The Beauty of Forgiveness
About the Guest
On the broadcast today, popular author Nancy Leigh DeMoss, host of the syndicated radio broadcast "Revive Our Hearts," talks with FamilyLife President, Dennis Rainey, about the healing power of forgiveness.
books, and two daily nationally syndicated radio programs—...more
On the broadcast today, popular author Nancy Leigh DeMoss, host of the syndicated radio broadcast “Revive Our Hearts,” talks with FamilyLife President, Dennis Rainey, about the healing power of forgiveness.
The Beauty of Forgiveness
Nancy Leigh DeMoss: I have had people tell me that they've forgiven someone, but then they list all the things this other person has done. They may think they've forgiven, but they're still holding offenses against that other person. They haven't really cleared the record.
We are called to forgive the way God has forgiven us. Paul says in Colossians that God has forgiven us all our trespasses by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. These he set aside, nailing it to the cross.
In Paul's time, someone could write a certificate listing all the debts you owed them. Paul is saying that the record of debt we owed God has been nailed to the cross of Christ and eliminated forever, and that's the way we are called to forgive, too.
Are you keeping a list of sins other people have committed against you? Isn't it time to clear the record and forgive?
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, February 28th. Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. Are you in a prison of your own making because there is someone you simply can't forgive?
And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us. I'm going to start off with something shocking to start today's program, is that all right?
Bob: Well, it's shocking because the first time I heard this said, I was shocked. I remember driving along listening to a tape by a seminary professor, a guy named Dr. John Gerstner, and he was actually reading the words of Jesus from Matthew, chapter 6, and he said, "Jesus says if you fail to forgive someone, God won't forgive you, and if you do forgive others, God will forgive you."
And I remember him saying, "If you're harboring a root of bitterness, if you're holding onto unforgiveness, you need to examine yourself and see if you're really a Christian." And I was taken aback by that, because it almost sounded like you have to work for your salvation, you know what I mean? Like, if you have to do this in order to be saved?
But, as I reflected on it, I realized Dr. Gerstner was really saying, "It's characteristic of those who are followers of Christ that they will be forgivers."
Dennis: They'll manifest the same forgiveness that they've received.
Bob: Now, the question, then, is if I am harboring unforgiveness in my heart toward someone, does that mean that I may not be a Christian? I think it's a fair question for someone to wrestle with, don't you?
Dennis: I do, and I think the subject of forgiveness is one, Bob, that needs to be talked about today in the Christian community, because, as Christ followers, we do need to manifest that kind of forgiveness, and I'm grateful for our friend, Nancy Leigh DeMoss, who joins us on FamilyLife Today that she has written a book called "Choosing Forgiveness."
And, Nancy, as I welcome you, I have to say I am absolutely thrilled about this book because I really believe the Christian community ought to be experts on forgiveness. We ought to be practicing forgivers, but we have much to learn on this subject, don't you agree?
Nancy Leigh DeMoss: You know what? We're never more like Christ than when we are forgiving, and it occurred to me as I was thinking about this over the last couple of days that forgiveness, in a sense, is the crown jewel of the Christian faith. It's what makes us look like Christ. It's what makes the Gospel believable as we take it to the world, and we say, "We have a God who forgives sins. We have a God who calls us to forgiveness," but then as we model that, it causes people to say, "Wow, what a God, what a Gospel."
Dennis: Nancy, as you were writing this book, undoubtedly there were illustrations that came to mind of your own journey to freedom and of situations placed in your life where you needed to forgive another person. Can you share one of those?
And what I'd like to do here, Bob, is I'd like you to share one, and I'd like to share one, because I think this subject is one we all deal with on a regular basis. We've just got to decide how we're going to deal with it and make sure we keep short accounts, because I think that's the key, as you talk about in your book here.
Nancy Leigh DeMoss: Well, talking about short accounts, as I had just turned this manuscript over to the publisher, and I'd been working on the book for about a year, I had used the word picture throughout the book of pressing the delete button. A word picture of forgiveness, letting it go, clearing the offender's record. And throughout this book I say over and over again, "You've got to choose to let it go, choose to press the delete button."
And as I turned the manuscript over to the publisher, I had a series of unrelated incidents come into my life that hurt. They were offensive, and a couple of them, in particular, were like peeling a scab off that I thought had been healed years earlier; something I had not thought about in some time, but the situation came back into my life, resurfaced, and with people that I'm close to and couldn't just avoid the situation, and I found myself doing exactly what I had cautioned people about doing in this book, which is – we women have a way, I think, in particular, of mulling over the situation, of rehearsing it …
Dennis: Nursing your hurt.
Nancy Leigh DeMoss: Nursing it, nurturing it, and by the time morning comes, and we've been through a night of this, you know, it's become huge in our own hearts and emotions.
And while that process was going on in my heart, the words I had written in this book were hounding me. They were haunting me. And I could just hear myself saying to others, "Let it go. Let it go."
Dennis: Hit the delete button.
Nancy Leigh DeMoss: Hit the delete button. And, you know, I found myself, Dennis, in that moment, over the course of a couple of days, not wanting to hit the delete button. I wanted to nurse it. I didn't want to release it. I wanted those individuals to know how they had hurt me.
So I was thinking, "Well, how can I let them know, and then I can forgive." Press the delete button, let it go. And the Lord brought me afresh to a point of just making the choice – choosing forgiveness and not waiting for my feelings to come, not waiting for the other person to come back and say "I was so wrong, would you please forgive me?"
You know, forgiveness is an act of faith, it's an expression of obedience, and the feelings follow, not always right away, they do follow, but I had to make that choice even as I was getting ready to release this book.
Dennis: You write in your book that we're either debt collectors, or we're hitting that delete button, we're letting it go.
Nancy Leigh DeMoss: Oh, we all get hurt. We're in a fallen, broken, messed up world, and it's not a matter of if but when we will get hurt. The fact is, that that's not what determines the outcome of our lives. What determines the outcome of my life is how I respond to that hurt.
Dennis: No doubt about it.
Nancy Leigh DeMoss: Am I going to say, "You've hurt me, you have to pay, and until you do pay up, I’m going to hold you hostage?" Or am I going by faith that's an act of obedience to say, "Yes, you sinned against me, but God has forgiven me so I am going to release you as God has released me from my debts."
Dennis: What about you, Bob? Have you hit that delete button or taken – maybe taken a while to find the key on the board there?
Bob: You know, as we're thinking about it, I'm just trying to think, "Have I let it all go?" I'm thinking back to a time, this is more than a decade ago, when a business associate brought false accusations against me that affected not only my reputation but, in this case, he brought an accusation that was costing me money. I was having to pay to defend myself against his charges.
And I remember thinking, "You know, I'd like to fly to the city where he lives and slash his tires." I entertained thoughts like that – I'd like to do injury to this person. I didn't want to do any real bodily harm, but I just wanted to hurt him because he was hurting me.
I remember the Lord reminding me regularly of Matthew, chapter 5, where we are to pray for those who persecute you, those who spitefully use you, love your enemies. And I remember, as I would have those thoughts, it was like the Scripture would pop up and go, "That's a reminder to pray for this guy."
And it was hard to pray for him, because I wanted to pray imprecatory psalms, you know? I wanted to pray for the Lord to bring judgment and rain down stuff on him. But the Lord had to keep working on me and going, "No." In fact, I remember having this question come to mind – this person was not a believer, who brought these accusations against me, and I remember thinking to myself, "If this person would come to faith as a result of what I've had to go through, would I be willing to go through it in order for him to come into the kingdom?"
And my answer to that was no. In fact, I'm not sure I want to spend eternity with him, you know? That's that darkness of my own heart in this situation, and God's saying, "I gave my Son to spend eternity with you, and you're not that swell." You know? And so I had to realize the reality of my own wickedness in not being willing to forgive.
Dennis: So how did you ultimately come to the conclusion of forgiving that guy?
Bob: Well, it was a process of continuing to instruct my own heart about what I had to do. And I did it without feeling it for a long time. I didn't feel like I wanted to forgive him …
Dennis: Oh, I understand that.
Bob: But every time the thought would come up, I had to train my own thinking – "What would Christ have me do here? How am I to respond?" I had to choose, and that doesn't mean that there weren't times that I was re-confronted with the hurt, and I just kept having to say, "This is how I have to respond.
Dennis: For me, I'm going to answer it a little differently than how both of you answered it. I'm going to talk about the need for keeping on forgiving when the person's name comes up. I had a friendship a number of years ago and was betrayed by that friend, and I felt like I, at a point in time, forgave. But that person's name would keep coming up at the strangest times. I mean, in the morning, shaving, in front of the mirror, the name would come up.
And, you know, when someone's name comes up, and it causes your stomach to go rrrnnnh. There's something that's not right. And so what I'd go back and do or attempt to do is "I forgive. I forgive. I forgive." And, you know, it really was over a period of a number of years of expressing that forgiveness repeatedly in front of a mirror, driving down the road, but, as you've said, Nancy, hitting the delete button, giving up the right to punish and not being a debt collector.
You know, one thing I don't want to do is I don't want to die a bitter old man. Because the world's got enough of them right now.
Nancy Leigh DeMoss: And I think what we have to realize is that as long as we are holding those people hostage, we think we're keeping them in prison, but we're really keeping ourselves in prison. And when Jesus tells us to forgive, it's in part, at least, because He knows that as we forgive others, then we are able to walk in freedom regardless of whether that other person ever acknowledges their wrongdoing.
Dennis: You know, it hits me, Nancy, that we're talking about forgiveness. We haven't really defined it, even though we've illustrated it here in three different ways. How would you, practically speaking, define forgiveness as we're talking about here?
Nancy Leigh DeMoss: You know, in essence, I think forgiveness is a promise. It's a promise that I will never hold this offense against you again. I'm not going to hold it against you to God or to you or to anyone else. I am clearing your record.
Now, that raises immediately the question of, "Well, if I release them, if I let them go, if I say I'm not going to hold this against them again, are they off the hook? Does that mean what they did doesn't matter?"
What we're really doing is saying, "I'm transferring this person from my courtroom to God's. I'm not the judge, I'm not the jury. I am a sinner who is also in need of God's grace and forgiveness every day of my life." This person may have sinned in ways that I haven't or ways we would consider greater, but I'm saying I'm transferring that person to God's custody, and God is the wise judge who will know what to do with that person and who knows how to bring that person to a place of repentance and restoration.
Dennis: It really is an issue of faith, of trusting that God is sovereign.
Nancy Leigh DeMoss: And it's relinquishing control. And I think, for me, as a woman, that's what it is a lot of times. I want to control how this person feels, the consequences that they experience as a result of the choices they've made. And it takes faith to say, you know what? I'm not God. I'm not in charge. I'm not in control. I'm willing to let God have that role, and when I take that step of releasing control, releasing the offender from my courtroom, I'm really opening my own life up for God's mercy and grace to flow through me in a greater way. And I am in desperate need of that mercy and grace myself.
Dennis: You know, as you were talking, I was thinking I have to correct you. You said, "As a woman, I'm struggling with the issue of control." Well, I want you to know, the other half of the species has a pretty big-time problem with control as well. Men struggle with being their own God, pride, not wanting to let go but nurse those hurts as well.
Bob: We're afraid, do you think, that if we just forgive, we're just saying, "Do it again." I mean, if you let somebody off the hook, we're just inviting them, saying "There are no consequences for your actions so therefore you're free to hurt me again."
Nancy Leigh DeMoss: And that's where I think we have to look at the power of the cross, because that's where we see God forgiving those who have sinned against him by offering up His Son as a sacrifice to take the penalty for our sins, and we see Jesus crying out saying, "Father, forgive them" – well, was that just license for us to sin more?
What happens is as we see the sacrifice that Christ made for our sins, as we look at the cross, that provokes brokenness in us. That causes us to come to God humbly and say, "I was wrong. I should have been there on that cross. But You died for me." It's the Gospel, it's good news, and we embrace Christ and the Gospel and the forgiveness of God because of seeing His brokenness.
And I think in many of our relationships, marriages, parent/child relationships, siblings, churches, that we're not seeing that brokenness and that humility and people coming to deal with their issues because they've not seen in us that example of the willingness to suffer, the willingness to be wronged on behalf of another.
Bob: You know, a while back, we had Ron and Nancy Anderson on FamilyLife Today, and I know you've had them on "Revive Our Hearts," right?
Nancy Leigh DeMoss: Yes. A powerful testimony.
Bob: They share about infidelity early in their marriage and how it led to a separation. They were on the path to divorcing one another when her parents intervened and really called them back together. Ron talked about a pivotal moment in this whole process when they were with her parents, and they had to do business on this issue of forgiveness.
Ron: (From audiotape). We called her parents and let them know we were going to try to work this out. In their wisdom, they set up an appointment with us for Monday night to meet with a couple that had been married 30 years who had a successful marriage. And that evening meeting with them gave us hope – hope that we can do this. This can be what we had dreamt it would be or could be in a relationship.
And then that following week we went back to Minnesota and counseled with Nancy's parents. I mean, I have the most incredible in-laws. Unfortunately, some of you folks may not be as blessed as I am, but we flew back to Minnesota and talked to them. First a couple of days with just Nancy and them, and then I flew back.
The first night at dinner we're there, he said, "There's something that has to take place before you go any further." And, boy, I'm telling you, God is good to give me a father-in-law and a mother-in-law like this. He says, "The first thing, Nancy, I know she's probably told you that she was sorry, but did she ask for your forgiveness?" And at that point she had not asked for my forgiveness.
And he said, "Nancy, you need to think about this overnight, and you need to ask your husband for forgiveness," and, Ron, you need to decide if you're going to forgive her or not or if this is going to be your ace in the hole for every argument for the next 40 years that you pull out as your trump card.
He says, "But I don't want an answer tonight. I want you to think about it overnight." The next morning we got up, and we went to breakfast with her father and mother, and her father said, "Have you given any thought to this?"
Nancy Anderson: And I did – I asked Ron to please forgive me. I didn't have any excuses; I didn't have any defense for my action. I laid myself bare before him and said, "Will you, can you, please forgive me?"
Ron: When she reached across the table and grabbed my hand and asked for forgiveness …
Nancy Anderson: … he made a decision.
Ron: I made a decision to forgive her, and the Lord at that moment in time gave me the ability to do that.
Dennis: Nancy, as I was listening to Ron, he made a deliberate act of the will to hit that delete button and to let it go, to give up the right of punishment. I know that the reason you've written this book, "Choosing Forgiveness," is to really issue an invitation to the reader and, in this case, the listener, that forgiveness must be a way of life and undoubtedly we're speaking to a person right now who has an issue. It may be big, it may be small, it may be over a period of years, it may have happened this morning, but they need to forgive. How would you instruct them?
Nancy Leigh DeMoss: And let me just say that Ron and Nancy's story gives such hope because out of the ashes of that desperate moment, and out of his choice to forgive, has come a beautiful, long-term, healthy, stable marriage that they would not have thought possible at that point.
And so I think our heart here is to encourage our listeners today, regardless of the situation, regardless how painful it may be, to make that decision to say, "Lord, this doesn't feel good, this doesn't feel right in my emotions. I want to hold on to the right to make this person pay, but as an expression of faith, as an act of my will because You have forgiven me through Jesus Christ, I am willing to extend forgiveness to this person. I am willing to press the delete button, to let it go."
And I think it's important that we not just say, "Lord, help me to forgive," or "I know I need to forgive," but to actually say those words, "Lord, I do forgive. I choose to forgive."
Dennis: A little bit like the e-mail I read at the beginning of the broadcast – that woman who was forgiving her husband for being mean said, "I choose to forgive, I choose to forgive, I choose to forgive." And it's not the repetition of the words that brings forgiveness, but it's the realization – you know what? When you say those words, you do need to let it go.
Nancy Leigh DeMoss: And God gives grace for that. That's what Ron said. "God gave me the ability to do it." We can't do it apart from God's grace, but by His grace and the power of His Spirit who lives in us, we can make that choice.
Bob: And I would imagine he's had to remind himself of that choice over and over again in their marriage, years into the future. He's had to look back on that and say, "I made that decision," and move on because the hurt does come back and revisit you from time to time. And that's when you have to say, "What am I going to do with it now?" And, over again, you choose to forgive. You remind yourself of what you did the last time, and you forgive again, and it really has to be a part of our spiritual DNA as Christians. The gene that says we're forgivers. That's who we are in Christ.
Dennis: It's part of our practice and our walk with Christ. I think we talked about, at the beginning of the broadcast, it is the aroma of the Gospel. Christ died on the cross to deliver us from the punishment of sin; to deliver God's forgiveness to us, therefore, we have the ability to grant forgiveness to someone who has wounded us. The choice is yours.
Bob: This is where a book like "Choosing Forgiveness," is going to help a lot of people, I think, wrestle with what can be a very hard issue emotionally, but it's an issue where there is great joy when we choose to obey God.
We've got copies of Nancy's book in our FamilyLife Resource Center. I've been recommending this book recently to some friends who I know have been wrestling with this issue, and I want to encourage you to get a copy of the book, "Choosing Forgiveness."
You'll find it on our website when you go to FamilyLife.com. If you click the red button in the center of the screen that says "Go," that will take you to an area on our website where you can get more information about Nancy's book. You can order a copy online, if you'd like. In fact, we have information about other books Nancy has written, including her book on the subject of surrender.
And, you know, these two subjects go hand-in-hand, don't they? Surrender and forgiveness – they really are tied together and, in fact, any of our listeners who would like to get a copy of both of these books, we'll send along at no additional cost the CD audio of our conversation on the subject of forgiveness this week.
Again, go to our website, FamilyLife.com for more information about these resources. Click the red button that says "Go" in the middle of the screen. That will take you right to the area of the site where you can order these resources or call us, if that's easier for you, at 1-800-FLTODAY. That's 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY, and we'll get these resources sent out to you.
Let me take just a minute, Dennis, if I can, and say a special word of thanks to the folks who not only listen to FamilyLife Today but those of you, the group in every city where this program is heard, who will contact us from time to time to make a donation to the ministry of FamilyLife Today.
We appreciate your partnership with us. We are listener-supported, so it is only when friends like you call or go online to make a donation to the ministry of FamilyLife Today. That's what makes this program possible in this city and in other cities all across the country.
So let me say thanks to those of you who do contact us and let us know that you appreciate the ministry of FamilyLife Today, and as you are able to support it, you make a donation, those donations are critical, and we appreciate hearing from you, and we thank you for your partnership with us.
Well, tomorrow we want to talk about the benefits of forgiveness and how choosing to forgive, which can seem like a very hard thing to do, is actually something that God will use in your life to do great things for you. We'll talk more about what we mean by that on tomorrow's program. I hope you can be with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We'll see you next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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