Is a Christian Called to Forgive and Be Reconciled to a Sinner?
Last week I got a message from woman I have known for years, and who has come to me for straight biblical answers. Once again she challenged me, asking some really tough questions in the light of the well-meaning advice many Christians around her were giving in relation to her need to forgive and be reconciled to her husband, who once again had betrayed her trust. This dear woman has lived through years of lies and manipulation which her husband, even under the noses of their church leadership, has used to hide his deeper heart problems. Deep wounds and much mistrust are once again opened and hurting, so quick submission to religious commands, which have worn thin after repeated attempts over the years, are far from the answers she was looking for.
The battle my friend asked me to stand by her side in, was not one I felt deserved a quick shot of truth in the dark…but rather a long prayerful walk by her side. I gave her my time by praying and also seeking from God, His plan to defeat the enemy who was working so hard to destroy her marriage and family. As I prayed not only for my friend, her husband, their children, and her church elders, I also prayed for wisdom, truth and clarity to speak to her what God wanted her to hear in this time of need. In the end, God led me not to search for certain verses on forgiveness and reconciliation, but rather to do a word study in the New Testament Greek text of all the words which are translated into forgive, forgiven, forgiveness, etc.; of which there are four, as I explain the meaning of each below. Here is the information I sent along that I hope will open your eyes, as they did mine, to what God really asks from believers in regards to forgiving others.
In praying about how to answer your questions, I felt led to do a Greek word study on forgiveness...what I found was profound to my personally understanding of how God asks Christians to act in the light of forgiveness, so bear with me as I give you my homework findings.
The first word, “aphesis”, means to release sins from a sinner and therefore no longer hold them accountable for their past sins. Or, to wipe the slate clean of the offender because their debt has been paid by another. The second word, “aphiemi,” means to actually carry out the act of removing another person's sins. What is interesting to note though is that both of these instances of forgiveness are never acts that people are intended to do, only God. We cannot remove another person's guilt because we can't pay the debt another person should have to paid for their sin. It is through God alone a person is forgiven, and it through the work of the cross and the blood Jesus shed that pays the debt that a person’s sin has brought upon them.
The third and fourth words are “apoluo”, which means to loose or set free from any bondage that holds another person to your requirements or to a legal bond with you, and “charizomai” means to do another person a favor by being kind to them out of the good will you show them, not by something they earned. These two words are applied to believers when they are commanded to forgive their fellow man, including believers, unbelievers, and even their enemies.
In essence, God forgives. He has always commanded that the weight of forgiveness of all sins be on Him. We are unable to forgive others (pay their debt or even release them from their sins) because to do so requires the perfect sacrifice only Christ was able to pay. All He asks of us is that we believe in His ability to pay the debt for others and their sins, and be willing to set those people free of our expectations or any chains that would bind them to us and our need to be repaid for any harm they have done to us.
Thus, if someone else wrongs you in a manner that is against God's will then you must hold onto that relationship through holding on to God and turning that person's actions back to Him. God is your firewall of defense because the enemy is not the person who sinned against you, but rather the sin itself separates you from the sinner just as that sin separates that person from God when they do not admit their sinfulness to Him. It is up to the sinner to deal with the sin and God. The one granting, on the other hand, can pardon only because God first was willing to pay the penalty for the other person’s sin. The pardoning of another person’s sin is just a confirmation of God’s payment in full being recognized.
Reconciliation therefore can only happen when both parties are reconciled to God. As the one being hurt by a person who is living in sin, your only job is to keep yourself reconciled to God by asking Him to forgive you and anything you may be doing to hinder a perfect relationship with Him, including not allowing the person hurting you to be pardoned by Him. On the other hand, it is up to the person living in sin to allow himself to be reconciled to God from the other side...only then can a relationship between both people meet in the middle, perfectly joined by Christ.
All a Christian can do it whatever God has given him or her the power to do, the rest we must keep giving back to Him to do His perfect will, whatever that may be. Trusting, obeying, believing, and living each day with our eye and our hope on Him alone.
As I finished typing up my response and telling my friend I would continue to pray and place this situation before the throne of God, I wished I could have given her a quick 5 step process to healing her hurts and finding all the answers to the things she was experiencing, but then again that is not the way God works. Instead He draws us in during these difficult times, to come sit with Him, learn from Him, walk with Him, trust in Him, and believe in His words that He is working all things out for good...because He always does!
Maybe you have some new or old wounds that still need to be pardoned in your own heart. What a difficult weight God has lifted from our shoulders by not only paying the price for our own sinful acts, but also the sinful acts of those who have harmed us. Be reconciled to Christ today by accepting his forgiveness, for yourself and for those He desires you to love. And while forgiveness by granting another person's pardon may never change your situation, or the other person, it is the one thing commanded by God we must do to live in peace and be open for reconciliation with others, should they choose it.