The Cost of Forgiveness

Brad Stenberg

The wrong done by sexual sin and betrayal is a serious matter, but the forgiveness involved is more serious still. That’s because forgiveness can set in motion the healing of a relationship where truth replaces deception, and a future hope is birthed out of ashes. But there are certain costs involved.

To ask for forgiveness costs you having to bear the sting of humility and humiliation. You have to give up the defenses that protect your self-image from being morally wrong by openly admitting your failure and being exposed. It also costs you what status or power you may have had with your wife because you have to give up that position to the one you have wronged. And it costs you the uncertainty of knowing whether your wife will be willing and able to overcome the many impediments to forgiving you. This kind of betrayal can cause irreparable damage to a marriage.

As difficult as it seems for you, think what it costs your wife to forgive you.

First, she has to give up her claim to justice. She has to let go of her desire to see you get what you deserve for your sexual sin. While she experiences the painful agony of being betrayed, it seems to her that you are getting by without this pain. Instead, she has to trust and obey God’s instruction to not take vengeance or carry a grudge, but rather to love you in the Lord (Leviticus 19:18). This is not easy.

Second, the forgiving process costs your wife her sense of safety with you. The discovery of sexual unfaithfulness in one’s marriage is described by many women as being worse than having your body torn apart, or having open heart surgery without anesthesia. This kind of trauma often causes a wife to organize the entire relationship around the injury. The hurt can reemerge in an alive and intensely emotional manner, like a flashback that feels overwhelming. Though you sorrowfully admit and repent of your transgression, she finds it difficult to let it go because she never wants to be hurt like this again. So she naturally protects herself from being vulnerable.

Third, the occasion for forgiveness has cost her the loss of trust in you. You betrayed a trust that you promised to protect. Your wife now has to protect what little trust she has left. Even though she forgives you for what you did in the past, trusting you is about the future. It’s going to take some time for her to be able to trust and invest in you again. This is something you will have to earn through more than verbal reassurances. She needs to see your bold, concrete, and consistent actions over time. Feeling remorse is good, and verbal promises help, but it’s your overall attitude and actions that will win your wife’s trust back. She has to trust that you will not harm her again.

So, in most cases of sexual betrayal a wife has the heavier emotional load to carry. She has to control intrusive and obsessive thoughts about your behaviors. She has to calm the rage that screams from her pain of rejection. She has to grieve the loss of not having the marriage she thought she had. And she has to find a way to restore her lost sense of self. Meanwhile, she also has to find the strength to act in ways that are attractive to you, while risking being vulnerable and intimate again. And she has to do all this while dealing with the difficult issue of forgiving you. It’s necessary, but costly.

In contrast, you want it to be over. You’ve confessed or admitted your behavior (though perhaps only after having been caught). You’ve pledged your fidelity and commitment to be sexually pure. You feel relieved, cleansed, and ready to move on. You think it’s in your and her best interest to forgive, trust, and get over it. But it is not in your wife’s best interest to forgive and trust you too quickly because cheap grace does not produce the lasting change you both need.

It cost God His only Son to be able to say, I have swept away your offenses like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist. Return to me for I have redeemed you (Isaiah 44:22, NIV).

So know and accept that the forgiveness process you and your wife are involved in will cost you both something.

For help in experiencing forgiveness and healing, we strongly encourage you to attend the New Life Weekend with your spouse.

Receiving the Gift that Heals: Forgiveness

Brad Stenberg

– Read: Psalm 103:2-4; 8-13; Isaiah 44:22; 1 John 1:9 –

We all wish there was a delete key for dealing with the past so we could forget the hurtful things we’ve done. But our memory gets in the way of forgetting the pain our sin has caused others. The only way this pain can be truly removed is through forgiveness.

Forgiveness is the basis of our life in Christ. The Christian life is a forgiven and forgiving life. Jesus taught us to pray, forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. We cannot give what we do not have, so forgiving is a function of having first received forgiveness. Thus, we live and relate to one another in the forgiveness of our sins.

What does it mean to receive forgiveness? Does it mean what we did is approved of, excused, or denied? Not in the least. Does it mean the hurt we caused is forgotten and not taken seriously? No. Does it mean we’re exempted from any consequences of our behavior? Not at all. Does it mean we’ve fully reinstated into the relationship we damaged as if nothing happened? Usually not.

To be forgiven simply means having our debt canceled. The forgiver, while blaming us for the serious, wounding wrong we did to them, gives up their right for vengeance and extends mercy instead.

Receiving forgiveness is experiencing grace ‘ receiving a gift we don’t deserve.

We all have difficulty receiving forgiveness and feeling it because we have difficulty receiving unmerited favor. We would prefer to have to work at it. Grace goes against who we are because we don’t feel like we deserve love when we’ve messed up. But deserve and love don’t go together. Gift and love go together. If we have to deserve love it’s not a gift; it’s a wage we have to negotiate. Forgiveness is a gift from the forgiver.

Receiving forgiveness is a process that requires several things. First, you have to be guilty of wrong doing. Some of us have difficulty accepting the fact that we did something wrong. We resist being in the ‘I am wrong’ position and owning the fact that what we did caused others to experience serious pain and to suffer the resulting, and often prolonged fallout of this. But you cannot receive forgiveness unless you own up to, take responsibility for, and truly feel remorseful of your wrong doing.

Then you must confess it in specific terms. Proverbs 28:13 says, He who conceals his transgression will not succeed, but He who confesses and gives them up will find mercy. Some guys admit they sinned in global terms, but not in specific, personal terms. They admit they’re weak in sexual sin like every other guy without naming and identifying with the specific wrong they’ve done. We are to be specific. General confessions do very little to convict of sin, convince the one offended of your seriousness, or to bring healing.

We are then to turn away from our sin; remove it from our thoughts, and resolve in our heart that we will not do it again. Isaiah 55:7 says, Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. God knows the difference between those who are sincere and those who are trying to temporarily ease their conscience. He is not mocked or deceived. If you come in sorrow, humility and sincerity, His grace is abundant. However, He has little patience for those who would abuse His mercy. Search your heart for true repentance, and seek the Holy Spirit’s power to make the necessary changes.

We also need a forgiver. Forgiveness is relational. It’s an interpersonal process, not an intellectual thing, mind set, or some meditative state. It’s something that transpires between two people. Someone has to give forgiveness for us to receive it. The forgiver needs to be a good accuser by making the offense direct and specific. Once we’ve admitted to and taken ownership of it, the forgiver’s words should be something like those of Jesus to woman caught in adultery, Neither do I accuse you. Now go and sin no more.

The wrong that we’ve done is serious, but true repentance and the forgiveness received is more serious still. Wounds are healed, self-respect is restored, hope for the future is birthed, light removes the former darkness, positives replace negatives, and newness of life made possible.

Celebrating God’s Attributes: His Holiness

Mark Verkler

“The Christian is strong or weak depending upon how closely he has cultivated the knowledge of God.” ‘ A.W. Tozer

If Tozer is correct we need to understand, meditate and grow in the knowledge of God’s Holiness. But what is holiness? The most significant meaning of holy is to be ‘separate.’ God is separate, unique, and apart from us. Being holy includes moral purity. When something is made holy it is set apart to purity. And we learn from scripture that God is holy in every part of his nature and character.

In the book The Holiness of God,( p 40) R. C. Sproul says this about Isaiah 6:

‘The Bible says that God is holy, holy, holy. Not that He is merely holy, or even holy, holy. He is holy, holy, holy. The Bible never says that God is love, love, love, or mercy, mercy, mercy, or wrath, wrath, wrath, or justice, justice, justice. It does say that He is holy, holy, holy, the whole earth is full of His glory.’

The emphasis from scripture shows us that God is Holy and separate; above and apart from us. Though we were made in the image of God, we were not made God. His holiness is above and beyond our imagination. And yet we are called to meditate and grow in our knowledge of God and his attributes.

Let’s look at some great scriptures to help us learn about and meditate on the holiness of God.
Who is like You, O LORD, among the gods?
Who is like You, glorious in holiness,
Fearful in praises, doing wonders? (Exodus 15:11, NKJV).

No one is holy like the LORD,
For there is none besides You,
Nor is there any rock like our God. (1 Samuel 2:2, NKJV)

He is the Rock, His work is perfect;
For all His ways are justice,
A God of truth and without injustice;
Righteous and upright is He. (Deut 32:4, NKJV)

Who shall not fear You, O Lord, and glorify Your name?
For You alone are holy.
For all nations shall come and worship before You,
For Your judgments have been manifested.” (Rev 15:4, NKJV)

The Holiness of God is something to meditate on, something to chew on. I urge you to spend some time meditating on these verses’chew them up. G. K. Chesterton said ‘The object of opening the mind as of opening the mouth is to close it again on something solid.’ The Holiness of God is something solid. It is something to meditate on and hold onto. Reverence and awe should be a natural result of our growing in knowledge and understanding of God’s Holiness.
We find the scripture gives us a progression from the Holiness of God to our calling as believers in Christ.

Later we see that because God is holy, we are called to be holy. Many believe that is something that is unattainable and therefore unreasonable to aim for. We might ask the question ‘If I am not aiming for holiness, what am I aiming for?’

Let’s look at some verses about this:

For I am the LORD your God. You shall therefore consecrate yourselves, and you shall be holy; for I am holy. (Lev. 11:44a, NKJV)

but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:15-16, NKJV)

He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked. (1 John 2:6, NKJV)

Can we be holy like God this side of Heaven? Apparently not in a complete way, but it is still to be our aim. And when we miss the mark we confess our sins to God and our brothers in Christ. It keeps us humble and dependent on our need for the sacrifice Christ made for us on the cross. Joseph Caryl said it this way, ‘Perfect holiness is the aim of the saints on earth, and it is the reward of the saints in Heaven.’ And in 1 John 3:2 (NKJV) we read this:
‘Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.

So we see that our calling is to pursue the knowledge of God and His holiness, to grow in our understanding and reverence for His holiness. If we look to God and His holiness it will draw our hearts and minds in that direction. George McDonald said, ‘We remain such creeping Christians because we look at ourselves instead of Christ.’
We’ll close with an excerpt from My Utmost for His Highest September 1 devotional, Oswald Chambers:

Continually restate to yourself what the purpose of your life is. The destined end of man is not happiness, nor health, but holiness. Nowadays we have far too many affinities, we are dissipated with them; right, good, noble affinities which will yet have their fulfillment, but in the meantime God has to atrophy (whither) them. The one thing that matters is whether a man will accept the God Who will make him holy. At all costs a man must be rightly related to God.