Have you ever granted forgiveness to someone who hurt you? Did you mean it? I mean, did you really, really mean it or did you just say, “I forgive you” because it is the Christian thing to do?
A test of genuine forgiveness: after you forgave the person were you able to talk about the hurt in such a way that communicated you were no longer sinfully controlled by those hurts?
A sign of complete biblical forgiveness is when you can be hurt, grant forgiveness, and then talk about what happened to you without being sinfully controlled by what was done to you.
Though granting forgiveness can be a better version of how our culture works through their relational problems, it can be no more effective. This does not mean forgiveness granting is not genuine if we still struggle with what was done to us, but it does mean our forgiveness is not complete if we cannot genuinely let go of the hurt.
True forgiveness illustrated
As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. – Genesis 50:20 (ESV)
The speaker in this verse is Joseph, the son of Jacob. He is talking to his brothers, who initially tried to kill him only to end up selling him to slave traders.
Joseph spent thirteen, mostly horrible years away from his family, accused of a crime he did not commit, served time in jail, and was betrayed by those who could help him.
It is hard to fully understand what all happened to Joseph. Any one of the incidents during those thirteen years was enough to ruin his thoughts about God and life for the rest of his life.
When we break into the story, Joseph is finally letting his brothers know what he thought about their meanness to him. After thirteen years, he had his first opportunity to face the perpetrators of his hardships.
Joseph’s response to them was forgiveness. Amazing grace. He was ready for the moment. His heart was prepared to grant the long overdue forgiveness to his persecutors.
Before Joseph could get to the place of genuinely forgiving his brothers, he had to do business with God. He had to work out what happened to him with God before he could work it out with his brothers.
To miss this essential step in the forgiveness process is to miss out on the opportunity of going the distance with someone who needs your forgiveness. What makes this step so important is that it gives you time to perceive the LORD’s mind, as much as it can be perceived, about what happened to you.
A theologically precise view of God must be established in your mind and you must be convinced that He is working good in ways that you did not expect and have not perceived up to this point. This is the work of pre-forgiveness.
When bad things happen to me, the only way I can process and accept them correctly is after I have gained sovereign clarity on my troubles. Joseph had sovereign clarity.
Do you have sovereign clarity on the disappointments in your life?
When you review the tape of your life, can you see with sovereign clarity?
If you cannot trust God’s good work on your behalf (Romans 8:28), then you will be a candidate for harboring such things as bitterness, anger, anxiety, discouragement, worry, criticism, resentment, cynicism, and even hate toward those who have hurt you.
Not being anchored by God’s sovereign care of your life will make you like a kite in the wind. It is imperative He has control over the many angles of sin. Here are a few of those angles:
How you are feeling in the moment.
The type of sin sinned against you.
The kind of relationship you have with the person who offended you.
Their attitude toward you.
Your attitude toward them.
The fluctuating cravings of your heart.
Leone’s husband committed adultery. It was the most devastating news of her life. It took many months of biblical care, among many friends, in the context of her local church to help her walk through the smashing anguish of her heart. She called it her nightmare from hell.
When Cal repented, he eventually came back to Leone to ask for her forgiveness. What he did not know was that Leone had already done business with God. She was ready to grant forgiveness.
Her brand of forgiveness was more than her Christian duty. It was God-centered, grace-empowered, Gospel-motivated forgiveness. Leone was like Joseph.
When the time came for forgiveness, the hard work of pre-forgiveness was over and genuine forgiveness could be granted. It was the amazing grace of God that was working in her heart.
Leone had been praying for nearly fifteen years that God would make their marriage complete. They had sex while dating and though she was not totally convinced she wanted to marry Cal, it seemed like a better option than staying single. She was lonely. After their marriage, she became even lonelier.
In addition, to Cal’s ongoing bouts with anger, their three sons were living in rebellion to God. Cal and Leone were also struggling financially. They professed to be Christians and were moderately committed to their local church.
In God’s autonomous and non-manipulatable time, He answered Leone’s fifteen-year prayer request to fix her marriage. What did He do? He blew it up. God dropped a bomb in the middle of their marriage and blew it to smithereens.
The initial devastation for Leone and the children is hard to describe. From all perspectives it made no sense. To find good or God in their mess seemed to be a stretch.
As the numbness began to wear off Leone, she began to seek God’s mind on what was going on in her life, marriage, and family. That was when she came to the story of Joseph.
In whose story are you living?
Leone learned that God not only worked in the present, but He planned for the future. What Joseph and his family could not know was that there was going to be a famine in the land and sovereign LORD needed someone in Egypt to set things up so the nation of Israel could be preserved.
As you know, God was not just doing this for the nation of Israel or Joseph’s family. He was doing this because of His promise to Adam (Genesis 3:15) and to Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3). Humanity needed a Savior and that Savior was going to come through Jacob’s lineage.
The bomb the good LORD dropped in Jacob’s family flung Joseph to Egypt. According to His predetermined plan the LORD scripted bad things into Joseph’s life.
This is what Joseph and Leone believed, which motivated them to give up trying to control their respective stories while humbly stepping into God’s story. Joseph and Leone had sovereign clarity.
After they came to this place in their understanding, though they were legitimately hurting and most definitely living in dysfunctional situations, they were ready to move forward with God’s new plans for their lives. The point became less about what was happening to them and more about what God was doing through them.
When you think through your disappointments are you more aware and affected by what God is doing or are you more aware and affected by how you have been hurt?
Can you humbly let go of the script you have been holding on to and grasp the new script that God is writing for you?
There were three things that Joseph shared with his brothers:
What God did was for good.
What they did was for evil.
God’s good trumps their evil.
Therefore, he was able to genuinely forgive his brothers for what they did to him.
What controls your heart: what God allowed or what the offender did?
Where do you put the accent: on the good of God or on the evil of man?
How you answer these questions will determine the depth and quality of your forgiveness. If you cannot get to where Joseph was, then you will not be able to successfully release those who have sinned against you.
One of the ways you can check your heart regarding your forgiveness of others for what they did to you is how you think about what they did to you.
This is where the Gospel must have a greater grip on us than what others have done to us. One of the ways you can practicalize the Gospel this way is by how you perceive the offenses of others in light of your offenses against the LORD.
The cross has a way of down-sizing what was done to me, by putting my problems in their proper place. If the same Gospel that saved my soul cannot overcome the disappointment of what was done to me, then the gospelization of my heart is not complete.
Forgiveness flows out of a soften heart. The longer you stand before the One you offended, the better it will go for you when you stand before the one who offended you.
If you have done this correctly, then you are in the perfect place to forgive the person who hurt you. The power of the Gospel makes forgiveness really real.
Pre-forgiveness will not come easy. Getting your thoughts straightened out and aligned with God is the hard part. Forgiveness is usually not the hard part if we have wrestled through pre-forgiveness. Note how Joseph was ready to forgive his brothers.
He had thirteen years to figure this out with the LORD. I am not suggesting you need thirteen years to figure it out, but you must figure it out, no matter how long it takes.
If you do, then when the time for forgiveness does come, it will not be as hard as it could be. However, if it is hard, then more time before God is required because some residual anger toward the LORD is more than likely operating in your heart.
We are all Sovereigntist. Whether we consciously think about it or not, we all know that there is a God and He is ultimately in control. If we cannot forgive others for what happened to us, then there is an underlying issue that needs to be resolved with God first.
Once you have sovereign clarity and you can freely forgive the person who hurt you, you will be able to go beyond the hurt and genuinely be reconciled to the offender. This is the good part, but it gets better.
When Lucia and I make up the way I have described here, we then begin talking about the sin that separated us. The sin that made us slaves is now serving us.
The sin becomes a practical, working illustration that we can talk about in order to grow and mature to the point where we can reduce the amount of future sinning against each other.
It should not be difficult to talk about sin if it has been neutralized by the power of the Gospel. This is vital, because it is important to revisit our past sins in non-punitive ways so we can learn from our mistakes. This is an effective way for our relationships mature. Note the process:
Pre-forgiveness: allowing God to adjust your heart so you can forgive.
Forgiveness: genuinely granting forgiveness to someone who hurt you.
Reconciling: the relationship is no longer separated by sin.
Maturing: the sin has been neutralized so you can discuss it.
Just as Joseph could talk to his brothers about what they did in a non-punitive way, you should be able to have similar discussions with your friends who sin against you.
God answered Leone’s prayer by blowing up her marriage and she had enough sovereign clarity to accept and respond to her marital disappointment. That was seven years ago.
Those dark days have almost been completely swallowed up by the incredible selfless and God-glorifying marriage that she and Cal have today. Though she was the one who was offended, she had a major role to play in the restoration of her marriage. It began with the preparatory work in her heart. She was ready to forgive.
Has someone sinned against you?
Are you able to forgive, if they were to ask for your forgiveness?
If so, then you are free from their sin, whether they ever ask you to forgive them.