Forgiveness Is Not Saying It Is Okay
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One Sabbath afternoon I received a phone call from the mother of a child I had corrected earlier at church. The girl had smarted off to me when I told her to stay out of a room that was off-limits. The mother told me, “My daughter wants to tell you she is sorry, but before she gets on the phone, I wanted to ask you, when she says she is sorry, don’t tell her it is okay. Just tell her she is forgiven.”

Carrying the Cross

Image © Standard Publishing from GoodSalt.com

“Wow!” I thought. This mother gets it! Forgiveness is not saying it is okay. So many are slow to forgive, because what happened to them was so wrong they can’t just sweep it under the rug. The deed deserves to be punished. What they don’t understand is that forgiveness is not sweeping it under the rug and saying it is okay. Then what is it saying?

When I share the gospel presentation, I always share this passage from the Desire of Ages. It is so clear and simple, and to me, sums up the whole plan of salvation.

“Christ was treated as we deserve, that we might be treated as He deserves. He was condemned for our sins, in which He had no share, that we might be justified by His righteousness, in which we had no share. He suffered the death which was ours, that we might receive the life which was His. “With His stripes we are healed.”  -Ellen White, Desire of Ages, Page 25 

Now I would like to take this passage to the next level – beyond the plan of my personal salvation. I understand that Jesus took the punishment for my sins so that I can now be treated the way He deserves to be treated. Now I need to understand, that the sins my enemy committed have not been swept under the rug. Jesus was also treated the way my enemy deserves to be treated, so that I may now treat my enemy the way Jesus deserves to be treated.

Jesus did not only suffer for my sins, He suffered also for sins committed against me. Why do I need to take it out on my enemy when it has already been taken out on Jesus?

They made fun of me and humiliated me!
Jesus was mocked and humiliated on the cross in their place.

They killed my son! They deserve to die!
Jesus died because they killed your son.

They sexually abused me! They deserve to be sexually abused!
Jesus hung naked on a cross in front of the whole universe, including His own angels!

Earlier this year I was reading through the Old Testament, and when I came to Isaiah 53 something jumped out at me, when I read:

 “With his stripes we are healed.” Isaiah 53:5

Suddenly I realized something I had never seen before. I realized that retaliation against my enemy will never bring me healing. I am healed by the stripes of Jesus, and not the stripes of my enemy. Jesus suffering for my sins can only bring partial healing and partial reconciliation. I am made whole, and totally reconciled, not just to Jesus but to my brothers, when I realize Jesus suffered for their sins too.

In the story in Matthew 18:21-35 a man is forgiven who did not ask to be forgiven. He only asked for more time to pay the debt. However the master forgave the debt anyway. This is important for us to note, because the master represents God who forgave us without us even asking. In the Lord’s prayer we find we are to forgive as we have been forgiven, meaning that we are to forgive in the same manner. God expects us to forgive without being asked to forgive, just as the man was forgiven while only asking for more time to pay the debt.

After the man was forgiven, he goes out and sees a brother who owes him a much smaller debt. Even after being forgiven he refuses to forgive. In the parable the unforgiving man ends up in prison until his full debt is paid.

Wait a minute! Wasn’t his debt forgiven? Separated as far as the east is from the west and into the depths of the sea? How did it come back? I believe it’s this way: When I refuse to forgive my brother, what I am saying is, “I don’t think Jesus’ death on the cross was enough to pay for what was done to me.” Well guess what? If Jesus’ death is not enough to pay for my enemy’s sin, then it is not enough to pay for my sin either! By not allowing Jesus to pay for my enemy’s sin on the cross, I have just disqualified the cross as a payment for sin and therefore I must still pay for my sins – and the only way I can do that is to die an eternal death.

Forgiveness and reconciliation is not saying “It’s okay.” It is saying, “I realize Jesus suffered for your sins on the cross.” It is realizing I am healed by the stripes Jesus received and not by the stripes my enemy receives. We have to be pretty sick ourselves to think that in order for us to be healed, someone else has to be hurt. Jesus does not have to hurt my enemy in order to heal me.

“Christ was treated as we deserve, that we might be treated as He deserves.”  Christ was also treated as my enemy deserves, that I may now treat my enemy the way Christ deserves to be treated.

With His stripes we are all healed.

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Forgiveness Is Not Saying It Is Okay — 35 Comments

  1. The problem or rather a struggle for many of us is to forgive before we are even being asked for it. This is the kind of forgiveness Heaven extended to us. Holy Spirit, through Paul, says, in Romans 5:8, "while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." This is taking forgiveness to a whole another level.
    It's like forgiving while others are in the process of doing you wrong or injustice. Jesus and later on Stephen demonstrated this when they prayed while suffering, "forgive them for they do not know what they are doing" (Luke 23:34 & Acts 7:60.) In other words, forgiveness shouldn't wait to be extended until the attack, conflict, argument, wrong done to us is over. This is hard, humanly hard. But, as with other impossible things for us, they are possible with Christ (Phil 4:13.) May God help you and me to show mercy before mercy is solicited; to forgive while we’re still hurting --and to do so with a cheerful heart!

    Like(57)
    • I would add this...forgiveness is not an act we perform, but a way of living in a sinful world. God forgives because He is a forgiver. (the word means "forget". See Isa 43:25) We are to be "peacemakers", showing ourselves to be the children of God, being forgivers as He is.

      When first becoming king, Saul heard the words of those who spoke against his anointing, but was "as one who heard not". This was his one moment of showing true Godliness in his life, as it must be seen in ours.

      The Scape goat typifies the ultimate forgetting of our sins by God. He removes the accuser of the brethren, the last trace of our sin.

      Like(24)
      • Saul's deaf ear to those who objected to his being king was not a show of godliness. Samuel objected to anyone being made king. God said that king making was a rejection of Him as God; but gave them the right of self-determination.em On multiple counts there were reasons for realistic protest, except that God gave them a king who matched the rebellious hearts of the people of Israel (a contradiction to the name)

        Like(1)
      • William,
        1) How do you explain "no one can forgive sins except God"? Can a human being forgive the sins of anyone? And if so, certainly the Catholic Priest has the Divine authority to forgive sins.

        2) While Jesus Christ clearly stated that God sent His Son to die for the world, all inclusive (Jn 3:16), didn't He present, also clearly, a limited "whosoever": "that Whosoever believes on Him will not perish"? This correlates with His subsequent discourse: "he who does not believe is in darkness... no light in him...for the heart is evil."
        Does this result in a limited "forgiveness" on the part of the Christian?

        3} When a person keeps on being destructive, and chooses not to receive God's forgiveness by faith, and therefore not forgiven by Jesus Christ (John 3), what is my "forgiveness" obligation?

        4) The unforgiving servant in the parable received nullification of debt in the context of a business - specifically from a business owner who cancelled his indebtedness.
        In the case of God, did that unforgiving servant receive forgiveness in the first place? Wouldn't God have already known the unforgiving spirit of that unjust servant, and therefore already knew that forgiving grace was never imputed to him? He was of the "world" that Jesus died for; but not of the "whosoever believes on him will not perish". The unjust servant only acted out what was already determined in his heart, and therefore destined in his damnation.
        So how does human "forgiveness" function when God's forgiveness was never received?

        Like(1)
        • Hi Hurford,

          1. Well Jesus tells us to forgive so I take that as we can. When we wrong someone we need to make it right with everyone involved. We can ask God to forgive us and our brother to forgive us. But the brother can not forgive in the place of God. "True confession is always of a specific character, and acknowledges particular sins. They may be of such a nature as to be brought before God only; they may be wrongs that should be confessed to individuals who have suffered injury through them; or they may be of a public character, and should then be as publicly confessed. But all confession should be definite and to the point, acknowledging the very sins of which you are guilty." -Steps to Christ Page 38.

          2. Christ cried out from the cross Father please forgive them. "That prayer of Christ for His enemies embraced the world. It took in every sinner that had lived or should live, from the beginning of the world to the end of time. Upon all rests the guilt of crucifying the Son of God. To all, forgiveness is freely offered. "Whosoever will" may have peace with God, and inherit eternal life." -Desire of Ages, Page 745. Sadly not everyone will accept the forgiveness offered.

          3. Jesus says treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector. And of course we try to convert pagans and tax collectors. But we don't have to put our self in a situation to be their victims. Forgiveness does not always result in reconciliation.

          4. Ellen White would agree with you here. "Nothing can justify an unforgiving spirit. He who is unmerciful toward others shows that he himself is not a partaker of God’s pardoning grace." -Christ Object Lessons, Page 251 Your last question was "So how does human "forgiveness" function when God's forgiveness was never received?" If God's forgiveness was not appreciated I suppose the human forgiveness would not be appreciated either. But both God and the human forgiver would still have a forgiving attitude.

          Like(2)
  2. Thank you for sharing your experienced from the book of Isaiah 53:5. I recently had a family issue that I wanted revenge. This remind me that Jesus suffered for the other person too. My life should show forgiveness, reconciliation and reformation. I do see now that I haven't daily done it and that is why Satan captured me at times. May God continue to guide you as you guide others from His Words.

    God Bless!

    Like(21)
  3. I know what you mean Carol. Its not rocket science, but I too had to have a bolt of lightning insight a while back as I was sharing the gospel presentation, how Jesus was treated the way we deserve so we can be treated as Christ deserves, and then it jumped out at me finally after a thousand times, that Jesus was also treated the way my enemy deserves. Works both ways.

    Like(19)
  4. I'm 46 years old. Been an Adventist all my life. But could never, truly get my head (or heart) around what forgiveness was really all about. It didn't seem logical so I didn't fully accept it. Consequently I've never actually experienced joy, or peace, or happiness. I've always had this nagging pain of a debt that I can't pay. Sins from many, many years ago are still on my heart. And consequently I don't forgive easily. Especially those close to me who have really hurt me. Thank you William. Thank you Jesus. I get it. I finally get forgiveness. I receive forgiveness as I give it. If Jesus died for me then he died for 'them' too. Amen.

    Like(35)
    • You know what helps me, Sammy? When I think of how God has forgiven me for ALL my sins, I am grateful and humbled. I figure if He can forgive me for ALL the things I've done, (which Satan got me to do in a moment of confusion or weakness), I figure I can forgive those who are confused or weak that have hurt me (and the things they've done to me write like a Greek tragedy). I can forgive others BECAUSE Christ forgave me.

      It also helps me to remember Ephesians 6. "12 For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places."

      When I think of the sins I've committed and want God's mercy, I extend to my frienemies the same. I extend to them mercy and the spiritual understanding that they unwittingly allowed Satan to use them to hurt me.

      In the end, all our suffering helps us to relate a little more to Jesus Christ and all He suffered for us.

      God bless,

      Mare

      Like(4)
      • Marie, isn't sin a result of the carnal nature in us, identified as being led away by our own lusts?
        It seems that God expects us to take responsibility for our own sin, confessing our sin against Him, and thereby receiving His forgiveness for all our sins. Satan will pressure our vulnerabilities; but has no power over our will to free choice, which includes overcoming through the power of Jesus Christ.

        Like(2)
  5. I am thankful for this blog because it tells us, in so many words, what forgiveness is NOT. It is not accepting that what the offender did was okay. It is also not the same as reconciliation, for that involves two parties: the offender and us. It is, however, our decision to let go of the pain/anger and of any desire to hurt this person back. I don't think forgiveness means we'll forget what happened. I have studied the Bible with many women who were sexually abused by a parent or spouse. They have scars from these attacks. But they were able, with God's help, to have victory over bitterness and resentment in spite of their scars and painful memories. They were able to move on, even though the relationship with the offender will never be ideal. In dealing with other types of conflicts, especially where we have endured any kind of pain, it is good to remember what forgiveness is and what it is not. It is good to keep in mind that Jesus will heal us. He will care for our wounds as we will forgive the one who made them. Put the offender in Christ's hands--let Him deal with their sin. And pray for them, that they will respond to God's Spirit so they can be healed too.

    Like(24)
  6. As a marital and family therapist (graduate of Loma Linda's graduate program) I am so glad to see your comment. I see this happen often in my office between clients. When we violate another's space we need to know what we did, that it's not ok. Even though we have asked forgiveness, there is another step. Repentance is much more than saying you're sorry. It means change and not doing it again. It means no reviolation with the same offense. We cannot say, "Well, that's just the way I am, I can't help it".

    More familial relationships would be healed, more relationships within the church and the ultimate: our relationship with our Creator and Redeemer would see such deepening, if we could only understand and experience this concept. His grace gives us abundant opportunities to work at change.......sanctification. We often shrink from that word..... I wish we wouldn't. Oh, to become more like Jesus.

    Like(20)
    • Marlene, may I first affirm your correlation of the process of confession and repentance/change to "no reviolation with the same offense. We cannot say, 'Well, that's just the way I am, I can't help it'."

      Would you consider discussing the meaning of the differences between the therapeutic process and that of salvation?
      1. "Violate another's space" vs "Sinned against God"
      Possible belittling assessment of the problem in the therapeutic process? OR overstating assessment in the theological context?

      2. "Repentance...means change...no reviolation" vs Holy Spirit transformation of the heart and overcoming sin in one's life OR "Abundant opportunities to work at change"
      Possible more incentive to change in the therapeutic process than in the area of religious perception of outcomes? Even the therapist Christian by her language/linguistics allows increased leeway in the theological process than allowed in the therapeutic process.

      Other comparisons also call for your wise assessments.

      Like(0)
  7. Powerful, the joy of forgiveness, no more bearing the burden of guilt, but allowing Jesus stripes to heal

    Like(9)
  8. William, that's one of the biggest problems we have in our churches is there are so many unforgiving people in the church. The spirit of God can't be poured out on the people as long as we want to get revenge on someone else, thank you ,the lady and her child for that,and thank Jesus.

    Like(6)
    • This article is still noteworthy even if it is a couple of years old. What I look for when characters are part of an illustration or a parable involving Jesus and the disciples is the reaction or the human element similar to our own. Peter was a ready subject, willing to say what was on his mind. The question in Matthew 18:21 is a classical example. Literal understanding like Nicodemus, John 3:1,4 is considered how our finite minds work. Peter was thinking, I will be liberal and exaggerate what would be normal to this way of thinking. Jesus' answer was totally unexpected. Our understanding of changes that need to be made, require power instilled by the Holy Spirit in our minds and heart. Not by our own inclinations.

      Like(4)
    • The truth is that forgiveness is very hard but when by his grace we are able to forgive, we derive inside peace that calms and relaxes the totality of our beings as it brings refreshment that suits and calms every frayed nerve. It takes the grace of God to love and pray for a person who is hurting you.But having realized the importance of forgiveness, daily, i pray that i may learn to forgive as God in Christ freely forgave me even when i'm most undeserving of his forgiveness.

      Like(8)
      • There are times when we cannot forgive; "I can of mine own self, do nothing." That is when we need to pray, "Lord, I am willing to be made willing to forgive". This has enabled me to do the right thing.

        Like(5)
  9. To forgive is to let the wrong dowa go scot free, and as if it never happened. That's what my God has done to me. Its no simple but through him who created us we can forgive.

    Like(3)
    • Yes, that's what forgiveness is, and ultimately it is only for the truly penitent. This article shares some excellent insights into how we should handle things in the meantime.

      Like(3)
    • Forgiveness is not letting the wrong doer go scot-free. Forgiveness is something that happens to the forgiver. When you forgive someone, your attitude to them changes. Forgiveness is a way of life.

      Accepting forgiveness is hard too. Sometimes we are unwilling to accept that we are forgiven, both by God and those who we have wronged. Accepting God's forgiveness requires a change of heart in us. That is much more than just saying "Sorry!"

      One final thought: Most of us find it very hard to forgive ourselves. We want to carry the burden of guilt with us. We know that God promises to take away our guilt but some of us find it very hard to accept that promise.

      Like(7)
  10. Spirit inspired forgiveness as opposed to 'human forgiveness'. This article truly shows what real forgiveness is. How do you respond to someone saying "...I would never forgive myself, if...". Is this rejection of God's all encompassing forgiveness, when we fail to forgive ourselves, for some past indiscretion?

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  11. To forgive someone comes from the heart also you accept forgiveness by faith and the holy spirit will guide us in good interaction.

    Like(4)
    • Spot-on! Only if we are walking in the Spirit a mutual forgiveness will take place.Often times the other guilty party,even if not a Christian, will be moved by the Holy Spirit IF we pray for them..
      I think the best quote is from the Lords prayer "Forgive us AS we forgive those who have sinned against us." So unless we forgive the other person we not not be forgiven ourselves.

      Like(2)
  12. Jesus wants us to forgive because it's not for those who hurt us, but it is for us .When we forgive those people who hurt us , Jesus fills our souls with peace and joy , and if we don't , that is where we give Satan a chance to fill our souls with bitterness, anger, resentment, and all the bad thoughts.

    Ask Jesus to give you the spirit of forgiveness, and I'm telling you, no word can explain the good feelling and the joy in your heart when you forgive your enemies.GOD BLESS YOU ALL

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  13. Always an engrossing meditation, this issue. And to open it up further, yes, we do have this human sense, all of us, that existential disruption is brought into being by an act of violation, one human toward another.
    You say,
    We have to be pretty sick ourselves to think that in order for us to be healed, someone else has to be hurt.
    Yet the sacrifice of Godhead seems to bear out this stern justice.
    The existential disruption of Lucifer's founding act of harm toward Godhead: the daily acts of harm of any if us toward each other are acts that do require that someone "pay!" That sense of logic is not "sick," but rather, a logic of love, woven into God's universe it would appear.
    Our disruptive evil toward him/each other required a purging. That purgation was the gathering of all of the disruptive pain onto Christ's head. Someone did indeed have to suffer to bring healing.

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  14. I agree with the article but sometimes I feel like a persons offense is treated like a one time event. I also believe that there's needs to be a dichotomy between non-criminal offenses and criminal offenses. Yes Jesus hung naked on the cross, but a person who commits sexual assault against another deserves the appropriate punishment. And no one should be made to feel as less of a Christian for desiring justice for a criminal offense. Certainly it's going too far to seek punishment for something that wasn't necessarily a crime, they way David did against Nabal. But, criminal offenses are a different beast altogether.

    Also what do we do when we forgive a person who didn't ask for an offense that won't stop?

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  15. You bring up a good point Bensheh. Even though Jesus forgave the thief on the cross, the thief still suffered the consequences for his crime. Forgiveness does not always mean reconciliation and it does not mean freedom form consequences.

    Like(3)
    • My last question is a grammatical mess. What I was trying to ask is how do we handle a situation where we forgive someone without them asking for forgiveness but they continue the offense unabated? And I don't mean something criminal but more like someone spreading rumors about you or who says racist things to you continually. I also want to add that I enjoy your post and find them thought provoking.

      Like(2)
      • Bensheh, the Bible tells us that "if we confess our sins(and repent), He is faithful and just to forgive...". So forgiveness is only received by the sinner when repentance is exercised. Continuing to transgress is not true repentance. Apology is not repentance. However, we are to be forgiving and to have no part in vengeance or retaliation. We benefit from being forgiving, but the wrongdoer has no benefit without repentance.

        So nothing you can do for the unrepentant, but for yourself, being forgiving is being godly and of such people is the kingdom of heaven. Our demonstration of the goodness of God toward all might lead the offender to repentance.

        Like(2)
  16. If you the offended does not forgive, then you will bear and carry a greater burden than the offender. Keeping a grudge wears and pulls you down. If you do not release and let go, you will not see any other good in the offender. It releaves you the offended than the offender if you forgive and let go.

    The offender may have truly reconciled self with God, leaving you in pain and bitterness, which causes diseases. I am blessed to be reminded that Jesus died for the offender as well just He died for me.

    Worse still, if you do not forgive, you become a hater

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