When it comes to freedom after forgiveness, there are a few ways to approach it.
There's freedom after stepping into the forgiveness of God, freedom from forgiving others or asking forgiveness from others, or we could even consider freedom in forgiving ourselves. However, some may be skeptical at the idea of this so called "freedom,” because maybe they’ve never experienced it. This reminds me of Jonah.
"The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.” But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord." Jonah 1:1-3 (emphasis added)
When Jonah fled, God created a big storm. He was thrown overboard and then swallowed by a large fish. While in the belly of the beast, Jonah cried out to the Lord and spoke out a prayer we read from David in both 2 Samuel and the book of Psalms.
2 He said: “In my distress I called to the Lord,
and he answered me.
From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help,
and you listened to my cry.
3 You hurled me into the depths,
into the very heart of the seas,
and the currents swirled about me;
all your waves and breakers
swept over me.
4 I said, ‘I have been banished
from your sight;
yet I will look again
toward your holy temple.’
5 The engulfing waters threatened me,[b]
the deep surrounded me;
seaweed was wrapped around my head.
6 To the roots of the mountains I sank down;
the earth beneath barred me in forever.
But you, Lord my God,
brought my life up from the pit.
7 “When my life was ebbing away,
I remembered you, Lord,
and my prayer rose to you,
to your holy temple.
8 “Those who cling to worthless idols
turn away from God’s love for them.
9 But I, with shouts of grateful praise,
will sacrifice to you.
What I have vowed I will make good.
I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the Lord.’”
Jonah 2:2-9 (also Psalm 18 & 2 Samuel 22)
Immediately Jonah was forgiven by God, brought to Nineveh, and faithfully shared God’s declaration.
From there, Jonah tells the people of Nineveh, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” (Jonah 3:4) Plot twist: they repented! So much so that the King of Nineveh fasted and repented and called on everyone to do the same. (Jonah 3:6-9) True to God’s nature, He forgave them. (Jonah 3:10) Jonah, who was also forgiven and his life saved, ironically became angry that the people of Nineveh were forgiven just as much as he was. (Jonah 4) Which begs the question, did Jonah truly receive the forgiveness of God that brings about freedom? Consider at the end of the book of Jonah he is having a textbook temper tantrum, I would say no, it seems as though Jonah did not embrace and experience forgiveness and therefore he did not experience the freedom that comes from it, but the people of Nineveh did.
Are you Jonah or are you the King of Nineveh?
The dictionary definition of forgiveness is, “to stop feeling angry or resentful toward someone for an offense, flaw or mistake; to cancel a debt.” To forgive someone is not to say what they did was okay (as one wise person told me as I asked for forgiveness), but it is to let go of the anger and resentment toward the person being forgiven. That also means if you are asking for forgiveness, you are acknowledging that what you did was wrong. If you are asking for forgiveness, do you acknowledge that what you did was wrong?
Saying sorry for the sake of ending an argument or making someone feel better without believing your actions, words, or choices were wrong and need to be forgiven is not going to bring freedom. It's the same thing with asking God for forgiveness. You have to understand why you need to ask for forgiveness. Once you understand that and you receive that forgiveness, there is true freedom.
At one point in my walk with God, I carried resentment towards a friend of mine. It was judgement and jealousy on my part towards them. This person had the true joy of the Lord, yet I couldn't shake my anger towards them. As I sat in a service that ended in worship and prayer to welcome the movement of the Spirit, I had to have a real moment within myself and admit it was me that was in the wrong. My friend had done nothing that warranted my anger, jealousy or judgement, and I needed to repent of that. I needed to let go of the anger and resentment, but also, I needed to ask her for forgiveness.
I walked over to her as she worshiped, and as a prideful, flawed human, I did something my fallen nature hated more than anything: I admitted my faults, failures and sin. I apologized for my anger, resentment and negative attitude towards her. I asked for her forgiveness because what I held against her was wrong. And how did she respond? Without hesitation she accepted my apology and forgave me. In that moment, she also apologized for what she had held against me. My gut reaction to her was forgiveness- how could I not? And immediately, unexplainably, I was hit with a lightness and an energy that I have never felt before in my life. It was as if a 50-pound weighted vest was removed from my shoulders, and at that same moment an I.V. of pure caffeine hit my veins. It was the greatest feeling, and I immediately ran to another friend to ask for forgiveness, because I truly believed I needed forgiveness, and that freedom was invigorating.
What about you?
Have you ever experienced that kind of feeling after asking for forgiveness of God or others?
If not, spend some time with God and work through that. Because I do believe we all hear and experience God differently. It could be that the freedom you experience and feel from God is different than what I experienced. One thing for sure is, there is life in the freedom God gives us. Similar to a prisoner being freed, we have a new handle on life and eternity when we are living in the freedom that comes specifically from forgiveness.
Psalm 103 is a great chapter to dwell on the nature of God, specifically when it comes to our relationship with Him. But to get a very specific idea of what true forgiveness can be, verses 8-12 show us what it means when God forgives us and what is needed when we forgive others, and why there is so much freedom in that.
"The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will He harbor His anger forever; He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His love for those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us." Psalm 103:8-12
Matching that with Jesus’s call in the book of Matthew:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28
For us to come to God and accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we have to acknowledge that we are sinners in need of forgiveness. The burden we carry, that sin, we have to hand over to God, and we exchange it for a life of freedom. It is gentle, brings us rest and lightens us. And when we love others as Jesus has called us to and forgive others, the freedom grows. It takes time, practice, prayer, and patience, but it is possible.
Then life really begins, and your walk with God will never be the same.
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