Jesus likened withholding forgiveness to a prison (Matthew 18:21-35). The irony is that the person who will not forgive is the one locked inside the four walls. Paul taught the Universal Church: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32).
Forgive means “to let go,” which conquers our sinful nature’s desire to hold on to an offense. Left to ourselves, we break apart the cross of Christ in order to control the consequences we deem necessary for our offender. Ironically, we the offended, not the offender, are imprisoned. In order to forgive someone who has wounded us, we must let go of four prison walls that incarcerate us in the prison of un-forgiveness. Holding on to just one of the four walls hinder us from the freedom God intends for us.
The first prison wall is revenge, refusing to release our desire to get even. It tends to manifest itself in three levels: we desire to retaliate in the same way we were offended; we choose to react with greater force than the sin against us; or we respond with a lesser form of retaliation than the initial offense. All three forms represent revenge. The second prison wall is resentment, the bitter poison of the heart that continues to feel the hurt of the offense again and again. The third prison wall is regret, the thought we could have changed the past. We could’ve, would’ve, or should’ve prevented the sin against us. The fourth prison wall is resisting blessing, refusing to wish our offender well before God and others.
Humility is the Master Key that unlocks the prison of un-forgiveness. We recognize Jesus’ teaching that any sin against us, though horrific, pales in comparison to our sin against a Holy God. Therefore, we humble ourselves vertically to God who empowers us to humble ourselves horizontally to our offender.
Our problem is sin, desiring any life apart from God. God’s solution is forgiveness. We either surrender to the work of the Holy Spirit and let go of offenses against us, or we hold on, white-knuckling revenge, resentment, regret or resisting blessing. The result is the prison of sin and unforgiveness. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Forgiveness is not an occasional act. It is a permanent attitude.”
Do you understand that you deserve justice? Ask God for mercy. He will give you grace. Try the instant forgiveness experiment. Whenever someone sins against you, instantly let go and hand it over to the One who forgave you. You will experience the freedom in Christ He designed for you (Galatians 5:1; Ephesians 1:7). Jesus will renew your heart and life as you surrender to the Holy Spirit’s work to reconcile your relationships and advance the Kingdom of God in the hearts of everyone you encounter.