Proverbs 16:6: “By mercy and truth iniquity is purged: and by the fear of the Lord men depart from evil.”
In order to really deal with sin, we need both mercy and truth. The mercy is a disposition inclined to forgive; the truth means that we are naming the sin and calling it what God calls it. That means we call it adultery, not “an inappropriate relationship.” Or we call it gossip, not over-sharing at the prayer meeting.
But what do we do when there is absolutely no acknowledgement of sin on the side of the offender? How do we forgive when we are never asked to forgive? First I want to point out that Jesus prayed that God would forgive those who crucified Him. They certainly weren’t asking for His forgiveness, but He was disposed to forgive even at that moment. We follow His example in asking God to forgive the people who have wronged us. If you can’t do this, then you are probably in the grip of bitterness.
Second, when people wrong you and then act like nothing happened, you need to ask God for love to cover it. “Love covers a multitude of sins.” But sometimes it is clear that there’s no way love is going to cover this one. In that case, it is important to go to the one who did the wrong. But the problem is this: we don’t know our own hearts. Sometimes we don’t want love to cover it because we want to get even. So we have to get our hearts into a frame of forgiveness before we go to confront. Then, and only then, are we confronting for the sake of the other person, and not for ourselves (Gal. 6:1).
Let’s assume that the sin has been confronted in a godly manner, and let’s further assume that forgiveness is sought and extended. That is wonderful. But that does not erase all the consequences of the sin. For example, if you stole money from your boss, you were confronted and then repented, you are still going to be fired, and you should be. You are forgiven, the fellowship is restored, but you have lost your job. Repentance and forgiveness does not erase the consequences of sin.
Sometimes the consequences are far greater than the sin. If a teenager gets drunk, that is a terrible sin. But if he gets behind the wheel and crashes into another car, killing a whole family, that is a consequence far greater than the actual sin. Stupid, sinful behavior can lead to terrible consequences. When we run from God and destroy our lives, and then turn to God in faith for forgiveness, He forgives us completely — but our lives may still be a wreck. We may still be in jail. The baby we aborted is still dead. The lie we told still broke up the friendship.
Women in particular are vulnerable when it comes to extending mercy and forgiveness for a particular type of sin. When we have been wronged emotionally or physically by men, our natural instinct is to get our guard up to protect ourselves so it doesn’t happen again. If Dad did not protect us like we needed, then we are left to protect ourselves. One of the ways we naturally do this is by becoming defensive, hardened, and even bitter. Sometimes we go on the offensive and attack. We carry the wrong done to us around as a shield to keep us from being wronged again. I totally understand this. But, nevertheless, it is the fleshly response; it is not the response of faith. Faith is a far better shield, and far less brittle (Eph. 6:16).
Only God understands the nature of forgiveness and mercy, and we are called to imitate Him and follow Him in this. Heb. 8:12, “For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.” God is merciful to us. When He says that He doesn’t remember our sins any more, that does not mean that He has a poor memory. It means that He is not going to haul them out and remind us of them again and again. That is what the accuser does. The Holy Spirit is the Comforter, not the accuser. So when we extend forgiveness, we don’t automatically forget what happened. But we don’t hold it against them anymore. We don’t bring it up to ourselves night and day (like the accuser) or rehash it all again so that we have to start all over and confess bitterness one more time. We set our minds elsewhere. We move on. And even if we are still in the midst of hard consequences of the sin, we press on by faith in Christ.
Hebrews 4:16, ” Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.”