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forgiveness

April 28, 2011

Forgiven
I was thinking today about being a people pleaser—a tendency all of us having to varying degrees. Lou Priolo has written a book on the subject and one that made quite an impression on me when I read it several years ago. In one of the chapters, Priolo looks at clothing ourselves in humility and he offers some wisdom on the subject of forgiveness.

As the father of three young children, and as the owner of a proud and sinful heart, I have endless opportunities to teach about forgiveness and to practice both forgiveness and repentance in my own life. I’ve had to tell my children that true repentance doesn’t involve the word “but” (“I’m sorry I smacked you but you shouldn’t have said that to me…”). But then I’ve seen that I can fall into the same sin. I’ve had to tell my children that true repentance doesn’t drag up the past and use forgiven sin against others. But then I’ve seen that I can do the same thing. Though I’m many years older than they are, I’m still learning lessons about forgiveness.

In Pleasing People Priolo portrays the heart of forgiveness as being a promise. Here is what he says: “Forgiveness is fundamentally a promise. As God promises to not hold our sins against us, so we also must promise not to hold the sins of those we’ve forgiven against them.” This is, of course, the foundation of the forgiveness God promises to us: that he will never hold our sins against us. On the day of judgment we can have confidence that he will not suddenly charge us with sins that have been forgiven us through the blood of Jesus. We have faith in God and trust in this promise. Without this promise our faith is hopeless. Praise God that he offers us this manner of forgiveness! And I mean that. Praise him!

The promise of forgiveness, says Priolo, can be broken into three parts. First, you promise not to bring up the offense to the forgiven person so as to use it against him. Second, you promise not to discuss with others the sin you have forgiven. Third, you promise not to dwell on the forgiven offense but to remind yourself that you have forgiven the offender in the same way that God has forgiven you for a multitude of far greater sins. Thus when you ask forgiveness you secure these promises for yourself.

Seeking forgiveness cannot be confused with apologizing. An apology is not the means to reconciliation (which is to say that “I’m sorry” and “Please forgive me” are not the same thing). If I apologize to a person I’ve offended and he subsequently apologizes to me, we still have not taken responsibility and truly humbled ourselves. We haven’t tied up loose ends and, to use Priolo’s term, the ball is still up in the air. Apologies are not enough. We must seek forgiveness and its fruit—reconciliation.

According to Priolo, true forgiveness looks something like this:

June 15, 2009

If you’ve never read Lou Priolo’s Pleasing People, well, it’s a good thing to add to your list of things to do. The book takes aim at the human desire to orient our lives around pleasing people instead of first and foremost pleasing God.

In one of the chapters, Priolo looks at clothing ourselves in humility and here he offers some wisdom on the subject of forgiveness. As the father of three young children, and as the owner of a proud and sinful heart, I have endless opportunities to teach about forgiveness and to practice both forgiveness and repentance in my own life. I’ve had to tell my children that true repentance doesn’t involve the word “but” (“I’m sorry I smacked you but you shouldn’t have said that to me…”). But then I’ve seen that I can fall into the same sin. I’ve had to tell my children that true repentance doesn’t drag up the past and use forgiven sin against others. But then I’ve seen that I can do the same thing. Though I’m many years older than they are, the lessons about forgiveness are still coming.

In Pleasing People Priolo portrays the heart of forgiveness as being a promise. Here is what he says: “Forgiveness is fundamentally a promise. As God promises to not hold our sins against us, so we also must promise not to hold the sins of those we’ve forgiven against them.” This is, of course, the foundation of the forgiveness God promises to us: that He will never hold our sins against us. On the day of judgment we know that He will not suddenly charge us with sins that have been forgiven us through the blood of Jesus. We have faith in God and trust in this promise. Without this promise our faith is hopeless. Praise God that he offers us this manner of forgiveness!

The promise of forgiveness, says Priolo, can be broken into three parts. First, you promise not to bring up the offense to the forgiven person so as to use it against him. Second, you promise not to discuss with others the sin you have forgiven. Third, you promise not to dwell on the forgiven offense but to remind yourself that you have forgiven the offender in the same way that God has forgiven you for a multitude of far greater sins. Thus when you ask forgiveness you secure these promises for yourself.

Seeking forgiveness cannot be confused with apologizing. An apology is not the means to reconciliation (which is to say that “I’m sorry” and “Please forgive me” are not the same thing). If I apologize to a person I’ve offended and he subsequently apologizes to me, we still have not taken responsibility and truly humbled ourselves. We haven’t tied up loose ends and, to use Priolo’s term, the ball is still up in the air. Apologies are not enough. We must seek forgiveness and its fruit—reconciliation.

According to Priolo, true forgiveness looks something like this:

  1. Acknowledge that you have sinned. Let the party you’ve offended know that you acknowledge wrongdoing. This is humbling but necessary. Acknowledge not only that you sin but that you have sinned against this person.
  2. Identify your sin by its specific biblical name. Do not simply acknowledge generic sin but acknowledge specific sin and call it by its biblical name (which keeps you from acknowledging something society may label as sin but the Bible does not). This ensures that you have thought deeply about your sin and have seen how it fits into what the Bible calls sin.
  3. Acknowledge the harm your offense caused. This is also humbling. You must acknowledge that your sin has had consequences and that you are owning up not only to the sin but also to the harmful consequences your sin brought about.
  4. Demonstrate repentance by identifying an alternative biblical behavior. Show that you have truly considered your sin by explaining what you should have done instead. Show what the appropriate alternative behavior would have been.
  5. Ask for forgiveness. This puts the onus on the offended party to accept your repentance and to extend forgiveness to you. It completes the reconciliation between the offender and the one who has been offended.

These are simple steps, to be sure, and even obvious ones, but serve to display and prove true humility and true repentance. They bring about true and lasting reconciliation—the kind of reconciliation we experience with our God despite far greater, far more grave, offenses.

November 19, 2008

Last week I solicited questions from the readers of this site, looking for good ideas for future blog posts. I received almost 100 responses, many of which asked really good questions. In the coming weeks and months I will attempt to answer many of them. I begin today with this one: “How do you discern when to take something up with a person and when is it something to just let go (is it ever right to just “let it go”?).”

There are a couple of Scripture verses that seem especially and immediately applicable to this question. Proverbs 17:14 says, “The beginning of strife is like letting out water, so quit before the quarrel breaks out.” This tells me that there are some situations in which strife is unnecessary and even unhelpful. A couple of chapters later we read “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense” (Proverbs 19:11). Put these verses together and we realize that we are not required by God to confront a person every time he or she offends us. In fact, there are times when we should not confront a person. And honestly, if every person I have offended confronted me every time I sin against them in some way, I would be an awfully busy guy. There are times when the best course of action is to leave our offenses between the offender and God.

So now the question before us is this: when do we confront and when do we overlook? I am going to follow, roughly at least, the logic Chris Brauns uses in his excellent book Unpacking Forgiveness (If you haven’t bought a copy of this book yet, you really ought to do so. It’s a wonderful guide for situations like this one).

1. Examine Yourself

Before you do anything else, you will want to examine yourself. You will want to see if there is some log in your eye that you have missed in all the fixation on the speck in your neighbor’s eye (Matthew 7:3-5). You will want to examine your motives to determine why it is that you may desire confrontation (or perhaps why you desire to avoid confrontation). Are you angry and seeking revenge? Do you harbor a grudge against the person and feel like you can only ease this burden by telling him of his offense against you? Will you only feel better after you inflict guilt upon him? As you focus on your own sin and on your motives, you may find that the desire to pursue confrontation fades in the light of God’s holiness and in the darkness of ungodly motives.

2. Examine Yourself Again: Are You Right?

You have now established that your motives are pure and that you are not overlooking a similar sin in your own life. Now you will want to examine yourself to ensure that you are right in this matter. Have you looked for Scriptural principles to determine if you have truly been sinned against? Is there clear violation of a Scriptural principle here, or are you dealing with a gray area? If you find that this is a gray area where there is no clear definition of right or wrong, it may well be best to simply put the matter aside.

3. Determine the Importance

If you have passed through the first two filters and still believe this is an issue worthy of confrontation, you will want to consider just how important a matter this is. Are we dealing here with a matter of preference or a matter of objective right and wrong? Is this an issue that will have long-term ramifications or something that will not much matter one way or the other? Are you making dogma out of personal preference? If, upon examination, you determine that this matter is not of great importance or that it is more about preference than anything else, just let it go.

4. Look for Patterns

There are times that we sin in a way that is out of character for us. For example, you may be consistently punctual but then, one day, show up late for an important meeting. In such a case it would probably not be worth my while addressing this offense. However, if you are constantly showing up late for even the most important meetings, this may be a matter I should address with you. It may still not be an area of sin (perhaps traffic is wildly unpredictable or you have a young child who is waking you up all night long, making it difficult for you to spring out of bed). Either way, we often do better to confront patterns of sin or offense than isolated incidents (though, obviously, with more egregious offenses we may need to confront them immediately).

5. Be Sensitive

Before approaching the person who has offended you, ensure that you are being sensitive to his or her unique situation. There may be stresses or strains in that person’s life that are causing him or her to act out in ways that are atypical. In such a situation you are not excusing the person’s sin but, rather, understanding that difficult times can cause even the finest Christian to act out in ways that are unusual for him. Adding the burden of confrontation may not be the wise or sensitive thing to do at that moment.

Whether or not you choose to confront may well also depend on your relationship to the person who has offended you. There are some relationships that are more likely to bring about good results. For example, only with great hesitation would I ever directly confront a woman and even then only if she was a good friend. However, I have friends who are eager and willing to hear of sin in their lives and who would appreciate such counsel or loving confrontation.

6. Seek Counsel

It may be valuable to seek the counsel of other mature Christians before pursuing confrontation. You will want to ensure that this is not simply an opportunity to gossip and vent, after which you will feel better and let the matter drop. But discreetly seeking wise counsel may be a very good way of “error-checking” your assessment of the previous four steps.

If, after such an assessment of your own heart, the offender, and the offense, you still feel confrontation is necessary, you will want to pursue forgiveness and reconciliation in the way Jesus outlines in Matthew 18.

However, far more often than not, I think you will find it is wise to let the matter go. And here you will need to release your pride and outrage. You will need to be willing to let the matter well and truly drop, not telling others about it and not letting it fill your mind and outrage your heart. It is the glory of a man to overlook an offense; it is a foolish and prideful man who feels every little offense is worthy of confrontation.

September 28, 2007

In his new book Respectable Sins, Jerry Bridges writes about the important discipline of preaching the gospel to yourself every day. Realizing that many people have heard of this discipline but do not know how to practice it, he provides an overview of how he does so. I found it helpful and trust you will too. What could be more important than beginning each day with a fresh understanding of the great work of the gospel and its application to your life?


Since the gospel is only for sinners, I begin each day with the realization that despite my being a saint, I still sin every day in thought, word, deed, and motive. If I am aware of any subtle, or not so subtle, sins in my life, I acknowledge those to God. Even if my conscience is not indicting me for conscious sins, I still acknowledge to God that I have not even come close to loving Him with all my being or loving my neighbor as myself. I repent of those sins, and then I apply specific Scriptures that assure me of God’s forgiveness to those sins I have just confessed.

I then generalize the Scripture’s promises of God’s forgiveness to all my life and say to God words to the effect that my only hope of a right standing with Him that day is Jesus’ blood shed for my sins, and His righteous life lived on my behalf. This reliance on the twofold work of Christ for me is beautifully captured by Edward Mote in his hymn “The Solid Rock” with his words, “My hope is built on nothing less, than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.” Almost every day, I find myself going to those words in addition to reflecting on the promises of forgiveness in the Bible.

What Scriptures do I use to preach the gospel to myself? Here are just a few I choose from each day:

As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103:12)

“I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.” (Isaiah 43:25)

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone one to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:6)

Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin. (Romans 4:7-8)

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1)

There are many others, including Psalm 130:3-4; Isaiah 1:18; Isaiah 38:17; Micah 7:19; Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 2:13-14; Hebrews 8:12; and 10:17-18.

Whatever Scriptures we use to assure us of God’s forgiveness, we must realize that whether the passage explicitly states it or not, the only basis for God’s forgiveness is the blood of Christ shed on the cross for us. As the writer of Hebrews said, “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins (9:22), and the context makes it clear that it is Christ’s blood that provides the objective basis on which God forgives our sins.