We cannot experience the abundant life God has for us if we’re carrying stones of bitterness and unforgiveness around. They weigh us down, slow our steps, and steal our joy.
Forgiveness doesn’t deny that the offense happened, nor does it absolve the person of the guilt associated with the act. We can and should hold others accountable for their actions or lack of actions, but we ultimately release our right to revenge to God.
Bitterness and unforgiveness hurt us more than the one who has sinned against us. – Lee Strobel said, “Acrid bitterness inevitably seeps into the lives of people who harbor grudges and suppress anger, and bitterness is always a poison. It keeps your pain alive instead of letting you deal with it and get beyond it. Bitterness sentences you to relive the hurt over and over.” “The bitter heart eats his owner.”
Unforgiveness hinders our prayers. – In Psalm 66:18, the psalmist tells us, “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.” To cherish means to hold something dear, which is a strange way to describe what we do with sin. But when we hold onto something tightly and refuse to let it go, we are, indeed, cherishing it. By stubbornly clinging to anger, hurt, and bitterness, we make a home for the very emotions that can destroy us.
Every sin is offensive to God, even our own. – It’s easy to be self-righteous when someone has sinned against us. “I’d never do anything like that,” we tell ourselves, but Scripture tells us differently. “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,” Romans 3:23 says. Jeremiah 17:9 tells us, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.” Because God’s standard is perfection, none of us can please God on our own.
In God’s eyes, we’re just as lost as the murderer on death row and just as desperately in need of a Saviour. When we begin to see our sin as God sees it, we acknowledge that we have no righteousness of our own in which to stand. It is only God’s mercy that has kept us from committing the horrible sins others have committed.
Unforgiveness hinders God’s desire to forgive us. – If we, who have no righteousness of our own, withhold forgiveness from another, we elevate ourselves above God, who freely extends forgiveness to all who ask for it in sincerity and truth. The Lord’s Prayer in Luke 11 tells us that God’s forgiveness hinges on our willingness to forgive others: “Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.”
God’s mercy and forgiveness extends to us and those who sin against us. – Psalm 103:10-14 tells us, “He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions for us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.”
It is only when we fully grasp the depths of our own sin and the mercy God extends to us that we are able to extend forgiveness to others. “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God, through Christ, forgave us,” the Bible tells us in Ephesians 4:32.
We can trust God’s sovereignty and justice. – We live in a fallen world, and sin and Satan have wrapped their poisonous tentacles around everything good. But it won’t always be this way. One day, God will right every wrong, punish every unrepentant sinner, and call every wicked soul into account. The Bible tells us in Romans 12:19, “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.”
If you’re struggling to forgive someone today, don’t try to do it in your own strength. Do it in Jesus’ name. Ask him to give you the power to forgive, and then step out in faith to do it. You’ll be very glad you did.