Repent and Forgive

Repent and Forgive

“Clean your room." "Brush your teeth!"   "Share your toys!”  As a parent, there were times when I directed my children to do things that they did not want to do.  Sometimes my children would question me with that ever-classic, “But why?”  Simply, my children did not want to do what I had asked them to do because they couldn’t see how it would benefit themselves.  They would have preferred to stay in a cluttered room, have bad breath and keep all their toys to themselves.  If you have children, I know you understand this scenario.  You have probably also made these very same commands of your own children.  And in every situation, you, as the parent, had the “Why” all queued up:  “So that you don’t trip over your toy spaceship and fall and break a bone, so that your teeth won’t fall out and cost me anymore money in dental work and because I want you to understand that everything is not about you and that sharing is a Christian principle that our family lives by.”  We give directions to our children not because we are mean, but because we are good parents.  We see the potential in our children and want to help them mature.

God is our good parent.  He sees our potential and wants to mature us too!  So, He also gives us commandments to follow.  He tells us to love Him with all our hearts, and to love our neighbor more than we love ourselves (Matthew 22:37-39).  He also commands us to repent and forgive (Colossians 3:12-14, Matthew 6:14-15, Luke 17:3-4, and Ephesians 4:32). God’s Word is clear – if we want to be forgiven, we must forgive.  This is not an option.  This is not a controversial point.  It is, however, sometimes hard to walk out because our pride and sinful nature get in the way.

Let’s be clear on a couple of points:

1.            Repentance begins the moment we acknowledge that we have hurt someone, wronged someone or inadvertently mistreated someone.  The “hurt, wrong and mistreatment” is finished when we confess our action to the hurting soul, vow to never do it again and ask for their forgiveness.

2.            Forgiveness is our response to a repentant request.  Forgiveness is how we erase the record of the wrong and vow to remember it no more.

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This is a supremely powerful process that God taught us and demonstrated through His son, Jesus Christ.  God, the good parent, knows that forgiveness is good for us.  Why?  Because God knows that our hearts cannot carry the burden of unforgiveness without developing scars or permanent wounds that limit our ability to share the Gospel to a hurting world.  Woundedness makes us very self-centered.  Unforgiveness cripples our attempts at living out the Gospel.

The practice of repentance and forgiveness begins in our relationship with God, and spills over to intimate relationships like marriage.  The happiest marriages are those that practice this Gospel principle often and well.  In his book, “The Meaning of Marriage,” Tim Keller states that couples who do not practice forgiveness may be able to distance themselves from their spouse and remain married, but when it is time for their 50th Wedding Anniversary photo op, “the kiss will be forced.”  Ouch!  This is not what I desire for my marriage, or for yours.  So, how do we make repentance and forgiveness a bedrock principle in our marriages and lives?  We do this by being humble, laying down the badge of hurt and remembering the wrong no more.  Keep reading, friend.

We must lay aside our pride, acknowledge our hurt and let our spouse know when our feelings have been injured.  I can’t stress how important the act of humbling yourself is to the health of your marriage!  This will take a soul-bearing conversation where you may have to admit to your spouse that you are not as secure as you’d like to think you are or that you portray.  It will require you to be vulnerable.  The world teaches us to be independent and impervious to offense, and to build a wall around our hearts.  God desires that we be first and foremost depend on Him.  He also desires that we be open and transparent with our marriage covenant spouse.  If this is your first foray into this kind of naked intimacy, expect to stumble a bit.  You may trip over your words and feel odd.  But remember, God will help you!  He would not give us the command to repent and forgive if His spirit couldn’t equip us for the job.  Pray and ask the Holy Spirit to give you the right words, timing and approach with your spouse.  Then, with your heart right with God and your hurt revealed, relax and trust that your spouse will repent and ask for your forgiveness.  And if your spouse doesn’t respond perfectly, extend a little grace and be patient.  Someone has to start the ball rolling.  It might as well be you 😊!  And when it is you who notice that your spouse is hurt by your actions, quickly respond with sincere repenting.

Now, we must not revel in the hurt that our spouse inflicts.  I know first-hand that there is a deliciousness in being wounded (see “Grudge Game”).  It puts you in the catbird seat – you can lord it over your spouse and bring it up whenever it is convenient to you.  You can remain protected so long as you can use the badge of hurt as a shield and can keep your spouse at arms-length.  But this would become the start of the end of your marriage, so don’t do it!  When your spouse repents and asks for forgiveness, you must lay that badge down.  If you hope to be forgiven one day, you must be able to forgive others.

But God goes even further!  God promises us that He will cast our confessed and forgiven sin as far as the east is from the west (Psalms 109:12)!  And, what the powerful blood of Jesus covers is never seen again.  This is a beautiful picture, and through the power of God, this can become manifest in your marriage too!  I pray this is the kind of forgiveness I give to Jody, to my family and to all my friends.

I remember a time when I was a freshman in college when a young Christian girl hurt me very deeply during a weekly campus Bible Study.  Because of my view on a Biblical issue, she publicly questioned my faith, and when I would not concede the point she asked me not to return.  The young girl was more concerned about keeping denominational lines un-blurred than on focusing on all the spiritual truths that we held in common.  I was ostracized, and my young 18-year-old soul was crushed.  I cried out to God with my hurt and searched for the correct approach to mend my relationship with the young girl.  I could find none.  Instead, the situation became an excellent opportunity for me to practice forgiveness, when none was requested, so that my heart wouldn’t become bitter.  I prayed about my hurt for weeks and finally, through the Holy Spirit, I got a complete peace and forgave her.  About 9 years later and in Germany, I ran into this young lady again.  Both of our husbands were in the US Army and we found ourselves at the same Army Wife event.  I recognized her from across the room.  I walked up to her, called her by name, gave her a big hug, and asked her how she was doing.  She immediately burst into tears saying how sorry she was for the wrong she had done to me back in college.  She confessed that our encounter at the campus meeting 9 years earlier had troubled her ever since.  She gave me a heart-felt apology.  I was taken back.  I had forgiven her so completely that I had completely forgotten about the grievance until she reminded me of it.  My forgiveness of her did not come about because I was super holy, or had dementia or anything else like that.  It was simply the working of the Holy Spirit!  God had protected my heart from bitterness, and He had replaced the hurt with love – His love.  She and I both left feeling loved by God and completely restored.  

Jody and I practice repentance and forgiveness frequently.  It is no longer awkward, but instead one more way that God weaves our hearts together.  In the course of the marriage group that we lead, we ask couples this question:  “How do you know when your spouse has forgiven you?”  We hear a wide array of answers, from the way the spouses speaks to them, a look in their eye, facial expression or the basic temperature of the relationship.  But from couples that practice repentance and forgiveness regularly, the answer is most often, “Because they say so!” 😊

Don’t wait another day to put the practice of repentance and forgiveness to work in your marriage and in your life.  I know of no couple that practices this well that is also unhappy or in any danger of their marriage coming apart.  And I will further offer that if forgiveness is common in your marriage, the photo op kiss, and every other kiss, will be natural, passionate and toe tingling!  Keep reading, friend.  Next week's post - keeping it hot and holy in your marriage! 


Colossians 2:13-14

When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.

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