Summary: Misconceptions concerning forgiveness have forged a very formidable spiritual myth. This spiritual myth is the widely-held belief that genuine forgives means literally forgetting what happened.

Series: Mythbusters

“Forgiving Means Forgetting”

1 Samuel 12:13-14 Matthew 18:21-35


After a two week break with Youth Sunday two weeks ago and the concert last week, we’re back in our series of messages called Mythbusters. We’re focusing in on spiritual myths. We’ve also called them spiritual urban legends. These myths or legends are based on false understandings of scripture and they always lead you down the wrong path. Today, we’re going to look at the myth that says, “Forgiving Means Forgetting.”

Two brothers went to their preacher to settle a longstanding feud. It seemed the preacher was able to get the two men to reconcile their differences. The preacher asked each one to make a wish for the other. The first brother turned to the other and said, “I wish you what you wish me.” At that, the second brother threw up his hands and said, "See, Preacher! He's starting up again!”

Forgiveness is a tough and touchy subject but there’s one very important consideration

regarding this issue. Right this down: Forgiveness is not an option. It’s a command. Paul puts it this way in Col. 3:13 – Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.

Jesus taught us in the Sermon on the Mount a model prayer. In that model prayer, he said that we should ask the Father to forgive our debts as we forgive our debtors. He concludes that instruction with a very ominous warning in Matt. 6:14-15 – For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

Forgiveness is a decision of the will. Since God commands us to forgive, we must make a conscious choice to obey God and forgive. The offender may not desire forgiveness and may not ever change, but that doesn’t negate God’s desire that we possess a forgiving spirit.

Forgiveness may not be an option but it can be difficult to do. C.S. Lewis said, “Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive.” It’s made even more difficult because many of us have never been shown what real biblical forgiveness looks like.

Some of us have been taught that forgiveness is pretending that nothing happened. That’s an ostrich move – a head-in-the-sand move – that simply tries to ignore the obvious. Some of us see forgiveness as a fresh start without any of the consequences or old baggage having to be dealt with. Still others view forgiveness as the immediate and full restoration of a broken relationship, carrying with it the same level of trust and privileges that preceded the wrongdoing.

Misconceptions concerning forgiveness have forged a very formidable spiritual myth. This spiritual myth is the widely-held belief that genuine forgives means literally forgetting what happened. This spiritual myth proposes that forgiveness means wiping the slate so clean that every memory of the transgression disappears. Let’s see how that concept matches with biblical teaching and the way things really work.

Wrong Perspective

One teaching concerning forgiveness has been popular for a number of years. The first part of it says that if we confess our sins to God, He will forgive them. And that is correct. But the second part of the teaching says that if we confess the same sin twice, God will be confused. He’d have no idea what we were talking about because he’s already forgiven and forgotten the first time.

The wrong perspective is that forgiveness is an act of self-induced spiritual amnesia. It’s believed that God does that or us and that we’re expected to do it for others. But here’s the problem with that concept: It’s not how God forgives. God doesn’t forget when He forgives – at least not in the sense that we commonly use the word forget today.

If you pick up any English dictionary and look up the word “forget,” you’ll find that its primary meaning has to do with an inability to recall something. Examples would be forgetting where you put your keys or forgetting about an important meeting. In contemporary usage, forgetting is the opposite of remembering.

So, when we read in Jer. 31:34b that God says, “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more,” we think that means that God literally erases our sins from his memory as if they never happened. Then you add Ps. 103:12b – As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us and then we’re told that a “No Fishing” sign is prominently placed nearby.

It’s clear to see how forgiveness has often been defined as letting go to the point of removing every trace of the wrongdoing from memory. Those two verses have been misinterpreted and the word “remember” is not used in that way in the Bible.

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