Here is an actual sample chapter from the Forgive and Live Workbook.
In order to get to the process of forgiveness, one must understand the foundations of forgiveness, what forgiveness is, and what it is not. This section will outline the misconceptions of forgiveness and a definition of forgiveness, which will lay a foundation for the rest of the study.
Our family background, experiences, religious affiliations and culture all influence the way we view forgiveness. Many have rejected forgiveness because they have seen a forgiving person in their lives repeatedly get used, abused, and taken advantage of. They have vowed to never let those things happen to them. Others confuse forgiveness with a lack of consequences. Another portion of folks value forgiveness but think it is only for those who have experienced terrible tragedy in their lives. And finally, is the group that believes that if you haven’t forgotten, you haven’t forgiven.
Forgiveness is not tolerating the behavior. God does not tolerate our wrong behavior. He is merciful, but He is also just and is not afraid to deal with our sin. He holds us accountable for our behavior and will not let us continue it indefinitely. Remember, Noah built the ark because God would not tolerate the sin in the world. Later, there was Sodom and Gomorrah. The whole reason for Christ’s death was because God could not and will not tolerate sin. There is a price to pay for sin and it will not go uncollected.
Forgiveness is not excusing the person because of their personality, addictions, or other life circumstances. God never excuses our sin. He is compassionate and loving, but still expects us to follow his commands. David could have used every excuse in the book when he committed adultery with Bathsheba and murdered her husband: “After all, I am the king. I was lonely. She was taking a bath on her roof where everybody could see. I just couldn’t help myself. Uriah didn’t really love her. If he did, he wouldn’t have slept on my doorstep when I brought him home. He’d have been with her.”
God knew all those possible justifications and excuses going on in David’s head but He did not excuse David. Instead, He sent Nathan to David with a story – one that David would find inexcusable – to confront David with his sin. (II Samuel 12) When David confessed his sin, God forgave him but there were still consequences for his behavior.
Minimizing or denying the hurt is not forgiveness. If it doesn’t hurt, there is nothing to forgive. There is no offense if the behavior is not offensive. We tend to push down our pain for many reasons. We are often too proud, too strong, or too “godly” to feel hurt. But God, who has reason to be proud because He is omnipotent and holy, is still hurt by our sinful behavior. Throughout the Bible, God uses His prophets to express His hurt, pain and disappointment in mankind choosing to go our own way instead of His.
Forgiveness is not forgetting. It is physically impossible to forget a painful event. When a painful event occurs in our lives, it literally makes a mark on our brain. The more painful the event, the deeper the mark. The more we return to that event in our mind, the deeper the groove gets. The groove does not erase simply because we decide that it should. It will never be totally gone. However, we can train our brain to have a different response to the event, and that’s what forgiveness is all about. Just as a deep wound heals – a scar is left, but the hurt is gone.
So, what is forgiveness? Forgiveness is the cancellation of a debt (sin) by giving up the right to hurt back and trusting God as the best justice-maker to bring that person to repentance. Such a long definition has to be broken down, so we’ll go through it a phrase at a time. 1) Forgiveness is the cancellation of a debt – Jesus told a story of forgiveness in which a man owed a great deal of money (Matt. 18:21-35). His parable is really about a debt of sin. When we sin against one another we are in debt to each other and to God. Sin is anything that misses the mark of loving God and loving others (Matt. 22:37-40). If there is no sin, then there is nothing to forgive.
2) Giving up the right to hurt back – This is based upon the Old Testament “eye for eye, tooth for tooth” (Ex. 21, Deut. 19:21). If you kill my lamb, you have to give me one of yours. If you kill me, your life will be taken as well. Whatever harm you wish for me, I have a right to do to you. I have a right to hurt back but I choose to give up that right.
How do I give up that right? 3) By trusting in God as the best justice maker – Our sense of justice is very skewed. We tend to have mercy in areas that we struggle with, but have a harsher judgment in areas where we have been hurt. When others have wronged someone in the same way we have wronged others, we tend to excuse, justify and rationalize the behavior. “It wasn’t that bad. We all make mistakes. Doesn’t everybody do that?” But with the sinful behavior that others do that has hurt us, we do not excuse, justify or rationalize. Instead we judge quite harshly. “How could they do that? I would never do such a thing. They should be locked away for an eternity for that.” God’s judgment, however, is not skewed because He is perfect and holy. He sees clearly the nature of the sin and the motive of the heart. We can only guess at justice and we always put our own personal slant to the situation, but God judges each situation justly.
Unlike man’s vengeance, God’s discipline is always, always, always to 4) bring that person to repentance. In surveying the Old Testament, we find that Israel is constantly getting into trouble. In the book of Judges alone, each chapter begins with “again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord”. Each time the Lord’s discipline comes to Israel through the invasion of another oppressing nation. God’s heart in each situation is saying, “My children, you are going the wrong way and the path that you are following is a deadly one. I will let you taste some of the danger so that your eyes will be opened to see the peril ahead. Then you will repent (turn around) and come back to me and live in safety.” When God brings discipline, it is not to be cruel or vindictive. It is to motivate the offender to repentance. God loves us so much that He will do whatever it takes to bring us back to Him. There is, however, a judgment, which is final and vindictive. Justice must be carried out. A price must be paid for sin. God alone has the authority to make right a wrong and He will do it. In the end, all of us will stand before the judgment seat of God. Those who are believers allowed God to pay the price for their sin through the blood of Christ, but their works will be judged by fire. The behavior that is sinful will burn like wood, hay and stubble, but that which is righteous will survive (I Cor. 3:10-15). Those who are not partakers of salvation will be judged for their sins, and thrown in the lake of fire (Rev. 20:15). This may sound harsh, but they chose to pay the price for their own sin. Those who are unrepentant will receive their due judgment, but God, the Righteous Judge, will be the one exacting the judgment. He is the only just Judge.
When we forgive, we are acknowledging that we have been sinned against and that the offender owes us. We give up the right to get back what is owed us and trust God to take care of the offender and the offense. To illustrate this point, let me tell you a story. My grandfather, a short, graying, righteous German, owned his own business making furniture for a living. One particular customer refused to pay for his furniture. Papa sent bills and confronted him many times with no results. Finally, my grandfather went to the man and told him, “You know that you owe me money but I am going to take this off my accounts. The matter is now between you and the Lord.” I was never told that the man was a believer, yet God must have done a work in him. Seven years later the man paid the bill. Papa had given up his right to collect the money and trusted God to take care of it. God did!
What do we forgive?
Whenever forgiveness is mentioned in the Bible, it is always in the context of sin. We don’t forgive misunderstandings; we gain understanding. We don’t forgive accidents; we overlook them. We don’t forgive unrealistic expectations; we lower our expectations. What we forgive is sin.
Is Forgiveness an Event or a Process?
You may be asking, “How long will this forgiveness take? Is it instantaneous, or is this a process that will take a long time?” And the answer is yes to both questions. It is an instantaneous thing, an event because it is a choice that we make. God calls us to forgive regardless of our feelings. However, forgiveness is also a process because feelings are involved and a process is required to sort through those feelings. That process may take 5 minutes or 5 years, depending upon the depth of hurt, how long ago the offense took place and how much energy has been spent trying to either avoid the memory or nurse the wound.
The process is like a journey. It begins when you get hurt and you just want to drive as far and fast from the pain as possible. Then you pick up a hitchhiker called Unforgiveness to give you some company. After a while you get tired and ask Unforgiveness if he’ll drive for a while. He readily agrees and takes off fast and furiously. He picks up his friends Revenge, Depression and Bitterness, takes you through dangerous neighborhoods, into the wilderness, over mountains, and through deserts. You want to take over the wheel but Unforgiveness will not give it up. Only when you are willing to abandon the comfort and security of your vehicle will you get free from your seedy companions. Forgiveness is making the choice to get out of the car and begin the long trek home. It may take you a while to get there, depending on how far and fast you have ridden with Unforgiveness and company, but once you are out of the car, you have begun the journey home.
Further, I believe that forgiveness is even more than an event and a process. It is a lifetime challenge. It is a challenge of learning the skill of forgiveness so that it comes quickly, easily and continually. Because we live in a fallen world with fallen people, we are sinned against on a daily basis. We cannot keep up with all these offenses so we hang on to some and others we let slip away. We need to develop our skill of forgiveness so that we no longer hold on to the offenses, but instead give them to the Father quickly. It takes practice. Just like any other skill, the more we practice the better we become until forgiveness is not just a skill, but a lifestyle. As we grow in the lifestyle of forgiveness, it becomes habitual for us to go through the process of forgiveness, before our defenses rise up to drag us into bitterness and resentment. Accounts are kept short and our hearts remain soft.
We are about to embark on a spiritual journey that will take us through many mountains, valleys, deserts and green pastures. The format of this study is different from most. Each day will include a brief introduction and then passages of scripture to read. Three types of questions will be asked about the passages you read. The first type of question will be in the category of, “What does it say?” Answers will come directly from scripture. The second type of question is in the category of, “What does it mean?” This type involves a little more thought on your part about the meaning of the passage. The third type is in the category of, “What does it mean to me?” These questions are application questions and there are no right or wrong answers. The application questions are the most important ones because they are the life-changing ones. You will be challenged, enlightened, enraged, and assured throughout this study.