We only have a couple of weeks left in our Growing Kids God's Way class. We have thoroughly enjoyed this class and have gleaned a lot of wisdom from our teachers and the authors of the program. George told the teacher last week that he would be so lost without this class. The last couple of weeks were on discipline and chastisement (the age old debate about spanking). I won't get into the spanking thing here. However, after the discipline comes the section on forgiveness, repentance, and restoration. Obviously when a wrong is committed there needs to be some follow-up action.
Let me warn you that this is a "heavy" post and long, but full of a lot of insight.
It's amazing how God can orchestrate things for us to hear them just when we need to hear them. Here's the jist of the section.
*You can regret without repentance (to experience sorrow for and to change wrong behavior), but you cannot repent without regret. Basically many people get away with certain actions because they express regret, but really have no intention of changing their actions in the long run.
*The object of repentance is not the sin itself, but the relationship affected by the sin. So when I sin against God, I am expressing repentance more over the fact that my sin has hurt him. It's not that my relationship (because He will never leave us or forsake us) with Him is broken, but fellowship with Him is. Also, when I sin against George, it's not that our relationship is over, but my fellowship with him is strained. Until I repent and ask for forgiveness, our fellowship will not be completely restored. One cannot commit a wrong against someone else and expect it to be overlooked without ever expressing sorrow over the hurt that one has caused. If there is never any repentance, then there will always be some sort of strain (spoken or unspoken) on the relationship. Hope that makes sense.
*Repentance begins with the offender. Forgiveness begins with the person offended. It would be absolutely wrong for a Christian to withhold forgiveness because Christ doesn't hold forgiveness from us. (Matthew 6:14; Matthew 18:21)
So God has placed a real life situation in front of me right now that really has me struggling. I have extended forgiveness to this person (a nonbeliever) that was not received because the offender did not feel that I was the person that the wrong was committed against. While the wrong was not directly against me, it did hurt and affect me. Since the forgiveness was not accepted there is still a significant strain on the relationship and fellowship has not been restored. It has been mentioned to me that I need to begin to restore that fellowship and I have been wrestling with whether it is my responsibility, as a believer, to do that.
I will say that I haven't had the chance to fully search the Scriptures for a complete and definite answer in my situation, but I have some peace with the answer I have come to. My answer is that I have done what is required of me as a believer. I may be called to forgive, but that cannot be used as an excuse to "run over" believers. The reasons why:
1) The very essence of forgiveness requires acceptance on the part of the offender.
2) God doesn't automatically forgive everyone in the world. He offers forgiveness, but not unless someone asks for it. (Acts 10:43; Ephesians 1:7) We don't just get to show up at the judgement seat of Christ when we die and inherit his forgiveness. It is ONLY through the blood of Christ and faith in that sacrifice that He extends it (by his grace and mercy) to us. Only then, after we have asked for His forgiveness are we rightly restored to Him.
I guess what I'm saying is that we can't expect for people to gloss over offenses when we have hurt them, directly or indirectly. If we expect to have genuine relationships with people, we must be willing to humble our hearts and ask for forgiveness. What a precious lesson that we can pass this on to our children so that they can see the beauty of offering forgiveness and the beauty in asking for it, especially the forgiveness of Christ.