I heard it once said that Christians are furthest away from the mind and heart of Christ when they are found to possess an unforgiving spirit. Given the message of the Gospel and the themes of reconciliation and forgiveness woven throughout Scripture, it’s easy to see how this mindset runs contrary to what should be at the heart of our identities as born again believers.
As I reflect on my own life experiences and the times I’ve withheld forgiveness because of pride, stubbornness and a host of other illegitimate reasons, there exists a deep sense of regret and sadness. Because of God’s grace and longsuffering, I know I have been forgiven, but that doesn’t erase the memory of my missteps and the damage done to my testimony. So much of my unforgiveness stemmed from the sense of power it gave me over those whom I perceived to have offended me. As long as I refused forgiveness over the supposed “offense,” then I had a reason to feel superior. My unforgiveness took many forms. Ignoring the individual completely, not responding to initiated communication efforts on their end, or speaking badly about the person behind his/her back were some of the most frequently used tactics in my arsenal of grievance weapons.
In the months that led to my marriage coming to a grinding halt, the most important person in my life had become myself. I was a master at defending my own actions, justifying my sin and finding ways to use petty infractions that existed only in my head as a way to belittle, disparage and marginalize my precious wife. I had become so easily offended by my wife that she found herself walking on eggshells most days in an effort to avoid incurring my wrath. “How dare my wife not live up to my expectations!” I would think. I would punish her through deliberately spoken hurtful comments or by giving her the silent treatment so as to make her feel as though she didn’t exist. Sadly, my unloving words and deeds did far more damage than I could have anticipated. In time, Satan would use these actions as a means to construct the foundation of what would become the basis of our divorce… bitterness and unforgiveness. It wasn’t until I started walking through the pain of losing my wife that I began to understand how serious an offense unforgiveness was.
For years I had allowed the spirit of unforgiveness to reign in my heart. When it had finally run its course, I found myself on the receiving end of a decade’s worth of pent up wrath and hostility. On one hand, I couldn’t blame my wife for the path she decided to take. After all, I had created an environment that was ripe for this type of disaster. But the closer I grew to the Lord and the more I matured in my faith, the more I realized how contrary unforgiveness was to a heart that claimed to belong to Christ. While she denied this truth at the time, my covenant wife would eventually come to discern this as well.
At its very nature, unforgiveness is rebellion against God. It is a deliberate refusal to obey a direct order. When we choose to withhold forgiveness, it is the result of a complete disconnect with the heart of the Gospel. How can we ever think our relationship with Jesus is where it needs to be if we have erected walls of division with one another, or have fortified our internal defenses so as to prevent our spouse from reconciling? It is so vitally important to understand that when we choose not to forgive, we are taking a dangerous risk. Matthew 6:15 states that if we do not forgive others of their sins, the Father will not forgive us of our sins. We don’t need a Bible commentary to understand what is plainly written here. The warning to believers is quite sobering. May this unholy spirit never find a place in our hearts.
Perhaps you have been so deeply hurt by your husband or wife that you cannot see a path forward to forgive. If this is your present condition, do not be dismayed. There was a point in my life shortly after our divorce that I questioned the capacity I had to forgive my wife. Thankfully, I came to realize that I didn’t need to rely on my own strength. The Lord had promised to never leave or forsake me and I knew I had access to His power. He had provided everything I needed to overcome this challenge of unforgiveness. It was all right there contained in His Holy Word.
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. Hebrews 4:12 (ESV)
Forgiveness is absolutely possible, but only if you allow God to change your heart. You must first submit to His authority and acknowledge that your unwillingness to forgive is sin. Once again in His will and under His submission, allow the Lord to transform your heart and mind by feasting on His Word as well as going to Him daily in prayer. The more intimate your relationship with the Lord is, the easier you will find it to forgive. The spiritually mature believer who walks in close fellowship with Christ will acknowledge that as forgiven sinners, we have absolutely no right to withhold forgiveness from anyone, regardless of the offense. Remember this truth as you strive to live in accordance with the teachings and admonitions of Scripture.
Tom in Tennessee