New Identity – New Relationships

There’s a profound connection between personal identity and transformed relationships. How we see ourselves affects the way we relate to others.

Take a close look at three verses that could change your understanding of yourself and the nature of your relationships.

What did the apostle mean when he wrote,

“Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. 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 one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Colossians 3:11-13)?

The word – “Here” likely refers to the Church, the gathering of God’s people.

Here — among Christians, the distinctions that fiercely divide social and religious life (Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free), have no place.

Among those who have been forgiven through Jesus Christ, a new identity has been formed that overcomes differences that separate people from each other. Our new identity also leads to a transformation of the ways we relate and respond to other people (“compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience”). 

The apostle is saying that our race, religious background or social status no longer define us. As a follower of Jesus Christ, you are distinguished by three powerful identity markers. You are:  

1. God’s chosen people: we are the “elect of God”

God’s choosing of his people reminds us of His gracious initiative in drawing us to Himself and making us His very own people (cf. Matthew 11:26-31;John 6:44, 66). It is a precious and inspiring truth that traces from Old Testament through New Testament. God’s choice of us to be His people is based on love and grace (1 Thessalonians 1:4; 2 Thessalonians 2:13).

Scriptures on Election: Deuteronomy 7:6;John 15:16 “You have not chosen Me, but I chose you”; Romans 8:31-39; Ephesians 1:3-7.

2. Holy - set apart for God by God

We will misunderstand this word if we do not first hear it as a relationship before it becomes a way of life. Holy is a word that refers to people who are set apart for God by God. Living a holy life must be based on what it means to be chosen by God — “to be His people, His treasured possession” (Deuteronomy 7:6).

We become God’s people only because we were “bought at a price” and this is the basis for being called to “honor God with your body” (1 Corinthians 6:20; 1 Peter 1:14-19). 

3. Dearly loved – recipients of God’s sacrificial redeeming love in Jesus Christ.

Romans 5:8 – “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins…. We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:9-10,19; cf. Romans 8:35-39).

We must mediate deeply and often on what it really means to be loved by God. Being loved by God is what empowers us to love others with “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”

The three identity markers above (chosen, holy and dearly loved) are all received as gifts of God’s grace to underserving sinners who call on the Lord for forgiveness and salvation. We cannot earn or deserve these identities. They can only be received by a God who graciously places them on us. Interestingly, although each identity distinctively belonged to God’s people in the Old Testament, they now belong to believers of all backgrounds (Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free).

Five qualities

What would our churches and relationships be like if they were described by the five qualities below? A taste of heaven on earth? Yes. 

Because of our distinction as God’s dearly loved people — those who have had God’s love “poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit” (Romans 5:5), five character qualities or responses should distinguish our ways of responding to others. Like clothing, these five qualities should be plainly evident among us. If a group of believers is characterized by these qualities, a powerful witness will be evident! 

  1. compassion
  2. kindness
  3. humility
  4. gentleness
  5. patience

Imagine a friendship or marriage where these were the dominant qualities! Too idealistic? Verse 13 takes it to real life! 

  1. compassion: actually “a heart of compassion” or “deep feelings of mercy” It’s a response of sympathy or empathy.
  • Ephesians 4:4–“Because of His great love for us God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ.”
  • Luke 6:36—Be “merciful just as your Father is merciful.”
  • 2 Corinthians 1:3—“The Father of compassion and the God of all comfort.”
  • Philippians 2:1 calls for tenderness and compassion to be part of their fellowship.
  • Psalmist (Psalm 103:8) “The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in love.”
  • Nehemiah (Nehemiah 9:17) “You are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love.” “I knew that You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow in anger and abounding in love” (Jonah 4:2).
  • Moses (Exodus 34:6) “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and abounding in love.”

    2. kindness: compassion in action, a response of grace and generosity. What do we mean when we say, ““He’s so kind”? 

  • Ephesians 4:32—“Be kind and tenderhearted (compassionate) to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
  • 1 Corinthians 13:4—“Love is…kind.”
  • Galatians 5:22—fruit of the Spirit is ….kindness…
  • Ephesians 2:7— the incomparable riches of His grace expressed in His kindness to us in Christ.
  • Titus 3:4—“But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, He saved us…”
  • Romans 2:4-5; 11:22 
  1. humility: a lowliness of mind demonstrated in a refusal to demand one’s rights, a servant mindset.
  • Ephesians 4:2—“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.”
  • Titus 3:2 exhorts us to “show true humility to all people” because “…we too were disobedient, deceived and enslaved…”
  • Philippians 2:3-8—Jesus is the supreme example.
  • John 13; Romans 12:3; 1 Peter 5:5; 1 Corinthians 1:27-28
  1. gentleness: meekness, considerate of others, willing to waive one’s rights out of consideration toward another.
  • Matthew 11:29 “Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls.”
  • Galatians 5:23; 6:1— meekness is the fruit of the Spirit
  • James 3:13— meekness is part of the wisdom from above
  1. patience: (makrothumia) long-tempered, not short-fused; slow to anger; restraining retaliation in the face of provocation; capacity to absorb wrong without retaliation
  • Used of God (Romans 2:4)
  • Required of us (Romans 12:17-21)
  • 1 Peter 3:8-9 “Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.”

This final quality of patience fits well with the closing two participles that are presented with as commands (with imperatival force) in the present active tense: “Bear with each other and forgive one another…”

Our new identity as God’s chosen, holy and dearly loved people overcomes differences that separate people and set people against each other. Our new identity also leads to a powerful transformation in the ways we relate and respond to other people. This is the life!

Steve Cornell

 

How men think in relationships

FINALLY, the guys’ side of the story. THESE ARE OUR RULES!

PLEASE NOTE. THESE ARE ALL NUMBERED #1 ON PURPOSE!

1. MEN ARE NOT MIND READERS.

1. LEARN TO WORK THE TOILET SEAT. YOU’RE A BIG GIRL. IF IT’S UP, PUT IT DOWN. WE NEED IT UP, YOU NEED IT DOWN. YOU DON’T HEAR US COMPLAINING ABOUT YOU LEAVING IT DOWN.

1. CRYING IS BLACKMAIL.

1. ASK FOR WHAT YOU WANT. LET US BE CLEAR ON THIS ONE: SUBTLE HINTS DO NOT WORK!
 STRONG HINTS DO NOT WORK! 
OBVIOUS HINTS DO NOT WORK!
 JUST SAY IT!

1. YES AND NO ARE PERFECTLY ACCEPTABLE ANSWERS TO ALMOST EVERY QUESTION.

1. COME TO US WITH A PROBLEM ONLY IF YOU WANT HELP SOLVING IT. THAT’S WHAT WE DO. SYMPATHY IS WHAT YOUR GIRLFRIENDS ARE FOR.

1. ANYTHING WE SAID 6 MONTHS AGO IS INADMISSIBLE IN AN ARGUMENT. IN FACT, ALL COMMENTS BECOME NULL AND VOID AFTER 7 DAYS.

1. IF YOU THINK YOU’RE FAT, YOU PROBABLY ARE. DON’T ASK US.

1. IF SOMETHING WE SAID CAN BE INTERPRETED TWO WAYS AND ONE OF THE WAYS MAKES YOU SAD OR ANGRY, WE MEANT THE OTHER ONE. 

1. YOU CAN EITHER ASK US TO DO SOMETHING OR TELL US HOW YOU WANT IT DONE. NOT BOTH.
IF YOU ALREADY KNOW BEST HOW TO DO IT, JUST DO IT YOURSELF.

1. WHENEVER POSSIBLE, PLEASE SAY WHATEVER YOU HAVE TO SAY DURING COMMERCIALS.

1. CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS DID NOT NEED DIRECTIONS AND NEITHER DO WE…

1. ALL MEN SEE IN ONLY 16 COLORS, LIKE WINDOWS DEFAULT SETTINGS..
PEACH, FOR EXAMPLE, IS A FRUIT, NOT A COLOR. PUMPKIN IS ALSO A FRUIT. WE HAVE NO IDEA WHAT MAUVE IS.

1. IF WE ASK WHAT IS WRONG AND YOU SAY ‘NOTHING,’ WE WILL ACT LIKE NOTHING’S WRONG. WE KNOW YOU ARE LYING, BUT IT IS JUST NOT WORTH THE HASSLE.

1. IF YOU ASK A QUESTION YOU DON’T WANT AN ANSWER TO, EXPECT AN ANSWER YOU DON’T WANT TO HEAR..

1. WHEN WE HAVE TO GO SOMEWHERE, ABSOLUTELY ANYTHING YOU WEAR IS FINE…REALLY.

1. DON’T ASK US WHAT WE’RE THINKING ABOUT UNLESS YOU ARE PREPARED TO DISCUSS SUCH TOPICS AS FOOTBALL OR MOTOR SPORTS.

1. YOU HAVE ENOUGH CLOTHES.

1. YOU HAVE TOO MANY SHOES.

1. I AM IN SHAPE. ROUND IS A SHAPE!

1. THANK YOU FOR READING THIS. YES, I KNOW, I HAVE TO SLEEP ON THE COUCH TONIGHT.. BUT DID YOU KNOW MEN REALLY DON’T MIND THAT? IT’S LIKE CAMPING…

  • PASS THIS TO AS MANY MEN AS YOU CAN – TO GIVE THEM A LAUGH…
  • PASS THIS TO AS MANY WOMEN AS YOU CAN – TO GIVE THEM A BIGGER LAUGH, BECAUSE IT’S TRUE!

Source: Hellou.com

 

Suffering in silence

They try to force themselves to appear cheerful as they struggle to survive. But, under the surface, life feels anything but happy as they suffer in silence, shame and confusion.

This was the story for a bright university student who attended our Church. She appeared to be happy and was eager to participate in Church activities. But inwardly she was fighting a losing battle with turmoil, fear, confusion and depression.

As she slowly weakened in her efforts to maintain control, she hesitantly agreed to the recommendation of a friend that she should meet with me to talk about her struggles. In this meeting, she finally gained the necessary courage to tell me a story that she had kept to herself until that point. She had been sexually molested by a family member when she was a little girl and, to my surprise, I was the first person to hear her painful story.

This began a challenging yet essential path to healing and rebuilding. Today she is doing well and able to help others facing similar circumstances.

A time to learn

Several years before this encounter, I was taking a graduate course in pastoral psychology and I impatiently asked myself, “Why do we have to spend a whole section on sexual abuse?” We even had to read a book about it and listen to a guest lecturer. Although I knew little about the subject, I didn’t expect to encounter very often. I was very wrong — and very humbled by God’s grace in equipping an impatient pastor.

Over the next couple of decades, I counseled more people dealing with a history of sexual abuse than I ever imagined. I’ve also repeatedly recommended the book I was assigned in the class. I remain humbled by the kindness of God to equip me to help those struggling to overcome the life-debilitating effects of sexual abuse.

During my graduate class, my eyes were opened to a world of darkness that holds many victims in silent pain. The more we learned about the issue, the more my heart grew heavy for the victims of such evil. 

Most of my counseling has focused on those who were sexually abused as children by family members. They come to me as adults who are struggling to live normal lives. They battle feelings of helplessness and hopelessness.

Since their abuse included manipulation and force, they long to feel a sense of security and control. They often substitute excessive and controllable behaviors to feel a sense of normalcy. Extreme exercise and dieting are two examples. Yet they easily spiral out of a sense of control. Inability to function and overall lack of motivation can inexplicably grip them.

It’s not unusual for survivors to experience significant loneliness, loss of appetite and need for unusual amounts of sleep. Mood swings plague those battling the grip of sexual abuse. Unusual gregariousness can give way to unexplainable depression and crying. Other waves of emotion include self-hatred, panic attacks, irrational phobias, guilt, shame, overall sense of humiliation, unexplainable anger and rage, lack of normality and a feeling of being trapped.

Survivors of sexual abuse sometimes turn to other forms of abuse to escape their pain. Obsessive behaviors rang from alcohol and drug abuse to sexual addictions and promiscuity. Sometimes victims engage in self-mutilation and battle suicidal thoughts.

Without help from a caring friend, most victims don’t recognize how badly they’ve been affected. They tend to suppress the past to survive in the present. Victims often conceal their pain and keep others at a distance. Relationships don’t come easily to these adults. Trust, one of main chords of healthy relating, feels out of reach because of their experience of betrayal. Yet they long for close relationships as much as they fear them. They fear that allowing someone to become a caring friend will cause suppressed feelings to emerge. Vulnerability is risky but necessary for gaining freedom.

Marriage and sexual abuse

Those who enter marriage relationships without first addressing their history of sexual abuse rarely do well. To flourish in marriage requires vulnerability, transparency and trust — painfully difficult qualities for victims of sexual abuse. Marriage can also provide a helpful context for recovery and renewal through the love and devotion of a spouse. But it typically requires assistance from a wise counselor.

The person who marries a victim of sexual abuse is often surprised by the effects of the abuse. It’s not uncommon for the mate of a victim to feel frustrated, confused and helpless. Making matters worse, they typically interpret the behavior of the victim as a personal affront when they don’t know the source. When victims put up walls or shut down their emotions, their mates often interpret it as rejection or personal failure.

The intimacy and closeness of marriage requires a level of vulnerability survivors feel unable to give. Adults who are victims of child sexual abuse must seek wise counsel if they want to enjoy healthy relationships.

Overcoming the past

The only thing we can change about the past is how we allow it to effect us in the future. One victim of abuse expressed her pursuit of freedom as a refusal to tie her soul to her abuser. As hard as it will be, victims must courageously acknowledge their pain and confront their past.

The path to freedom requires dealing with the past but the most formidable obstacle is often fear. Those who have been abused should remember that they have been victimized by the evil actions of others. They must reject self-blame and all blame that others try to project on to them. Although difficult, they must reject the powerful emotions of shame, guilt and fear that hold them in bondage.

The book I was assigned to read, “A Door of Hope: Recognizing and Resolving the pains of Your Past” by Jan Frank, emphasizes the importance of confronting your past. As Jan Frank explains, this must also involve some form of confrontation of the abuser. After counseling others through this painfully necessary process, I know with certainty that the freedom awaiting the victim is worth the challenge of confronting the past.

Relating to God

Relating to God is another difficultly for victims of sexual abuse. “How can I trust God if He didn’t protect me when I was vulnerable?” they ask. It is hard to fully understand how God’s control relates to the evil actions of people. And these kinds of questions mixed with feelings of worthlessness and anger combine to obstruct faith in God. Such hesitations and struggles must not be treated lightly. Scripture reminds us to “be merciful to those who doubt” (Jude 22).

Adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse need merciful and wise guidance to help them in their struggle to trust God. They especially need help to understand the difference between forgiveness of their offender and reconciliation. See here. 

Many others (like the student who entered my office) have walked this path. It is possible to know the joy of freedom from bondage to a painful past.

Steve Cornell

Resolving conflicts among Christians

We must be realistic about our expectations of life in a fallen world. While conducting our relationships with humble integrity, we must not be unrealistic about differences and difficulties that threaten peace between people — even among those who care deeply about each other. This is a truth that must be taught more clearly in the Church.

Jesus clearly anticipated fractures in Christian fellowship and taught us how to resolve them (Matthew 5:23-24;Matthew 18:15ff). We should not be surprised by them but ready to seek reconciliation.

These fractures are very different from the many minor grievances that should be immediately covered in love (I Peter 4:8) or from non-essential matters that should never be permitted to cause conflict in the Church (Romans 14:1-3). Believers must be mature on such matters.

But when sin divides Christian fellowship, a Church must understand the difference between personal forgiveness and reconciling a broken relationship. It’s possible to forgive someone without offering immediate reconciliation. It’s possible for forgiveness to occur in the context of one’s relationship with God apart from contact with an offender (Joseph being a great example). Reconciliation is about restoring broken relationships.

Forgiveness itself is not whitewashing or pretending a wrong never happened when the offense has driven a wedge between people. Forgiveness doesn’t require us to neutralize our sense of justice. The very act itself takes seriously the offense. But forgiveness does involve a surrender of desires for revenge. As such, it is an act of worship in the presence of the God who forgives our sins because it acknowledges God’s sole right to punish the offender (see: Genesis 5:15-20Romans 12:17-21). Forgiveness thus frees us from grudge-bearing vindictiveness and conversely empowers us to love our enemies as God loved us (Romans 5:8).

Priority Scripture places on pursuing peace

  • “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18).
  • “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace …” (Romans 14:19).
  • “Make every effort to keep the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).
  • “Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy …” (Hebrews 12:14).

What to do when peace does not seem possible

This depends on the nature of the situation. If the person is part of a fellowship of believers, we must follow Biblical mandates for protecting the unity of believers. The steps Jesus taught begin with private confrontation (after the personal preparation of removing logs from our own eyes, Matthew 7:3-5). If private confrontation does not remove the wedge, we move to private conference involving the offender brother and two or three others (enlisting those who are spiritually prepared (Matthew 7:3-5), spiritually mature (Galatians 6:1), and entrusted with spiritual oversight (I Peter 5:1-4Acts 20:28).

This only becomes necessary, if the one confronted has as obstinate attitude (Matthew 18:16). When a sinning member of the church refuses to heed the confrontation of a fellow believer, thus refusing to be restored to proper fellowship, the circle of confrontation must broaden to include one or two others.

Those called to be part of the confrontation do not need to be eyewitnesses of the sin (If they had been, they should have gone to confront the member themselves). Ideally, it would be good to include people who are known and respected by the erring member but this is not always possible.

The one or two witnesses are involved “so that every fact may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses” (v.16). Their purpose is not to threaten or intimidate, but to help the erring brother to understand the seriousness of the matter. Their main purpose is not really to evaluate the truthfulness of the charge, but to strengthen the rebuke and the call to restoration. After private conference, if the erring member remains obstinate and unwilling to acknowledge and repent of the sin, Jesus teaches a fourth step.

Each of the four steps has as its primary aim the restoration of the brother to proper fellowship. The fourth step is public announcement (Matthew 18:17a). Jesus said, “Tell it to the church (the assembly).”

This step is a sobering reminder that sin is not merely a private and personal matter for Christians. Sin that separates and alienates believers, must be dealt with and resolved. But how do we take this step of public announcement? In our church (due to size), we’ve sometimes handled this in the adult fellowship group the member participates in. Other times, we’ve communicated to all the covenant members through a special meeting of the membership. Some churches make these announcements during communion. Others will use a letter to the membership.

All churches should clearly spell out the process in their documents and seek agreement from the membership to follow it. This step also involves the fellowship in some kind of public confrontation. In Matthew 18:17b, Jesus implies that the church (as an assembly) has made an appeal to the erring member.

When the church is informed, (which reasonably implies that the pastors will be involved) warnings should be made about the need for the whole assembly to avoid gossip, slander and a proud or critical spirit (Matthew 7:3-5Galatians 6:1). Members should not play spiritual detective or allow either a lenient or a punitive attitude. They should be encouraged to pray for repentance and restoration, and to appeal to their fellow member to submit to the leadership of the Church. In such an appeal, one might humbly say, “I don’t know all the details, nor is it my place to know them, but I do want to encourage you to make things right with the church.”

No one should give the erring member the feeling that he is in good fellowship with the Church (cf. II Thessalonians 3:12-14). Never act in cross-purpose with the church. We should not do anything that would cause disrespect for the leadership. Remember the goal: “Win your brother.” It is redemptive!

The final step Jesus taught is public exclusion: removal from membership. The primary aim of this step is to protect the purity of the assembly (see: I Corinthians 5:1-11). Failure to practice these steps invites God’s discipline on the entire assembly (see:I Corinthians 11:30-32Revelation 2:5,1620-233:3-19).”

Steve Cornell

Forgiveness is first about God

The act of forgiveness occurs first in the presence of almighty God as I surrender my desire for revenge before the God who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” (Romans 12:19). This is why I view forgiveness as an act of worship — as occurring in the context of worship as Jesus taught (Mark 11:25). Forgiveness is first about God. It is a confessional affirmation of God’s prerogative over justice. 

But this is not a “God will get you mentality.” Such an outlook would be an effort to use God not worship Him. Forgiveness happens in response to the God who holds the right of vengeance, but also the God who forgave my sins (Ephesians 4:31-5:2).

This way of approaching forgiveness provides a gospel-focused perspective that frees us from the grudge-bearing vindictiveness and the troubling and infectious root of bitterness (Hebrews 12:15). It equally empowers us to love our enemies as God loved us (Romans 5:8; see also,Genesis 5:15-20Romans 12:17-21). This is how forgiveness liberates us to pray for those who mistreat us (Luke 6:28).

Yet approaching forgiveness this way does not ask us to downplay commitment to justice with silly clichés like: “It’s no big deal.” or “We’re all sinners.” When I forgive, I bring the matter before the one who is both Judge of all the earth and my faithful and merciful High Priest. No moral neutrality here! This is not a feigned effort at “forgiving and forgetting.”

When my heart allows feelings of hurt and betrayal to lead to desires to “even the score,” I must return again to this place of worship (Mark 11:25). I must reaffirm my confession of God as final Judge. 

What about reconciliation?

With this view of forgiveness in mind (and heart), in cases where an offender is unwilling to acknowledge wrong-doing, sometimes we have to build boundaries around our relationship with him. But, in such cases, we must guard our hearts (and perhaps seek wise counsel from one who clearly understands the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation) so that our boundaries are not retaliatory but appropriately protective and guided by the hope of restoration.

Quick reset

As forgiven people, we should be open to the possibility of reconciliation (unless personal or family safety are clearly at risk). Forgiveness requires us to offer a repentant person an opportunity to demonstrate repentance and regain trust.

Forgiveness and reconciliation must occur together in resolving minor offenses. But when behavior is repeatedly hurtful in significant ways or trust has been deeply or repeatedly betrayed, “Pretending” all is well (when it clearly is not) is not a loving option.

As John Stott noted, “If we can restore to full and intimate fellowship with ourselves a sinning and unrepentant brother, we reveal not the depth of our love, but its shallowness, for we are doing what is not for his highest good. Forgiveness which by-passes the need for repentance issues not from love but from sentimentality (Confess Your Sins, p.35).

Steve Cornell

Do Christians understand forgiveness?

Audio Link: Forgiveness or enabling?  (717) 872-4260

I’ve traveled to many places teaching groups of Christians about forgiveness and restoring broken relationships. There is widespread confusion on these subjects. When people share their stories with me, I find that,

  • Some have sinned in ways that make them feel beyond the reach of God’s forgiveness. Trapped in a prison of regret and guilt, they’ve lost their joy.
  • Others have been so badly hurt that they find it hard to forgive. Engulfed in the pain of their past, they don’t know what to do with their hurt and loss.

Most of these people know God is forgiving and that He expects forgiven people to forgive. Yet they struggle to apply what they know. “How could God forgive me when I’ve failed so many times?” “How can I forgive the one who hurt me after what he did to me?”

Reconciling broken relationships presents a greater area of confusion and difficulty for people.“I forgive him” one woman told me, “but I don’t want anything to do with him!”

  • Does forgiveness always require reconciliation with an offender?
  • Is it possible to genuinely forgive someone and withhold reconciliation from him?
  • How does forgiveness relate to reconciliation?

There is widespread confusion about this — especially among Christians.

Cheap versions of forgiveness

Struggling with an irresponsible husband, one wife shared her story:

“He said I am sorry, but this is at least the tenth time! I don’t know what to think. I am told it’s my Christianduty to forgive, so I try. But whenever I forgive him, he changes for a little while and then returns to the same behavior. I have a gut feeling that I am handling things the wrong way. He never really changes and I just stay angry. Then I feel guilty. To be honest, I don’t know if I have it in me to forgive him one more time. But I am afraid to disobey God’s command to be forgiving. Maybe God won’t forgive my sins. I don’t know what to do.”

Misguided thinking about forgiveness and reconciliation has produced cheap versions of forgiveness that send people through cycles of anger and guilt. Trying their best to forgive, some people repeatedly subject themselves to the hurtful behavior of others. Then they vacillate between anger and guilt. These people usually acknowledge deep-seated doubts about whether they are handling things the right way.

I repeatedly encounter people who enable others in the name of forgiveness. They struggle to relate to unrepentant loved ones and often excuse their enabling tendencies as an effort to be forgiving. This response reveals that they do not understand how to apply forgiveness and reconciliation to unrepentant offenders.

Lines of manipulation

Some of these offenders use lines of manipulation to hold well-intentioned Christians hostage to their control.

  • “I guess you can’t find it in yourself to be forgiving.”
  • “You just want to rub it in my face.”
  • “I guess I should expect that you want your revenge.”
  • “Some Christian you are, I thought Christians believed in love and compassion.”

These lines reveal an unrepentant and manipulative attitude. This study will equip you to respond to those who use lines of manipulation.

Angry with God

When speaking on issues related to forgiveness, I often encounter people who feel angry toward God. Detecting this is sometimes tricky because I mostly speak in Christian settings. People who feel anger toward God but retain association with Christians hide their feelings well. When these buried feelings surface and people gain the courage to approach me about their struggles, they usually start by expressing confusion about how God relates to evil in general. Then they share their own story of being deeply hurt.

Some of them move from confusion to anger and I usually detect it in a change in their tone of voice and facial expression. This is how God detected it in Cain when he asked, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it” (Genesis 4:6-7).

Anger becomes bitterness

Angry people are vulnerable to bitterness. God pictured anger as a vicious animal looking to pounce its’ prey. Anger gains full hold when it turns into bitterness and bitter people are difficult to help. We must deal with our anger before it becomes bitterness (see: Hebrews 12:15; Ephesians 4:26-27).

When bitterness is a fully entrenched condition of the heart, it is more difficult to dislodge and becomes infectious.  To gain freedom, we must see bitterness as a protective mechanism used to guard our cherished resentments. Bitterness can become a form of idolatry that rules the heart in place of God.

Opening Questions

  • Since we must forgive as God does, what does God’s forgiveness involve?
  • Do we earn God’s forgiveness by forgiving others?
  • Why do people struggle with so much guilt when God is willing to forgive them?
  • When we forgive someone, what are we actually doing? What is forgiveness? Do we confuse forgiveness with other things?
  • How can we possibly forgive people who have deeply hurt us?
  • Does forgiveness require us to enable unrepentant people to continue their behavior?
  • Can we withhold reconciliation from unrepentant offenders? Would it be unforgiving if we refuse to reconcile?
  • How can we know if someone is sorry for the wrong she has done?
  • What does genuine repentance look like?

These are the questions I answer in my series.

Jesus knew our needs:

Unresolved guilt and unresolved anger are two main issues related to forgiveness. These matters emerge repeatedly in my counseling experience. They each affect our relationship with God and with other people. Jesus taught his followers to pray about both issues in the request: “Forgive us the wrongs we have done as we forgive those who have wronged us” (Matthew 6:12 NEB). Daily we face the need to be forgiven (addressing unresolved guilt) and the need to forgive (addressing unresolved anger).

Can you identify with these two concerns?

  1. “God must be tired of me asking for forgiveness for my sins. Sometimes I feel I’ll never deserve to be forgiven. Does God ever give up on us when we fail too many times?” (Unresolved guilt)
  2. “He said I am sorry but this is at least the tenth time! I don’t know what to do. I am told that it’s my Christian duty to forgive so I try. But each time I forgive, he changes for a little while and then returns to the same behavior. I have a gut feeling that I am handling things the wrong way. He never really changes and I just stay angry. What should I do?” (Unresolved anger)

Steve Cornell 

Formula E429 could change your life!

One of the best ways to improve our communication is to replace destructive tones with constructive ways of speaking to each other.

Words of appreciation and encouragement are excellent alternatives to ugly tones of grumbling, whining; impatience, frustration and defensiveness.

Think of how many times we could defuse a situation by choosing better words and tones. Parents especially need to ask if their words and tones set the right example for their children. 

Use Formula E429 to remind yourself of God’s will for our speech. The formula is based on Ephesians 4:29 – “Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.” (Ephesians 4:29, NLT).

Then apply a large dose of the first two characteristics of love: “Love is patient, Love is kind…” (I Corinthians 13:4).

This could literally change your life and the lives of those close to you!

WARNING LABEL

This advice comes with a warning about how easily we excuse our attitudes, words and tones by pointing to the difficult people around us. Remember the basic truth that the only person you can change is yourself. But by working on self-correction and experiencing personal change, we can powerfully influence others. So if you feel stuck in a bad place, find ways that you can change your attitudes, words and tones. But start with the words and tones you use because this discipline will make you face and confront your attitudes and emotions.

Recognize how all of this change fits under the work God is doing in your life based on these truths:

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.  And we all … are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (II Corinthians 3:17-18, NIV).

“Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him” (Philippians 2:12-13).

I have work to do. Will you join me?

Steve Cornell 

See also: Spiritual Depression