by Nancy Taylor Tate
“Forgive, and ye shall be forgiven.” Luke 6:37c
Forgiveness is a choice. When we forgive, we have made a conscious decision to do so. Yet true forgiveness will go beyond the decision to an actual change in our feelings. We can and should make the decision; that is our part, our responsibility in obedience to God’s word. But only the Lord can truly change the deep inner feelings of our hearts.
A role model for me has always been Corrie ten Boom, who suffered as a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp. Corrie not only endured the cruelty of the prison guards herself, but she also witnessed the painful death of her beloved sister under their brutality.
After Corrie’s release from prison camp, she traveled to many places, ministering to others from her own experience of forgiveness. One night after Corrie had finished speaking, she was surprised to see one of the cruelest of the prison guards walking up the aisle toward her. The former guard approached Corrie, then told her that he had repented and knew that God had forgiven him, but it would mean a lot to him if he could hear her say that she too forgave him. Corrie thought she had been living in total forgiveness, yet her heart froze as she remembered her sister’s suffering.
As Corrie stood there, she knew she had to do this. She had noticed that among those who had been in the concentration camps, those able to forgive were the ones able to live normal lives. Furthermore, the Lord commanded her to forgive. Yet her body became like wood, and she could hardly move.
Corrie determined to say three simple words, “I forgive you.” With effort, she reached out her hand to shake his, when all of a sudden, the Holy Spirit flooded her. She began to cry “I forgive you, I forgive you,” as she embraced the man. Corrie made the choice; God changed her heart.
“And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.” Romans 5:5
I remember a situation, years ago, that was very difficult for me. Even so, I felt I had come too far in the Lord to let unforgiveness grow within. I understood that nothing could hinder a life more than a root of bitterness, which in time would entangle and darken a person’s spirit. So, I was determined not to allow unforgiveness to settle inside me.
For months, I kept choosing to forgive, releasing those involved. Yet inside, I still felt negative emotions. I kept refusing those feelings and choosing to forgive, only to have the feelings come back, and I would have to choose again.
Then, one day, the Lord intervened in my life. Overwhelmed as the Lord manifested His presence, I saw the excellency of who God was and of what He was doing in my life. Then, in that “light” this hurtful situation flashed again before my mind—except this time it became as nothing in the “glory” of His presence. That offense was literally cremated inside me, never to trouble me again. Later, the Lord manifested His presence again, this time for hours, revealing His love. He loves those who love Him above all else, and those who seek Him shall indeed find Him.
“I love them that love me; and those that seek me early shall find me. That I may cause those that love me to inherit substance; and I will fill their treasures.” Proverbs 8:17, 21
The forgiveness that we receive and are to extend to others, is exemplified in the New Testament, in the book of Philemon. A servant had taken some of his master’s property and run away. Later, this servant came into contact with Paul and became a Believer. Realizing the necessity of making the situation right, Paul sent this servant back to his master with a note asking that he be forgiven of his wrongdoing.
In this example, aspects of divine forgiveness are paralleled in the forgiveness that Paul sought for this man. The servant had been unprofitable to his master, and there was offense. Yet Paul was beseeching for his forgiveness. Paul not only made intercession for him, but offered to make a substitute payment for the debt the man owed. Paul asked that this man not only be restored, but elevated to a new relationship; that he be received not just as a servant, but also as a brother.
Paul did not justify what this man did, but he pointed out that perhaps it was for this purpose, that he might find salvation. Romans 8:28 does not tell us that all things are good. Rather, it promises “that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose.”
On days when things seem to be going wrong, I pray, “Lord, turn these things for good.” We all face problems in this life. Yet all things do work together for good if we will but take time to look to the Lord. This gives us hope in any situation.
The man in Philemon could have refused to forgive his runaway servant, but Paul reminded him that he owed his own redemption to Paul’s ministry as well. As we walk through life and realize how gracious the Lord has been to us, there comes a humility that makes it easier for us to forgive others. Where would any of us be, if only perfection could please the Lord? We should never demand perfection of others, when we ourselves need grace.
“And be kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” Ephesians 4:32
Being able to walk in the deeper truths of the Spirit ultimately becomes easy when we realize that the very heart of the gospel is simply to love God with all our hearts, and our brother as ourselves. In this, we pass from death to life—an out-resurrection from mere religion into a life of fellowship with the Lord. This is the key to an overcoming life!
“We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren.” 1 John 3:14a
Even as faith without works is dead, so is the profession of love without forgiveness. May our love for the Lord always be evident in our lives. This love motivated Corrie ten Boom to make her choice to forgive, and the Lord responded by manifesting His love through her. May each of us fight the good fight of faith and forgiveness. When things come my way, I always remind myself, if Corrie could forgive that prison guard, there is no one that I cannot forgive.
The choice is ours to make.
If you would like, please pray with me:
Lord, You know my thoughts; You know my heart. I choose to forgive. If there is anything less than that still in me, I ask You to work in my heart. Bring me into a deeper identification, communion and fellowship with You. As a witness of this relationship with You, let Your love be manifest in and through my life. I ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.