No, you don’t have to. But you’ll want to when you know that in order for God to forgive you, you’ll have to be forgiving. Jesus said so.
But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. ~Matthew 6:15 (NKJV)
God won’t forgive me if I don’t forgive others? Nope. How can He when you’re harboring such venom for others? Oh, I don’t know what they did to you? No, I don’t. But you also don’t know what others have done to me, either. Yet, here we are.
Forgiveness has two parts: 1) forgiveness for others; 2) forgiveness for you. That may not be very easy for some. We all go through things in life. Some things are very difficult to accept. Some things are beyond comprehension. But what you need to understand about forgiveness is that regardless of what someone has done to you, forgiving them actually frees you.
It doesn’t mean that you allow that person back into your life to continue the abuse, the hurt, or whatever it is that they did. Forgiving them doesn’t mean restoration of the relationship. Forgiving them means that you reconcile to the fact that you forgive them for what they did and you each move on. That relationship can never be what it once was. And sometimes it’s better to go separate ways. Be cordial to one another, but stay at a distance.
Not Off the Hook
Forgiveness also doesn’t mean that you’re letting that person off the hook. It means that you are willing to let it go into the hands of God and allow Him to take care of the repercussions.
Now, once you forgive your offender, abuser, or whoever they are, you do not get to go back to that offense later down the road however many years and drag it back up, drag them through the mud with it, and accuse them once again. Not even if they make you mad about something else.
The same is true with you. Let’s face it, we make mistakes. We mess up. I do daily. And through the years I’ve made some pretty bad mistakes and hurt many different people. But the beautiful thing about that is, when God healed me I learned to forgive myself. Yes, I apologized to those I hurt. Some forgave me, some didn’t. But I learned to forgive myself and move on. Yes, I tried to hold onto my own hurt over some things I had done, because a few people chose to hold onto it and try to hold it over my head. But once I realized that I had apologized not only to them, but to God, it was done. Over.
What about those who won’t forgive? What about things I didn’t do that I’m being accused of? Here’s a little secret; you can’t worry about that. Give it to the Lord and then leave it alone. And the biggest thing you can do is to pray for those who are unforgiving.
Unforgiving people are very unhappy people. Rather than take responsibility for their actions, it’s easier for them to blame someone else. I know. I’ve been that person. And it hurts you worse when you do that than it does to admit you made a mistake and ask for forgiveness.
Forgiveness is healing. It’s a huge release of stress, anxiety, evil thoughts and feelings, it’s very freeing. Forgiveness releases others and it releases you. Think of Jesus on the cross. He had been lied about, lied to, spat upon, beaten, flogged, pierced, called names, ridiculed… There isn’t anything we go through today that He didn’t go through. And as He was nailed to the cross then hanging there in excruciating pain, what did He do? He forgave! He cried out to God and said, “Father, forgive them. For they know not what they do.”
He forgave! While dying an innocent, Jesus chose to forgive. Now… some relationships with Him would never be reconciled or restored. And that is the most tragic.
Stop Beating Yourself Up!
There is so much to be said about forgiveness. By forgiving others you are simply saying, “I’m not allowing this to happen anymore. I forgive you.” Then go your way. Forgiving yourself you just decide to stop beating yourself up for your past mistakes and move forward not repeating them.
One thing Jesus said to some that He forgave, “Go, and sin no more.” Just don’t repeat it. Learn from it and move on. Forgiveness may not be easy, but it’s necessary.