The First Step to Forgiving Others: Be Forgiven Yourself
“We aren’t speaking anymore.”
“My sin is too big for God to forgive.”
Have you ever heard statements like these?
One pastor observes, “Early in my pastoral ministry I noticed an interesting fact: nearly all the personal problems that drive people to seek pastoral counsel are related in some way to the issue of forgiveness. The typical counselee’s most troublesome problems would be significantly diminished (and in some cases solved completely) by a right understanding of what Scripture says about forgiveness.”1 He explained his observation further—people had trouble understanding the forgiveness of God or how to forgive others. They suffered ongoing personal guilt or problems in their relationships as a result2.
At my church, we recently examined the misuse of the tongue (James 3:1–12), the need for heavenly wisdom in achieving peace with others (James 3:13–18), the causes for quarrels and conflicts among us (James 4:1–5), and how the grace of God overcomes these sins through humility and repentance (James 4:6–12).
For a couple of weeks, we will break from James to answer the question, “But how do I fix the relational damage after a conflict has taken place?” In short—forgive one another. But forgiving others begins with being forgiven yourself.
Paul commands us to be “forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32). He provides the context elsewhere (“if one has a complaint against another”) and similarly commands, “As the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (Colossians 3:13). In both passages, the paradigm for forgiving others is how God has forgiven us in Christ. You must be forgiven in order to know how to forgive. So, let’s explore that for a moment.
First, we remember that we were sinners and provoked the wrath of God. We “were dead in the trespasses and sins in which [we] once walked” and “were by nature children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:1, 3). We were God’s enemies, hated for sin, every single day (Psalm 5:5; 7:11; John 3:36). We needed to be forgiven.
But then, we believed in Christ and what He did for us. “Through this Man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you” (Acts 13:38). The Father crushed Him for our iniquities and made Him who knew no sin to become sin for us so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God (Isaiah 53:4–6; 2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 2:24; Hebrews 9:28). His death provided a path to peace with the Father, and the righteousness of His perfect life became ours (Romans 5:10). Through the instrument of faith and on the basis of Christ’s death and life, God released us from the guilt and punishment for sin. He forgave us.
To forgive someone else is to seek no vengeance for wrongs committed. It is to love and look past the offense and go on as before. And if that seems hard to do, remember how God forgave you through Christ. By being forgiven yourself, you will know how to forgive another.
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About David Huffstutler
David pastors First Baptist Church in Rockford, IL, serves as a chaplain for his local police department, and teaches as adjunct faculty at Bob Jones University. David holds a Ph. D. in Applied Theology from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. His concentration in Christian Leadership focuses his contributions to pastoral and practical theology.