Series - Where To Next?
Presenter - Pastor Matt Surber
Date - June 26, 2022

Pastor Matt Surber discusses the three levels of forgiveness and reminds us that forgiveness is the choice to release others from their sins against us so that we can be set free.


Sermon Notes

How Do I Forgive?

Do I Have To Forgive?

I’ve had many conversations where people reveal terrible things that people have done to them, when they were hurt.  The pain was deep and profound and the feelings of anger they felt overwhelmed them. My response, “the anger you feel is real, what happened to you is awful.  Now you must totally forgive them.”  

What follows this statement is usually a restating of there original story with more details, to emphasize the significance of the situation!  Again, the response is to totally forgive them.  When they totally forgive them, they will be set free!

Totally Forgive and You Will Be Set Free

C.S. Lewis said it like this, “Everyone says forgivenesses is a lovely idea until they have something to forgive.”

Two Things To Consider…

  1. Forgiveness Is a Truly Christian Virtue

Jesus said these words…

Luke 6:37

“Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven;”

Matthew 6:14-15

14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15 but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Paul said it this way…

Ephesians 4:32

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

Colossians 3:13

bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.

1 Corinthians 13

“Love… keeps no records of wrongs”

The greatest, most profound statement on forgiveness in the Bible…. Jesus innocent, hanging on the cross, lied about, spat upon, beaten, cursed…

Luke 23:44

“Father forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing”

These 11 words sweep away all of our excuses not to forgive.  “But if the people or person that hurt me would only show remorse, then maybe I could forgive them.”  But this rarely ever happens and we use it as an excuse to continue our bitterness and anger and desire to get even.

Consider Jesus on the cross.  No one seemed sorry.  Even as He said these words, they mocked Him.  Let’s be clear, even when Jesus died, the people who put Him to death were quite pleased with themselves.  No one said they were sorry or they had made a mistake, and Jesus still said, Father Forgive Them!

This is precisely what we have to say if we are going to follow Jesus.  We must say it to people who hurt us deliberately and repeatedly.  To those who intentionally did us harm.  To those who casually and thoughtlessly wound us… our spouse, our former spouse, our boss, our family member, our friends … other Christians.

  1. Forgiveness Is Difficult Because We Do Not Understand It

Misconceptions on forgiveness.  What it does not mean…

  • Approving of what someone else did
  • Pretending it did not take place
  • Making excuses for bad behavior
  • Justifying evil so it looks less sinful
  • Overlooking abuse
  • Denying hurt
  • Letting them walk all over you
  • Refusing to press charges when a crime is committed
  • Forgetting that a crime was done
  • Pretending you were not hurt
  • You have to restore the relationship to where it was before
  • You become best friends again
  • You have to tell the person that you forgive them
  • All the negative consequences of the sin are cancelled

Ultimately Forgiveness Is A Heart Matter.

This is huge because I think often that forgiveness is about what we say.  “You’re forgiven.”  But we can say something with our mouth about forgiveness and still harbor resentment in our hearts.  Forgiveness begins in the heart and works its way out.  There is a profound sense that forgiveness, even for someone that hurt you deeply, is really between you and God.

Forgiveness in its essence is a decision made on the inside to refuse to live in the past.  It’s a choice to release others from their sins against you so that YOU can be set free.

It doesn’t deny the pain of the past or change the past, but it does break the cycles of bitterness.  Forgiveness allows you to let go and move on.  And what we see is that you can forgive even when the other person isn’t there to make a confession. 

You can forgive:

  • Without restoration of the relationship.
  • Even when the other person has done nothing to earn forgiveness or even asked for it because forgiveness is like salvation – it is a gift that is freely given!
  • Without ever saying it to the person, because forgiveness is a matter of the heart!

That brings me back to the statement by C. S. Lewis:

“Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea until they have something to forgive.”

Then it becomes difficult. One day Peter asked Jesus how many times should we forgive someone who sins against us (Matthew 18:21-35). Jesus told him, “Seventy times seven.” Do the math in your head. That’s 490 times. That’s a lot of sin and a lot of pain and that’s a whole lot of forgiveness. It seems impossible and definitely impractical but that’s what Jesus said.

Then Jesus told a story about a man who owed his boss a vast debt that in today’s terms would be something like $50 million (maybe more with inflation). Somehow he had run up this enormous debt and somehow he had managed to spend all the money. When the boss demanded his money, the man unashamedly begged to be forgiven. He even promised to pay the money back. But the boss forgave him the whole debt. Just wiped the slate clean. The man who had been forgiven such an enormous sum saw a fellow who owed him a tiny debt—something like $100. 

When the fellow couldn’t pay, he had him thrown into jail. People heard about it and told the boss who got angry and had the first man thrown into jail to be tortured until he paid back the amount that previously had been forgiven. Some translations say that he was turned over to the “tormentors.” The moral of the story is very clear: “This is how my Heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart” (Matthew 18:35). These words are for believers. Jesus said, “What happened to that man will happen to you unless you learn to forgive.” The tormentors will come and take you away and torture you. 

What tormentors?

The hidden tormentors of anger and bitterness that eat your insides out, the tormentors of frustration and malice that give you ulcers and high blood pressure and migraine headaches and lower back pain, the tormentors that make you lie awake at night on your bed stewing over every rotten thing that happens to you. The tormentors of an unforgiving heart that stalk you day and night, that never leave your side, that suck every bit of joy from your life.


Because you will not forgive from the heart. It is happening to you just as Jesus said because you refuse to forgive.

We are like the unforgiving servant. We stand before Almighty God with our sins piled up like a mountain. The mountain is so tall we can’t get over it, so deep we can’t get under it, so wide we can’t go around it. That’s every one of us. Our sins are like a $50 million dollar debt we could never pay in our lifetime or in a thousand lifetimes.

We come as debtors to God, come with empty hands, and we say, “I cannot pay.” God who is rich in mercy replies, “I forgive all your sins. My Son has paid the debt. You owe me nothing.” Then we leave the church, walk outside humming “Lord, I Lift Your Name on High.” And before we get to our car we see a man who has done us wrong and we want to grasp him by the throat and say, “Pay me right now!”

No wonder we are so tormented, we are so angry and bitter, we have problems, and our friendships don’t last. No wonder we can’t get along. We have never learned the secret of unlimited forgiveness. The hidden tormentors have done their work!

Three Levels of Forgiveness

Lewis Smedes says there are three levels of forgiveness. 

First, we rediscover the humanity of the person who hurt us.

  • That simply means that without diminishing their sin, we admit that they are sinners just like we are sinners. 

Second, we surrender our right to get even.

  • This is hard because it is natural to want someone else to pay for all the pain they caused us. But in the end, we must leave all judgment in the hands of a just and merciful God. 

Third, we revise our feelings toward the other person.

  • This means giving up our hatred and letting go of our bitterness. Ultimately, it means taking Jesus seriously when he said in Matthew 5:44 “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” 

You’ll know you have reached total forgiveness when you are able to ask God to bless those who have hurt you so deeply. This is a high standard, so high that without God it is impossible. That’s why Smedes calls forgiveness a miracle. He’s right. Total forgiveness is nothing less than a miracle of God.

It is the miracle we desperately need.

Two Final Thoughts

1) Forgiveness is not an optional part of the Christian life.

It is a necessary part of what it means to be a Christian. If we are going to follow Jesus, we must forgive. We have no other choice. And we must forgive as God has forgiven us—freely, completely, graciously, totally. The miracle we have received is a miracle we pass on to others.

2) We will forgive to the extent we appreciate how much we have been forgiven.

The best incentive to forgiveness is to remember how much God has already forgiven you. Think of how many sins he has covered for you. Think of the punishment you deserved that did not happen to you because of God’s grace. Jesus said, “He who has been forgiven little loves little” (Luke 7:47). Your willingness to forgive is in direct proportion to your remembrance of how much you have been forgiven.

Mark Twain said it this way: “Forgiveness is the fragrance the violet gives to the heel that has crushed it.” You are never more like Jesus than when you forgive. And you will never be set free until you forgive.

Release them, and you will be set free.

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