When we mess up and need forgiveness, one of the most frustrating things can be when people withhold that forgiveness. Forgiveness is one of those topics I write about a lot because it is one of those things fallen people think about often. Today I want to get into one of the really nasty things that can happen after someone grants a sort of half-hearted forgiveness.
You know what I’m talking about. You’ve sinned against someone and you ask their forgiveness, but when they grant it, the forgiveness only becomes a way to keep you down. They constantly remind you of your former sin, beating you over the head with it. Or, worse, they sarcastically or subtly bring it up at an opportune time to give them a perceived upper hand.
That’s not forgiveness. I hope that goes without saying. If someone is holding that kind of “forgiveness” over you, it’s not love, grace or kindness. It’s a power trip. And the best thing you can do is simply say, “I realize you haven’t forgiven me for the sin I’ve committed. I’ve been forgiven by God. I hope one day we can talk again about this and you can forgive me. Please let me know when we can discuss it further.”
Don’t let people hold sin that God has forgiven you for over your head. And don’t do it to yourself either. The sin is over with and done. Will consequences still be meted out in real life for it? Sure. But there does come a time for grace and understanding. Move on. If others can’t move along with you, be patient with them.
So why do people do this? In one of my most popular blog posts, I give several reasons people don’t forgive. So why do people act like they forgive then drag up our sin before us in a humiliating way?
For some, it seems like a way to exercise power over another. It’s like standing there and saying, “Remember what you did? I can keep you right where I want you because I know what you did.” Guess what kills that? Public confession. When everyone knows what you did, no one person has power over you.
For most of us, we feel better about our own sin when we can compare ourselves to others. When some one else commits a sin, we can always say, “Well, at least I didn’t do that.” I have a happy little theory that many people enjoy crime and reality TV because we like to know that there are people in the world worse than us. But guess what squashes this line of thinking? The ultimate righteousness of God. None of us is as good as Him. And the only one who can meet that standard is Christ.None of us is any better than the other. In fact, we are all great at sinning. Only by the grace of Christ are we all equal. All ground is level at the foot of the cross.
Forgiveness is so awesome. And it took a fall from ministry for me to grasp it fully. It’s so awesome because it brings us to a place where we don’t have to be ashamed. We don’t have to look down on another or feel beholden to anyone else in this world. We don’t have to walk through Wal-Mart with out head down. We don’t have to worry about what others say about us because our best friend, Jesus Christ, loves us no matter what.
And guess what? If Jesus is their best friend too, they shouldn’t care about it either. They’ll treat us like a brother or sister and we’ll eventually get it all figured out.
Forgiveness isn’t the easiest thing, but when it’s accomplished, it’s one of the greatest things.
Ray Carroll is the author of “Fallen Pastor Crisis Manual: Help for All Those Affected by a Minister’s Fall” and “Fallen Pastor: Finding Restoration in a Broken World,” which answer many of the questions I get asked on a weekly basis.
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