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Lesson 3 - Forgiveness and Repentance

In their book, Choosing forgiveness, written with Norm Bowman, John and Paula Sandford write,

When teaching about forgiveness, we often sense some in the audience reacting to the idea that giving or receiving forgiveness might require rigorous personal discipline. They want forgiveness to be easy. They don't want to be told that getting into position to receive the grace of forgiveness will require working daily at the discipline of forgiving others. They don't want to be told they must go through the effort of constantly blessing those who hurt them... (W)hen unforgiveness has lodged deeply in the heart, most often there will be no easy solution. We will have to "work out our salvation with fear and trembling," making ourselves get into Gethsemane, declaring forgiveness, and then not allowing ourselves the luxury of slacking off. ... if we don't keep on "working our program," making ourselves bless until our heart comes right again, we won't arrive at wholeness and freedom. (p 24,26.)

The Importance of Forgiveness

Peter Horrobin, of Ellel Ministries says, "We have probably seen more healing and deliverance take place through applying the principles of forgiveness than through any other spiritual discipline." (Healing through deliverance, Vol.2, p. 40)

Unforgiveness causes more soul-sickness and dis-ease in individuals, families and communities than any other attitude of heart - true forgiveness is the key to healing. The character of God is to forgive. (Numbers 14:18; Nehemiah 9:17; Psalm 86:5-7,15,16; Psalm 103:2-13; Daniel 9:9.) We have already seen that if we are in need of forgiveness, we block God's voice, our prayers are hindered and healing is delayed. (Psalm 66:18; Isaiah 59:2; James 5:16.) If we hold unforgiveness this is sin, and we cannot be forgiven by God.

There are immutable laws of the spiritual realm:

  • As you judge so will you be judged (Matthew 7:1.)
  • The law of sowing and reaping. (Hosea 8:7; 2 Corinthians 9:6; Galatians 6:7-8)

If we sow judgement we will reap judgement. If we sow blessing we will reap blessing. If we sow unforgiveness, we will reap the same. Unforgiven sin in our lives gives the devil legal rights to harm us.

In case we thought forgiveness is an option, Jesus and other New Testament writers make it very clear: Jesus' model prayer includes the words, "Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors." (Matthew 6:12 NIV.) Jesus goes on to explain, "For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins." (Matthew 6:14-15.) He linked anger with murder, and stressed the importance of seeking forgiveness from the one we have wronged before bringing our offering to the Lord. (Matthew 5:21-24.)

Matthew 18:21-35 - Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?" Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. "Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.

"The servant fell on his knees before him. 'Be patient with me,' he begged, 'and I will pay back everything.' The servant's master took pity on him, cancelled the debt and let him go. But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. 'Pay back what you owe me!' he demanded. "His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, 'Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.' "But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt.

"When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened. Then the master called the servant in. 'You wicked servant,' he said, 'I cancelled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?' In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

"This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart."

Mark 11:25-26 - "And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your sins."

Luke 6:27-38 - "But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.

"If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' lend to 'sinners,' expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

"Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you."

Luke 17:3-4 - "So watch yourselves. If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, 'I repent,' forgive him."

John 20:23 - "If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven."

2 Corinthians 2:7 - "Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow."

Ephesians 4:30-32 - "And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you."

Colossians 3:12-13 - "Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you."

1 Peter 3:9 - "Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing."

Forgiveness is not an option - unforgiveness imprisons us. It is sin and therefore gives grounds to Satan to have a place in our life. The Greek word used for "tormentors" (jailers) in Matthew 18:34 translates as inquisitor, torturer, one who brings pain, toil, torment, who harasses and distresses, who tosses and vexes with grievous pains of body or mind.

In most ministry situations there will be need of forgiveness - either towards another for offences committed against the person receiving prayer, or from God, which involves repentance on behalf of the person receiving prayer. All worthwhile prayer ministry leads to forgiveness - forgiveness for sins, forgiveness of others, forgiveness of our wrong reactions, forgiveness of ourselves and forgiveness for our failure to accept God's faithfulness and purpose in our lives. (Romans 8:28-39; Hebrews 13:5b,6)

Jesus demonstrated unconditional forgiveness (Luke 23:33,34; 1 Peter 2:21-23). The grace of forgiveness comes to us through the work of Gethsemane and Calvary and both need to be experienced in the hearts of those needing to forgive.

To Forgive does not Mean (Proverbs 17:15)

  • Acquitting the guilty and condemning the innocent - the Lord detests them both".

  • Denying the past ever happened.

  • Denying our anger and hurt.

  • Trying to forget what happened

  • Saying that what happened was unimportant.

  • Finding someone to blame.

Obstacles in Forgiving

  1. Denial

    It is important that we acknowledge how we have been hurt and abused. Healing does not come when our pain is repressed or trivialised. (John 8:32,36.)

  2. Anger

    "In your anger do not sin. Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold." (Ephesians 4:26)

    To experience anger is not sin, it only becomes sin when we allow it to embitter or control us. Righteous anger, that enables us to stand against injustice, is a God-given emotion. In Choosing Forgiveness, Howard Olsen writes of his own journey to forgiveness and healing:

    Our problem is not anger. Our problem is that we don't resolve our anger every day, and therefore end up sinning. Unresolved anger, carried day after day, becomes resentment. Resentments, once ingrained in the heart, become bitterness. Jesus called bitterness a 'hardened heart.' It is the root cause of much trouble. (p.43)

    We need to identify and uncover the root of our anger, for we cannot deal with things that remain hidden. Invite the Holy Spirit to shed light on any repressed or denied anger, then write letters (not to be sent!) or speak out (in private) to those who caused the hurt, eg. "Dear X, Dad, Mum, God, me - I am angry with you because ........" Confess bitterness etc. and forgive. Allow the Lord to take your anger.

  3. Blaming

    We search for someone or something to blame. Blaming life is actually blaming God for not intervening or delivering us in our painful situation. (Deuteronomy. 32:4.) Repent of blaming and release them to God. "I choose not to blame ...... or hold his/her actions against them." We often have to include God in this. Not that God has sinned, but we need to stop blaming him for others choices and release him by our forgiveness.

  4. Vengeance

    Badly traumatised people frequently find forgiveness more difficult because they believe the abuser deserves to suffer or be punished. In the cross we find the place that Jesus has already been punished for our sins, and theirs. We must choose to leave them to our God "who judges fairly." (1 Peter 2:23; Leviticus 19:18; Romans 12:19.) "I give up my right to be paid back for my loss by the one who has sinned against me - and in so doing, I declare my trust in You alone as my righteous judge."

  5. Bitter Root Judgement

    As a result of early hurts we make judgements about people and life. When we sow a bitter root judgement, we reap the same disposition in our own nature. "Do not judge, or you too will be judged..." (Matthew 7:1,2; Hebrews 12:15.) Repentance is needed for such judgements.

  6. The What Ifs

    Holding to the past, continually wishing it had been different, restricts us from moving on. We do not have to be bound by the past. (John 8:32,36; Galatians 5:1; Philippians 3:12-14.) Underlying such "whatifs" and "if onlys" is a distrust of God's ability to work for good in all circumstances on behalf of us (Romans 8:28).

  7. If the Person has Died

    It may be too late for reconciliation or to ask forgiveness, but it is never too late to forgive. We cannot speak directly to the dead but we can express our longings through Jesus, who is Lord of both the living and the dead. (Matthew 22:32; Romans14:8,9)

    Mitton and Parker in Requiem Healing, suggest praying - "Loving Father, I missed the opportunity to sort out some personal things with (name) before he/she died. Jesus I acknowledge You as Lord over all, I ask You to tell him/her that I forgive him/her for......, (and/or) I ask forgiveness for....... Father I thank You for this opportunity to share my heart. I now release (name) and myself to Your righteous care."

  8. Confusing Guilt with the Conviction of the Holy Spirit

    • The agent of guilt is Satan, guilt focuses on condemnation, it produces fear of punishment and leads to depression, rebellion and further sin.

    • The agent of conviction of sin is the Holy Spirit, conviction focuses on destructive behaviour, it produces a fear of missing all God has for us and leads to repentance.

  9. Forgiving Self

    Sometimes people have said, "I'll never forgive myself for ......" and need to be released from that vow and the bondage it has caused.

    Difficulty in forgiving ourselves usually occurs because we do not truly believe that we are forgiven by God. How we feel and see ourselves should not take precedence over how God sees us. He has freed us from all condemnation. (Romans 8:1,2; 1 Corinthians 1:30)

    • We may have never truly repented and come to God through Christ

    • We may be expressing an inability or unwillingness to receive forgiveness.

    • We may be failing to see it as sin, calling it a mistake, or not our fault.

    • We may be regretting our failure to achieve a certain personal standard.

    • We may have declared ourselves to be our own judge and jury.

    • We may not have gripped the scope and depth of God's forgiving grace.

  10. Unforgiveness from Childhood

    We may be locked into a place of unforgiveness from some past childhood experience. The child within may have to acknowledge his/her unforgiveness in that situation, before the adult can move into forgiveness in the present. It is quite common for the same memory to be visited a number of times as forgiveness is given for different aspects of the same sin by both the person coming for ministry and the child who was so wounded. Allow the Holy Spirit time to search the deep recesses and reveal the often unacknowledged wounds and sinful responses of the child.

  11. Reconciliation and Restitution

    Even if we forgive and make restitution there still may be no reconciliation. Ongoing abusive relationships should be avoided as much as possible. Our part is to love by forgiving them and to pray God's blessings on their lives. (2 Corinthians 5:18-20) Heart love may follow only after deep inner healing has taken place. Restitution is a biblical principle often overlooked in this day of grace.

Knowing Forgiveness

(Psalm 32:1,2; Romans 8:28-29; 1 John 1:9)

Knowing the importance of forgiveness and accomplishing it personally is not automatic. Working through forgiveness is an ongoing process and must never be forced. Usually a great deal of inner healing must take place before a person is ready to forgive. Both in the giving and receiving of forgiveness there can be stages.

However the inability to receive forgiveness is usually related to our distorted image of God. Burdening ourselves with feelings of remorse and failure, we struggle with the concepts of His unconditional love and acceptance, concepts that have no place in the memories of past experiences of rejection, abuse, shame and fear. Teaching on the Father heart of God accompanied by the ministry of the Holy Spirit bringing the truth to replace the lies, and the loving patience and acceptance of those ministering can bring a new perspective, enabling forgiveness to be experienced.

Forgiveness the Key to Freedom and Our Relationship with Jesus

Once we have seen that there are people who need to be forgiven, against whom we are holding unforgiveness, we begin the process of forgiving.

We so often forget to forgive the small slights and thoughtlessness we meet daily. We say, "That's OK." when it isn't, and resentment grows. The accumulation of the rubbish blights our lives, spoils relationships and builds up to a reaping we could never have imagined. We often think we have forgiven when we haven't, even though we have said, "I forgive you." If the problem remains, forgiveness is incomplete. Forgiveness from the heart is what is needed, not mere words.

Similarly we forget to seek forgiveness daily for our own sin and sinful reactions to others' sin, thereby giving legal rights for demonic oppression.

The power of forgiveness is the blood of Jesus.

Hebrews 10:21-22 reminds us of his finished work on the cross. "...since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water."

Speaking of the need to forgive oneself, John Sandford writes, "Forgiveness brings us to rest. The blood of Jesus washes away the strivings of guilt precisely so that the structures of habit can be let go to death. If prayer for death on the cross has been expressed many times, and yet that old pattern continues to operate, counselor and counsellee need to return to base one, and examines whether fullness or forgiveness of self and God has in fact been accomplished." (Transformation of the inner man, p. 104.)

Following are some practical steps to help with forgiveness. They are not meant to offer an instant fix, for the words mean little unless there is a willingness to forgive from the heart. Resource Sheet 4 - Forgiveness expands on these.

  1. Acknowledge that forgiveness is a command and not an option.

  2. Make a commitment of the will to be obedient to the Father who has forgiven us our sins.

  3. Forgiveness says we will pay the price for the other person's act. When Jesus proclaimed forgiveness from the cross he paid for the forgiveness of our sin. He did not hold back his love or hold grudges or condemn. He freely forgave and died to his right to be paid back for his loss.

  4. Allow the Holy Spirit to bring to light the person or persons who have sinned and the feelings we have towards them.

  5. If we have sinned by holding unforgiveness, judging them or in other ways, ask the Lord for forgiveness.

    The Unforgiveness Triangle

  6. Invite Jesus to show himself in the situation and receive his comfort and healing for the hurts.

  7. When ready ask for the grace of forgiveness to be given so this can be extended to the one(s) who have sinned. Do not force this. Continue to ask the Holy Spirit to minister. Check if there are any blockages to forgiveness.

  8. Pronounce forgiveness for the person being ministered to and ask the Holy Spirit to bring cleansing, healing and deliverance from the effects of holding on to the unforgiveness for so long.

You might also find Norma Dearing's Four-Way Forgiveness Prayer helpful. (See Resource Sheet 5 - The Four-Way Forgiveness Prayer.)


About repentance, Ed Roebert says,

The word means more than being sorry for what one has done, although this always accompanies real repentance. It also means more than to stop sinning, although every repentant person will deliberately stop sinning. In essence, repentance is a right about turn involving part of a person, their minds, their emotions, and their wills. It is a total change of life, a total change of direction, it is becoming a totally new person...Its is an on-going response to the Holy Spirit, resulting in a life of constant fellowship with the Lord. Repentance brings us into the family of God and it also keeps us in an intimate relationship with the Father...In order to experience real Holy Spirit-inspired repentance, it is vitally important to allow the Holy Spirit time. Time to show us our sins. Time to show us ourselves. Time to show us our desperate need of Jesus. Time to show us that Jesus is able to meet our every need. (Explaining repentance, pp. 11,48,51)

The word relates both to someone coming to faith in Jesus needing to repent of their sin and rebellion, as well as the believer's need for personal repentance when seeking the Lord for his forgiveness for reactive sins as well as the need for forgiveness of deliberate sins.

We need to repent for our sin. In Acts 2:23,37-39, Peter told his listeners about Jesus, and their responsibility for his death. "This man was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross."

"When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, 'Brothers, what shall we do?' Peter replied, 'Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off-for all whom the Lord our God will call.'"

When ministering, recognise that some people have been so wounded and blamed as children they are inclined to feel guilty and take all the blame themselves. Ask the Holy Spirit to give them a clear understanding of sins for which they need to repent, and those things for which another is responsible. /p>

Repentance is more than saying the words, "I'm sorry." Being sorry because of the pain our sin has caused us will be inadequate too. We need deep repentance or the sin can still resurface. Job's response to God's revelation of himself was, "Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes." (Job 42:6.) "Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret." (2 Corinthians 7:10). As we see what our sin has done to Jesus, what pain and suffering was his, our hearts should break that we sin so easily. The cost of our forgiveness was the death of Jesus. How then can we withhold forgiveness from another? "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." (2 Corinthians 5:21) It is the work of the Holy Spirit to bring us to repentance so we are willing to bring to death those structures which continue to foster sin in us.

Repentance is not a feeling; it is action. It will not effect much change to feel sorry. Change happens in relationships only as the cycle of hatred is broken and transformed by the stimuli of love. Change can happen only in individuals, one by one, in relationships. Change happens in individuals only as these structures which stimulate wrong actions and which respond to them are crucified on the cross. Without that crucifixion, battle scenes will be repeated in endlessly varied forms. (Transformation of the inner man, p. 108)

The Sandfords go on to explain the work of Christ in Gethsemane and the need for us to die to self, and what happens when we do.

The moment the attitude of our hearts finds it death knell on the cross, the structures it sustained begin to find their death on the cross. In each such successive inner death, we go through a process... Death of a portion of our self initiates a convulsion or deep shudder throughout our interior being. We undergo sadness, confusion, disorientation, despondency, heaviness, sleepiness, or turmoil. In that time, death is happening through the subterranean regions of our motives and practices. Truly we also, like Jesus, spend our three days in the belly of the earth... How significant it is that Jesus came back into the same physically wounded body... Our own new nature likewise arises within the very structure of what we have been... He called us to be us, and to become that new us within the very mess we have been, now transformed by the resurrection life of Jesus in us.

When Jesus replaces us, He does not superimpose His own being in such a way that we are type-stamped, like cookie-cutter gingerbread creatures. Rather, His nature is still such a death of himself for us, that He fills out what we are to be, which is uniquely and gloriously us. We are not robbed of anything we have been by our own personal crucifixion. We are fulfilled. His life fills our life's structure with His resurrection power to be the glory He intended from the first that we should be...

A final point. We have found it to be a law that those who merely want pain removed do not get well. Those who want to go on enjoying their own selfish, self-centred life never become free and happy. They only want to escape trouble (the very thing God would use to wake them up) so they can go on serving their own selfish god of mammon pleasure. But those whose joy it is to lay their lives down in service for others are soon well and happy. The secret of life is in fact to lose it (Luke 17:33). (Transformation of the inner man, pps. 108-109,112-113,119)

Confession of sin is followed by cleansing with the precious blood of Jesus. In ministry it is helpful to encourage spoken prayer followed by the pronouncement of forgiveness as in 1 John 1:9/i> "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." Repentance and forgiveness are the keys for all effective ministry and the means by which prisoners are set free from all that binds.

"It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery." (Galatians 5:1). (See also Resource Sheet 6 - Repentance)

Bibliography and Suggested Reading

  • Church Resource Ministries Australia, Intercessor's handbook. Melb: CRMA, 1995.
  • Dearing, Norma, The healing touch: a guide to healing prayer for yourself and those you love. Grand Rapids, MI: Chosen Books, 2002.
  • Horrobin, Peter J., Healing through deliverance: vol. 2 - the practical ministry. Chichester: Sovereign World, 1995.
  • Payne, Leanne, The healing presence. Eastbourne, Sx: Kingsway,1989.
  • Roebert, Ed, Explaining repentance. Chichester, W Sussex: Sovereign World, 1991.
  • Sandford, John and Paula, Restoring the Christian family. Tulsa, OK: Victory House Inc, 1982.
  • Sandford, John and Paula, The transformation of the inner man, Tulsa, OK: Victory House Inc, 1979.
  • Sandford, John and Paula, and Bowman, Norm, Choosing forgiveness (Keys of Knowledge series). Arlington,Tx: Clear Stream, 1996.
  • Savard, Liberty, Shattering your strongholds: freedom from your struggles. North Brunswick, NJ:Bridge-Logos, 1992.