My wife likes to encourage me. After I write a blog she sends me a note telling me that she thought it was good…and tells me where the typos are!  A couple blogs ago she sent me her regular note, which I appreciate very much, and suggested a new topic. “I’d like to see you do one on the difficulty in recognizing that we think we’ve forgiven, we think we’ve let go, but we really haven’t and how to recognize that.” I’m glad she gave me an easy one!

I think everyone’s pretty clear on need to forgive – Jesus told us that we are to forgive as the Father has forgiven us or we will not be forgiven (Matthew 6:15).  And I think we all forgive with our tongue and our head. But I am not convinced that we all get there in our heart, which is the issue my wife is getting to.

Here’s the deal – you cannot say you’ve forgiven someone if you still are upset, angry, bitter, vengeful, holding a grudge, or harbor any other negative feeling toward them. Simply put you’re not there yet! Chip Ingram teaches that forgiveness is a process that involves you choosing to forgive, the process of forgiving, and ending in the person being forgiven. Let me unpack that for a second.

When someone wrongs you the first thing you are to do is forgive them. Chip believes that you may not feel like doing it, but we are called to do so out of obedience to God not based on our emotions. But then there is a process of forgiving that takes place. This is where you work with God through the Holy Spirit to truly forgive in your heart so you hold no ill feelings whatsoever toward the person. This cannot be done on your own in your own power; you’re not that benevolent. Only God can heal and change our hearts once they have been wounded.

And this is where people make their mistake! They try to forgive in their own power, thinking they’ve forgiven because they said they have intellectually, but they’ve not really done so in their hearts.

This is my wife’s point. How do we recognize when we haven’t truly forgiven in our heart if our head tells us we have? Here’s the big clue: When you keep replaying the transgression over and over in your head and can’t stop thinking about what happened, and you start acting differently towards the person you’ve not forgiven them yet.

You see, true Godly forgiveness is when we’ve totally, completely forgiven as if the transgression never happened in the first place. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not talking about the extreme cases such as when a pedophile rapes your kid. Forgiveness may look a little different there, because you must treat the person differently when they are dangerous. But I am talking about the everyday kind of transgressions that happens in families, between friends, co-workers, acquaintances, and yes, even in church!

There’s a second mistake we make as well. God is always ready to do a miracle in us through the Holy Spirit by healing our hearts when they have been wounded by some transgression. But even when we know that we sometimes tune that out because we don’t want healing we want justice! It’s just not fair that the person who transgressed gets away with it because we are called to forgive! Hello Satan, is that you?

Here’s the clue that we’re doing that: If you keep getting angry about the situation and that anger does not subside with time and may even get more intense chances are you’re blocking the Holy Spirit. We get angrier because internally we know what we’re supposed to do – submit ourselves to God – but it just ticks us off even more and then we fight against the Holy Spirit even harder. Satan loves when we do that because the only person who gets hurt doing this is us!

To get to a place where we can submit ourselves to God and allow the Holy Spirit to do His work in us, we have to take a step of faith; we have to believe that God’s word is true and that He is indeed just and will hold people to account for their transgressions. It is not ours to judge because we have a God who is sovereign and is the judge of all. You cannot “give it up to God” unless you believe and are okay with the fact that justice will be served as God sees fit to serve it.

True forgiveness is really difficult, because in our fallen state it seems like the exact opposite thing to do. However, true forgiveness is one of the most liberating and empowering things God does for you if you’ll just let Him!