Jul 20

What Does Forgiveness Look Like?

2017 at 7:25 am   |   by Carolyn Mahaney Filed under Biblical Womanhood | Friendship

Recently, I shared a few thoughts in response to a question from one of our readers: how do we deal with our emotions when another Christian sins against us and there is no reconciliation?

We must turn to God for wisdom and comfort in this difficult situation, and we must obey his Word in our attitude and actions, no matter the pain or complexity of the situation.

Much more needs to be said about applying the gospel, God’s sovereignty, the doctrine of sin, personal holiness, forgiveness, and reconciliation etc. to a conflict between Christians. For further study, I recommend starting with Charity and its Fruits by Jonathan Edwards.

I want to wrap up by touching on a few practical issues related to forgiveness: issues that are seldom addressed and yet are troublesome to our emotions.

Christians can be pretty fuzzy about forgiveness, which makes this point from John Piper particularly important:

“[F]orgiveness of an unrepentant person doesn’t look the same as forgiveness of a repentant person. In fact I am not sure that in the Bible the term forgiveness is ever applied to an unrepentant person. So there’s a sense in which full forgiveness is only possible in response to repentance.”

What do we do when there is no repentance to respond to? Or how do we respond when someone talks and acts as if they have not sinned against us? Do expressions of affection from someone who has betrayed us mean we should all go back to the way things were? In this post, I’m considering these questions in light of sins by another Christian such as slander, hostility, cheating, stealing, lying, or deceit.

Given our fuzziness on forgiveness, we need to press in and better understand what Scripture says about forgiveness and friendship, and also what it does not say.

If we are to live at peace with all men so far as it depends on us (Rom. 12:18), we have to understand exactly how far it depends on us. Our question must not be: What do other people expect from me? Rather, we must ask: What does God require of me?

Answering this question brings clarity. It helps us to move forward with a clear conscience, even if we are swimming against a current of expectations from others; and it clears up a lot of the confusion that follows in the wake of broken relationships.

1. Forgiveness doesn’t mean we must agree.

Nowhere does Scripture require us to agree in order to resolve a conflict with another Christian. We are to love them. We are to refrain from retaliation. We are to pray for them. But we are not required to agree with them.

In fact, we must not agree if agreeing means violating a biblical conviction. To hold your ground on a moral or ethical issue is not unkind, unforgiving, or stubborn, but right. It is not un-Christian, but uniquely Christian.

Even if well-meaning people encourage us to agree for the sake of unity, we must graciously resist that pressure when biblical issues are at stake.

Charles Spurgeon humorously put it this way: “I have known good men with whom I shall never be thoroughly at home until we meet in heaven: at least, we shall agree best on earth when they go their way and I go mine.”

2. Forgiveness doesn’t mean we must trust.

“You can actually look someone in the face and say: I forgive you, but I don’t trust you” insists John Piper. This is not rude or unforgiving. It is wise.

If a person has betrayed you and shown a disregard for the truth or for your reputation, you are not obligated to trust them again, even if they ask for your forgiveness.

Sometimes as Christians we experience false guilt on this point. When someone asks for our forgiveness or acts like nothing has happened, we may feel like we are withholding forgiveness by not trusting them again. One insightful pastor explains:

There is confusion between forgiveness and restoration….To explain: If a friend seriously betrays me, I am mandated as a Christian to forgive him if he asks for it. But I think I would be foolish to restore him to a position of trust. I often drew the analogy with babysitting—if someone babysat my kids but neglected them, I should forgive them if they repent; but it would be delinquent to let them babysit again.

It would be unwise to trust an individual who, through lying or slander, has violated our trust. We must be cautious and careful in how we relate to that person in the future.

If someone has betrayed our trust, they must re-earn it, proving over time the genuineness of their sorrow and the fruit of repentance in the form of godly character. This is possible, by the grace of God, and I have witnessed, as you may have as well, the sweet restoration of trust that can flow from repentance.

But a glossing over of the issue, a half-hearted apology, or an expectation of immediate restoration does not obligate us to trust someone, unless or until they have proven themselves trustworthy.

3. Forgiveness doesn’t mean we must remain close.

Sentimentality muddies the waters of forgiveness. A longing for “the way things were” is not a reliable guide for friendships. A close friendship in the past does not obligate us to remain close.

Friendship is a significant category in Scripture, and we must hold it in high regard. If we pretend that certain sins don’t have a devastating effect on a relationship, we deny what Scripture says about the meaning of friendship: trust, loyalty, honor, truthfulness, constancy, and sacrificial love.

True closeness is only possible under these conditions.

If someone betrays us but fails to acknowledge that sin or make restitution, then to relate to them as if nothing has happened would be to undermine the meaning of biblical friendship.

But if a person realizes their sin, asks your forgiveness, and proves their trustworthiness, your relationship may be restored; you may even be closer than ever before. However, we are under no biblical obligation to be close again. We have not fallen short of forgiveness or failed to honor God if we graciously go our separate ways.

It may be that we now find ourselves in a different place or situation than before. God, who brings good out of every trial, may have used this broken relationship to move us into new areas of service and caused new, godly, friendships to blossom.

We must recognize these as blessings from God and move forward to serve him in the new ways to which he has called us. God does not expect us to maintain the same level of closeness with every Christian for the rest of our lives.

4. Forgiveness does mean we trust God.

Finally, as we try to carefully pick our way through the rubble of a broken relationship, we must leave the remaining confusion and questions in the hands of our loving, heavenly Father. Take this wise counsel from Dr. Cotton Mather:

It may not be amiss for you to have two heaps: a heap of Unintelligibles, and a heap of Incurables. Every now and then you will meet with something or other that may pretty much distress your thoughts, but the shortest way with the vexations will be, to throw them into the heap they belong to, and be no more distressed about them.

You will meet with some unaccountable and incomprehensible things, particularly in the conduct of many people. Throw them into your heap of Unintelligibles; leave them there. Trouble your mind no further; hope the best or think no more about them.

You will meet with some [unpersuadable] people; no counsel, no reason will do anything upon the obstinates: Throw them into the heap of Incurables. Leave them there. And go on to do as well as you can, what you have to do. Let not the crooked things that can’t be made straight encumber you.

And remember, above all, that God is good and wise as he rules over every aspect of your situation. I leave you with these encouraging words from John Piper:

God is not just showing up after the trouble and cleaning it up. He is plotting the course and managing the troubles with far-reaching purposes for our good and for the glory of Jesus Christ.

“The salvation of the righteous is from the Lord; he is their stronghold in the time of trouble.” Ps. 37:39


~from the archives


Previous Posts:

What Do We Do When Former Friends Do What They Do?

Q&A: How Do I Handle the Pain of Broken Relationships?

Jul 12

Teaching Our Children About Beauty

2017 at 9:54 am   |   by Janelle Bradshaw Filed under Biblical Womanhood | Beauty | Motherhood

“How do we raise our children in this world of beauty gone bad?” This question—in the appendix of Mom and Nicole’s book, True Beautyis on the forefront of my mind these days as my three daughters are getting older. Two simple ideas have been guiding my approach of late.

First, I’ve been considering my own childhood experience. My mom—following the counsel and example of her own mom—was careful to minimize excessive focus on my appearance at a young age. It will come in its own in time, my grandma would tell her. No need to rush. In my case, I was so unconcerned about my personal appearance, that even when I had reached my mid-teens, “it” still hadn’t come.

My sisters (four and five years older than me) love to tell the story about how they finally went to my mom and asked if Janelle could maybe start brushing her hair occasionally. They had to appear in public with me after all. I’m happy to report that I now daily brush my hair and even wear make-up. “It” finally came! But looking back, I see how the lack of focus on my outward appearance when I was young was a means of protection in my life. I have found my struggle with worldly beauty standards to be minimal, and I know that is in part due to my mom’s wisdom in allowing me to be “young” and not hurrying my transition into adulthood.

Secondly, I was provoked by a conversation with a friend a couple years ago. After having four boys she became pregnant with a little girl. My friend was finally getting to design that girly-girl nursery and wanted to have a quote from True Beauty featured in her daughter’s room: “True beauty is to behold and reflect the beauty of God.” She wanted her daughter to grow up with a daily reminder of the true definition of beauty. Such a simple idea, yet the potential effect is immeasurable. I followed her example, hanging the same words on my daughters’ walls. My youngest can’t even read yet, but as soon as she can, I want thoughts of the Savior’s beauty to fill her mind each day.

Never has the world around us made it more difficult to raise daughters with a biblical understanding of beauty. But God has not called us to a hopeless task, and I encourage every mom (of girls and boys) to read True Beauty and spend careful time considering the appendix, “True Beauty and Our Children.”

“The beauty of grace that overwhelmed our own hearts through the gospel of Jesus Christ has lost none of its power. Our Savior can do for our children as he did for us. Grace makes true beauty irresistible. So we pray with hope in God to open the eyes of the hearts of our children to the dazzling beauty of Jesus Christ.” ~Carolyn Mahaney and Nicole Whitacre

Jul 5

Teaching Our Children About Work

2017 at 6:47 am   |   by Nicole Whitacre Filed under Motherhood

If you were to come to my house today, you would find, on the chalkboard in the kitchen, the Whitacre Word of the Week: “industrious” which means “diligent and hardworking.” It may seem like an odd word for the start of summer vacation, but it’s there for a reason. That’s because one of the lessons we are trying to teach our children is the value of hard work. As Ben Sasse puts it in his recent book, The Vanishing American Adult, we don’t just want our children to learn how to work hard, we want them to “embrace their identities as workers.”

Work is not something you do during the school year so that you can grow up to do it from 9-5 and then complain about it the rest of the time. Work is a gift and a calling from God (Gen 1:26–28). “Since God is the one who calls people to their work,” explains Leland Ryken, “the worker becomes a steward who serves God.” That’s how we want our children to think about themselves. Who are you? We are workers, we are stewards who serve God. We have been saved by God’s grace from sin and wrath to do good works (Eph 2:10).

Creating workers is a work in progress. But this summer, we have deliberately set out to do a few things toward that goal.

First, we want to teach our children that serving God starts small—in the home, in the local church, and in the community. So, we have taken our boys over to serve the widows in our church with yard work. We have asked our girls to take on various chores in the home to serve the family. We have plans to visit some of the elderly in our neighborhood.

Secondly, we are teaching each of our children to create something. This project was inspired by Sasse’s book where he points out that children these days often learn how to consume more than to produce. So the girls are learning how to sew and use a sewing machine and each will hopefully have something to show for it by the end of the summer. Our middle son is making a chicken coop—and it’s coming along nicely! And our oldest son is well on his way to completing a writing project he’s been tinkering with for a while.

We also deliberately purchased a house in a neighborhood where there’s lots of work to be done. Our yard is large and overgrown. There is lots of wood to chop, stumps to dig out, and about a million weeds to pull. Sure, our yard is great for backyard soccer games and catching fireflies, but we remind our children that it is a blessing and a responsibility. The creation mandate to “subdue the earth” applies to this little plot of earth that we are blessed to call ours.

One thing we’ve discovered is that certain children like certain kinds of work more than others. One of our boys really enjoys schoolwork, while the other loves to do manual labor—and “never the twain shall meet.” So, we challenge our son who enthusiastically serves with yard work to cheerfully learn his fractions and our son who loves to write and read, to get out there and work with his hands. I’m not sure if either of them will ever love the same kind of work, but I hope they will both learn to fight laziness in all its forms, and do all their work cheerfully as unto the Lord.

Do we sound like mean parents? It is summer after all! Isn’t this a time for kids to rest and relax? Please know that we are giving our children plenty of fun. We go to the pool and the library, play soccer, turn on the sprinkler, and make frequent stops for slushies. But we hope that our children will learn to appreciate rest and recreation even more because they have learned how to work. Our prayer is that the work they do this summer will seep into their very bones and will embed itself as part of their identity—so that whatever work God calls them to do, they will grow up to think of themselves as “stewards who serve God.”