Forgiveness is Essential - Bob Sawvelle

Forgiveness is Essential

The Apostle John describes love as the primary attribute of God’s nature, “God is love … he who loves abides in God’s Love” (1 John 4:8 NKJV). However, we live in a fallen world; people will and do hurt us. Some intentionally, others unintentionally.

How you handle hurt and offenses by others is crucial to your life in God, personal wellness, and health. You will not realize the fullness of your future harboring unforgiveness toward others. Sincerely loving others and abiding in God’s love hinges upon your ability to forgive others when they have wronged you.

On the cross, suffering a horrific death, Jesus forgave those who crucified him, Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing (Luke 23:34 NLT). The religious leaders and soldiers were ignorant, and from their ignorance, they killed Jesus. God demonstrates the depth of His love for us through forgiveness—He expects us to do the same toward others who wrong us.

Paul writes, But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Rom 5:8 NKJV

Jesus died for the least, the lost, and the last. This includes us—when we were at our lowest. He expects us to live with His eyes of love and grace toward others in order for them to live in His freedom.

We live in a fallen world where two kingdoms exist and are opposed to each other, the kingdom of darkness and God’s kingdom of light. Evil exists, and we oppose it with God’s love and light. But, like David in Psalm 37, we want justice and wickedness to be punished. However, vengeance belongs to the Lord, we pray and wait patiently for God to move.

Be still in the presence of the Lord, and wait patiently for him to act. Don’t worry about evil people who prosper or fret about their wicked schemes. Stop being angry! Turn from your rage! Do not lose your temper—it only leads to harm.” Psalm 37:7-8 NLT

Forgiveness is a choice, not a feeling. Forgiveness doesn’t excuse the perpetrator of the wrong they have done, but forgiveness releases you from a prison of unforgiveness and bitterness. When you choose to forgive those who have wronged you, you free yourself from judgment and enable God’s grace to operate in your life unhindered.

We should live and love through a filter of forgiveness.

True love for others is expressed by extending forgiveness as a lifestyle. We are “truly free” when we choose to forgive—it is a choice—the feelings will eventually follow.

Jesus made a profound statement in Luke 17:1, “It is impossible that no offenses should come…” (NKJV).

In the context of the passage, Jesus is explaining that others will hurt and offend us in life—our response is to forgive. The English word “offenses” derives from the Greek word skándalon, which can mean a “stumbling block” or a “trap.” Skándalon denotes the act of placing a trap in someone’s way or represents the bait stick of an old-fashioned mousetrap.

In the NT, skándalon describes entrapment used by the enemy. In the NT, as in the OT, the issue in skándalonis one’s relation to God. The skándalon is an obstacle to faith and hence a cause of falling and destruction.

Jesus was describing to his followers in Luke 17:1 that obstacles to our faith and traps by the enemy will occur in this life.

How are traps of offense placed in front of you? Primarily through others who wrong you or you think they have wronged you—the enemy attempts to trap you (skándalon) through unforgiveness. When you hold onto unforgiveness, you have taken the “bait” of his trap, which is offense, and you are stuck. The only way out of his trap and the bondage it places you in is to forgive the offender sincerely.

Forgiveness Releases God’s Grace

Jesus said, “And whenever you stand up to pray, if you have something against anyone, forgive so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your wrongdoings” (Mark 11:25 CEB).

Unforgiveness affects your relationship with God and hinders your prayers from being answered. Grace is restricted when unforgiveness is operative.

Paul explains in his writings that the law was our teacher to bring us into grace. Grace is a free gift that frees you from the just punishment of the law. Grace is a better way. When you choose not to forgive, you move from grace back into the law. Forgiveness is not optional for a Christian—it provides an avenue for the flow of God’s grace in your life.

Most people want grace, but when someone wrongs them, they want justice. They move from grace back into the law and the effects of the law of sowing and reaping come into play. If you sow grace and mercy, you reap grace and mercy. If you sow judgment, usually because of unforgiveness, you reap judgment.

God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble (Jam. 4:6; 1 Pet. 5:5). Unforgiveness is associated with pride; God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.

Grace is released to those who humble themselves, forgive others, and walk in God’s love, grace, and mercy. Grace is a better way.

Again, your prayers will be more effective when prayed with a heart of forgiveness toward others. As you forgive others, you abide in the overflow of God’s marvelous grace and forgiveness.

Time is not a healer; it merely masks the pain that many harbor in their hearts. Healing begins by forgiving those who have hurt you. Your wellness and destiny depend on your ability to forgive others unconditionally.

Desire for Justice

Most of us hate injustice and react to it, often with outrage and anger. To be clear, there are moments of righteous anger that lead to change. For example, the outrage by William Wilberforce and others against slavery in the 18-19th century eventually led to the abolition of slavery.

But often, we justify rage and anger toward offense without extending forgiveness. Responding to injustice through forgiveness is essential to living in peace and victory.

Your future enlarges through forgiveness. Unforgiveness ties you to the past and prevents you from moving forward with God’s perspective.

Author Paul Boose, from his book Chicken Soup for the Soul, said it this way, “Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future.” Life is too short to live with limited vision of the future.

Our human response to injustice is often a desire for vindication. We want the wrong corrected and the perpetrator punished.

The reality is that in our world unjust behavior by others surrounds us. Often, wrongs are uncorrected and the guilty unpunished. Even if justice prevails, many still carry unforgiveness toward those who caused the offense.

Harbored unforgiveness fosters bitterness and restricts God’s grace in a person’s life. Forgiveness is God’s way of providing us freedom from the unjust events that happen in life.

How Many Times Should You Forgive?

In Matthew eighteen Jesus tells the parable of the unforgiving servant (Matt. 18:21-35). Peter comes to Jesus and asks, …Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?’ ‘No, not seven times,’ Jesus replied, ‘but seventy times seven!’” (Matt. 18:21-22 NLT).

Imagine Peter’s surprise when Jesus tells him that he must forgive someone 490 times! Jesus may have been providing a positive counterpart to the boast of Lamech in Genesis 4:24 when he spoke of avenging himself seventy-sevenfold times.

Many theologians have commented on the number, but Jesus was primarily explaining to Peter, and to all of us, that we are to continue forgiving those who wrong us. Our human reasoning does not limit God’s mercy and grace.

Extending forgiveness does not mean that healthy boundaries are not established or harm by others ignored. Abusive patterns by others must be stopped and care taken to prevent further harm, especially in cases of abuse.

However, in the context of this passage, Jesus was speaking to the spiritual issue of unforgiveness and the importance of forgiving others. Jesus continues the story Matt. 18:23-35 NLT:

Therefore, the Kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a king who decided to bring his accounts up to date with servants who had borrowed money from him. In the process, one of his debtors was brought in who owed him millions of dollars. He couldn’t pay, so his master ordered that he be sold—along with his wife, his children, and everything he owned—to pay the debt.

“But the man fell down before his master and begged him, ‘Please, be patient with me, and I will pay it all.’ Then his master was filled with pity for him, and he released him and forgave his debt.

“But when the man left the king, he went to a fellow servant who owed him a few thousand dollars. He grabbed him by the throat and demanded instant payment.

“His fellow servant fell down before him and begged for a little more time. ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it,’ he pleaded. But his creditor wouldn’t wait. He had the man arrested and put in prison until the debt could be paid in full.

“When some of the other servants saw this, they were very upset. They went to the king and told him everything that had happened. Then the king called in the man he had forgiven and said, ‘You evil servant! I forgave you that tremendous debt because you pleaded with me. Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?’ Then the angry king sent the man to prison to be tortured until he had paid his entire debt. “That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters from your heart.”

In our modern society, we do not sell people into slavery or place them in debtor prisons for unpaid debts. However, in Jesus’ day, all who heard this parable understood its severe message. Jesus was using “shock and awe” to stress the importance of forgiveness. To owe a king millions of dollars, only to have the king order to sell everything you own, and then you and your family are sold into slavery to pay the debt would have caused fear to grip the reader. The debt was so large that it would have taken this man thousands of years of work to repay. There was simply no way to repay this debt in his lifetime.

The man pleads with the king for mercy, even stating he would repay the debt—which would have been impossible. The king has compassion and forgives the man of his unpayable debt. Once again, the reader in Jesus’ day would have known how astounding this act of compassion and mercy was. Sadly, the man does not extend the same mercy to his fellow servant who owes him a few months of wages. The man grabs the other servant by the throat threatening him with debtor prison. The servant begs for mercy, but the man throws him into prison until he could repay the debt owed.

Other servants then inform the king of this injustice. The man forgiven of the tremendous debt stands before the angry king to explain his actions. The king reminds the man of how he had compassion on him. He explains to the man that he should have, in the same manner as he received mercy, extended mercy to his fellow servant, forgiving him of his debt. Consequently, the king sends the man to prison to be tortured until he can repay the debt.

The man’s debt is tremendous; there is no way he can ever repay it. In other words, the man receives a life sentence of torment with no hope of getting out of prison. Jesus summarizes the gravity of this story by stating that our heavenly Father will allow each of us to be tormented if we do not sincerely forgive others.

This parable illustrates how “torturers,” demonic entities, have a “legal” spiritual right to oppress you until you repay back everything owed. However, you cannot repay your debt of sin. Forgiveness is a gift.

When you agree with the enemy’s lies, you empower a defeated foe. The enemy only has power over you to the degree that you hold onto unforgiveness, bitterness, or agree with his accusations and lies. He is defeated, but can oppress humanity when given legal access through free will and choice.

Many Christians are trying to figure out why they suffer oppression, why they keep getting hurt, or struggle with bitterness. Some wonder, “I thought God loved me, that God is always good?” Yes, God loves you and yes, God is always good.

However, God has also set natural and spiritual laws in motion in our world. One such principle is that of forgiveness and its twin of judgments. If you fail to forgive, you move from grace back to the law. Now, the law of sowing and reaping (think of gravity for a natural example) comes into play. You could say, “What goes up must come down.” You begin to reap the unforgiveness you have sown.

Judgments are similar. Jesus said in Matt. 7:1-2, “Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you” (NASB).

If you judge a parent, friend, or anyone, you will receive the just “measure” of judgment back upon yourself. Judgment is the other side of the forgiveness coin. To judge someone is to make certain determinations about them or their actions.

The truth is, none of us know the full reason as to why people act and behave the way they do. Have you ever done something wrong, and wanted others to forgive you and not judge you based on your bad day?

Forgiveness is not optional with God—it is foundational to your relationship with Him and with others. Your future depends on your ability to forgive those who have wronged you in the past.

Forgiveness and the Manifestation of God’s Kingdom

One of the most dramatic cases I have observed with unforgiveness and judgments was with a young adult toward a parent while on a ministry trip to Brazil several years ago. An eighteen-year-old girl, who was deaf and mute, came to one of our meetings with her medical doctor for healing prayer. The doctor asked me to pray for healing of this young woman of her deaf and mute condition. The doctor intimately knew the young lady and her family for many years. Another lady on our ministry team and I began to pray with the doctor for this young woman to be healed of her deaf and mute condition. We prayed for several minutes with no indication of change.

I asked the doctor about the girl’s father, was he in her life, etc. The doctor explained that soon after she was born, the father left, as he could not deal with the condition of his daughter. The young woman’s mother raised her by herself. We then asked the young lady if she had any unforgiveness toward her father for leaving. To my surprise, she communicated through sign language to the doctor that she held no ill feelings toward her father.

The doctor then told me to ask how she felt about her mother. As the doctor communicated to the young woman with sign language, I asked her about any unforgiveness toward her mother. As soon as she was asked that question, she became agitated and responded that yes she had some issues with her mom. We led her through prayers of forgiveness and renouncing of judgments toward her mother. There was a noticeable change in her countenance after these prayers and ministry.

We then began to pray for her ability to hear and to speak. Within minutes, for the first time in her life, she began to hear and speak simple words! We spoke the name of Jesus softly to her, and she repeated his name, the first word she ever spoke. We continued to pray and work with her, her hearing and speech were functioning very well, and her medical doctor was astounded. This miracle occurred after the young woman forgave and broke judgments toward her mother. God is the healer, we simply prayed. God’s grace for healing was restricted by the unforgiveness this young woman had toward her mother.

Releasing anyone who has hurt you, whether real or perceived, is essential for God’s grace to flow in your life freely. It might be a parent, but it may be another authority figure, friend, family member, etc. You must forgive others and break agreement with any judgments that you have toward them to live fully in God’s grace and fulfillment in life.

Prayers to Forgive

Father, I chose to forgive the ones who have hurt me so deeply and sinned against me. I forgive ____________. I give them the gift of unconditional forgiveness, with no strings attached. They owe me nothing. I trust you to turn it for good. I break the judgments I have against them; I release them now in Jesus’ name.

Lord, I also forgive myself for my own failures and mistakes. I let go of it all. Lord, I want to be free. I want to break the hold of the enemy in my life. I put the cross of Jesus Christ between my heart and everything I was due to reap from the law of sowing and reaping, because I do choose mercy over judgment.

Jesus, I invite you now to go back to the past, where the hurts and wounds have occurred, begin to heal me of the _______ (anger, hate, self-hate, rejection, fear, etc.) that occurred.

Bob Sawvelle Signature


For a deeper look at this topic, watch the Passion Church message, “Forgiveness as a Lifestyle”

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