A Christian friend really hurt me. I have forgiven this person, but I don’t want to continue the friendship. Is that wrong?
No, it’s not wrong. Unfortunately, we have churches teaching Christians that true forgiveness requires restoration of the relationship they previously held with the person who wronged them. While we absolutely believe in forgiving others, we also believe that forgiving someone does not always mean that fellowship can be—or should be—restored.
We’ve all had people hurt us—family members, church members, coworkers—and sometimes the hurt is so great that it breaks the trust on which those relationships were built.
Depending on the circumstance and the offense, we understand that it can be extremely difficult to forgive. We hear from Christians all the time who struggle with forgiveness because they feel that unrepentant offenders get off scot-free. Like one dear lady shared, “They think they did nothing wrong, and my forgiveness only reinforces to them the fact that they were justified in their incredible abuse.”
When an offense happens—and I’m talking about Christians—the best thing to do is for the offended person to forgive, immediately, and then leave it between the other party and the Lord. Don’t hang on to it. Let the Lord deal with that person.
Once you have forgiven the person—a person who may or may not have repented—the choice must be made whether to resume the relationship that you once had or not. If you feel it is no longer a healthy, trustful relationship, then it’s okay to tell that person, “I have forgiven you, and I have nothing in my heart against you, but I don’t feel that it’s wise for us to communicate or continue this relationship.” It’s better to be open and honest rather than you cringing every time that person calls or texts you, and you not wanting to respond.
Oftentimes, the people that Christians forgive refuse to repent or change. True repentance is something we hear little about in the church of today, which is why people often ask us, “How do you know if a person has really repented?”
The answer is, by their fruits. In Matthew 7:16, Jesus said, “Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?” If the person who wronged you shows remorse and brokenness, and it’s obvious that he is aware of what he’s done, and he’s not seeking to blame others, and he’s doing everything he can to make it right—there is your fruit.
Some people are never sorry for what they did; they’re only sorry that they got caught. If they don’t have a humble spirit, and they’re trying to place some or all of the blame on others, then you should be wary of their “repentance.”
The story of Joseph is a perfect example. When Joseph’s brothers stood before him in Egypt, not recognizing who he was, he didn’t immediately reveal himself to them. He first made certain that they were changed. Thank the Lord there had been a change in their lives, which made it possible for Joseph to show his love to them, as he desired to do all along. However, if there had been no change in their lives, with murder still lurking in their hearts, the outcome of this scenario would have been far different.
With true repentance, you don’t see what they did, you see what you did. If a person really does repent, and he really is sorry, then you’re going to see it in the fruit of his life, in his spirit.
True repentance is not just feeling sorry or merely changing one’s mind, but rather a turning around—a complete alteration of the basic motivation and direction of one’s life.
Repentance is God’s gift and man’s responsibility. Consequently, it is the responsibility of Christians to repent, at least when needed, just as much as it is for the sinner who desires salvation.
What are some examples of things that believers need to repent of, regarding other Christians?
In II Corinthians 12:20, the apostle Paul lists eight unholy things that threaten to destroy the church at any and all times. They are not the violent sins of the flesh, but those vicious sins of the carnal disposition. These sins are destructive to the peace of the church. They cause dissensions that result in divisions. Remember, this Scripture is talking about sin among Christians. If the Word of God is ignored, then the church will reap the following:
1. Debates. This means contention and discord; the result of an un-Christlike spirit and always the result when one is at cross-purposes with the Word of God.
2. Envyings. Most contentions in the church are usually connected with envy. Envying shows that a person is not fully trusting the Lord for leading and guidance or looking to Him for sustenance.
3. Wraths. This is anger or animosities between contending factions, the usual effect of forming parties. Once again, this speaks of individuals who are not fully trusting the Lord.
4. Strifes. This is contention and dispute. It is one striving for something for which one should not have, or because of self-will.
5. Backbitings. This is slandering or speaking ill of those who are absent. Whisperers declare secretly, and with great reserve, the supposed faults of others.
6. Whisperings. This speaks of those who, in a sly manner, excite suspicion of others through hints and innuendos to detract from others. There is scarcely anyone more dangerous to the peace or happiness of society.
7. Swellings. This speaks of undue elation, being puffed up, such as would be produced by vain self-confidence.
8. Tumults. This is disorder and confusion arising from the existence of splinter groups or parties.
In the very next verse, II Corinthians 12:21, Paul said, “And lest, when I come again, my God will humble me among you, and that I shall bewail many which have sinned already, and have not repented of the uncleanness and fornication and lasciviousness which they have committed.”
Paul was telling us that if these believers had repented of their sin, he could still rejoice in them, but if they continued in their sin until he came, it would be a source of deep lamentation to Paul.
Circling back to forgiveness, as Christians, we are to do everything according to the Word of God, irrespective of what our brothers or sisters in Christ might do to cause us hurt. We must not grow bitter in our hearts toward them. Instead, we should pray for them because that’s exactly what Christ told us to do. He said, “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Matt. 5:44).
When people hurt us, this verse does not imply that we condone their actions, nor does it mean to have fellowship with them. In fact, unless they repent, fellowship is impossible. However, none of that precludes the command of Christ that we love them, bless them, do good to them, and pray for them.