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Welcome to Sacred Friends. It and its companion website used to be Eternal Community, but, quite honestly, I never liked the name and felt a touch out of step with the focus. It's no longer about trying to train and equip counselors and others in relational ministry. Now it's about living relationally. It’s about my heart's desire to see people love God and others more deeply and to be a part of their journey as I share a bit of my own.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Being Forgivable

It often seems that when the topic of forgiveness surfaces in a conversation with a client, parishioner, or spiritual friend, the focus highlights the need for the individual to be a forgiving person. While this is an essential aspect of the Christian life (Matthew 6:14, 18:35; Luke 6:37; Colossians 3:13), it is also important to remember the principal of being a forgivable person.

A forgivable person is one who is willing to acknowledge wrong-doing and actively seek forgiveness from those who have been wronged. Being forgivable is about character; character that begins with an intimate relationship with Christ and is manifested in behavior that demonstrates a godly and humble attitude of heart and mind.

Sharing the Principal: “No Excuses”
As pastors, mentors, counselors, and spiritual friends, it is up to us to help those with whom we walk to understand that we are all without excuse. The Lord doesn’t care how right we are. He cares how righteous we are. Righteousness first requires that God’s children know what He expects of them; what He approves of and what He doesn’t. Of course, for this to occur it is vital that we encourage our spiritual friends to read, study, probe, and ponder the Bible consistently, honestly, and candidly. Knowing God’s Word enlightens our clients to recognize and admit when they need to ask for forgiveness.

When they struggle with denial or “justifiable” sin, we can point them back to Scripture, gently reminding them that everyone sins (Romans 3:23), and if we claim to be sin-free we are deceiving ourselves (1 John 1:8). We can also compassionately remind them that we are warned against thinking too highly of ourselves (Romans 12:3).

Although the Lord already knows when our clients have sinned, He expects them to confess those sins to Him. Scripture promises that when they do, the Lord will forgive them and purify them from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).

God also expects that His children admit the errors of their ways to one another (James 5:18; Matthew 3:23-24) and to be at peace with one another as much as it depends on each person (Romans 12:18). Those are commands, not suggestions. They don’t come with loopholes and conditions.

Our bad behavior is not justified by someone else’s bad behavior. Even the unsaved know this. Who hasn’t heard from a very early age, the adage, “Two wrongs don’t make a right”? But so often Christians confuse the issue and think, feel, and act as though they can behave in sinful ways because someone has wronged them.

Shepherding the Process: Becoming a Forgivable Person
There are a few practical steps that we and our clients can take toward becoming more responsible in the quest to become a more forgivable person.

Follow Christ’s Model of Never Making Excuses: When we offer excuses we are in essence saying that it is not our fault that we did wrong. We are blaming the other person, circumstances, or someone else, rather than taking full responsibility for our actions. Having a bad day, things not going our way, or being mistreated by someone is not a license to sin. Christ, not the world, neighbors, friends, or family, is our standard (Philippians 2: 6-8). If ever anyone was misunderstood, mistreated, abused, and injured, it is our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Not once did He sin in His responses to His mockers and tormenters. Not once did He lash out because He was tired or hungry. Not once did He lose His temper because people were making demands of Him and trying to pull Him in twenty different directions at the same time. And aren’t those the very things of life that we try to use to justify our sin? We are without excuse and would do well to remember that when we apologize.

Specifically Ask for Forgiveness: We oftentimes simply say (sometimes begrudgingly), “I’m sorry.” It’s important to ask for forgiveness for something specific rather than assume forgiveness has been granted, or worse yet, to demand that it be extended. Saying, "I should not have lied to you. Will you forgive me?" communicates humility and the acceptance of responsibility, and is much more powerful than a blanket, "I'm sorry."

Prepare for Possible Rejection: People are not always ready and willing to extend forgiveness to those who have hurt them, merely because the offender asks for forgiveness. We can help our parishioners think through their responses in the event forgiveness is withheld.

Remember That the Consequences of Sin Can Be Long-Term: As important and necessary as confession, repentance, and apologizing are, they don’t guarantee that the repercussions will be erased. For instance, it can take years for the damage of adultery to be repaired. A simple, “I’m sorry I cheated on you,” isn’t going to engender immediate trust from the offended spouse. Sometimes sinful choices put people in the position of making restitution and it is essential that we accept those consequences. Even King David experienced dire consequences from his adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband, Uriah (2 Samuel 11-12). Even when forgiveness is extended, consequences can remain.

Emphasize Spiritual Disciplines and the Process of Progressive Sanctification: Seeking to become a forgivable person will require all that the spiritual disciplines have to offer. We are each a work in progress. The Lord expects us to be progressively sanctified day by day and moment by moment. It is the Lord who provides the power to change. It is up to us to cooperate with Him and make a point to actively participate in the process (Philippians 2:12-14).

Choose to Be Forgiving: It is important that we continue to be people who forgive regardless of whether or not others are forgiving us. That’s part of being without excuse.

View Life as a Journey Where We Grow Along the Way: Nothing is wasted in God’s economy. When we humble ourselves and seek forgiveness from those we have wronged, we will become more like Christ and be blessed for it.

Inevitably there will be bumps in the road toward becoming a more forgivable person. However, the road is one worth traveling. Every step not only enhances our relationships and conforms us more to the image of Christ, but also takes us closer to His heart.

Note: This article originally published in the BCSFN quarterly journal. Reprinted with permission.