Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Can Forgiveness Be Real?

Leslie Basham: You’ve repented of your sin, intending to forsake it, yet you don’t feel forgiven. Nancy Leigh DeMoss offers this advice . . .

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: Those thoughts, those emotions aren’t rooted in truth, and so what do I do? I transfer my focus from the thing that’s not true, and discipline my mind to think about the thing that is true.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Wednesday, November 14.

Believers in Christ have been forgiven, yet so many doubt that it could really be true. Over the last few days on the broadcast, Nancy has been offering great insights on what it means to be forgiven. It's part of our current series, The Lord's Prayer, Part 3. If you missed any of those programs, you can hear them at ReviveOurHearts.com.

A group of women have been listening along, and they have some comments and questions based on Nancy’s teaching.

Holly: What do we do when we’ve been forgiven and then those sins again revisit you and the accuser brings them to mind and says, “Yes, but remember, you did this,” even though it has been forgiven by the Lord?

I think one way to think about that is like a shark with no teeth. That memory can come back, but you can remind the enemy, “You cannot come after me with that because that has been dealt with before the Lord. It has no teeth in my life. It has no affect in my life.”

So it takes the teeth out of that memory, even though it comes back to my mind. Does that make sense?

Nancy: The whole point of the book I wrote, Lies Women Believe, is that we get tormented and ultimately end up making wrong choices when we believe things that aren’t true.

If I’m believing this sin I have confessed, for which I’ve sought God’s forgiveness, with the intent to forsake it—it’s not that I want to keep committing it—but when it comes back to haunt me, I have to realize that is not coming from God.

That is not truth. Truth is, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). So rather than putting my focus on the sin . . . Now, it’s one thing if I haven’t really confessed it, if I haven’t really repented of it.

Sometimes I think we get tormented because we haven’t really made a clean break with it. But here my heart is, I want to make a clean break with this. I want to be free from it. I want to be cleansed from it. I have confessed it with the intent to forsake it.

I have to say, those thoughts, those emotions aren’t rooted in truth, and so what do I do? I transfer my focus from the thing that’s not true and discipline my mind to think about the thing that is true, and that’s where the focus needs to go—to Christ.

It needs to go to the cross. I wrote at the top of my notes on this series before we started the session, “Focus on Christ, the Gospel, the Cross.”

That’s what I’m trying to do all through this series and every day on Revive Our Hearts. "Turn your eyes upon Jesus. Look full in His wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow (including our past confessed sins) will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and His grace."

Turn to Christ. Turn to the cross. See what He did. See how He paid the penalty. Hear Him say, “Father, forgive them.” That’s what’s involved with bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, saying, “By God’s grace, I am not going to give this thought a chance to take root in my mind.”

“I’m not going to mull it over. I’m going to face it off with thoughts that are true.” In so many areas of our lives, we have to do that. But I think in this area of guilt over things we have confessed and repented of, that’s what we have to do.

We have to keep going back and counseling our hearts according to the truth, and ultimately, you’ll find that the truth replaces the lie. A lot of it is what you focus on.

Barbara: When you’re talking about forgiving sins, do you take care of yourself first and then go talk to someone that you’ve offended or that you feel you’ve sinned against, because you’ve said that oftentimes we neglect to look at the large percentage of problem we’ve contributed to the whole situation.

How do you know when to go talk to someone and when is the right time?

Nancy: Well, I can’t tell you when the right time is because that’s something you have to ask the Lord, and He will show you. That’s why He gives us the Holy Spirit, but I think, Barbara, you’ve hit on two things here.

Jesus said, “If your brother has something against you, go to him. If you have something against your brother, go to him” (see Matt. 5:23-24). The point is, in any situation where there’s been a breach in the relationship, you be the one to try to initiate reconciliation.

You have a responsibility, whether the other person has sinned, or you’ve sinned, or you don’t know who sinned, you’ve both sinned, which is more often than not the case.

Don’t wait for the other person. Don’t say, "It’s their responsibility. They should come." Yes, they should come, but that’s not your responsibility. Your responsibility is to go seek to be a reconciler, as God initiates reconciliation with us.

As to which order you deal with that, I encourage people, as you think about people who’ve sinned against you, which is where we’re most conscious on the issue of forgiveness . . . It’s, “So and so did this to me,” or “So and so is doing this to me,” or “I live in this situation where I’m being, time after time, wounded in this area.”

We’re not saying brush that under the carpet. We’re saying you need to deal with it, but before you can have the wisdom to know how to deal with it, and before you can get the grace to extend forgiveness when you really have been wronged, and that takes God’s grace—that’s not natural . . .

Everything in you wants them to pay, wants them to hurt. So how do you get God’s grace to extend forgiveness to someone who has really sinned against you?

Before you can have that wisdom and that grace, you have to make sure your conscience is clear toward them. That’s why I think a good starting place is to say, “Lord, it’s very clear to me how this person has hurt me, but would You search my heart and show me, is there any way that I have sinned in this situation? Is there anything I did that may have provoked the situation?”

That’s not to say that I am to blame for what they did. I’m just to take responsibility for what did. “Is there anything I may have done to provoke it? Is there anything I may have done to intensify it?”

Sometimes we’re just blind to those things, and the Holy Spirit can open our eyes to see. Maybe it’s in how you responded to their offense. They sinned against you; they hurt you, so you retorted, you retaliated, you smeared their reputation. Maybe you just took it all inside and let that resentment simmer, and you have held hostility in your heart toward that person.

Maybe it’s been subtle. Maybe it’s been overt, but you know that your conscience is not clear. Maybe you’ve just withdrawn, like the turtle that sticks its head back under the shell. “I’m not getting hurt again.”

So you’ve pulled back into your shell, and you say, “I’m just going to put this wall around me, this shell around me.” There are women walking around with a hard shell around them because they’ve been hurt, and they don’t want to get hurt again.

Is that a response of faith? Is that a response of compassion and love? That’s fear. That’s not of God. That’s self-protection. That’s not of God.

So ask God to show you your responsibility in the issue, and don’t make things up. You don’t have to try to say, “Oh, what did I do? I must have done something terrible. I didn’t look at them the right way,” or “I only smiled for five seconds when I passed them in the hall.”

That’s an oversensitive conscience. Just put yourself in the light before the Lord, and say, “Lord, here’s my heart. Search it. Show me. Is there some way that I have wronged this person? Do I have some responsibility in this?”

That’s not for the sake of making you feel bad. That’s for the sake of letting you get free from the guilt. Proverbs says, “Only by pride comes contention” (14:10 KJV). Where there’s not pride, there will be no contention.

Where there’s contention, there is pride. You say, “Yes, my husband sure is proud.” Well, he may be, but are you proud? Have you been harboring that resentment, that hurt?

Have you been giving him a cold shoulder? Have you been treating him disrespectfully? You say, “But he doesn’t deserve respect.” That’s right. That’s what mercy’s all about.

We’re all undeserving sinners, so it’s a matter of saying first of all, “God, how can I get mercy?” Then I confess my sins so I can get God’s mercy. Then I will have, I believe, the ability to ask God to show me how to deal with that situation.

What’s the timing? How should I go? What should I say? Do I take somebody else with me? There’s some really, really sticky, tough situations we end up in, in human relationships. Sin complicates the whole world!

We get emails from women where I think, “O God, it would take the wisdom of Solomon and more to know how to sort through this situation.” I don’t envy people who are in those situations. A lot of times I don’t have the wisdom to offer them, but I know God does.

I know if their conscience is clear and they are seeking the Lord, then He will show them what to do. Now, that doesn’t mean that He will make their problem go away.

Again, sin complicates things. Some of us, through multiple generations of sinful choices, are living in situations that are not ever going to be really healthy this side of eternity.

God can transform, and He does. I’m so glad we get those letters, too. But sometimes, you have to continue living in a situation that’s just hard.

But you can do it with a clear conscience, and you can do it knowing that you are fulfilling the responsibility God has for you in that relationship, in that situation. And then, at least you can sleep at night.

It may not be easy, but ultimately that suffering for righteousness’ sake becomes a sanctifying thing. It’s not easy. I don’t mean to minimize it at all, but it becomes something God will use to make you more like Jesus.

We have women in this room who are living in circumstances that are very, very difficult, very complicated, very messed up, but your life doesn’t have to be in bondage to all of that.

God will give you wisdom and grace. I don’t mean to oversimplify it, but when it comes down to it, God’s wisdom and God’s grace are two very incredible resources to live in a broken world.

Another question or comment?

Woman 1: I had a situation with a neighbor a number of years ago. She sinned against me, and I thought I was very pure and righteous at the time. But I was in a Bible study several years later, the next year, actually. Through Matthew 18, the Lord convicted me that I had been very sinful in my response to her.

I did exactly what I shouldn’t have done. I hardened my heart against her. I criticized her openly, and I really hated her in my heart.

So at the time, the Lord convicted me that I needed to forgive her. She had moved out of town. I didn’t even know where she lived, but I promised the Lord that if He would ever allow me to see her again, I would ask her to forgive me for the part that I had done to sin against her.

Several years later, I met her in the grocery store, and the Lord immediately brought my promise that I’d made to Him to my mind.

I said, “O, I don’t think I want to do that,” but I took a deep breath, and I went over to her. I asked her forgiveness. I did not know how she would respond because she’d been a very difficult person when she’d lived in the neighborhood.

She immediately said, “Oh, it was all my fault. I was so wrong in what I did.” She confessed her sin, and we hugged. I tell you, the release that I felt at that moment was so indescribable. I mean, God’s Word is true.

I learned a lot from that situation and some other situations where forgiveness has been involved. God is so faithful. I always try to remember to thank Him because He does use the bad things that happen to us for His good in our lives.

I feel like I have learned a lot from what I’ve suffered from others in the area of pride. Sometimes pride just creeps in, and when these things happen, the Lord reminds me that He’s not going to allow me to live in pride.

I just praise Him that He keeps on working, and He doesn’t give up on us. He keeps on teaching us through the things that we suffer.

Nancy: I’ve been doing recently some radio interviews on the subject of my book, Choosing Forgiveness: Your Journey to Freedom. Some of those interviews have been live call-in programs where people from all over the country can call in and make a comment or ask a question.

There have been some really sweet testimonies shared by women, and a few men along the way, who have said, “I thought it was so hard—it was so hard to come to the point of forgiving or seeking forgiveness,” whichever was needed in the situation, “but God finally gave me grace,” or “I received God’s grace to do it.”

Then they talk about the release, the joy, the freedom on the other side, and the sense is, “Why did it take me so long to get there? Why did I wait so long?”

If you purpose to clear your conscience and to extend forgiveness, God is more committed than you are to your having a clear conscience.

If it’s several years before you run into them in the grocery store, I’d say, if you can avoid it being several years, get it done sooner. Let your fingers do the walking. Get on the Internet; find their number.

There should not be anything if you can possibly get to that person to seek to be reconciled. Do it as quickly as you can, because once you get on the other side, you say, “This is wonderful, the freedom, the release.”

Look at the potential then for reconciled relationships. When you seek someone else’s forgiveness or when you extend forgiveness to them, that doesn’t mean that they will always see their error, and sometimes it happens just the other way.

They come back, “Yes, I knew you were wrong,” and you’re going, “Oh, I was hoping maybe you’d see how you had a little bit of a problem here.”

That’s not your problem. Let God work. Let Him work in their heart. You can be right with God "in so far as possible within you. Live peaceably with all men" (Rom. 12:18).

I would just say, is there someone that you need to forgive? Is there someone whose forgiveness you need to seek? Don’t let it just stay there in your heart, in your conscience. Deal with it.

There are so many people in our churches—dare I say the majority—who have in their heart some issue of unforgiveness and/or they need to seek forgiveness. They’ve been wrong, and they’ve never gone back and made it right.

Is it any wonder that there’s such a short flow, a short-circuiting, a blocking of the power and the presence of God’s grace and God’s presence in our churches?

You want to see the presence of God flow through your life, through your home, through your church? Then we need to take seriously this issue of forgiveness.

I serve with Life Action Ministries, which is the parent ministry of Revive Our Hearts. We have teams that minister in local churches all across the country—four teams. They go in, and they’ll do an extended time of emphasis on revival in the church.

One of the things they talk about is this issue of getting a clear conscience and forgiving those who have sinned against you. It’s not that people haven’t heard this before. Most people know what I’ve been teaching on this subject.

It’s that they haven’t done it. There are actually times in the service where we’ll just say, “Look. You’ve got a whole body of believers here. Are there any issues that need to be dealt with right here, right now, in this service before you go home?”

There are people, families, people who work together in local church ministries, small group leaders, worship teams who have issues going on relationally, and then they’re standing up leading the praise time.

It can happen to people who are doing what I’m doing—teaching the Word of God. It can happen to your pastor. It can happen to me, where I’m teaching something, but I’ve got an issue in my heart. Thank God, He usually deals with me before I get to teaching, and I try to make those things right as soon as He brings them to my attention.

But I’ve known what it is to be sitting in church . . . Jesus said, “If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matt.5:23, 24).

Jesus said, “Whenever you stand praying, forgive,” at church, publicly, or privately, you’re in your quiet time, you’re at church. “If you have anything against anyone,” (Mark 11:25). What are you supposed to do?

Stop. Forgive him. Deal with it. We say in our services sometimes, “If there’s somebody in this auditorium that you have sinned against, and you need to confess that to them and seek their forgiveness, we’re just going to stop here and wait and let you do it.”

You say, “People really do that in church?” You’d better believe it, because God has been convicting people. God has been preparing their hearts, and we’ll just wait in some of those services, and people are patient, and you’ll start to see people one at a time moving to someone else in that auditorium—a husband turning to a wife, parents turning to a teen, teens to parents, two women who have been working together in the women’s ministry, but they’ve been at loggerheads with each other.

Sometimes nobody else knows it. Sometimes everybody else knows it. It’s amazing. These things can get so big in terms of the issues. And they will actually start going to one another privately, there in the church service, and saying, "I've been so wrong. I’ve sinned against you. The Lord has convicted me of that. Here’s what I’ve done. Will you please forgive me?”

It’s amazing. You’ll start to see over that auditorium people with tears coming down their cheeks. You see people start to hug each other, people who have been at odds with each other. Now, we didn’t tell them they had to love each other. We just said, “Go and get your conscience clear,” but it’s amazing how the grace and the love of Christ starts to flow through a service like that.

Now, don’t wait for a church service like that. That would be a great thing, but there shouldn’t be those things piled up.

Seek forgiveness; humble yourself; make it right, and extend forgiveness. Let it go. If you need to go and talk to the other person about it, that’s great. Sometimes, we don’t really need to go talk. Sometimes we just need to say, “I am going to forbear. This is a fallen world. We are fallen people, and I know that person was not trying to make my life miserable.”

“Yes, they were insensitive, but I’m insensitive, too, probably more than I realize. So Lord, I’m just going to choose to press the delete button and choose not to take offense.”

Psalm 119:165 says, “Great peace have those who love your law; nothing can make them stumble.”

So some of the stuff, we just need to let it go and get over it. Where there’s been a breach in the relationship, go talk about it. Don’t go to point out their responsibility, and don’t be disappointed if they don’t quickly see theirs.

You let God deal with them. You deal with you. Let me say, if we could have that kind of flowing confession, forgiveness, giving, and receiving of forgiveness in our churches and in our homes, I believe the Church of Jesus Christ would become a mighty force in the land and in the world.

I think people aren’t lining up to get into our churches or to take Christ seriously because they’ve never seen us take Christ seriously when it comes to these real issues of life.

Anyone can love someone who’s loveable. Anyone can love someone who’s never hurt them. Lost people do that. But where the world really takes notice is when we extend forgiveness and deal with relationships where there is a difficult person or an offensive person or someone hurt in a relationship.

When we deal with that in Christ-like ways, with mercy, grace, forgiveness, reconciliation, seeking to be restored; that is amazing. The world will stop and take notice. People will want to know, “How can I be a part of that family?”

Leslie: When you forgive like you’ve been forgiven, it sets you free. Not only that, it’s also a beautiful picture of the gospel. Nancy Leigh DeMoss has been showing you why forgiveness is so important.

This is such a huge issue. I hope you’ll respond to today’s teaching by offering forgiveness and knowing that you’re truly free. We’d like to send you a copy of Nancy’s book, Choosing Forgiveness. Even if you think forgiveness is impossible, read this book.

You’ll hear about others who forgave terrible offenses, and you’ll come to understand how much freedom it brought them. Nancy will walk you through the process of forgiveness. It’s not as impossible as you think.

We’ll send you Lies Women Believe or Choosing Forgiveness when you make a donation to Revive Our Hearts. Ask for it when you call toll free 1-800-569-5959 or visit ReviveOurHearts.com.

When you ask God, “Lead us not into temptation,” what exactly are you asking? Nancy illuminates this phrase in detail, starting tomorrow. Please be back for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the English Standard Version.

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