The Grudge List: Your Path to Forgiveness

Today, I’m going to give you a very useful tool to aid you in forgiving everyone. First, though, let’s talk about what sin is. Sin is any thought you dwell on or any action that is against God’s will. God created the Universe and all that is in it; therefore, it is His rules we are under. It’s not a sin to be tempted, to have a thought flit through your head, but it is a sin to dwell on it and imagine yourself giving into that temptation.

We can wrong others, but even then, our sins are 99% against God. Imagine that you had a golden retriever puppy named Goldie (because you’re so original with names) and someone, even a good friend, comes over and kicks your puppy. Not on accident, just being a jerk. Even thought the dog is wronged and nothing was done directly against you, you still take offense because you care about Goldie. She’s yours, and so the offense done against her is taken personally as one against you.

How much more so do you think God takes it when we wrong His sons and daughters or even non-Christians, since He loves us all?

Also, when we wrong each other, we’re breaking God’s will because He tells us to love each other. This makes our wrongs against each other sins against the Creator of the Universe. Just as stepping on a roach is a lesser crime than spitting on another person, so is anything we do to each other compared to the crime of disobeying Him.

I mention this because we all need to be forgiven of our sins. There are no perfect people on this earth, so we all need forgiveness and grace. And, as I wrote yesterday, God will only forgive us if we forgive others.

But not all of the things that we take offense at are sins, are they? There’s the woman who gets in the express checkout lane with 19 items instead of 15, the coworker with the annoying laugh, or the guy with no social skills whatsoever. These things may get on our nerves, but they’re not sins. We need to let go of these grudges, too.

So, how do we let them go?

The best way I have found is by using what I call the ‘Grudge List.’ To make one, start by writing down the names of everyone you can remember. I recommend going by periods in your life (grade school, high school, early 20’s, etc.), then by location (church, school, work, neighborhood, family) so you don’t miss anybody. If you remember a person, but not their name, write down enough of a description so you can remember them when you go through this list.

Next, go through each name on this list and think about the person for a moment. If you have any negative feelings about them, write their name on another list. This is the beginning of your Grudge List.

On your Grudge List, for each name that made the cut, write down all of the offenses you can remember and how they made you feel. Resist the urge to sum up; be specific so you can let go of all the wrongs done to you. It will take time, but it’s better to do a thorough cleansing than a light rinse. Don’t be overly nice here, either. They won’t read this unless you show it to them, so say what’s really on your mind. You can lose the benefit of this exercise by not being completely honest.

Next, write down your own sins against the person. I highly recommend this because it will let you see that you were wrong, too. Don’t put in any statements like, “I wouldn’t have done this if you hadn’t started it,” or, “It may not be as bad as what you did to me, but…” This is the time for you to just admit to yourself that you were wrong, regardless of who started it. You’ll be able to see the argument better from the other person’s point of view, too. Doing this will help ward off the pride that is sure to fight you.

Finally, write a statement of forgiveness for each person. Keep out language such as, “You may have cheated on me, but I have someone way better now, so I can finally forgive you.” Your forgiveness can’t be based on what’s happened in your life since the event; in fact, that’s part of the point. You have to forgive based on what Jesus did for you 2,000 years ago. Forgive because you’ve been forgiven of so much more.

Doing this once probably won’t get rid of all the negative feelings you have against everyone, so you may have to keep going through it. Each time you do, though, it should get a little easier. Some of the minor grudges you may be able to cross off immediately, some may take months (and might still pop up years after you thought you’d forgiven them). Just have patience and keep reminding yourself of what Jesus has done for you…if you forgive as He’s forgiven you.

A Petal Fallen From a Rose

A petal fallen from a rose
Lies there now shriveled and black,
In velvet darkness I repose
Without, like that rose, what I lack.
A petal fallen from a rose
Has of blackness drank its fill,
While I behind the dark doors I close
Am, being human, falling still.
A petal fallen from a rose
Cannot be replaced on the flower,
Like a man in darkness who knows
The past can’t be relived one hour.
A petal fallen from a rose
Has ceased to be part of that name,
As a man when his true heart he shows
Becomes an outcast in his shame.
A petal fallen from a rose
Lies there now shriveled and black,
But there is one way we oppose:
On the Rose I can be put back.

I wrote this a few years ago, when I was lamenting my past. If you lament yours, know that no sin will keep you from restoring your relationship with Jesus, the Rose of Sharon.

Our Greatest Enemy, Part 4

Pride leads inexorably to sin. I would argue that it is the cause of our sin, or at least, a necessary ingredient. If God exists, then He is above us. If He is above us, then it’s His word, law, and opinion that matter and not ours. If that’s true, then we have no right to defy Him in anything and no reason to expect to escape all consequences. Yet we still sin because we believe in our hearts that we can get away with it, or that we deserve what we want and know better than God if He disagrees with us, or that He’s just wrong and His rules are outdated. (I hear that last one a lot with pre-marital sex.)

All of these views are caused by our pride, by believing that we’re either craftier or smarter than God. It sounds ridiculous to say, “I know more about my future than the God who created everything and exists outside of time, allowing Him to see all of it at once. I also have more authority over morality than the just and holy Judge of all Creation.” It’s what we’re saying in our hearts, though.

We wouldn’t sin if we had a proper fear of God and real humility. Submission to His will is the goal we should be striving for. It’s not going to happen if we think our will is more important than His.

Our Greatest Enemy, Part 1

Many of us seem to think our greatest enemy is the Devil. Some think it’s their nemesis in real life. A few think it’s time that has turned against them. In reality, our greatest enemy is none of these. It’s our pride.

Satan can’t do anything to you that God doesn’t allow Him to do. Job makes that very clear; God tells Satan how far he can go and he has no choice but to obey. He can’t make us sin. He can’t do anything to us without God’s permission. Likewise, others can’t force you into things or do things to you that God didn’t allow. He won’t control their actions, but He does have power over the effects of their actions and has decided to allow them. And He controls time as well, so that He could give you 15 more years as He gave Hezekiah or take you today.

One thing He has chosen not to control is your free will, and the greatest impediment to choosing Him with that will is your pride. Pride affects many areas of our lives, but I want to focus on four major ones: forgiveness, not sharing our burdens, sins, and not pursuing God.

Before we get to these four areas, though, we should look at where our pride comes from. I think it can be traced back to the Garden of Eden. The serpent told Adam and Eve they weren’t good enough and that God was holding out on them. They let pride sneak in and tell them they should be in on all of God’s secrets. They wouldn’t have had this pride, though, if they believed they were good enough already and that God was truly loving and holy. They doubted their worth and His goodness, which are the two necessary ingredients for pride.

Pride is not really being full of yourself so much as it is seeking to fill yourself. When we’re proud, we may have a lot of good things going on in our lives. It’s not enough to have these things, though; those around us must be aware how that we have them. We could also tell ourselves that we deserve what we don’t have or that whatever power we believe in – whether God, the Universe (which seems to be just a way to say God without the implications of moral judgment), or whatever else – wants us to have it. We tell ourselves that we know better than God and that His will matters less than our will.

You can also have abundant humility, which is pride sneaking in subtly. There are people who are proud of their humility, not realizing the irony of their situation.

True confidence has no need for pride or false humility. We’re more valuable than any number of accomplishments could ever make us, but we also recognize how little we deserve it. We’re not humble because that’s holy and right, but because we honestly recognize how great God is compared to us.

I’m not suggesting finding a middle ground between pride and false humility; I’m suggesting living with both an extreme view of your self-worth and an extreme humility at the same time. The result won’t even be a middle ground, but a higher ground, to where pride, even pride in your confidence, doesn’t exist. If you can remember that you are valuable enough to God that He would sacrifice His Son for you and that you are completely and utterly worthless without Him and doomed to Hell without His sacrifice, there will be no way for pride to rule your life. You will have both more value than you’ve been seeking and so much humility that you dare not dream of deserving what you’ve been given.

A Daily Sacrifice

In Old Testament times, there were daily sacrifices to cover the people’s sins. It seemed there were hundreds of things you could do wrong that would require bringing a bull, sheep, or doves to the priests. 

Aside from doing the will of God because they loved and worshiped Him, this had a very important consequence for the Jews: it made sinning awfully expensive. 

Sin was even more expensive for God: He sacrificed His Son for our sins. God didn’t have to have a way to cover sins. He could have decided that one sin was enough to doom someone with no way out. Then He decided that we could atone for our sins, but it would cost us. When they were wandering in the desert for 40 years, they were shepherds. They ate manna and meat from their flocks, but even that was done very, very sparingly because they didn’t want to eat themselves out of their future. The cost of their sins, though high, was extremely generous because God didn’t have to give them a way out. Plus, it was fair in the sense that they were paying for what they’d done.

This isn’t where God stopped, though. He sent Jesus to be a one-time sacrifice for all our sins. No more bulls and sheep and goats. No more paying for our own mistakes. He paid once and for all time. 

In Matthew 18, Jesus tells the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant. In short (since I brought this up a few posts ago), a guy owes his king more money than he could ever pay back, but the king forgives him. This guy then finds someone who owes him a comparative pittance and throws him in prison when this poor guy can’t pay. The king is furious and throws the servant in jail until he pays every last penny. 

Forgiveness requires sacrifice. If you’re paying someone exactly what is owed, then there’s no forgiveness necessary. A criminal can do his time and be released, but the government isn’t forgiving him. He paid his due and now he’s free to go. The king in this parable would have nothing to forgive if he’d been paid all the money due to him. When he forgave, he gave up the rights he had to that money and took a tremendous loss.

God took an even greater loss for our sins. The sacrifices of the Old Testament weren’t worth our souls’ redemption from Hell, but God viewed them as sufficient for our sakes. There was also a lesson in there, that sin is a debt that must be paid. God took a lesser payment in the Old Testament and then made full payment Himself in the New. 

When someone wrongs you, you may have to take a loss. Whether it’s not paying back a debt, making you look bad in front of your boss so you don’t get a promotion, or physically harming you, there may not be a way they can make amends. When you forgive, you should do so knowing that your forgiveness means their debt to you is paid in full. No holding it against them, no treating them differently, no seeking or hoping for their harm. Paid in full, just as your debt has been because of His sacrifice.

Determining How Forgiving You Are

One of the best ways to tell whether you’ve forgiven someone is to think about that person and what he or she has done to you. Not just a vague recollection, but actually replaying the scene in your mind as nearly as you can remember. If there’s a bit of angst or bitterness, then there’s a grudge. It may not be a large one, but it’s still there.

Often, this feeling is accompanied by a wish that this person gets their comeuppance. You either want something bad to happen to them, often in the name of “justice”, or you want them to at least pay you back. 

The truth is you can’t say you’ve forgiven someone if you secretly want to throw a badger at them. Proverbs 24:17-18 says we are not to rejoice when our enemy stumbles, lest God see our mirth and turn His wrath from them. 

When we want something bad to happen to someone else, we do several things:

1. We put ourselves in God’s place on the Throne of Judgment.

2. We say that Jesus’ sacrifice is insufficient, as they still deserve our punishment.

3. We fail to love them as we love ourselves. (How many of us don’t want mercy?)

4. We forget that we are every bit as doomed without Jesus’ intervention as they would be.

5. We forget what they’re doing to themselves in causing a rift in their relationship with God. That is a significant punishment already, but He might add to it as He sees fit. It is not our business what He chooses to do with someone else’s sin; it is sufficient to know He is willing to forgive it and He has forgiven us.


The Nature of Sin, Part 4

In the final part of this series, I want to examine one last aspect of sin: its effects on us. When we think of the results of our sin, what usually comes to mind? The need for Jesus’ sacrifice? Yes, we need it, but there are more effects than just eternal damnation. The results from the people we’ve hurt or the powers that be? I confess that I often consider these first when I realize I was wrong. While I have never been much of a rule-breaker and even less of a law-breaker, I’ve wronged many people over the years and I’ve even apologized more as damage control than because I really felt convicted about what I’d done.

Sin has another effect, though: separation from God. The punishment that we earned with our first sin was Hell, which is not only the everlasting fire, but separation from God as well, which I believe is an even greater torture. Jesus didn’t cry out in pain, not when He was beaten, had the crown of thorns pushed down on His head, when He was flogged, or even when they nailed Him to the cross. He cried out when He felt God turn away from Him (Matthew 27:46). God the Father could not look on His Son because Jesus had the weight of all our sins on Him at that moment and God is so holy that even Jesus was separated from His presence by that sin.

When we sin now, something similar, albeit less drastic, happens. We turn away from God and experience a degree of separation.

Imagine that we’re in a room and talking. You can see my face and my gestures and look into my eyes and I can do likewise. Then you turn your back to me. I’m still in the room with you, and we can still talk, but something has changed. The lines of communication are not what they were before you turned away.

When we sin, we do something similar with God. We turn away from Him (note that it is we who are turning, not Him) and so rob ourselves of the fullness of His presence. We don’t get His wisdom, His peace, His sense of love, or to enjoy perfect faith in Him to look out for our best interests. We’re still saved, but we’re not taking full advantage of what God is offering us.

When someone wrongs you, they’re doing the same thing. They’re separating themselves from the fullness of God they were meant to enjoy. That penalty is far higher than anything that could happen to them on earth. The only reason we don’t see it as a big deal is because we’re already not as close to God as He wants us to be. That separation, though, is very real and of immense importance. They’re taking more away from themselves than you or the law could ever take from them. So when they harm you, you may be justified in being angry (Ephesians 4:26 says to be angry, but not sin), but remember that what they’re doing to themselves is far worse than what they’re doing to you. If anything, they need understanding and compassion more than bitterness or lashing back. There is no punishment worse than separation from our Creator, our Father, and our God.