What if I’m struggling to forgive, can I still have assurance? Answered by Jon Moffitt
Hi, this is Jon, and today on ask Theocast, I’m answering Sam’s question, and the question has to deal with forgiveness and our assurance. He asks, “If I’m struggling to forgive somebody who has hurt me or offended me, how should that be seen in regards to my standing before God or my assurance?”
Well, this is a complicated question, and it’s not as simple as some may think. Sometimes we hear it said that if you’re unwilling to forgive or if you’re struggling to forgive somebody, then you yourself have not been forgiven by God. In the context when Jesus says this, there’s a reason for what he is saying, and I don’t think we should confuse it with the struggle.
Let’s think about this scenario for a moment. You’ve been hurt. You’ve been offended deeply, and you maybe don’t have the opportunity to find restitution where this person is asking for forgiveness, or they’re not wanting to repent and ask for forgiveness, and now you are left with the responsibility to then offer them forgiveness and not allow bitterness to swell up within you. It’s hard because the offense is so hard, deep, and caused so much pain and scarring that you struggle to move past it.
I think there’s a difference between saying, “I absolutely will never forgive this person. I will always hold it over them,” versus, “I struggle to forgive them. I have to forgive them over and over and over again because I do find myself falling back underneath that pain and scarring that was left behind, and I become bitter and angry again, and then I have to forgive them again.” That’s different, that struggle with sin. First John one, nine tells us that if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us of our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness, so that struggle with the ongoing forgiveness of this person is different from saying, “I absolutely will never forgive them for what they have done.”
Now, I think we also need to understand the difference between forgiveness and restitution. Just because you forgive somebody, it doesn’t mean that the relationship with them has to be perfectly restored back to where it was. For instance, in a marriage where there has been tremendous unfaithfulness and pain, the spouse can offer forgiveness, meaning that they will not hold the sin of the other person over them, but that doesn’t mean that the marriage can then be restored. It may be better for the marriage to not be restored in certain circumstances because it might be unsafe for the individual or it just may not be wise. Seeking pastoral council in that situation is important.
To use a job illustration, if someone was dishonest at their job or did something illegal, and the boss then offers them forgiveness, like, “Look, I forgive you, I will not hold this over you, but that doesn’t mean you can have your job back.” That would make sense, right? So we always have to understand the difference between forgiveness and restoration.
When it comes down to your relationship with the Father, I think that when you identify your struggle, understand that the lack of forgiveness is sinful, and acknowledge that you will maybe over time have flare-ups of anger and bitterness, you need to repent of those things and you need to seek the gospel. This is where the gospel frees us because no one has offended God greater than you have, and the sin that you have been forgiven of is far greater than any sin that could be committed against you. Remind yourself that what God has offered you in Jesus Christ and the sacrifice that was required, you have never made that sacrifice, nor will you ever. To offer forgiveness to someone will never require of you what God required of Jesus to offer you that sacrifice. I think that looking at the gospel and understanding the grace and mercy that’s been handed to you can free you from this struggle, and knowing that it’s okay to struggle as long as you’re recognizing that it’s sin and that you are working to look to the glory of Christ and the gospel can free you from this lack of forgiveness.
To anyone who would say, “I am absolutely unwilling to forgive,” you need to be careful there because that is not what we have been called to. Because we have received mercy, we give mercy, but that doesn’t mean it should be one-time forgiveness and it’s over and you never struggle with it again, that’s just not how Christianity works.
So my encouragement to you is to confess that sin. Seek Christ’s forgiveness. Understand that it’s offered to you. There’s no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, and don’t carry that burden alone. Find other brothers and sisters who can encourage you, point you to Jesus, and help you find relief and restoration with the struggle to forgive and this pain and sorrow that you’re suffering through.
I hope that was encouraging. Please continue to send us your questions.