One of the biggest barriers to having real self-confidence is holding on to grudges. Most of us have grudges against God, ourselves, and others and we need to let them all go before we can enjoy the confidence God wants us to have. All this week, I’ll be posting on forgiveness, starting with why we should forgive and why we must forgive.
There is a quote attributed in a variety of forms to various people that reads, “Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.” When you hold a grudge against someone else, you’re doing far more harm to yourself than to them.
Unforgiveness will affect you negatively in several ways:
1. It will take your time, energy, and focus off of God and the things you should be focused on. There was one woman I was interested in during college who gave me a rather harsh, public rejection. I replayed over and over in my head what I wish I’d said for years after, getting angry again at both of us. That time could have been better spent doing almost anything else: reading the Bible, praying, writing, editing, working out, or even sleeping. All my grudge did was waste time and make me angry.
Think about your grudges for a second. How much time do you devote to them? Are you daydreaming of getting even? Are you seething? Do you automatically get angry whenever you’re around that person?
This is neither healthy nor productive. It is stealing time and energy away from God, your job, relationships, family, and other important things in your life. And honestly, would you rather think about something that makes you happy or something that makes you miserable and angry?
2. It will prevent you from moving forward in the relationship in which you have a grudge. You cannot want to grow closer to someone or love them more deeply when you are angry with them. You have to let go of that grudge for the relationship to become closer. This is true of all relationships, whether with other people, God, or even yourself. You cannot force yourself through this barrier by spending more time with that person, either. Trying to force it will only deepen the grudge because your mind will keep turning back to it. The only way to deepen the relationship is to forgive that person.
3. It will get in the way of future relationships. When we hold grudges, it’s very difficult to only be angry with the person who wronged us. You’ve heard this before when your friend breaks up with someone and decries all men or women or when your boss upsets you and you vent against bosses in general. We tend to stereotype people and get mad at the lot of them, rather than just the ones with whom we’ve any right to be angry. When we do this, we make false or unfounded accusations and these get in the way of building healthy, solid relationships.
4. As Christians, we are called to be one body. Ever wake up in the middle of the night, stumble toward the bathroom, and find furniture with your toe? It hurts, but do you cut your toe off so it won’t happen again? Of course not!
Why, then, do we not do this within the church? When we refuse to forgive each other, we act like the world does. If the Gospel we’re bragging about isn’t enough to make us radically different than everyone else and help us rise above the petty concerns that so much of the world is bogged down in, then how can we expect them to want to become Christians?
Moreover, those in the church are our brothers and sisters. They should be people we love and always forgive. In Matthew 18, Peter asks how many times he’s supposed to forgive his brother and offers seven times. Jesus says it should be seventy times seven. That’s not a literal number, but Jesus was telling him as often as Peter’s brother sinned against him, Peter should forgive him.
5. Unforgiveness is an indictment of our faith in God to fix whatever mess we’re in. God doesn’t just let us suffer for the fun of it. He doesn’t allow things to be taken from us because He’s asleep on the job. He allows these things for a reason. When the New Testament apostles were beaten and imprisoned, they weren’t given fine new houses and bags of gold, but they were given something even better: a deeper relationship with God. They piled up treasures in Heaven as well, but even on earth, they got something that no earthly treasure could buy them. God does not allow things to be taken from us unless He intends to give us something better. Even when He’s taking things from us as a chastisement for our sins or because they’re not good for us, the end result is taking something from us that was between us and Him. We get more of Him, more of what we desperately need. When we refuse to forgive, we’re telling God we don’t believe He’ll work all things out in the end for our good, meaning that the person who hurt us is more powerful than His ability to restore us.
6. Lastly, it is arrogant to put yourself above God. In the United States, the President has the power to issue a full pardon to anyone. Imagine a murderer in Texas is on death row and the President issues such a pardon. The man’s crimes are all exonerated. It’s as if he hadn’t even gotten a speeding ticket. Then some guard decides to punish this guy anyway, so instead of freeing him, he hauls him off to the execution chamber and injects the shot himself. He is no longer a government-sanctioned executioner, but a criminal himself, guilty of murder. Why? Because that man on death row, whatever he had done, had been pardoned and is now deemed innocent. The President’s forgiveness of him matters more than that guard’s opinion or even the facts of the case.
When we hold a grudge against other people, we’re essentially telling them they owe us for something that God has already forgiven. That puts us above God, saying that our opinion of their wrongdoing is more important than God’s opinion of it. We put ourselves in the Throne of Judgment, which is God’s place alone. And then we further profane it by using it to judge others according to what they have done to us rather than with God’s mercy and a remembrance that all sins are done primarily against Him.
Not only that, we’re saying that Jesus’ sacrifice wasn’t enough to wash out that person’s sins because that person doesn’t have our forgiveness. Think of the preposterous arrogance of this: Jesus, part of the Trinity, God Himself, is not powerful enough to wash out someone’s sins, but the forgiveness of you, a fallen, weak, petty human is? You not only set yourself up as God when you don’t forgive, you trample Jesus’ sacrifice as not good enough.
All of these are reasons that we should forgive. Are they the reason we must forgive, though? No. The reason we must forgive goes even deeper.
We must forgive because the Bible commands us to.
There are two basic commandments that Jesus gives: Love the Lord with everything you have and love your neighbor as yourself. As part of the Lord’s Prayer, He gives us a commandment that’s part of the latter. He says in Matthew 6:14-15, “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” This is the only part of the Lord’s Prayer that He specifically highlights afterward. It’s that important.
Why does He grant leniency for loving Him and loving others (what else can we call the forgiveness of our sins?), but doesn’t grant leniency for forgiving them?
The answer is because “by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9. The key phrase in this discussion is “through faith.” You have to believe that Jesus’ sacrifice was enough to wash out your sins. If you do not believe this, then it will not work for you.
Here’s the issue, though: Jesus didn’t die for just you. He died to offer Himself as a sacrifice for everyone. Anyone who believes in what He did can take advantage of His sacrifice. It is the ultimate one-size-fits-all gift. This means that the same gift was given to you as was given to everyone else, and accepting this gift is based on faith. If you do not believe it is enough for someone else’s sins, then it is not enough for your sins, either.
Read that last paragraph again…slowly. When you refuse to forgive someone, you’re not just saying that the offending person needs your forgiveness to really be forgiven; you’re saying that God Himself is not strong enough to cleanse that person, which means that God Himself is not strong enough to cleanse you. You are dooming yourself by your own unbelief, by your own unforgiveness. His blood is either strong enough for everyone, or it’s strong enough for no one. You must decide which of those two options you believe because there is no third option.