Forgiveness is releasing the debt. The offender doesn’t owe you anymore.

It is not about forgetting. We may never forget and some offenses should not be forgotten. We are not obligated to volunteer for more offenses to be committed against us, although we may be obligated to endure them when they come.

By forgiving an offender, we release their debt to us. They don’t ‘owe’ us, we seek no revenge or restitution. We are not held captive by the pain of their wound, and we don’t wish they could suffer the pain themselves.

This does not mean we don’t hurt. Instead, it means that we willingly bear the hurt without anger, without malice, without revenge. We give them freedom from their obligation to us. We choose good-will toward them, despite the pain.

Some offenses cause too great a consequence to possibly be forgotten; some affect us every day of our lives. However, when it comes to mind, we do not allow it to take ownership of our heart. Rather we train ourselves to choose to rejoice in the opportunity to demonstrate Christ’s grace in our lives, Who also chose to offer us forgiveness before we could earn it. He offered it freely to all who will take it. If we take it, our offenses are put away from Him; He does this Himself, willingly and voluntarily because He prefers mercy and reconciliation to execution of judgement.

We likewise are to prefer reconciliation. We know that the unrepented sinner will bear his penalty alone. We are to love our enemies such that our hearts are broken at the thought that they may carry their punishment for an offense against us into eternity. We are to long for their repentance and reconciliation to God, prepared to rejoice with them now and in eternity for a life saved, and to agonize over their soul if they reject salvation. It doesn’t matter if we never see them again in this life. If we have forgiven them, we will desire to be able to see them with Jesus in eternity and know that they received the same grace from Him for their sins that we have received for ours.

It’s easy to talk about forgiving, and it’s easy to talk ourselves into a sort of warm-fuzzy sentiment about ‘if they change’ we can be friends again. But forgiveness is not a superficial sentiment; it is the hard work of tough faith; the faith that obeys when our feelings don’t line up with what God has said. It’s the faith that obeys when it costs us our comfort, our security, our ‘rights’, because God Who is the object of our faith is Himself faithful, and always right.

We can never be like Jesus until we learn to love our enemies and forgive. Had Christ not loved His enemies, we would be doomed. Had He not died for us while we were still sinners, He would not have died for us at all. We would be bound to die for ourselves. It is God’s purpose to “conform us to the image of His Son”. Part of that process includes learning and practising to forgive, and the only way we can do that is through receiving offense. We can’t learn to love our enemies if no one ever becomes our enemy. But don’t worry; we don’t have to go out making enemies to love or inviting people to hurt us. Through the normal ebb and flow of life, both will happen. We will have plenty of opportunity to practise, and if we choose to follow Christ through the hurts and offenses of life, God will continue to shape us like Christ, making us the messengers of His grace.