This is one of the most misunderstood concepts about forgiveness. Some of you are afraid to forgive because you’re afraid you’re going to have to go back with that person. And you’ll have to be their best friend again or you’ll have to remarry them or whatever.
Restoring relationship and forgiveness are two different things, the Bible teaches. Forgiveness in some instances happens quickly based on decision. Trust must be built over a long period of time. The Bible says that those are two different things. Forgiveness says, “I am releasing you.” I will not take vengeance. But it doesn’t guarantee that the relationship will be restored. Those are two different issues.
So what is forgiveness?
Four Greek words, in the New Testament are used to express the concept of forgiveness:
There are two main terms: one is a financial or accounting term. If a person is released from an obligation, such as a loan or debt, then that person is then forgiven. What if your mortgage company called and said, “Congratulations you have been released from your obligation to pay out your debt!” That’s good news.
The next concept is judicial term. We hear of a judge that has “dismissed” the charges against a defendant. That person is then forgiven of any wrongdoing.
The other term means to “put aside” and the last term means to an means to “put away”
So the definintion of Forgiveness is “to dismiss, to release, to let go.
For Human Relationships to be Restored, three things need to occur that that are totally unrelated to forgiveness:
1. The person should demonstrate genuine repentance. They have to show that they’re genuinely sorry before the relationship can be rebuilt. Genuine repentance means a change in their lifestyle. The word repentance means a change of mind, which then changes behavior. This should be evident to restore a relationship.
2. They have to make restitution whenever possible for the damage done. Restitution means to pay back or to make right to compensate for the damages. Restitution needs to take place in a restored relationship
3. The offender must rebuild your trust by proving they have changed over time. It is like being on parole.
“It is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.” 1 Corinthians 4:2 When the Bible says to put our trust in God this is huge but it’s based on God’s faithfulness. For trust there must be something trustworthy to trust in. It takes time.
Those are totally different from forgiveness. If somebody repeatedly wrongs you over and over – let’s say somebody in your family or work or a former friend or a former spouse – somebody who repeatedly hurts you over and over and over. You’re obligated by God to forgive that person over and over and over. But you are not obligated to trust that person or instantly restore the relationship.
Example: An abusive alcoholic spouse batters his wife or her husband and does it repeatedly over and over until finally the spouse says, “No more! You’re harming me. You’re harming the kids. You’re out of here.” And they come back and they say, “I’m so sorry. I’m ashamed of what I’ve done. Please forgive me. Will you forgive me?” You are obligated as a Christian to say, “Yes, I do forgive you.” Then they say, “OK! So I can come back home?” That’s another story! You have to prove the trust.
It takes more that forgiveness to build a relationship. It takes trust. And trust is built over time. They say, “But wait! You’ve forgiven me. Can’t we just go back to the way things were?” No. Trust must be rebuilt.
Next we’ll look at the last myth, “Forgiveness is forgetting what happened.’