Forgiveness, Reconciliation & Restoration
This was a “take home” after a Good Friday Service….I wrote it to try and continue the discussion from our services…
Introduction: You’ve heard the saying “Forgive and forget” right? Have you ever tried that and found that even though you “forgive”, it’s hard to “forget”? And maybe that leaves you not feeling real forgiving or forgetful? Over many years in ministry, I’ve worked with a LOT of people who struggle with forgiveness. Even though they say they’ve forgiven those who’ve hurt them and have tried to put it in the past, it seems the past keeps returning and repeating itself. The result is that so many people live in defeat, guilt and shame. Relationships remain strained or broken or even estranged. We don’t feel good about that at all and sometimes it becomes very confusing. Questions like: “If I forgive someone, does that mean, I still have to be in relationship with them?” Or, “What if they are abusive or toxic, does God require me to be in relationship with them?” So this pamphlet is designed to get at these issues and begin to answer some of those questions from a biblical perspective. I pray that it helps…
In Matthew 18: “…Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.” — Matthew 18:21–22
So from this, we see that forgiveness is a vital part of being a follower of Jesus. AND, not only is it a vital part of following Jesus, but it’s to be given lavishly! In other words, giving forgiveness is not optional! Now, if forgiveness is so important, then “how” do we give it? Well there are several concepts and visuals that Jesus gives us when dealing with forgiveness. The first is found in what is called “The Lord’s Prayer”. In Matthew 6, one of the petitions of “The Lord’s Prayer” is this:
“and forgive us our debts as we have also forgiven our debtors” — Matthew 6:12
When we pray this, we are saying several things. First, sin is like a debt. We own someone something. This is a very relational concept. We owe God our faithfulness, love, service, worship, our lives…everything! But when we are unfaithful, self-centered, hurt others in what we do, think and say, well, those “sins” are against God and others. We owed them one thing, we gave them something else!
Because of our sin nature, we all do this. This is why original sin is so devastating! No matter how “good” we are, we still aren’t “perfect”. And because we have “all fallen short of God’s glory” we owe a debt. Forgiveness is a “release” from that debt! It’s a canceling out of what we owe. It’s a forgiveness of our sins. Isn’t that good? It IS! But here’s the sticky part…
Immediately after Jesus teaches about prayer, He goes on to say…
“For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” — Matthew 6:14–15
So clearly forgiveness is not only “non-negotiable”, but the forgiveness WE receive is directly connected to the forgiveness we give! (which is what we’ve been praying in the Lord’s prayer: “Father forgive our debts, in the same way (as) we forgive those who are our debtors”)
And here is why so many times we live in defeat! We want God to forgive OUR sins while at the same time, withholding forgiveness from others! It doesn’t work that way. Which is actually a good thing! Read on…
When Jesus was on the cross, one of the things He did was begin to intercede for us. In that phrase “Father, forgiven them for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34), Jesus began a work that continues to this moment! This is what St. Paul was referring to in Romans 8:34 when he writes:
“Christ Jesus…is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.”
That word “intercede” means “to speak on behalf of someone else”. That “someone else”…is us! So think about this…right now….Jesus is speaking to God on your behalf. And what’s He saying? “Father, forgive them…” Isn’t that beautiful? Even when we aren’t asking for forgiveness…Jesus is working forgiveness for us! Even when we’re unaware of how our sins offend God…Jesus is saying… “Father, forgive!”
Now, this is important for us and our discussion about forgiving others. Let’s recap what we’ve touched on so far:
- Jesus commands us to forgive lavishly!
- Jesus ties the forgiveness we receive with how we forgive others.
- And Jesus is interceding FOR us to God!
That’s how Jesus is! Now, back to how “we” are!
When we’ve been sinned against. We are to forgive. And when we remember that sin, and it hurts again, and we feel it all over again. What are we to do? Forgive! Think of it like this:
Release them through forgiveness….
When you remember it again….
Repeat forgiveness…. “seventy times seven”…over and over again…moment by moment, day by day….
And IF that’s how we “are” and react to those who have sinned against us, a couple of things happen that are amazing and actually what I believe we’re looking for!
First, if YOU are constantly forgiving (releasing) others…who do you look like? Jesus right? And think about it…what does the word “Christian” mean? It means…”Christ-like”! So you actually are acting like Jesus!
Secondly, YOU are free! You aren’t hanging on to bitterness and unforgiveness! You are walking in the forgiveness and blessing of Jesus in your life. You are no longer defeated by withholding forgiveness from others.
Third, you begin to experience the joy and freedom from the past. Over time, and by bringing those sins and pains to “the throne of grace” (Hebrews 4:16), those things lose their hold on you! Who doesn’t want freedom for the pain of the past!!!
And think of this: Jesus invites US into His ministry of intercession and forgiveness! This may be the most important work of a Christ Follower!
So remember: “Release”… “Remember”…. “Repeat”!
Now, I know what some of you are saying…BUT….what about my relationship with this person? Do I have to be in relationship with this person? What if they’re not willing to change or admit anything?
There IS a significant difference between Forgiveness and Reconciliation!
In a beautiful section of 2 Corinthians 5, St. Paul says:
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”
The word “reconciliation” means:
“to reestablish proper friendly interpersonal relations after these have been disrupted or broken.”
This is a more complex process because in order for there to be reconciliation, the relationship has to be “reestablished”. And in order to be “reestablished”, there must be some point at which both parties acknowledge the break or disruption, confess that, repent of that and begin again with things in place so that it doesn’t happen again. So, in order for reconciliation to be real, there needs to be repentance and a process for safe-guarding it from happening in the future.
Repentance means that you turn from the way, behavior, attitudes or sin that’s causing the break in the relationship and you live in a ways that no longer disrupt or break the relationship.
St. John the Baptizer said it like this:
“Bear fruits in keeping with repentance.” — Luke 3:8
So what’s he saying? Well, IF there’s true repentance, your life, words, attitudes and behaviors will reflect that. Now, let’s apply this to our discussion.
We are always called by God to forgive. But sometimes we don’t experience Reconciliation in the relationship because one party won’t repent or stop doing what broke the relationship in the first place. So what do we do?
- We pray for them and our relationship to be restored,
- We forgive….through prayer to God and if possible, verbally to ther person.
3. When we have an opportunity, we speak the truth in love and keep the doors open.
4. We also remember that unless there is repentance, we can’t experience reconciliation, so we repeat the first three!
Now, keep in mind, this can be a heart-breaking experience, because we desire to be reconciled, but often the other party is “unwilling”.
Jesus understands this pain! In the last days of his earthly life, Jesus laments over Jerusalem. He says…
“How often I would have gathered you…but you were not willing” — Matthew 23:37
The reason the people of Jerusalem were not “gathered” (i.e. reconciled) was because THEY were “not willing”. It wasn’t that reconciliation wasn’t available. It wasn’t that reconciliation wasn’t possible. It was! But Jerusalem didn’t experience reconciliation with Jesus, because Jerusalem didn’t want it. And sometimes, people don’t want that either. Jesus says this as a “lament”. A lament is a term for grief and mourning. When relationships are broken, it’s a form of death…and there is often great and profound mourning and grief. Sometimes reconciliation just isn’t possible, not because you’re not willing, not because God doesn’t provide the means for it, but because the other person is not.
But I also believe that when we are interceding for that relationship and that person, God will continue to “work” on that person through their conscious in order to soften our heart towards them so those doors of the Ministry of Reconciliation remain open (at least as it depends on you). In other words, YOU, the follower of Christ, is always willing to work towards reconciliation and restoration!
And don’t you want that? Don’t you want to see relationships restored? Absolutely…but that’s a process.
And we call THAT process: “Restoration”
Closely aligned with Reconciliation is Restoration! When King David had sinned against God and Bathsheba and her husband Uriah (and David’s family and kingdom, etc…sin is never private!). He says this:
“Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.” — Psalm 51:12
Restoration was the process that he went through to make things “right” after he had sinned. After Nathan’s rebuke to David, David took Bathsheba into his home. He married her. He provided for her. He lived with the consequences of his actions and even later, when his own son overthrew him, he didn’t retaliate but trusted himself, his situation and his kingdom to God. He knew that all that chaos was because of HIS actions. He didn’t deny it, try and stop it or hide from it. He owned it and trusted his life, his future and his kingdom…to God. THAT’S doing the right thing with the right attitude and the right action! Restoration is all about doing the right thing, with the right attitude….over time. And as David reminds us, the result is: “the joy of your salvation”.
So think of it like this…
Time + Right Action, Reaction & Attitude = Trust…which leads to Restoration!
And trust is the foundation of relationships and restoration.
So often we want trust to be restored, but we don’t want it to take time or hard work on our part. That’s a form of denial of our sin and it’s impact on the relationship. IF there’s to be restoration, we must not deny what we’ve done. Instead we must work on our part of the relationship by changing our behavior, attitudes and actions so that “what” we did to break the relationship is minimized and hopefully eliminated in the future. IF that’s our aim and effort over time, then we have a much better possibility of trust…and restoration. This is what should happen when WE have sinned against someone else.
But what if we’re the one who was sinned against?
Well, we’ll have to remember forgiveness and reconciliation…but we’ll also have to remember this:
In OUR relationship with God, we TOO have fallen short! And yet, God has been patient with us hasn’t He! He’s been willing to forgive us over and over again hasn’t He! He’s done all of that because He loves us! So IF that’s how God has been with our sins and weaknesses and failings….how much more can we also be like that with those who’ve sinned against us. We can…and this is our aim.
But equally true…like Reconciliation, some people are not interested in doing the work of true restoration. And you can’t have restoration unless they are willing. So, it’s important that as you understand the biblical way of Forgiveness, Reconciliation and Restoration that we work towards that! And that we not compromise and then call that compromise something that it’s not! Why?
Because if we do, we’ll only continue the pain for all involved, and the relationships will continue to suffer and the evil one will continue to win.
God does not desire this kind of defeat! So this is why He insists on this kind of Forgiveness, Reconciliation and Restoration. The question is…what are YOU and I going to do about what He desires?
Perhaps one suggestion is to start with the broken relationships in your life…the ones where there’s un-forgiveness, bitterness, and brokenness. Why not begin to take those before God’s “throne of grace” and begin to pray intentionally and consistently over them…releasing them through forgiveness. Then, in tandem, pause each time to listen to God. Ask: “Father, now what do I do about this?” As the Holy Spirit prompts you, then being willing to follow what God and scripture teaches. What I am confident will happen is…change! Change in your heart, in your emotions and in your level of peace…and hopefully reconciliation and restoration of your relationships. Another thing is that God might begin to use you and your experiences to help others. I’m sure we all agree that we all need this in our lives. My prayer is that we’ll all begin to walk in the fulness of forgiveness, reconciliation and restoration because that’s how Jesus is and has been and will be for us! And maybe this is really the way those far from Jesus come to know that He IS real…because they’ve experienced Him through the way we forgive and work for true reconciliation and restoration.
THANKS for taking the time to read all this. Clearly these are HUGE issues in our life and clearly there is much to think about! But here’s also something I know…
God is IN the process of forgiveness, reconciliation and restoration and He’s FOR this in us and our relationships!
And when that’s the case….we will receive blessing!