In his letter to the Galatians, Paul talks about the fruit of the Spirit (5:22-26). These are all behaviors that are naturally grown out of a life centered on Christ. You see, when you welcome the Holy Spirit to live through you, what begins to happen over time is that your actions will reflect you less, and His more. You can’t bear any true fruit, only the Holy Spirit can do that through you.
The fruit that is mentioned in the referenced verses are these: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The topic of today’s post is something that can hinder every one of these fruits from shining through: Unforgiveness.
Unforgiveness is one of the many dangerous seeds in life that has the potential of turning something as simple as a hurt feeling or an imposition into something nasty and damaging. Now, I’m not saying that every source of unforgiveness is simple, and I am in no way trying to diminish some of the ways in which we might have been wronged. I am merely attempting to articulate the extreme results that unforgiveness can bring.
I have never considered myself one for holding grudges, or to hang onto unresolved resentment. For some reason I’ve always thought myself to be exempt of these particular behaviors. But the truth is, I have just become really good at stuffing down any bitterness that has reared its ugly head. I am the queen of avoiding undesired feelings, allowing them to fester in the background until they can no longer be ignored.
The Dangers of Unforgiveness
Forgiveness does not mean excusing bad behavior, or forgetting the incident altogether. But if we don’t learn to forgive in our hearts, the problem only grows into resentment, bitterness, and anger. These are the fruit of unforgiveness and are made up of the heart positions that inhibit the Holy Spirit from working through you.
Unforgiveness Leads to Resentment
I feel that resentment is the first fruit that is born of the refusal to forgive. It is so easy to keep a mental tally of all the wrongs done to you by a specific person, or people group. Once you’ve allowed resentment to creep in, you’ll find that the perpetrator can no longer do anything right, and day after day, their wrongs begin to stack up.
I find that my biggest times of resentment are when others come into my life heaping expectations on me that I feel are more than I am willing to give. When I simply do not want to do what they’re asking me to do, I resent feeling backed into a corner I don’t want to be in.
Many build resentment in a relationship when expectations aren’t met by their spouse or friend. We are all sinful, weak human beings bumbling our way through life, and often we stomp on the toes of those we love from time to time. But I have seen more relationships (friendships, family, and marriages alike) ruined by resentment born of unforgiveness than not.
Unforgiveness Leads to Bitterness
What’s bitterness? When resentment goes unchecked, it can give birth to a bitter spirit. This is where the sensitivity of the offense has begun to sour into something ugly. You know the look. When you bring up a sensitive topic and their face twists up like they’ve bitten into an un-ripened lemon. It’s a cross between resentment and anger and leaves a bad taste in your mouth long after you walk away. This is where nothing nice can be said regarding the subject or person and people will begin to avoid the broaching the topic with you.
The heart knows its own bitterness, and no stranger shares its joy. Proverbs 14:10
Unforgiveness Leads to Anger
Finally, when bitterness grows into its full adult-state it becomes angry. Anger is a tricky one, as the Bible documents many a moment in which God was angry. But be careful, as His was a righteous anger, blameless in every way.
Anger in itself is not a sin. It is an emotion; however, it is an emotion that easily can be twisted into something dark and controlling.
Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger and give no opportunity to the devil. Ephesians 4:26-27
When anger begins with the path of unforgiveness to resentment to bitterness, it is already rooted in sin. And this is where it will begin to seep out into your whole being. Anger can control you, and cannot be controlled. It will begin to darken your outlook in every aspect of your life. When you are wronged again in another area, you will hold onto the resentment quicker, and it will then turn to bitterness with an ease of already knowing the way.
Be not quick in your spirit to become angry, for anger lodges in the heart of fools. Ecclesiastes 7:9
Once it is a stronghold in your life, letting go of anger is a mountain only the Lord can summit. And allowing Him the authority to do what He needs to do in order to clean it out, can be an arduous task (as one close to me has often said, “my anger keeps me warm at night”).
Unforgiveness Leads to Separation from God
The largest fruit of unforgiveness there is, would be the fact that it, in itself, is sin. And sin separates us from God. When we allow sin to enter our lives, we are allowing a chasm to grow between us and our Father.
for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; Romans 3:23
If there is a chasm of sin between us and God, we miss out on the intimacy of getting to know Him and allowing Him to work through us. And if He isn’t able to work through us, we will not be able to exhibit the fruit of His Holy Spirit.
Ultimately, sin leads to eternal death and separation from God. There is nothing you can do to rectify this, except surrender it all over to Him.
For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:20-23
How to Forgive Someone
Forgiveness is easier said than done. To be honest, every time I read a Bible verse telling me to forgive, I feel that it is flippantly stated. Obviously its not, the Bible is God’s word after all. But its just not that easy, is it?
Forgiveness takes time. It is a daily choice. It takes prayer and submission to God’s authority and goodness.
So how is it done? How do you stop holding grudges and let go of anger and resentment?
God has filled His word with advice piled on top of instruction on how to avoid going down this path of unforgiveness:
Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; Hebrews 12:14-15
- Strive for peace with everyone
- Strive for holiness
- Don’t fail to show everyone the grace of God
Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. Colossians 3:12-14
- Put on compassionate hearts
- Put on kindness
- Put on humility
- Put on meekness
- Put on patience
- Bear with one another
- Forgive each other
- Put on love
Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. James 1:19-20
- Be quick to hear
- Be slow to speak
- Be slow to anger
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:2
- Do not conform to the world
- Renew your mind to the point of transformation
- Discern the will of God
For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. 2 Peter 1:5-9
- Supplement your faith with virtue
- Supplement your virtue with knowledge
- Supplement your knowledge with self-control
- Supplement your self-control with steadfastness
- Supplement your steadfastness with godliness
- Supplement your godliness with brotherly affection
- Supplement your brotherly affection with love
- Remember that you have been cleansed of your own sins
Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 1 Peter 5:8
- Be sober-minded
- Be watchful and aware
The warning in this last verse is extremely important. If you are aware of the damage that any of the fruits of unforgiveness can cause, you can be on alert for those seeds, and root them out before they are planted.
Recognize that You Have Been Forgiven
When you are able to humble yourself enough to recognize those areas in which you have wronged others or the Lord, and to fully appreciate the forgiveness that you yourself have received, you are in a better place to then show grace to those around you.
How Do You Know if You’ve Been Forgiven?
God’s word says that Christ died for the ungodly (that would be every living human being by the way). He has already paid the price for your sin, He has already forgiven. All you need to do is approach him humbly and ask.
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For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:6-8
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
Ask for Forgiveness
Asking others for forgiveness is a hard thing. But if we can regularly recognize our own weakness by humbling ourselves before others and before God, we will be in a better head space to forgive those who have wronged us.
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Let it Go
Sometimes, when we have been wronged (especially when it is a lighter offense), we have a choice to make. We can choose to hang onto our feelings and let them dictate our actions, or we can choose to let it go. This really comes into play when the offender has only said something in general, and not to you specifically.
You can choose bitterness and resentment, or you can choose freedom in forgiveness.
For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. Matthew 6:14-15
Please remember that forgiveness is not an opportunity to keep tally, for if you are keeping track of how many times you’ve had to forgive a person, have you really actually forgiven them? When you let it go, you need to truly let it go.
Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times. Matthew 18:21-22
This means not bringing it up again in an argument years later as well. We as women like to do this often in the midst of a heated moment. If an issue has been dealt with and put to bed, leave it there. It is not loving or kind to keep rubbing somebody’s nose in it, especially when you were supposed to have forgiven the poor soul for their misdeed. This breeds nothing but mistrust.
Let God Do His Job
Sometimes I think we are under the assumption that if we hang onto our bitter feelings of unforgiveness, we are somehow holding the offender accountable, or not letting them get off for the way they hurt us. But this is not truth.
It is not our job to teach others a lesson. And it is not our job to make sure they know their mistakes. Leave that work to the One who can speak to their soul. Only God can soften somebody’s heart enough to see a situation clearly. He is the only One who can bring a person to repentance.
Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:17-21
Our only job is to not let the sin of unforgiveness, resentment, bitterness and anger come between us and our Savior. Our only job is to repent of our own sin, treat others with love and respect, and to stay alert so that these dark fruits don’t sneak up on us when we least expect it.
Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Ephesians 4:31-32