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How do you know that you have truly forgiven someone?
—Holly Beran, Aurora, Colorado

Jesus was unequivocal on this point: As his followers, we are required to forgive those who sin against us (Matt. 6:15). But what if we don't feel like we've forgiven them? How do we know, then, if we have truly forgiven? The Holy Spirit, thank God, often enables people to forgive even though they are not sure how they did it. But forgiving, and knowing that we've truly forgiven, comes easier when we understand the realities of forgiveness:

1. Forgiveness is a redemptive response to having been wronged and wounded. This is simple but important. Only those who have wronged and wounded us are candidates for forgiveness. If they injure us accidentally, we excuse them. We only forgive the ones we blame.

2. Forgiveness requires three basic actions. First, we surrender our right to get even. Every victim is sure that the victimizer deserves to suffer at least as much as he made us suffer. But that is not necessarily so. "The wages of sin (wronging God) is death" (Rom. 6:23), but the payment was made through the death of God's own Son. The blood of Christ covers all of our sins, but each of us must do personal business with God in order to experience his forgiveness. When we forgive, therefore, we place the outcome of the matter in God's hands and often choose to live with the scales unbalanced.

Second, we rediscover the humanity of our wrongdoer. When we have been badly injured and clearly wronged, we make an instant caricature of the person who did it to us. We define him totally by the one wrong he did. If he betrayed us, his total being is reduced to his betrayal. When we forgive, we rediscover that the person who wronged us is a complex, weak, ...

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In the Magazine

December 3, 2001

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