I witnessed it just the other day. Someone’s name was mentioned, and it touched off a firestorm in the woman next to us. Her face hardened and her voice lowered. Veins began to pop in her neck.

She had no idea how bound she was by bitterness, but those around her couldn’t miss it.

When people, even devoted believers, refuse to forgive, they may appear to be walking free, but they are living in a perpetual state of bondage.

A Sentence of our Own

Here’s how it goes down. A betrayal, insult, or trespass occurs, a judgment is made, and a sentence is given. As the offended party, we determine what that person should do, or must do, to atone for sins committed against us.

But most of the time, they neither see nor take responsibility for their offense. That burns us all the more and leaves us to prosecute the case with any random bystander who will listen.

In the end, we find ourselves locked in a barren prison of bitterness.

VRBO Gone Wrong

The Apostle Paul, a prisoner himself for the crime of sharing the good news of Jesus, wrote from his cell to the early Christians in Ephesus:

Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil.

Ephesians 4:26-27 (NRSVUE)

He knew that nursing a spirit of unforgiveness is a surefire way to “make room” for a corrosive evil to infest our hearts.

A Way Out

Thankfully, there is another way. We can choose to forgive that father or mother, that ex-husband or ex-wife, that person who abused or abandoned us, that person who embarrassed or belittled us.

When we make that choice, we let them off the hook. They no longer owe us anything. We are releasing them, just as Jesus did. “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).

Ironically, when we release people from our retribution, we make a jail break. Forgiveness may not change them, but it sets us free.

We are suddenly free from carrying the burden of their wrong. A wave of relief washes over our soul. As we let them out of us, God is in the exhaling.

Twofold Freedom

But to whom are we releasing them? Full forgiveness involves not only freedom from bondage. There is also freedom for blessing.

To let go of the hurt and resentment is a taste of heaven. But at some point, we go beyond releasing them from us, and we release them to God.

In the hands of a just and loving God, they are in good company. We can relax and trust that God knows exactly how to handle the situation.

Forgiving For Real

“Yes, but how do I actually forgive and release someone who has caused a deep, personal and unfair hurt?” you may wonder. I’ll talk about that next week.

Roger Ross

A native of Cambridge, Illinois, Roger has served as a pastor in Texas, the British Channel Island of Guernsey, and Illinois. While in Illinois, he led teams that planted two new churches and served for 10 years as senior pastor of First United Methodist Church of Springfield. It was his privilege to serve as the Director of Congregational Excellence in the Missouri Conference before coming into his current role as an executive coach and specialist with Spiritual Leadership, Inc. (SLI). His passions include SCUBA diving in warm blue water, playing board games with family and friends, and teaching evangelism and church planting as an adjunct professor at SMU’s Perkins School of Theology. He also has a weakness for golf. Roger is the author of three books, “Meet The Goodpeople: Wesley’s 7 Ways to Share Faith,” “Come Back: Returning to the Life You Were Made For,” and “Come Back Participant Guide,” all through Abingdon Press. Roger is married to Leanne Klein Ross, and they have two adult children, Zach and Jane (who’s married to Sam).