Forgiveness and Reconciliation

Forgiveness is different from reconciliation.

Start with forgiveness.

  • Jesus clearly warned that God will not forgive our sins if we do not forgive those who sin against us (Matthew 6:14-15Mark 11:25).
  • It’s not that we earn God’s forgiveness by forgiving, but that God expects forgiven people to forgive (Matthew 18:21-35).

Forgiveness happens in the context of one’s relationship with God (apart from contact with an offender). The problem is that people assume that forgiving an offender requires them to offer immediate reconciliation. It doesn’t.

Reconciliation

Reconciliation is about restoring broken relationships. And sometimes restoration is a process, especially when trust is deeply broken. Restoration might have to be a slow and lengthy process.

Different from forgiveness

Forgiveness is not conditioned on the response of an offender. Forgiveness happens in the presence of God (Mark 11:25; Romans 12:17-21).

Reconciliation is conditioned on the attitude and actions of an offender. While its aim is restoration of a broken relationship, those who commit significant and repeated offenses must be willing to recognize that reconciliation is a process. If such an offender is genuinely repentant, he will recognize and accept that the harm caused by his words or actions will take time to repair.

In many cases, even if an offender confessed his wrong to the one he hurt and appealed for forgiveness, the offended person could justifiably say, “I forgive you, but it might take some time for me to regain trust and restore our relationship.”

The evidence of genuine forgiveness is personal freedom from a vindictive or vengeful response (Romans 12:17-21), but not always an automatic restoration of relationship.

Even when God forgives our sins, he does not promise to remove all consequences created by our actions.

Yes, being forgiven, restored, and trusted is an amazing experience, but it’s important for those who hurt others to understand that their attitude and actions will affect the process of rebuilding trust.

Words alone are often not enough to restore trust. When someone has been significantly hurt and feels hesitant about restoration with her offender, it’s both right and wise to look for changes in the offender before allowing reconciliation to begin.

Timing of Reconciliation

The process of reconciliation depends on the attitude of the offender, the depth of the betrayal, and the pattern of offense. When an offended party works toward reconciliation, the first and most important step is the confirmation of genuine repentance on the part of the offender (Luke 17:3).

An unrepentant offender will resent your desire to confirm the genuineness of his confession and repentance. The offender may resort to lines of manipulation such as, “I guess you can’t find it in yourself to be forgiving,” or, “Some Christian you are, I thought Christians believed in love and compassion.”

Such language reveals an unrepentant heart. Don’t be manipulated into avoiding the step of confirming the authenticity of your offender’s confession and repentance.

It’s advisable in difficult cases to seek the help of a wise counselor, one who understands the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation.

Such a counselor can help the injured person establish boundaries and define steps toward reconciliation that are restorative rather than retaliatory.

It’s difficult to genuinely restore a broken relationship when the offender is unclear about his confession and repentance. We should strive to be as certain as we can of our offender’s repentance—especially in cases involving repeated offenses.

Even God will not grant forgiveness to one who is insincere about his confession and repentance. The person who is unwilling to forsake his sin will not find forgiveness with God (Proverbs 28:13).

Of course, only God can read hearts; we must evaluate actions. As Jesus said, “By their fruit you will recognize them” (Matthew 7:16a). We must not allow superficial appearances of repentance to control our responses. Displays of tears or appearing to be sorry must not become substitutes for clear changes in attitude and behavior.

Seven Signs of Genuine Repentance

There are seven signs that indicate that an offender is genuinely repentant:

    1. Accepts full responsibility for his or her actions. (Instead of: “Since you think I’ve done something wrong . . ” or “If have done anything to offend you”).
    2. Welcomes accountability from others.
    3. Does not continue the hurtful behavior or anything associated with it.
    4. Does not have a defensive attitude about being in the wrong.
    5. Does not dismiss or downplay the hurtful behavior.
    6. Does not resent doubts about his/her sincerity or the need to demonstrate sincerity — particularly in cases involving repeated offenses.
    7. Makes restitution where necessary.

“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” (John R. W. Stott, Confess Your Sins).

Steve Cornell

See also: Leave your Grudge with the Judge

 
 
 
 
This entry was posted in Anger, Anxiety, Broken Relationships, Conflict, Counseling, Difficult people, Discernment, Forgiveness, Reconciliation, Relationships, Repentance, Restoration and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Forgiveness and Reconciliation

  1. Pingback: A closer look at love | WisdomForLife

  2. David says:

    Where in Scripture is it stated that we can and are supposed to determine if someone is “genuinely” repentant? True, there are fruits that should be evident when a person repents, just as there are fruits when a person has genuine salvation. The passage you refer to on this (Mt. 7:16a) is about false prophets, not repentance. Luke 17:3-6 would indicate just the opposite, we forgive even when a person comes to us and says the words “I repent”. This would have been an opportune time for Jesus to tell the disciples that they should question the person about their repentance being genuine or not if they come to you seven times in the same day. The disciples understood the great and difficult responsibility before them in forgiving others by their response, “Increase our faith”.

    • In the ultimate sense, forgiveness is not conditioned on any response of the person. Forgiveness is first about God and His prerogative as Judge and avenger of wrong (Romans 12:17-21). Reconciled relationships are a different matter as are some of the other consequences of sin against others. This is the point I am making.

  3. Paul says:

    Is the focus of this article on, “Where trust is deeply broken, restoration is a process — sometimes a slow and lengthy one.” Are you saying when trust is DEEPLY broken THEN time and the signs of repentance may be necessary for reconciliation or are you referring to day to day offenses?

    • As I wrote in the piece, I am focused on “those who commit significant and repeated offenses.” In such cases, as I wrote, offenders “must be willing to recognize that reconciliation is a process.”

      In another post, I wrote the following:

      Minor offenses:

      Forgiveness and reconciliation occur together in relation to minor offenses. In relationships shaped by the gospel, “love covers a multitude of sins” (i.e. offenses)” (I Peter 4:8). Those who withhold restoration over minor offenses are lacking in genuine love based in the gospel (see: Ephesians 4:32-5:1). Where such love is absent, immaturity and manipulation will threaten unity. Please take time to review the two principles for resolving conflict here.

      When deeply or repeatedly betrayed, however, forgiveness does not necessarily require that one immediately grant the same level of relationship back to an offender. Even when God forgives our sins, He does not promise to remove all consequences created by our actions. Yes, being forgiven, restored, and trusted is an amazing experience, but it’s important for those who hurt others to understand that their attitude and actions will affect the process of rebuilding trust. Words alone are not enough to restore trust in such cases.

      When a husband speaks harshly to his wife in a way that is out of character, his acknowledgement of sinning against her should be received with forgiveness and restoration. If he repeatedly speaks this way, he should expect his acknowledgements of wrong to be more difficult to receive. If the pattern continues, his wife could appropriately tell him that she forgives him but will not accept his harshness in the future without consequences.

      When someone has been significantly hurt and feels hesitant about restoration with her offender, it’s both right and wise to look for changes in the offender before allowing reconciliation to begin. This is especially true when the offense has been repeated.
      https://thinkpoint.wordpress.com/2007/07/28/forgiveness-is-one-thing-reconciliation-is-another/

  4. Pingback: Do you forgive or enable? | WisdomForLife

  5. Pingback: Why I love the Church | WisdomForLife

  6. bjsscribbles says:

    Great post forgiveness is what has got me through to the new stages of life

  7. Pingback: Ten guidelines for reconciliation | Wisdomforlife

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