First Step Toward Forgiveness

If you are like most people, you are still carrying the scars of a wound that was inflicted by someone through the pain of abuse or desertion, for example, or the agony of betrayal by someone you loved and trusted. The wound wasn’t fair or right; you didn’t deserve it or ask for it, yet it happened. It may have scarred you physically, emotionally, or spiritually, or perhaps all three. Perhaps it has affected your relationships with other people and your ability to trust others. You may even be living in fear that it is going to happen again.

It is against this backdrop that Jesus, speaking through the apostle Paul, spoke these very uncomfortable words: “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse” (Romans 12:14). This is God’s Word and He says, “Having given yourself properly to Me, to yourself, and to other believers, I now want you to give something good even to those who have harmed you or are trying to harm you. I want you to return their evil with good.”

Returning Good for Evil

It’s not natural to want to bless someone who has wounded or wronged you. It’s more natural to curse that person, to call down condemnation on them. It’s even harder to bless if the other person doesn’t care about the hurt they have caused you, or they gloat about it. But Romans 12:14 is a command, so we need to talk about how to return good for evil.

The word “bless” is the Greek word for a eulogy, which means “to speak kindly concerning.” It means to praise rather than condemn. Now we shouldn’t be surprised that Jesus would say that because it was Jesus who, as His enemies were nailing Him to the cross, said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).

What we’re talking about here is forgiveness. So let me tell you what forgiveness is, and what it isn’t. Forgiveness is not pretending like the wound didn’t happen, or that it didn’t really hurt. That’s called lying. If it happened, it happened, and if it hurt, it hurt. Forgiveness does not mean just brushing off the offense as if it were nothing. So forgiveness does not start with a feeling. Instead, it is a decision of your will to no longer charge the offense to the offender’s account. It is the decision to release the other person from a debt in spite of how you feel.

People often ask, “How do I know if I’ve really forgiven someone?” It’s simple—you’re not continually charging the account. That is, you’re not relating to that person today based on what they did yesterday.

You may say, “I tried to tell the other person they were forgiven, but they won’t listen and things are still bad between us.” Well, to borrow an expression from the world of technology, there’s an app for that. That’s because there’s a difference between forgiveness and reconciliation. Forgiveness may be one-sided, but it takes two to reconcile, and you can’t control what other people do. You can forgive people, but it may take a while to reconcile with them—or it may never happen. Paul addresses the issue of reconciliation later in Romans 12. But the key thing I want you to see is that blessing those who persecute you is a decision of your will that may go against how you feel.