyone that will remain with them throughout their lives.

I have been amazed over the years at the preciseness of memories in people to whom I ministered. A woman in her forties shared with me how she had been humiliated by a school teacher in an early primary school class. She was able to tell me the teacher’s name, the colour of the dress she was wearing, the type of flowers in the vase on her desk on that day, the names of the people in the class who laughed at her, and the exact words the teacher said to her. She also remembered just how she felt at the time. So not only were there memories of the facts about the incident but there were also memories of the feelings she experienced on that day. In addition she could recall the different feelings she had towards particular individuals.

It was not unusual in ministering to people in their seventies and eighties to find the same thing where people could remember vividly a day when they were embarrassed or humiliated publicly or experienced deep hurt.  Many remembered the exact date. Others remembered the exact words. Others remembered the expressions on the face of the people who did the abusing. Others in more abusive situations could remember facial features or the smell of the person abusing them when they were very young children. Some of those older folk told me, for example, that when they smelt a certain smell, immediately in their thoughts they were back in the room where abuse occurred and experiencing much the same feelings of fear they had experienced then. Our memories are capable of storing minute bits of information about events long in the past.

b).        Some people may never be able to “forgive and forget”

By the grace of God many people are able to come to the point where they see the need to forgive those who hurt them if they are ever going to move on in life. They might even have been acquainted with the verse where Paul says we must forgive one another in the same way Christ forgave us, Col 3:13  bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Every time they recite the Lord’s Prayer they are reminded of the need to forgive the sins of other people against them, Mat 6:12  And forgive us our debts, As we also have forgiven our debtors

What if we were to say to some of those people, “You’ve got to forgive and forget”? They know they are ready to forgive but they also know that they will never be able to forget many of the hurts they experienced nor the people who caused those hurts. So they cannot follow the two-barrelled advice “forgive” and “forget”. It is impossible for them. They might be ready to “forgive” but cannot “forgive and forget”. The advice could lead such people to despair saying, “I can’t really forgive those people because I know I will never be able to forget what they did!”

A BETTER WAY OF HELPING PEOPLE

Those who use the term “You’ve got to forgive and forget!” are mostly trying to help people to find some closure in their lives regarding the hurts they have experienced in life. Their motivation is good. in trying to help.  It is the wording of the advice itself that may prove to be unhelpful or counterproductive.

In asking people to “forget” we are asking them to do more than God does regarding sin. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that God “forgets” our sins. How can He as the Omniscient One who knows absolutely everything? If He “forgot” something He would no longer be omniscient, knowing all things.

However the Bible does affirm that God promises to “remember our sins no more”. This is different from “forgetting”.

  • To “forget” means that a particular memory is lost temporarily or permanently. (Though some psychologists would say that nothing in the memory is lost completely and with the right stimulation may return).
  • To “not remember” means that the person has the particular memory in their memory bank but chooses not to deliberately recall it. With regard to God’s promise to “remember your sins no more” it means that He knows all about our sin but when we ask for His forgiveness for some sin, He chooses not to bring that sin back against us ever again.
  • Humans may never forget some sins committed against them. However like God and by His grace as believers, they may choose, in forgiving someone, not to deliberately recall it to mind, dwell on it and use it against the person again.

It may be better then to say to people we are trying to help “You do need to forgive the people who hurt you for your own healing, and God will give you the grace to do so”. We saw in the parable of the unmerciful servant that there are three elements in forgiveness, i) A decision to show mercy to the person who hurt us. ii) cancelling the debt owed and iii) letting the sinner go free (let off the hook of our unforgiveness).

Forgiveness begins with a decision but is not instantaneous. It is a process that has to be worked through. The eventual goal is that people need to forgive all those who hurt them and the sins those people committed against them. That is a process that requires time even though there may be some quantum leaps along the way leading to more and more healing and personal release.

“HEALING OF THE MEMORIES”

This is a term used in healing ministries around the world. People can forgive in spite of having painful memories. The expression “healing of the memories” doesn’t mean that the memories are taken away never to return. Memories are never entirely forgotten.

What healing of the memories involves is this. When people make the decision to forgive others, they are meant to forgive individuals of every sin they ever committed against them. They may begin with a blanket cover, “I forgive so and so of all the things they did which hurt me.” But the more specific the forgiveness becomes after that, the greater the healing will be. It means that when memories of past specific incidents arise, because they have been forgiven by the person specifically, there is less power in those memories to keep on hurting that person.

The healing comes not through forgetting what happened but rather having the power of the memories lessened and the accompanying emotions healed. Having forgiven someone, when the memory of that person returns it may eventually have none of the pain and shame associated with it any more. It means walking in the freedom of our forgiveness even if the offender never changes, never asks for forgiveness, and never softens in their attitude towards us.

The term “healing of the memories” is a  good phrase to use provided that we understand what it really means.

SUMMARY OF THE 3 POSSIBLY UNHELPFUL TERMS

I have found it necessary to look at these three phrases in these last three articles because I have come to see that if they are misunderstood they can be unhelpful to say the least. In fact they may even be damaging to those having problems with forgiving those who hurt them.

I repeat that those who use the terms may be mostly operating from good motives and genuinely trying to help people. But the terms themselves are problematic. If we can convey the concepts people are trying to convey in ministering to people, in language that is less likely to be misunderstood, then it is worthwhile making the effort.

A very fine mature Christian woman heard my teaching on these three phrases and commented to me later, “For years I have been trying to forgive myself as people told me I had to do but it never made any difference to me. I was getting more and more frustrated that there must be something terribly wrong with me if I could not get peace after forgiving myself over and over again. At the seminar I recognised that I HAVE forgiveness in Christ for all my sin, and when I realised that, the peace came. Now I just thank Him for the fact that He has forgiven me in Christ. Now whenever I say or do something that I know is not of God I ask God to forgive me and immediately thank Him that He forgiven me in His Son. At last I am living in peace and not in frustration”.

SOME QUESTIONS FOR CONSIDERATION ON THE THREE PHRASES

1).        If you have used the term “You must forgive God!” when trying to help someone do you think it would be worthwhile contacting them again to see what they felt you meant by using that phrase?

2)         Are there any reasons why the term “You must forgive God!” should not be seen as verging on blasphemy?” What might those reasons be?

3)         Do you personally live with a sense of remorse or regret? How could the teaching under the saying number 2 “You must forgive yourself!” help you to be rid of such remorse or regret?

4)         A friend of yours has been given the advice that they need to “Forgive and forget and to get on with life”. It has distressed them deeply. How would you try to help them in their distress?

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214. PRACTICAL FORGIVENESS. Alternatives To Giving Unhelpful Advice such as this saying No.2 “YOU MUST FORGIVE YOURSELF.” (6th in series of 10.)

It is true that many people are very hard on themselves. They may have acted foolishly in some situation and caused harm to themselves or to other people. They may even have come before God and asked His forgiveness for what they said or did but they are still don’t have peace within. They may still have a sense of regret about the damage they caused to themselves or to others.

Friends offer advice using these words, “You must forgive yourself” or similar words. It is a logical thing to do. The person has no peace and they need to move on. So you as a friend tell them to forgive themselves and to get on with life.

Sometimes this may be enough to snap people out of their fixation with their problem. But it may be only temporary and a later lapse on the person’s part takes them back to where they were before and being perhaps now even harder on themselves. It may in fact compound the problem. They knew they had been hard on themselves, saw the need to be more gracious to themselves but the process was not successful. That is now another time when they failed to forgive themselves.

WHAT IS THE PROBLEM WITH THE SAYING?
We look at two scenarios.
i). The person is not a believer and has never confessed their sins to God.
The saying in this case only provides band-aid treatment that ultimately has no healing power in it. When we sin against another person we have also sinned against God, as Jesus had the prodigal son say in the parable, Lk 15:18, I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you.

The effects of sin are like concentric circles with a ripple effect touching the lives of many people in varying degrees. The man who sexually abuses a little girl brings deep hurt to the girl but also affects her parents and other family members. The effects of his sin might later be seen in the girl’s marriage and family life unless healing takes place beforehand.

It is of limited value to say to someone “You must forgive yourself” if the person has never confessed their sin to God and known His forgiveness and the peace that ensues from that.

ii). The person is a believer who has asked God to forgive his or her sins but is not at peace.
We may think, “Surely they aren’t being hard on themselves when God is so forgiving?” But the reality is that they are. They may have tried confessing the same sins over and over to God and yet continue berating themselves for their foolishness in sinning in the first place.

Why then is “You must forgive yourself!” often inadequate as a means of trying to help people?

a) It is very subjective. It focuses on what the person feels. As we know, feelings can fluctuate all over the place. Willing ourselves to forgive ourselves doesn’t necessarily bring any peace.

b) It raises questions that are not easy to answer. For example
• How will you know when to forgive yourself? Did you sin by not doing it sooner?
• When will you know if you have forgiven yourself properly? Were you really sincere in asking yourself to forgive yourself? Were you really sincere when you forgave yourself?
• Have you forgiven yourself of everything or are you still holding on to some unforgiveness towards yourself in some areas?
• What happens if having forgiven yourself you still don’t feel at peace?
• What happens if you do or say the same things again that bring hurt in another’s life?

c) It obscures the basis on which forgiveness is made possible. We don’t just sin against ourselves when we sin. We sin against God by breaking His laws and by not calling upon His grace and strength to enable us not to sin.
• The basis of all forgiveness is the shed blood of Jesus on the cross which has made forgiveness available for every sin. Forgiveness from God comes in no other way.
• So it is not enough to say “I forgive myself?” because forgiveness is not on the basis of what I say to myself no matter how kind and gracious I might be to myself.
• Rather forgiveness becomes mine on the basis of what Christ has done for me and my willingness to appropriate it in Him.

A better way of helping people “feel” forgiven
If the term “You must forgive yourself?” is linked with subjectivity how can we introduce objectivity into the situation?

By turning back to reality! The following facts are true:-
• Sin matters to God and He had to do something about it because humans couldn’t do it for themselves. Paul wrote about our human inability to save ourselves in Rom 5:6-8, For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person–though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die– 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
• God sent His Son Jesus into the world to die for the sins of humankind. Jn 3:16-18, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
• Forgiveness for our sin is available to the children of God in Christ. Eph 1:7, In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace
• Those who turn to Him to ask for His forgiveness are forgiven. 1Jn 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
• The truth is that God remembers our sin no more as we confess it before him. He will not bring it back against us ever again, Isa 43:25 “I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.
These are objective truths that never change. The world may change, our opinions may change, our feelings will certainly change, but God and the truths of His word remain constant, Mal 3:6 “For I the LORD do not change…”

Reality is seeing things as God sees them and as He describes them in His word. Reality is not what we feel about the things God says in His word.

Faith is believing what God has said in His word and acting on those truths regardless of feelings.

Encouraging people to face up to reality and to act on it
We can help people learn to recognise that there are truths in this world that never change. They are objective truths that can and should be acted on. On the basis of those truths we can encourage people to do the following instead of “forgiving themselves”.
1) Ask God’s forgiveness in Christ for anything that they feel guilty about. The blood of Jesus covers every sin and as we ask God for forgiveness we can have the assurance that God hears our requests and forgives us.

2) Having asked God to forgive us of our sins we can then thank Him for forgiving us in Jesus. He said He would. That is the objective truth whether you feel forgiven or not.

3) Keep on affirming that forgiveness which we already HAVE in Jesus. The more we affirm something the more it becomes concrete in our experience. Eph 1:7 says that being “in Christ” as believers we have redemption through His blood and forgiveness of our sins in Him. It is ours in Him and in Him alone.

4) Recognise that the highest JUDGE in the universe has pronounced us “Not guilty!” in Christ. He remembers your sin no more. There is no other court of appeal. The ultimate perfect judge has spoken and you are forgiven of the things you confessed to Him. Feelings must not be allowed to appeal when the verdict from the supreme judge has been given.

5) What right have you to hold things against yourself when He doesn’t? If He erases your sins, remembers them no more, casts them into the depths of the sea, and hides them behind His back, what right have you to dwell on them?

6) Learn to focus on the fact of your forgiveness from God and keep affirming it to yourself in praise and thanksgiving to Him. Don’t let your thoughts focus on subjectivity (how you feel) but turn them to the objective truth of God’s grace towards you in forgiveness. Paul wrote about his thought life in 2 Cor 10:5, as he described how he had victory in his thought life, 2Co 10:5 We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.

You can learn to understand why our thinking is often amiss as you read this article No. 132. It seeks to show the difference between  the convicting thoughts implanted in our minds by the Holy Spirit to liberate us and the accusing thoughts Satan tries to implant to bring us down. It means bringing every thought to obey Christ and not let Satan dominate and control our thinking in order to bring us into (or hold us in) bondage.

132. Feeling Guilty? Is It Conviction By The Holy Spirit Or Condemnation By The Devil?

You can ask Christ to break the pattern of negative thinking in your mind to allow you to focus on reality, on the objective truths in His word that can set you free.

Instead of saying to others, “You must forgive yourself!” you can say “Praise God that He has forgiven you completely in Christ and that He is holding nothing against you.”

In other words keep pointing them to reality, what God says (the objective truths) rather than letting them give way to subjective feelings. The truth is what God says about you, not what you feel about yourself.

SOME QUESTIONS TO PONDER

1). How would you describe “forgiveness” and what do you think makes it possible for us to feel forgiven?

2). Is it your experience that you have often tried to “forgive yourself” but found no real release? If so, how could the truths in this article help you?

3). If a friend is telling you that you need to “forgive yourself”, what could you say to them that affirms them as a friend but may help correct their understanding about the true nature of forgiveness?

4). If a friend were to say to you, “People tell me that I need to forgive myself. What do you think?” How would you try to help them by using some of the thoughts in this article?

Blog No.214.   Jim Holbeck. Posted Monday 1st May 2017

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