Monday, January 30, 2017

5 Benefits to Forgiveness

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander 
be put away from you, along with all malice.  
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other, 
just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.  

Ephesians 4:31,32

Bitternes. Wrath. Anger. Clamor. Slander. Malice.

All words that describe a heart that holds onto hurt.  Don't get me wrong, it's never our intention to become bitter, angry, wrathful, gossipy, or sour.  But when we marinate in the hurt of another's sin, these things spring up like weeds in a field.  No one planted the weeds, but for some reason the seeds are lying in wait, just begging for a little rain to get the ball rolling.  

Our old nature, while redeemed by the blood of Jesus, is still present within us and will be with us until we shed this flesh and stand before our Great Redeemer.  While it doesn't take much to stir that nature, a little fertilizer goes a long way, and unfortunately, the hurt that comes from being sinned against is just the right mix to grow bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander and malice.

The cure for this bad harvest is kindness, compassion and forgiveness.  It's not three options to choose from but a partnership that is only works if all three parts are offered.  Any two without the third are simply an exercise in hypocrisy.  And it all starts with the choice to honor the Lord because of His great kindness, compassion and forgiveness in your own life and to forgive.

Once forgiveness, or should I say the hard work of forgiveness, is applied to the hurt, it's only a matter of time before the blessings that come from obedience start to show up, as well.  So today I want to look at five benefits of forgiveness.

Number 1 - Restored Capacity

When you choose to forgive, you are choosing to give up retribution.  Not just physical retribution but mental retribution.  You are choosing to release the offender from guilt and you are agreeing not to marinate in the hurt any longer, which is an exercise of the mind.  When you hang on to the hurt, it limits you - it limits your compassion for others, it makes you suspicious and self-protective.  To state it plainly: you are limited because you are not walking in obedience to the Lord.  

But when you forgive, it enables you to extend yourself and be vulnerable again.  Yes, I chose the word vulnerable because forgiveness is not a guarantee that you won't be hurt again.  But it does allow you to feel, to trust, to laugh, to love and to act freely in accordance with God's Word.  Your ability to walk in harmony with the Lord is suddenly unhindered, un-muddied with the consequences of unforgiveness (bitterness, wrath, etc.), thereby making your capacity to live for Him much greater.

Number 2 - Restored Identity

Forgiveness is what initially made us whole.  Forgiveness of our own sin.  When we confessed our sin and cried out to the Lord, He granted forgiveness.  Truth be known, while we were still enemies, He laid the foundation for forgiveness through the cross.  His forgiveness changed our status from hell-bound slave to Satan, to justified, adopted, redeemed, and loved child of the King.  

When we hang on to hurt, we start to find our identity in our past.  We consider ourselves rejected, abused, unloved, lied about, betrayed and sometimes even unworthy.  When we choose to forgive, the only way we can actually do that is by remembering the truth of who we are!  When we think truthfully about who we are in Christ, not only will forgiveness flow more freely but our identity will be restored, the lies will fade away and we can continue to walk in harmony with the Lord.

Number 3 - Restored Testimony

How can we boast of His great love and forgiveness and not want to imitate it?  We are ambassadors for Christ and as His representatives, as the light of the world, we must be great at forgiving.  Remember the story of the unforgiving slave?  He was forgiven a great debt but refused to forgive a minor infraction.  It didn't go well for him in the end.  Because we are forgiven such a great debt through the death of our Savior, God wants us to be great forgivers.  When people say to you, "How can you go on after such hurt?", the answer is simple:  Jesus.  He is why I can forgive and move on.

Number 4 - Restored Fellowship

This one is really important. When you forgive you are telling the Lord three things:
  1. Thank you for forgiving me
  2. I want to be close to you more than I want to make my offender pay
  3. I trust that you will deal with sin so I don't have to
God is not mocked. We will reap what we sow.  When we choose to sow forgiveness, the harvest is abundant.  Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control are the marks of a person in unhindered fellowship with the Lord.  The safest place for you to be is in the dead center of His will and without a doubt, forgiveness is His will.  Here's what He says in Romans 12:17-21:

Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Our call is to overcome evil with good - in other words, be kind, tenderhearted, forgiving.

Number 5: PAUSE

Okay, I am going to hit the pause button here and save the final benefit of forgiveness for next week's blog.  It needs more than a paragraph to discuss and this post has been long enough. I'll also give some specifics on how to forgive so that it's not a fuzzy concept that feels impossible to do.

Sound like a plan?

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