One of the most difficult things in life is to forgive. When we are hurt, our tendency is to fight back and defend ourselves. We want to hurt the person who hurt us. Yet, God tells us to do the exact opposite. Jesus said, “If someone slaps you on the cheek, offer the other cheek also.” (Luke 6:29) That sounds crazy and goes against every bone in our body. Jesus didn’t tell us to do that just to show we can be meek and mild. He did that because something happens when we walk in forgiveness.  

The Scripture tells us that God’s ways are not our ways. God speaking through the prophet Isaiah said, “My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord. And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.”Isaiah 55:8-9 (NLT)

In Ephesians 6:12, we are told that the real battles of life are fought in the invisible realm. “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (NKJV) I almost need to remind myself of that verse daily.

When we find ourselves in conflict with another person, right away we think that they are our enemy. They are the one causing us the emotional pain we are experiencing right now. At least, it seems that way… Yet, the apostle Paul pulls back the veil to let us know that the real cause of the conflict is not the person in front of us, but a battle in the invisible realm of life. We can’t see that conflict with our natural eyes, but you can bet Satan and his demons are at work behind the scenes. Jesus told us that the devil comes to steal, kill, and destroy. (John 10:10) That is his agenda, his mission in life – and he is relentless. 

When we are emotionally wounded, it can be more devastating than a physical wound. A physical wound will often heal in a short time. That is not usually the case with an emotional wound. The pain of an emotional wound can cut deep, and if it isn’t healed, it will fester and affect our whole being. That wound will not only affect our relationship with that person – but it affects us and everyone around us.  

That is why God requires us forgive when we are offended. If we don’t, a door will be opened to allow darkness to rush in.

God demands that we forgive, but forgiveness is always our choice.

God will never override the human will. He will not force us to forgive someone, even though the consequences of not forgiving are serious and grave. Look what Jesus told His disciples in Matthew 6:14-15. “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” Those are some hard words to swallow.

If we refuse to forgive others, God will not forgive us. Did you get that??? Right away, it sounds crazy. After all, we are forgiven by the grace of God through our Lord Jesus Christ. There is nothing we can do to earn His mercy and forgiveness. Jesus died for our sins – and by His grace we are saved. (Eph 2:8) That’s all true. Yet, God will not force His will upon us. If we refuse to forgive, we are refusing the grace that saves us. We must submit our will to Him to receive His grace – and unforgiveness is a barrier that blocks us from receiving that grace. It prevents God’s forgiveness from reaching our heart.  

God will not hear our prayers when we refuse to forgive another person. (Psalm 66:18) That’s not a good thing… Actually, it’s a very serious thing. Most Bible commentators agree that Jesus was telling us that if we refuse to forgive others, God will not forgive us, AND we will lose all hope of eternal life. Wow! In other words, not forgiving another person will seal our own damnation.

Like the servant in Matthew 18:21-35, unforgiveness can keep a person out of heaven. That’s serious stuff! As far as God is concerned, forgiving is not an option – but it is our choice. In this passage, Peter asked this question: “How many times do I need to forgive my brother – as many as seven times?” And, what did Jesus reply? Try seventy times seven for starters! In other words, we probably won’t be able to keep track of how many times we need to forgive that person. We just have to keep forgiving! God absolutely demands that we forgive when someone sins against us.

Why is forgiveness so important?

Unwillingness to forgive is often a cause of sickness and disease. In a study done at John Hopkins University, not forgiving a person can change your heart rate, blood pressure, and your immune response. Those changes then increase the risk of depression, heart disease, and diabetes, among other things. Forgiveness, on the other hand, calms a person’s stress levels, leading to improved health. That’s just the medical perspective. Spiritually speaking, unforgiveness is an even a greater danger.

When a person refuses to forgive, it opens a door to demonic activity. (Matthew 18:23-35; I Peter 5:8) When we don’t forgive, Satan can build a stronghold in the soul that often creates a root of bitterness. (Jeremiah 4:18; Acts 8:22-23) That root of bitterness will affect how we see God and others as well. (Hebrews 12:15)

Many Christians think it is okay hold onto hurt and anger. They think it is no big deal with God – but it is a big deal! Unforgiveness destroys the foundation of salvation, and it will affect every area of our life. (Luke 6:48-49) It prevents God’s grace from reaching the heart. (Hebrews 12:15) Instead of living under grace, we live under a self-imposed curse. If we refuse to forgive others, God will NOT forgive us. (Matthew 6:15) Instead of being for us – He stands against us. This is NOT what He wants for us.

I have seen unforgiveness take a toll on those who refuses to forgive. It usually affects the physical body with sickness and disease. It can also create stress in the soul that can lead to confusion and even mental illness. A root of bitterness will also drive other people away. It distorts the person’s perception of life and can even paralyze them from functioning. In the end, unforgiveness corrupts the body and soul and removes God’s favor.

Unforgiveness is toxic and very destructive. That’s why God says there is no option when it comes to forgiveness. He demands that we forgive others. Jesus made it clear in Matthew 18:35, “That unless we forgive others from the heart, our heavenly Father will not forgive us.”

Unforgiveness closes the door of heaven, when people refuse to forgive, believing they have a right to hold onto their hate and bitterness. Recently someone shared a personal experience in forgiving someone. This person hurt them deeply, but they chose to forgive them. This was very difficult, but they wanted to forgive from the heart. So, about every ten minutes they spoke out loud, saying that they forgave that person – until their decision got into the heart. I love that! It can take more than once to say, “I forgive so-and-so” – until our heart comes into alignment.

God has given us the power to forgive, but He never said it would be easy. If you have a struggle forgiving someone, think about Jesus. On the cross He cried out, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”He was asking the Father to forgive the ones who nailed Him to a tree. That’s the strength and power of forgiveness. Jesus demonstrated that it’s possible even when it seems impossible.

Instead of holding onto an offense, God tells us what to do. Check out Romans 12:17-21. “Never repay anyone evil for evil. Take thought for what is right and gracious and proper in the sight of everyone. If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave the way open for God’s wrath [and His judicial righteousness]; for it is written [in Scripture], “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. But if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome and conquered by evil but overcome evil with good.” (AMP)

This is God’s formula for dealing with an offense. First thing we are told is not to pay back evil for evil – which is exactly what our flesh wants to do. Our goal in life should be to live at peace with all men. So, we need to turn the situation over to God by forgiving that person. The moment we do, God will work in our heart – and in the other person’s life, as well. In other words, forgive and let go! It’s a choice of our will that opens the door for God to give us the grace to forgive. But that’s not all…

Then we need to ask God, “How can I bless that person?” This is where we step into the supernatural realm of the Spirit! When we do, we will heap coals of shame on the other person’s head. Wow! It works! I can testify to that from personal experience.

So, if someone treats you badly – a boss, teacher, or even a spouse – instead of trying to get even, choose instead to forgive them. Your act of forgiveness will open the door for God to work in the situation. And then, once you are able, share an act of kindness and love. Do something good for that person. Buy them dinner; send them a gift. Your act of kindness will release great conviction. Who knows, it may even change their eternal destiny! (Rom 2:4)

God’s ways are not our ways – that’s for sure. When we tap into His ways, all of heaven comes to attention, and something beyond our understanding is released in the spiritual realm. The hand of God begins to move in a supernatural way. I’m convinced that forgiveness can play a major role in salvation – not just with the person who is told they must forgive, but also in the one who caused the offense.

Forgiveness is a powerful witness. It demonstrates God’s love in action. Jesus told us to love our enemies…and I can’t help but wonder if this is what He had in mind. Forgiveness is an opportunity to receive the power of God’s grace and extend it to others – especially when we do what He told us to do in Romans 12:20-21. When we reach out in love, God’s kingdom comes in power!

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