“Why do I constantly have to defend my past every time we get in an argument?”
“You Always bring up her name when I do one little thing wrong!”
“I told you already, that was the past, that’s not who I am.”
These are statements that unfortunately are all too true among insecure and unhealthy marriages and relationships. If you’re in a relationship with jealousy, envy, insecurity, or trust issues then having a partner forgive your past failures may be difficult. Whether we are the offending party, or the one who is having the difficult time forgiving a past hurt, as disciples of Christ, we must have a healthy view of what forgiveness is and how we are to apply it.
If you’re struggling with forgiving someone, you’re not alone. Actually, un-forgiveness is one of the more common reasons why believers have their prayers hindered and why they can never engage their faith wholly. The deep scars of language, abuse, neglect, or cheating is something that time just doesn’t heal. It was a question which plagued the disciple of Christ. “Then Peter came up and said to [Jesus], ‘Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times’” (Matt 18:21-22).
We’re not supposed to be counting how many times someone wrongs us, as the overall analogy is supposed to shows us that forgiveness is an ongoing process, a continually applied characteristic of a believer. In relationships it can become very fatiguing and wearisome to live with a liar, a cheat, or someone that you cannot trust. Better yet, what about someone who takes advantage of your Christ-like heart?
In all scenarios, we are still supposed to forgive. However, are not people allowed to change? Can they not be forgiven? Surely this is what the gospel brings to us—that God reconciles broken and sinful people to Himself, to sanctify and change them.
Contrary to popular opinion is the notion that forgiveness is forgetting. No, forgiveness is not some cosmic erasure memory board. Forgiveness is releasing someone from condemnation, as well as releasing the hurts and pains caused by the offending party—forgiveness is healing—forgiveness is grace personified. But coupled with forgiveness is wisdom.
Wisdom is the freedom from being naive. When naivety takes root, a person is taken advantage of, all over again. A vicious cycle of untrustworthy behavior. Within relationships, this may look like a husband who was caught cheating on his wife, but has asked for forgiveness. While he is sorry for getting caught, he is not truly repentant, and will eventually repeat the adultery, followed by the same ‘ole sob story. If this is the case, then a naive wife would be one who accepts this behavior, over and over again; thereby, condoning it. Forgiveness does not entail condoning. Forgiveness means that you understand that people are sinful and in need of grace.
“forgiveness is grace personified.”
With that stated, everyone should be given a second and third chance, and then sometimes even over four-hundred and ninety chances. We’re all sinners and all of us need God’s grace. In relationships we ought to never measure our spouse by their past failures, but where God is taking them currently and in the future. So, back to that cheating husband, after some professional counseling, reflection, and time to reconcile, forgiveness needs to ooze out over the scars, to be a balm of hurts and pains. Forgiving will release those hurts. No one should be defined by their past, but should be using it for growth and maturity. As the Apostle Paul stated, “…one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead” (Phil 3:13).
If you’re the offender in this situation, please recognize that destroying trust is very difficult to rebuild. Only by the grace of God can certain relationship reconcile. Only specific people can have the strength given by God to move forward and lay the past behind. You will need to begin to walk in all honesty–measure your motives and intentions, and ask God to weigh your heart (Ps 51). Allow time for God to plow up the fallow ground. Don’t pray for God to work within the other person, if you’re not willing to budge; you’re the one who needs changing. Lastly, respect the space of the one whom you’ve betrayed and allow room for God.
- Do you hold a grudges? How can the example of Peter help you forgive something that your spouse has done in the past?
- Each of us has committed some type of wrong which we would like forgotten. When someone does something against us, we should remember that we are in need of grace.
- The Lord’s Prayer is excellent daily reminder:
“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” ~ (Matt 6:9-13)
Matthew Fretwell is married, has three daughters, loves Jesus, being a dad, people, and coffee. Besides being an author (Denied Desires; Identity Theft, Sanctificagious, 30:1 Manhood), he’s pastor of a 112 year old revitalized church planting church (Oak Hall Baptist) in Sandston, Virginia, and is the founder of Job 31 Ministries. Matt’s an advocate board member of Living Bread Ministries, a global comprehensive Church Planting organization. He also writes for Church Planter Magazine.