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Lesson 3 - Accomplishing Forgiveness and Repentance

In Choosing forgiveness 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.)

Remember in the last lesson we learned that to forgive does not mean:

  • 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.

If we fall into these mistakes we will find ourselves repeating our attempts to forgive over and over. The reasons for this are that:

  • The past event really did happen, even if not always as we remember it.

  • We really were angry and hurt, and probably still are at some deep level.

  • Something will always come up to remind us of what happened.

  • What happened really was important to us.

  • Knowing who it was that hurt us does nothing to resolve the hurt.

So, forgiveness is necessary. We need to unload the burden of holding the person who sinned against us accountable and give it to God. He sent Jesus to bear the sins of the world. It is too much for us to carry and God never intended that we do so. They need us to release our hold on them and give it to God so that someone who is actually able to deal with them with mercy as well as justice can work to set them free.

The Process of Forgiving

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.

As we go through the day we will encounter others who may cause us irritation or inconvenience, and even insult or offend us. If we develop a habit of immediately forgiving them, face to face if necessary, but also with forbearance if the slight was unintentional and done in ignorance, then we will not accumulate the pile of rubbish that blights our lives, spoils relationships and builds up to a reaping we could never have imagined.

However, once something has taken root and we have let it grow, then we need to do more. Simply saying "I forgive you" isn't enough - the sin must be dealt with.

  1. Identify exactly who sinned against you. Sometimes people are reluctant to acknowledge that someone has sinned:

    • The person may be close to them. It may be too painful to accept that a person who is supposed to have cared about them did not do so.

    • If it was a parent many people think that by accusing them of sin they are dishonouring them, and a too simplistic interpretation of the commandment to honour your parents so it will go well with you (Exodus 20:12) puts them at risk of condemnation by God. This overlooks the fact that the parent has broken the commandments by their sin, which God already knows about. Falsely accusing a parent would be dishonouring, as would accusing them in order to exact retribution. Denying it happened makes you complicit in the sin. Admitting what actually happened so that the matter can be dealt with and reconciliation achieved is the most honourable cause.

    • Admitting you allowed yourself to be taken advantage of makes you look foolish or weak. This is just false pride.

    • If they were abused as a child the abuser may have threatened them with harm if they ever told anyone about it.

    • Dissociative parts may keep the true identity of the offender hidden from the one sinned against. In our seminar Dissociation: becoming the dear departed we teach how to minister to dissociation.

  2. Name the sin as accurately and explicitly as you can. It is difficult to truly forgive something nebulous. In looking carefully at what happened you may discover the true nature of the sin, and be able to recognise any effects that may need healing. You may also realise that things were not exactly as you first thought.

  3. Acknowledge any part you played in the events that might require you to repent first. There's the old adage that those who live in stone houses shouldn't throw glasses (I prefer this version) that Satan is always ready to throw at you otherwise.

  4. At this point it may become obvious that you are carrying false guilt. This is common when someone has been abused and the abuser said it was their fault. A common defense of rapists is to say the victim asked for it, and some rape victims believe they are at fault because they didn't scream, or because they even 'enjoyed' it. If you believe, even wrongly, that you are guilty this needs to be resolved.

  5. Recognise that your holding the person accountable, while you have that right, is not helpful to you or them. Give up that right and hand it to God who, as the only righteous judge, will do what is right and fair by both you and the guilty person. There is always the risk that God will let them off. If that worries you then you are not truly forgiving. After all, if you are glad that you have been forgiven your sins, would you not allow others to also share that privilege? Remember, as it was for you, they will only be forgiven if they repent.

  6. Repent of taking so long to do this, for holding on to the resentment you have carried until now.

  7. Repent of any reactive sins you have committed in response to the sin against you. For example, you weren't allowed to go to college and had to go to work. For years you resented this, blamed your parents for missed opportunities and criticised their decision to anyone who would listen. Their action occurred only once. Your sinful responses multiplied through many years and grew different tentacles as you allowed the root of bitterness to grow.

  8. Ask God to heal you, washing away any effects of that sin in your life by the precious blood of Jesus.

  9. Break any ungodly soul ties established between you and those who sinned against you.

  10. Ask God to bless the person whom you have just forgiven. Be specific. Imagine you are that person in their circumstances. What would you most like God to do for them? Be prepared for the possibility that God may prompt you to take action in answer to this prayer.

  11. Thank God for the experience, for all you have learned through it, and for this opportunity to prove his grace yet again.

Outline prayers you may use to help you in this process are provided in Resource Sheet 4 - Forgiveness Prayers.

In Choosing Forgiveness the Sandfords identify four types of wounding: the unintentional 'bruise', the intentional 'cut', the 'open wound', and the 'crippling injury'; and the steps needed to accomplish forgiveness for each. The following chart (pp. 39,40) outlines these:

WOUNDINGS AND THE FORGIVENESS PROCESS

Wounds and Wounding Events

Characteristics of the Pain

Response Needed to Achieve Forgiveness

"Bruise"

  • Unintentional hurt
  • Insensitive act
  • Error in judgment
  • Slip of the tongue
  • Irritability, quarrelsomeness
  • Gossip

Offender is immediately repentant when confronted

Surface irritant

  • Causes inconvenience
  • Creates distraction
  • Produces disappointment
  • Temporarily affects openness
  • Short-term discomfort

Forgive on the fly

  • Consider the logical benefits of forgiveness
  • Catch issues and deal with them in the moment
  • Relate to the offender with lighthearted grace and sense of humor

"Cut"

  • Intentional wounding
  • Disloyalty
  • Unfairness
  • Dishonesty
  • Embarrassment
  • Getting even

Offender becomes repentant when confronted.

Hurt penetrates

  • Feels like a personal affront
  • Violates sense of justice
  • Creates feelings of being discounted, disrespected, unprotected, and uncared for

Proactively choose to forgive

  • Define boundaries and mutual accountabilities
  • Choose forgiveness in the moment for repentant offenders
  • Release hurts before they fester to bitterness
  • Seek reconciliation

"Open wound"

  • Premeditated wounding
  • Malicious offense
  • Constant criticism
  • Selective withdrawal of affection
  • Bitter betrayal
  • Planned revenge
  • Public humiliation

Offender is unrepentant and may continue behavior.

Pain becomes lodged in the heart

  • Hurt felt as deeply personal
  • Pain is repeatedly rehearsed
  • Anger causes wound to fester
  • Blame often verbalized
  • Resentment becomes lodged in the heart

Repent of judgments; take unforgiveness to the Lord as sin issue

  • Pray repeatedly for forgiveness to be achieved
  • Depend on God
  • Establish clarity about future relationships with abuser
  • Bless those who hurt you
  • Patiently endure the long process of forgiveness

Once the forgiveness process is complete it is good to check the results. The Sandfords provide the following checklist (p47):

Check your feelings and symptoms.

When you think about the persons who previously hurt you ...

  • Do you generally feel OK about them, with no sense of lingering hurt or bitterness?
  • Do you feel a loving warmth and desire for their success and happiness?
  • Do you feel an empathetic hurt for their hurts without a private sense of pleasure that perhaps they are getting what they deserve?
  • Do you miss having fellowship with them and wish you could restore relationship (even if wisdom tells you that you can't)?
    If you happened to see them walking down the sidewalk toward you, would you be happy for the encounter, or would you want to cross the street to the other side or duck into a store to avoid having to meet them?
  • Are you able to feel comfortable about opportunities of being around them?
    If invited to a meeting or a party where you know they would also attend, would that spark joy in your heart for the opportunity to see them, or would you decline to attend so you wouldn't have to be around them?

If you can't say 'Yes' to each of these you may still have some work to do. Don't rush into thinking you haven't forgiven, but realise that you still need healing of your wounds and this sometimes takes time. However, be intentional about it, it won't just happen.

The Process of Repenting

  1. Acknowledge that you have sinned.

  2. State clearly and explicitly the nature of your sin and who it is you have sinned against.

  3. Don't try to justify yourself. If any allowances need to be made let God do it.

  4. Don't blame anyone else or share the responsibility - it is your part in the sin you are repenting of, not theirs.

  5. Don't try to rationalise the sin away. If it is on your conscience this will not remove it.

  6. Listen to the Holy Spirit about your sin. If he convicts you then you are guilty.

    Sometimes people find it difficult to discern whether they are feeling conviction from the Holy Spirit or condemnation from Satan. The simple answer is that:

    • Satan will tell you that you have sinned and also that you are stuck with it, while the Holy Spirit will always show you a way to resolve the problem.

    • Satan will associate the sin with your identity so that you believe you are naturally bad and nothing can be done about it - you are left feeling hopeless and helpless. The Holy Spirit recognises that we are naturally prone to sin, but that in Christ we can overcome it and one day will sin no more.

    • Satan will tell you it doesn't really matter, that everyone sins so don't be too hard on yourself. The Holy Spirit will not let you off the hook because in his love for you he knows the harm remaining unrepentant will bring.

  7. Tell God you are sorry for your sin. Be clear about this - it is not enough to be sorry that you were caught, nor that you brought problems on yourself through your sin. That is remorse, not repentance. Learn to hate your sin, be disgusted with it for the stink it is in God's nostrils. If you are truly repentant then the thought that you might deliberately do it again should fill you with horror. It may take you a long time to reach this kind of sensitivity to sin, but that is the goal.

  8. Ask God for the forgiveness bought for you through the death of Jesus on the cross.

  9. Thank God for his forgiveness.

  10. Make a declaration that you will not go that way again and bring Christ's blood into disrepute. Be aware that God takes such decisions very seriously, as does the kingdom of darkness.

  11. Ask God to show you what you must do to make restitution to those you sinned against, and decide to do it. Remember, making restitution is not a penance or a punishment for your crime - it is a making good the damage you caused. The Old Testament Law specifies the kind of restitution required in different circumstances, and then an extra gift on top of that to recompense the injured party for the inconvenience you caused and to cement home in the sinner's heart the seriousness of sin. For example, Exodus 22 outlines the payments required in the case of theft.

    Considering we are not living in Old Testament times but are in the age of grace, then the requirement of love would indicate an even higher standard, not lower. If you are truly sorry then you will act in a way that shows it. All of the cost should be to you, not the person you injured. It is interesting that today we are often quicker to point out the other person's need to forgive us than our need to recompense them.

  12. Listen to the Lord about whether you should confess to the person you hurt if they do not know about it. Generally you should, but there may be some circumstances where it would produce more harm to them. But allow the Lord to determine this, and if necessary check with a trusted person about it. Do not use the fear of this as an excuse to not do what is right. The Lord knows your heart and will discern if you are not truly repentant or unwilling to pay the cost of restitution. You alone can not know whether the person needs to forgive someone for what happened. Even if the person should not be told, it should still be possible to bless them in some tangible way.

David's cry for mercy after he had committed adultery with Bathsheba and had her husband murdered is recorded in Psalm 51. This can be a helpful model for repentance.

Model prayers are provided in Resource Sheet 4 - Forgiveness Prayers.

What to Do if You Repeat the Same Sin

After repenting a person may continue to sin in the same way for a number of reasons:

  • They are not truly repentant.

  • They are in the hold of an addiction.

  • They have made a habit of that sin.

  • They have not brought to death the structures formed through the habit.

  • They have dissociative parts that are pushing them towards that sin.

  • They have demons that are pushing them towards that sin.

  • There is generational iniquity that is pushing them towards that sin. This may be the result of ancestral vows or curses, or may be propagated through familial spirits.

  • They have a mental problem which weakens their ability to resist the sin.

  • Their mind is unrenewed, perhaps because they do not take sin seriously and have not learned to overcome it.

  • Their spirit is asleep, and not able to help them resist temptation.

The first of these is a moral problem and a matter of exercise of the will, but apart from that each of these conditions is an indication that further ministry and /or instruction is required. The roots of the problem are deeper than at first thought and must be dealt with before the person will find freedom. This is part of the process of sanctification that all believers go through.

For example, if a person has a struggle with pornography there may be a layering of multiple causes, such as childhood wounds, generational weakness, dissociative parts, and demons.

How to Respond to an Apology

When someone says sorry to you treat them lovingly but take them seriously.

  • If the matter is relatively trivial then simply say "I forgive you" and make no more of it. Do not say, "That's OK."

  • If the matter is not trivial then ask them to tell you exactly what they have done and who they have done it to.

  • If the sin is against you, then allow them to express their regret, tell them that you forgive them, and ask them what they now intend to do about it.

  • Don't immediately say that it doesn't matter. It might or might not matter to you, but it may be very important to them to follow through with their repentance and restitution.

  • Resist the temptation to rescue the other person. They must work it out between themselves and God as well as with you.

  • If the sin being confessed is a criminal offence or a reportable matter then do not agree to cover it up. You must do what you know to be right in the eyes of God and society. If the other person is not happy with this then point out that it is a consequence of their actions and not of any desire you have for revenge.

  • If the sin is against someone else then ask them why they are telling you and not that person. Based on their reasons you can decide whether you should accept their apology or send them to the proper person to deal with it. Don't rescue.

People may make insincere apologies for numerous reasons:

  • Some people say sorry as a means to coerce you into doing something.

  • I had the experience of a person saying sorry to me for something of which I had no knowledge, then saying that they had something against me, of which I also had no knowledge.

  • Some say sorry to avoid any consequences for their sin. They think if they've confessed you must forgive them and then can do nothing further about the matter.

  • Some say sorry when you point out a repeated failure, thinking this lets them off the hook and they don't have to change their behaviour at all.

  • Some say sorry for something to obscure another crime.

    One person apologised to me for not forgiving me for something that I know I did not do, then tried to force me to admit to something else they said I did. This was after I had asked them about not returning a book they had borrowed, which I suspect they had lost.

  • Some people say sorry for things in order to gain attention or sympathy. They may or may not have committed the acts to which they confess. The police experience numerous false confessions following the publicising of any major crime.

If you believe they are not really sorry then rather than rescuing them by letting it go it is usually best to gently confront them with what you think. Their response will quickly decide the issue for you. You may then need to add manipulation to their list of sins against you, if you are keeping score.

If you are not sure whether or not they are sincere, then give them the benefit of the doubt and forgive them. Their sin is then between them and God and no longer your concern. At least they will not be able to use that one against you again.

What to Do if Your Apology is Refused

When you are seeking forgiveness for something you have done to another, recognise that they do have the right to continue to hold you accountable. If they choose to exercise that right then you must wear it. They then put themselves in the place of God, and for that they are accountable to him, not you.

If it seems that reconciliation is impossible after you have done everything you can to achieve it, then accept it. Give them your blessing and get on with your life.

If restitution is demanded, pay it. If what is demanded is unreasonable then ask God what you should do. If he says pay, then pay, otherwise offer what is reasonable.

If what is demanded is impossible, realise that this is itself a sinful act. Reconciliation will not be possible, and after you have done what is right and reasonable in the eyes of God and society make an end of it. If they continue to insist then take it to the leaders for a judgement. If the other party takes you to court then let the court decide.

John Bevere tells of going to people whom he has hurt or who were angry with him to ask for forgiveness. They have lashed out at him, telling him he was selfish, inconsiderate, proud, rude, harsh, judgmental and more. (The bait of Satan, p.157-158.)

The natural response is to defend ourselves, which only fuels the argument. Romans 14:19 reminds us "Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification." In this case, we are in the wrong, so humbly accepting the tirade, listening, and letting them speak without interrupting is the right response to their verbal attack. Humbling ourselves to promote reconciliation is God's way, and should be ours. God was not in the wrong, but he didn't wait for us to come and say sorry, but gave Jesus to die for us, so that we might be forgiven.

Jesus warned that being angry brings us under judgment, and criticising and cursing our brother has dire consequences. He also stressed the importance of dealing with things if we have sinned and someone has something against us. If there are barriers through sin our relationship with God is spoilt and Jesus says we should seek reconciliation before coming to worship.

You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.' But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, 'Raca,' is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell. "Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.

Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still with him on the way, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. I tell you the truth, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny. (Matthew 5:21-26)

However, in all of the above, realise that you initiated the problem by your sin, and if you are truly sorry then you will love the other person as the Lord gives you strength, and refuse to sin further against them.

Jesus speaks very harshly of those who cause his little ones to sin (Luke 17:1-2). If it is your sin that has offended them and they are unable to forgive you, take care that you don't judge them for their lack of forgiveness and sinful response to your repentance. Should the apology not be received, continue to pray blessing on them, asking for God's mercy and grace to enable them to forgive you, not for your sake, but for theirs. Seek God's way to reconciliation, and be willing to lay down your life as he laid down his for your sake.

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers (1 John 3:16).

Bibliography and Suggested Reading

  • Bevere, John, The bait of Satan: living free from the deadly trap of offense. Lake Mary, Fla: Charisma House, 2004.
  • 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, Norm Bowman, Choosing forgiveness. Lake Mary, Florida: Charisma House, 2007.