Forgiving others for offenses they’ve committed is a very loving and merciful act, and it’s what God has commanded us to do. “Forgive others so that your father in heaven may forgive you.” (Mark 11:25) We need to forgive others, but that doesn’t always mean we can remain in relationship with them. There is a condition to being able to trust and remain in relationship with someone.. what is it?
Matthew 11:20 says Jesus renounced the towns in which he had performed miracles because they did not REPENT. Luke 13:3 “I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” Jesus doesn’t just forgive us and give us a license to sin and carry on about our merry way just because we ask him to – he forgives us when our hearts are changed and we turn from our sin. That’s how we enter relationship with Him. We repent and change our ways.
In the case of an abusive relationship – the abuser needs to change. (Galatians 6:1-10). Abusers will often apologize and say “I’ve changed! I promise it won’t happen anymore! I love you! I’ll never hurt you again!” This can sound wonderful and be like music to the victim’s ears, but the victim must stand back and watch for change. Because nobody changes overnight. Also, anyone can do anything for a short time. It takes time to prove change and repentance. If true repentance is elusive, God does not require us to continue to put ourselves back in the position to be abused over and over. You may walk away. (Matthew 18:17) This is not to say you do not forgive for past offenses – it just means that you may need to remove yourself from that person so that they may no longer continue to hurt you.
So.. What does repentance look like?
- Earnestly seeking out what they did wrong and figuring out what to do right.
- Humble, silent, and evident change of ways without having to shout it to the world
- Acceptance for whatever consequences may have come from their wrong-doing.
- Admitting they were wrong and being able to explain exactly how they were wrong and why it was wrong.
- It stands the test of time – the changed behavior genuinely sticks over time. Observance could take a year or more to prove.
Now.. let’s look at what repentance is NOT.
- Denial of events
- Normalizing events so that the degree of offense is minimized
- Denial of fault
- Admit of fault with excuses behind it
- Admitting fault and placing equal blame on someone else
- Admit of fault, and then repeat of offense with no shame
- Admit of fault, repeat of offense, express remorse, and find new ways to commit offense in a hidden way
- Admitting fault but denying the reality or gravity of consequences
- Denial of effects that one’s actions had on another person
- Saying “I’m sorry, I’ve changed”
- Doing what one has to do to make people believe that change has occurred, only long enough to gain trust back so that it can start all over again
- Using the Bible and God’s name as a shield to attempt to repel and avoid consequences
- Using “Humanity” as an excuse for one’s sins, expressing “humility” and claiming Christ’s grace to cover those sins, but having no real conviction or true understanding of what it was that was actually committed.
- Blame shifting
- Gas Lighting
- Claiming change, but not accepting consequences that occurred prior to said-change and allowing said-change to be viewed without claiming it, but rather allowing the offended and others to see silent change
- Demanding forgiveness
- Obligating others to comply with your wishes because you think you’ve repented and changed
- Using scripture to “trap” others to accept everything you say as true and therefore obligate them to believe you and forgive you so that you get what you want regardless of the other person’s wishes, beliefs, or feelings.
“If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”Matthew 18:17