Forgive and Forget? — Trust and Forgiveness in Christian Life
Trust and Forgiveness
Forgiveness is free, trust is earned. You can forgive someone who has caused you pain, but still break fellowship with that person. I used to believe that if you forgive someone, then you have to restore the relationship and allow that person back into your life to the same extent that they were before. That belief is not what the Bible commands.
Before looking at the Bible, consider a simple example. Imagine that you made someone, whom you trusted, the chief financial officer of your company and then later discovered that he was embezzling large amounts of money and lying to you. What would you do? Assume that as a Christian you forgave him for that misdeed, would you feel that the Bible recommends that you to allow him to continue to be the chief financial officer of the company if he simply told you that he was sorry? Would it not be prudent to either fire him or put him on some long probation until you know that his character is truly reformed? I used to be of the conviction that forgiveness meant restoration of relationship, but that is not something that the Bible teaches.
That kind of belief can cause a Christian to live in bondage especially when you live with people who cannot be trusted and who keep abusing you and taking advantage of your trust over and over. Many battered women live in abusive marriage relations because of that conviction and even some have been killed because of it.
Relationships are built on trust, not forgiveness. Jesus didn’t trust everybody (John 2:24). He had the supernatural ability to know what people’s thoughts were before they said anything. (Luke 9:47; Matthew 9:4; Mark 2:8; Matthew 12:25). That certainly helps with knowing who to trust and who not to because people would sometimes lie to you to gain your trust or they might misunderstand their own ability to change and so promise change that isn’t there yet.
Many Christians today live in bondage like I did before. They say that Jesus was a friend of sinners and tax collectors. He loved and accepted everybody and so they have to do the same. Like me, they misunderstood the scriptures.
Satan actually works by tricking believers to misunderstand the scripture. That’s how he tried to deceive Jesus when he tempted him in Mathew 4:1-9. Satan twisted the scriptures and wanted to trick Jesus. He still uses that trick today and keeps many Christians in bondage. But the Bible says “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” Galatians 5:1. Satan can actually make you become a slave by twisting the scriptures and making you bound when the scriptures are given to set you free.
1 Corinthians. 13:7 says love always trusts. The question is, what does love always trust?
This is one of the scriptures that I misunderstood. I told myself, according to this scripture, if I loved them, I needed to always trust them regardless of what they do. But the trust found in “love always trusts” is not referring to trusting people, but to trusting God. Why? The Bible is clear that we must only put our trust in God. In Jeremiah 17:5 it reads, “Cursed is the one who trusts in man”. 1 John 4:1 says, “do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God”.
The same Greek word, pisteuó is used in both John 2:24, 1 Corinthians 13:7, and 1 John 4:1. In some places, it is translated as trust, in others it is translated as believe.
Breaking a relationship doesn’t mean that you don’t love the person! God disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in. When you discipline your children, it’s not that you don’t love them. In fact, the only reason you discipline them is because you do love them. It is your love for them that moves you to discipline them. Sometimes, breaking or limiting a relationship or fellowship with someone not only protects you from further abuse but is also a good way to discipline someone that you cannot otherwise discipline. So it is actually for their good. In fact, there are certain types of Christians that the Bible says you should not even eat with them. That means you should have no relationship with them whatsoever. Take a look at what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 5:11-13 (Amp.).
“But now I write to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of [Christian] brother if he is known to be guilty of immorality or greed, or is an idolater [whose soul is devoted to any object that usurps the place of God], or is a person with a foul tongue [railing, abusing, reviling, slandering], or is a drunkard or a swindler or a robber. [No] you must not so much as eat with such a person. What [business] of mine is it and what right have I to judge outsiders? Is it not those inside [the church] upon whom you are to pass disciplinary judgment [passing censuring sentence on them as the facts require]? God alone sits in judgment on those who are outside. Drive out that wicked one from among you [expel him from your church].”
Also read Pauls’ advise to Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:5 NIV to “Have nothing to do with such people.” The NLT says to “Stay away from people like that!” Read the preceding verses to get the reason for the advice.
So there are some people, who maybe family members or other Christians, that we sometimes have to break our relationship with them and have nothing to do with them at all. But if they change and earn back your trust, by all means restore the relationship.
You have to learn to know people not by what they say, but as Jesus recommends that “by their fruits you shall know them” (Matthew 7:16). Notice that Jesus taught that we don’t know people by what they say, we know them by their fruits (what they do). So when someone who has hurt you many times says he is sorry, don’t simply say everything is fine and restore the relationship as though they have changed. Forgive them right away and pray that they will change but wait and see their fruits before you restore relationship and put yourself at risk. Fruits take time to bear, so give them some time and see if they have truly repented. It may be months or even years.
Of course, you know that I’m not suggesting or recommending that you break relationship with people and stop talking to them for trivial things, but we all need boundaries and must enforce those boundaries.
Understanding the principle that forgiveness is free, but trust is earned helps us understand why Paul could disagree sharply with Barnabas and break up over Mark, but then years later Paul talks about working with Mark again (2 Timothy 4:11). Mark apparently stopped being a quitter and changed his work ethic to the point where Paul restored trusted in him again! Trust is NOT required for forgiveness. Forgiveness means you cancel a person’s debts. The same word is used when talking of forgiving sins as when talking of cancelling a debt. In fact, even today in finance, we talk about debt forgiveness or loan forgiveness to mean that the debt is cancelled. But that doesn’t mean that you have to lend him money again if you know he never honors his word. When you forgive someone you release him of the responsibility for the hurt he has caused you so that he can go free of retribution for that hurt. You do what Jesus did on the cross, you say, “Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they do.” That doesn’t mean that Jesus trusts them that next time they wouldn’t crucify him if they were given the opportunity.
Forgiveness vs. Repentance vs. Reconciliation: Forgiveness and reconciliation are NOT the same thing. You can forgive (cancel someone’s debts for a behavior) but not be reconciled. Reconciliation comes with trust. We must always forgive. We should strive for reconciliation, but there are cases where reconciliation is not possible. Reconciliation works easily when there is genuine repentance because genuine repentance will produce the fruits in keeping with that repentance (Matthew 3:8). That is, people will prove by the way they live that they have repented of their sins and turned to God. And repentance, as used in the Bible, means a change of heart and mind. Without genuine repentance, trust cannot be formed which is necessary for relationships. Regardless of the situation, forgiveness must be given but you can move away in the relationship. And if you do, you will cancel the last debt before you leave so that forgiveness, the cancelation of debts is done.