Forgiveness Recovers Authority
Forgiveness is the opposite of taking offense and blaming. Blaming gives away our authority over the pain that is produced in us by offenses that have happened to us, making that authority unavailable to us so that not even God can heal that pain or resolve the problems resulting from unforgiven offenses.
When we hold someone else responsible for the pain they have caused us and refuse to take ownership of it ourselves, we hand over to them our God-given authority we need for our own healing and turn ourselves into victims incapable of healing or maturing beyond the point where we took that offense. Begging God for healing or forgiveness for ourselves then becomes useless because we no longer have the authority necessary to give Him permission to access the pain inside of us caused by that unforgiven offense.
The reason Jesus teaches us the importance of forgiving others so that God can forgive us pivots around this key issue of authority. So long as we continue to hold someone else responsible and refuse to admit that the pain we experience presently is now our own and they cannot do anything about it, we remain victims unable to break free out of Satan's trap. Forgiveness takes back ownership of our pain by releasing the other person from all demand for revenge and brings back our authority making it now available for us to put to better uses.
The people we blame for our problems, pain and suffering may or may not have any ability to do much to change our situation. They might even be dead, but either way they certainly have no way of getting inside our heart to bring us needed peace. One of the lies of Satan is that if our offenders would only admit they did us wrong and maybe even get punished according to a sufficient degree for the pain they caused us, then our pain could disappear and life would be good again. But that is never the case but is a counterfeit of the true path to recovery, leaving us wallowing in ever-increasing cravings for retaliation and sinking us lower and lower to sometimes become worse than those who have hurt us.
Others might believe that even if there is no revenge inflicted, their offenders must at least confess their guilt and seek forgiveness from us before we should be expected to let go of our anger or resentment against them. But this is an even more subtle lie of the enemy still keeping us just as trapped in his prison as those who are raving for vengeance. No matter what excuse we may use that enforces our refusal to forgive, the fact remains that unforgiveness is a choice to give away the very authority needed by us to recover from the damage that an offense has caused in our own heart and soul.
I am not suggesting in the least here that we excuse an offense as not being wrong or harmful or that another person's actions were not originally the cause of our pain. It is important to remain in the truth about reality, and acknowledging the facts related to an offense is a vital first step toward healing from the effects of an offense. But if one is unwilling to move past simply rehearsing the offense but remains stuck in blame, the heart will become increasingly hardened, the pain of the offense will never find relief and growth in maturity will stall out because we do not have the needed authority to facilitate forward movement in our life.
Forgiveness involves coming to see that the lingering pain that refuses to leave after an initial offense is committed against us becomes our responsibility, not the one who first hurt us. While we need to confirm that the original offense was hurtful, maybe even to the extreme, all that we have suffered since then as a result, all further losses, suffering and emotional damage accumulating from that point forward become our responsibility. That means that if we hold another person responsible for pain that is still present after the initial experience, we are giving away the most important part of our moral being, our ability to authorize God to bring healing, recovery and even potential reconciliation with our offenders.
When we forgive an offense, we are not saying that person did not initiate the offense that brought suffering into our life at the start. We acknowledge the facts as they happened but then take full ownership of all the pain, suffering, shame and ill-effects that resulted from the offense. In doing this we use our authority in a godly way, the way Jesus used His human authority all throughout His life and most vividly during the excruciating offenses committed against Him leading up to His death. Through all the mistreatment and abuse He received, He never once, for even a moment, took any offense, for to have done so would have been sin and His entire mission would have been ruined.
At the same time we must know that Jesus was not in denial of what was being done to Him. Yet rather than entertain desires for revenge or putting His hope in some future time of punishment for His abusers, Jesus retained constant possession of His God-given authority by instantly forgiving and releasing every offense in real time. Unlike most of us who want to take some time to simmer in our resentment until we work up enough willingness to finally let go of it at a later time, Jesus never allowed the spirit of resentment to gain even the slightest root in His heart. As He hung on the cross it was not only once that He said, “Father, forgive them,” but it was an ongoing, constant expression of His entire disposition that happened with every breath He took. This is seen in the tense of the original Greek related to these words. This was the pervasive attitude exuding from His heart of complete compassion for everyone who was seeking with all their efforts to get Him to react differently.
In demonstrating how to retain authority through forgiveness in real time, Jesus uncovered the path to recovery from trauma and invites us to follow in the same way He opened up for us to find life. With every insult, every slap, every strike of a whip or the shame experienced being paraded and hung up naked in front of hundreds of jeering gawkers, Jesus retained His personal human authority. He handed every offense instantly over to His Father to be forgiven so that sin would not gain any access to His soul. This is how He became the perfect example of what it means to be an overcomer.
In fact this is what you were called to do, because Christ suffered for you and gave you an example, so you should follow in his footsteps. Christ never committed any sin. He never spoke deceitfully. Although he was abused, he never tried to get even, when he suffered, he threatened no retaliation, but left everything to the one who judges fairly.
He was carrying our sins when his body was put on the pole, so that once the sins were gone, we could live righteously. For, 'by his wounds you were healed.'
Christ carried our sins in his body on the cross. He did this so that we would stop living for sin and live for what is right. By his wounds you were healed.
You were like sheep that went the wrong way. But now you have come back to the Shepherd and Protector of your lives. (1 Peter 2:21-25 FBV, GW, CEV, NET, 2001, ERV)
In Revelation we find references to people who also have learned to overcome through the example of how Jesus overcame. As a result they are invited to sit with Him on His throne and share in His glory. It is important to know that the throne of the universe is reserved only for those who forgive; it is not the place where punishments and retaliation is meted out to be executed on offenders as so many have presumed for too long. No, the throne of judgment is where the secret motives of every heart become exposed in the brilliant light of forgiveness and love, and all who have chosen to follow His example find the same joy that Jesus pursued as He forgave His way through to the point of death (Hebrews 12:1-4).
And a great voice in heaven came to my ears, saying, Now is come the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ: because he who says evil against our brothers before our God day and night is forced down. And they overcame him through the blood of the Lamb and the word of their witness; and loving not their lives they freely gave themselves up to death. (Revelation 12:10-11 BBE)
Taking offense means valuing our own life, comfort and safety over that of others. This is the opposite of the definition of agape love which is viewing others as more important than ourselves. So in essence, holding onto offenses is the opposite of who God is, for God is agape love and that love was most vividly demonstrated in what transpired on the cross of Christ.
Revelation tells us that those who overcome the enemy and all his accusations against God and His children, do so through two ways: the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony about God.
The blood of the Lamb is the very evidence or testimony provided as irrefutable proof to the universe, that when abused, assaulted, shamed, maligned, slandered and tortured, God can never be induced to use His power to defend Himself or even entertain the slightest thought of desiring revenge. True forgiveness relinquishes all right to collect on a debt created by an offense. That does not imply that offenders should feel no need to seek restoration of what has been taken from a victim or not try to make compensation for damages they have caused. What it does mean is that the one offended refuses to allow an offense to interfere or diminish the love and compassion and desire for reconciliation so far as their own heart is concerned.
Reconciliation and forgiveness are very different things although closely connected. Reconciliation requires both parties involved in an offense to be restored to trust and establish a healthy relationship. But forgiveness still can be chosen and benefited from without experiencing reconciliation even though forgiveness will lead a person to do everything possible to bring about that result. Forgiveness is also not something anyone deserves or that is offered only after someone asks for it. No, forgiveness is strictly a choice and a reflection of the character of a person who has been offended but chooses to waive their rights for retaliation and refuses to even entertain a spirit of resentment because of love.
As I have already explained, forgiveness, the releasing of an offense, recovers vital authority which in turn may be used to access infinite resources for healing, life and joy from the throne of heaven. As we choose to forgive rather than cling to desires for retaliation or debt collection, we now retain the same kind of authority that Jesus had and we become overcomers as He overcame. Our hearts become transformed through the evidence of Jesus' blood that reveals His attitude as the innocent yet severely abused Lamb. We may contemplate how He was willing to allow the most extreme abuse to be inflicted on Him without ever once holding onto one offense, and the testimony of that Lamb becomes the very power that transforms us to follow His example in the narrow path to life as we are empowered to join our witness with His witness to the point of shedding our own blood if necessary.
This witness that the Son of God provided to the universe made Him the star witness in the trial over God's reputation. The above passage from Revelation is in the context of accusations of Satan launched against God's reputation and that caused the entire mess of sin and rebellion. It is lies about God that have produced all the pain, suffering and death seen everywhere in the universe. And the only way this blight can be overcome is by expert witnesses willing not just to speak truth about God's character to vindicate Him in this trial, but to demonstrate God's character implanted within them, willing to let Him live out His life of self-sacrificing love through them just as Jesus did.
Let me briefly touch on the other aspect of this issue of forgiveness. The person who commits an offense must also know what options they have for recovery. Clearly we are all offenders even as we have all been victims of offenses; everyone participates in the cycle of offenses due to our fallen nature. So it is important to understand not only how to forgive others and thus bring authority back to ourselves so we may use it to find deliverance from the snare of Satan; we need to also understand how as offenders ourselves, we may come to freedom through seeking and/or receiving forgiveness from others and from God.
First of all, we must be aware that the kind of forgiveness needed by an offender is significantly different than what is needed in the heart of those who have been offended. Two different sets of feelings are going on in these situations so different remedies must be applied to effect a cure. The pain, suffering and desires for revenge that often occur in the mind of one who has been offended are not the same as what an offender experiences. What they deal with is guilt, shame, condemnation or secondary reactions like denial or self-defense. Still, all of these negative emotions are debilitating, not only to the soul but to the body as well and need to be eliminated as quickly as possible.
As Jesus hung on the cross He repeatedly spoke to His Father about forgiving those who were shaming and abusing Him, It is important to know that He was not seeking to change His Father's disposition from that of planning retribution on His enemies to letting go of the offenses. God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them.... (2 Corinthians 5:19 NAS95) It is vitally important that we not make the mistake of thinking that God feels differently in the slightest about sinners from the way Jesus related to them. God is exactly like Jesus and that is one of the most central truths to have settled in our thinking before anything else makes much sense.
What Jesus was doing in these requests was not urging God to do something He might resist wanting to do, but rather was publicly letting everyone know what God's disposition is already towards offenders and sinners so that when later they finally began to come to their senses and feel convicted about how cruel and wicked they had been, recalling Jesus' words would give them hope and they would have enough confidence to come to God for healing and restoration to be reconciled to Him.
Reconciliation, when it comes to our relationship with God, involves only change on our part, never on God's part. Since God has never, nor will He ever, hold onto any offense (offenses are sin and God does not sin), there is nothing to alter in the disposition of God towards sinners who have offended Him. There is never anything for Him to let go of, nothing He might be harboring deep inside; to believe otherwise is to believe slanderous lies of the enemy that prevent us from being able to trust God. The reason Jesus came to this world to start with was to clear up these crazy notions about God that alienate us from Him by demonstrating His unconditional love and reveal that God is in no way our obstacle when it comes to forgiveness. Our problem is entirely in our perceptions about His disposition towards us that have been skewed by the slander we have believed about Him.
Since this is the case, the kind of forgiveness needing to be experienced by an offender is removal of all the fear, guilt, shame and condemnation blocking them from believing that God (or the forgiving person they have offended) actually longs for full restoration of a trusting, loving relationship with them. So long as we remain convinced by our fears that the one we have offended desires retaliation, it is impossible for us to engage in a truly trusting relationship with them. Only when we become convinced that the ones we have offended actually have forgiven us and retain no ill will whatsoever can we begin to move toward genuine reconciliation. It is essential that we believe the one we have hurt and offended has given up all right to retaliate forever. Only then can real trust begin to awaken and movement toward reconciliation can take place.
This process of removing all the emotional obstacles from our minds, hearts and feelings is a process that only God can accomplish. No one but ourselves and God has access to our heart, and even we know ourselves so little that we have to allow God to accomplish in us what we cannot do in ourselves. But again, this is where we need to both keep and properly exercise our authority to give God the permission He needs to accomplish this work of redemption and healing in our hearts. For only as we give God permission to come in and repair the damage that offenses have caused in us can relationships, reconciliation and love can begin to grow and life can begin to thrive again.
Let's now put all the parts together now, all sides of forgiveness. In the Greek text, different words are used in different passages to convey the various meanings of forgiveness. But in the English we end up with only one word which is why we have so much confusion about this in our world today.
When I experience an offense from someone I have an option to take offense, to nurse my wounds and either look for revenge and retaliation or at least withhold forgiveness until that person shows some signs of repentance. However this is very foolish, for unforgiveness is like drinking poison and then expecting another person to die from its effects. That defies the principle of how things are designed.
The only road to recovery and freedom from the ill-effects of offenses is to take authority over all the negative effects it has produced inside of us, knowing that the offender really has little power to alter our feelings no matter how much our fallen nature tries to convince us otherwise. Jesus' way is the only route to life, freedom and reconciliation, and that path involves the choice to use our authority to ask God to take over our pain and heal our damage without blaming anyone else. When we refrain from blaming anyone for our own suffering and use our authority to take it to God, we unleash the power of God to bring healing, hope and even potentially restoration of a relationship to the extent possible given the choices of all involved. Choosing this option rather than any other not only introduces life into the places deep inside where the offense has wreaked havoc, but it honors God's reputation and adds to the vindication He needs to restore His government and will on earth as it is done in heaven.
On the other hand, if we have committed offenses against others, whether people in our lives or against God, a different path must be followed to bring about healing and restoration and wholeness. We first need to agree with the convictions of the Spirit about the true nature of our offense (the meaning of the word confess) and then humble ourselves to perceive reality with new eyes as well as discover God's disposition of forgiveness towards us. Only as we come to believe that God as not threatening us but rather longs to heal us can we begin to feel safe enough to trust Him with our sins. If we believe that God is our victim's avenger seeking to inflict 'just punishment' against us on their behalf, even if that is their view, we will not feel safe to trust Him. While it is true that God aligns Himself with every victim of abuse, He never takes offense or leads others to take offense against us. Only from this perspective can we begin to trust Him to deal with the damage that our offenses have caused in our own heart as well as in those we have hurt.
Taking offense on the part of anyone is completely outside of God's ways. There is no room in the life of a true God-follower for taking offense, for we are to follow the example of Jesus, not our natural desires or inclinations. The problem is that when we have offended others, we create obstacles inside our own heart that must be dealt with before we are able to experience the freedom that forgiveness brings. That freedom needed most by an offender is deliverance from the fear caused by our guilt, shame, remorse and condemnation. Until we are set free of these debilitating emotions it is impossible for us to rest securely in the love of God for us.
God's love and forgiveness are unconditional so far as His heart is concerned. Nothing ever needs to change the way God feels towards us because He is only love. That is one of the most important truths to embrace. However, sin causes us to perceive God differently than this. Sin is believing lies about God that produce distrust and fear and they must be exposed and expelled from our heart so that we may live under the protection and authority of His love for His children.
To move forward toward freedom, reconciliation and relationships based on love and trust, the right exercise of our authority is important to understand and exercise. The offended person has to beware of giving away their authority through blame or resentment. The offending person has to beware of losing their authority through denial, self-justification or hardening their heart. In each case authority must be retained by taking ownership of what has actually happened and all personal responsibility without shifting the focus to others, and then bringing all that to God for healing, life and peace.
If both parties are willing to let go of all offenses and choose a restored relationship through forgiveness, each through their respective process, then reconciliation can also be accomplished and God's will can become even more fulfilled on earth as it is in heaven.
I want to visit one more issue in this examination of authority and forgiveness. How are we to understand Jesus' statement about having authority on earth to forgive sins?
When he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them. Then some people came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay.
When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "Son, your sins are forgiven." Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, "Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?"
At once Jesus perceived in his spirit that they were discussing these questions among themselves; and he said to them, "Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Stand up and take your mat and walk'? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins" --he said to the paralytic-- "I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home." And he stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, "We have never seen anything like this!" (Mark 2:1-12)
For some background context it is helpful to know that people in that day (and too often yet today) believed that disabilities and sickness were direct punishments from God for specific sins. So when a person was healed it didn't seem fair to the leaders (who controlled all things pertaining to religion and God) that such a person should deserve to be healed. They believed that unless such a sinner jumped through all the hoops and requirements put in place by the authorities (and that just happened to also contribute to the wealth of those in power), claims of forgiveness were nothing short of scandalous. Their beliefs were firmly anchored in the earning/deserving paradigm where every good deed demands reward and every sin demands equivalent punishment.
From this perspective it become more obvious why these leaders had such strong objections over Jesus healing people all the time. First of all, Jesus did not act at all like the God they believed was in charge, so they were increasingly offended by the kindness with which He treated sinners and sick people. So when Jesus blatantly told this paralytic man that his sins were forgiven, it cut straight to the heart of their reasons for feeling offended by Him. It was bad enough to go around healing physical maladies they believed were originally inflicted as punishments by God. But then to outright declare that such a person was forgiven even before healing them, well that was clearly blasphemy in their minds and extremely contradictory to their long held opinions about how God related to sinners.
Jesus was well aware of their discomfort. But He was just as aware that this man was suffering far more from regret and despair from a life of sin that had brought about his physical condition more than he desired healing. Jesus was not only addressing the unspoken thoughts of the religious bigots incensed over His disruptions of their control over the people; He was also addressing the unspoken needs of a man who was literally dying of hopelessness from his feelings of guilt and condemnation. For him it was more important to learn that he was forgiven than to be restored to health. For the self-righteous religious leaders it was more important that he receive his just punishment of sickness rather than be released from guilt before fulfilling enough penance to earn it.
What has long fascinated me about this story is this phrase, When Jesus saw their faith...That is very exciting to me for it indicates that when someone has so little faith themselves that they are unable or unwilling to even ask for help from God, other people's faith can supply the lack and bring about results in spite of them. That means that other people can use their personal authority – even collectively – to bring healing, hope and life to another who lacks confidence to even hope themselves.
But I still want to address in what way Jesus had authority to forgive this man's sins? The answer might be different depending on which side of the forgiveness issue you refer to. When it comes to forgiveness on the part of God, understanding the truth that God never takes offense and that His forgiveness is unconditional, anyone could have authority to relay that truth to someone in doubt. But that is only half the problem needing resolution. This man, like so many of us, found it impossible to forgive himself, partly because the popular concepts of God that led him to assume God would refuse to forgive him and partly because he knew he was not worthy of forgiveness.
What this man needed most of all, and what all sinners desperately need, is to be released from their feelings of condemnation, their fears of punishment they believe God is waiting to inflict on them or belief that maybe He is already doing. This man likely believed that his sad condition was a simply a punishment from God, and the establishment around him made sure that belief was enforced. While it may well have been true that his condition was a direct result of bad decisions and sinful habits he had developed in his past, it still was not true that God was inflicting those consequences on him as punishment. Natural effects of violating laws of nature are not at all the same as imposed punishments artificially inflicted through the power and intervention of God on the guilty. But this man did not know that and the despair and hopelessness that false beliefs about God left him moving toward death.
Evidently his friends had a better outlook about the possibilities available to him and maybe had even started to believe that God might be more like this man Jesus than like what so many others thought. They decided to take their friend to Jesus even though he had little to no faith of his own. His guilt, shame and feelings of condemnation had robbed him of all hope, but his friends took him anyway and placed him as close to the presence of Jesus as they could get him in spite of all the obstacles and resistance they ran into on the way. And so we are told that because of their faith Jesus healed their friend, not just from his crippling condition but more importantly from the lies about God that had suffocated all the hope from his heart.
No wonder many of the people were amazed and glorified God after such a display of love and forgiveness. All of them likely longed to be free of their own fears and condemnation that permeated the religion they had grown up in, while this bold new teacher and healer was insisting that God was not at all like what they had always thought He was but was better than anyone dared to imagine. "We have never seen anything like this!"
Indeed, most of us still have never seen anything like this. Sadly, even after all that Jesus has done to reveal the truth about God to us, we are still in need of embracing a fresh new view of God that looks like Jesus instead of the opinions of religious leaders or anyone else for that matter. Jesus is the only accurate revelation of how God feels about us and Jesus demonstrated clearly what forgiveness can do to liberate and reconcile any who are willing to participate in it. Are you and I willing to not only embrace this glorious truth but also choose to follow in His example of reconciling forgiveness?