I Really Can’t Think of Anyone I Need to Forgive
By Steve Parker
Founder/Former Publisher of Blue Ridge Christian News
A few years back, I was working with a young man named Keith. He had heard that I had some experience working with people who wanted to go further with the Lord in their life, and he had sought me out.
Keith and his wife had given their lives to Christ a year previously and had found freedom from alcohol and drugs. They were both passionate about their new faith and wanted to grow spiritually. However, Keith was struggling with his temper. It seemed that almost anything could set him off. The wrong word spoken at just the wrong time could send him into a rage. Just recently, while angry, he had punched a hole in the wall of his house. He was rightfully concerned about what he might do to his wife or kids when he was in one of these fits of anger.
After he had shared his story, I asked Keith if he had any unforgiveness in his life. He thought for a minute and said he didn’t think so. I pushed him on this question. I have found that unforgiveness and anger often go hand in hand. He thought further and said, quite earnestly, “I really can’t think of anyone I need to forgive.”
I met with Keith a few more times. Sadly, I don’t believe any progress was made. I still see him from time to time in public. He continues to walk with the Lord, but he still struggles with anger issues.
What is sad about this story is that I would later find out that Keith had all sorts of people in his life whom he needed to forgive. A short time before we met, Keith had gotten into a terrible argument with the leadership of his church. It was so heated that they had almost come to blows.
Keith had left that church and never went back. He had also told numerous people about how awful that church was and how badly the people there had treated him. To the best of my knowledge, he still carries that unforgiveness today.
Think about it. This young man, who had almost struck spiritual leaders and then went on a vendetta to smear the name of their church in the community, told me that he wasn’t carrying unforgiveness. That sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? How could he not recognize this?
Sadly, that’s one of the most dangerous elements of unforgiveness. Sometimes, we don’t realize that we are caught in its snare. We may be eaten up with it and not even know it. How is that possible?
Often, it’s because we feel justified. The people whom we haven’t forgiven have done, in our view, terrible things to us. They have hurt us badly. The feelings we carry toward them are justified in our minds because of the grievous nature of what they have done. In our hearts, we don’t believe they deserve our forgiveness.
But for those of us in the body of Christ, this creates a challenge. The whole idea of forgiveness is fundamental to our faith. After all, God in Christ paid the highest price on the cross so that we could be forgiven. And we KNOW that we are supposed to forgive others. It’s hard to read very far in the New Testament without realizing this is true. Unforgiveness is a sin.
So how do Christians get away with not forgiving others and still sleep at night? Generally, we use different words for it. It’s not that we are holding on to unforgiveness. Instead, we’re just “angry” with that person who hurt us. Or better yet, we call it “righteous indignation.” And it’s especially easy to justify our feelings when we can find scripture verses to back up our unforgiveness toward another. Then we’ve got God on our side as well. In our minds, the Lord has joined us in our anger toward that person.
A few years ago, I read of a survey that had been conducted among pastors and ministry leaders. The questions concerned what kind of sins they struggled with the most. The number that responded that they dealt with unforgiveness was very low, around 9 or 10 percent. However, the number that said they had problems with anger was near the top of the list. Over two-thirds of those responding said that not becoming angry toward people was a challenge for them.
I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that there is a lot more overlap between those two sins than many of them realize. If someone is angry with another, there’s a good chance that they are carrying unforgiveness toward that person. However, as noted earlier, Christian leaders are very much aware that Jesus commands us to forgive. Therefore, they “rebrand” their unforgiveness as anger, which is a much more “acceptable” sin in their minds
“Wait a minute!” I hear some of you saying. “Anger isn’t necessarily a sin. After all, the Apostle Paul tells us to ‘be angry and sin not’”(Ephesians 4:26). That’s correct. Being angry isn’t a sin, UNLESS we let it take hold of us and build a dwelling place in our lives. We must deal with our anger quickly, forgiving and loving the person who has offended us. If we don’t do that, if we choose to let our anger fester and hold a grudge toward another person, we are sinning. Further, we are giving the enemy of our souls an entry point into our lives. This is why immediately after telling us to “be angry and sin not,” Paul continues with the exhortation to not let the sun go down on our anger. If we choose not to do this (yes, staying angry is a choice), we “give the devil a foothold” (Ephesians 4:27).
Consider that we are specifically told that holding on to anger, choosing not to forgive, will give the devil access to our life. Therefore, just four verses later, Paul writes that we are to “get rid of all bitterness, wrath, and anger” (Ephesians 4:31). Our goal isn’t just to keep from sinning when we get angry. It’s to be free from anger completely, at least as it relates to other people. God has created us to be a testimony of His love to a lost and dying world. It’s impossible to do that if we are mad at the people with whom we are supposed to be a witness.
If you’re reading this, perhaps God has brought to your memory someone with whom you are angry. That may be a good sign that He wants you to deal with the unforgiveness you may be carrying toward that person. If so, before you do anything else, ask God to forgive you for allowing unforgiveness to have a place in your life. You’ve given Satan an open door. Slam it shut in his face.
Then, choose to forgive that person. You may still have some harsh feelings that oppose this act, but you don’t have to be controlled by your emotions. Set those feelings aside. Exercise your will and pray this prayer: “God, I want to be obedient to your Word. I want you to be the Lord in every area of my life. I choose to forgive __________________ for what he/she has done. Help me to love that person with your merciful love. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”
Now, walk in this forgiveness. If you find yourself negatively thinking about that person, stop immediately and begin praising and thanking God instead. Say a prayer for the person. Bless them! Ask God to give that person what they need, in the present moment, to fulfill the purpose for which they were created. And then choose to think about something else.
You will find that if you continue to practice praying for and blessing the person, the negative emotions you hold toward them will subside more and more. Not only that, but your obedience to forgiveness will flow over into other areas of your life. Just as being angry towards someone gives the devil a foothold, being obedient to God’s commands concerning forgiveness will expand into the rest of your existence. After all, Jesus said the Kingdom of God is like yeast. You work it into the dough and the whole loaf expands (Matthew 13:33).
Walking in forgiveness is a critical part of the disciple’s life. I will be writing more on this subject next month. In the meantime, I encourage you to take up your cross and follow the Lord. Choose to forgive. Let the forgiveness that He practiced on Calvary flow through you. I promise you will be glad you did.