Once you have forgiven others their wrongs, you are ready to move on to the second half of forgiveness. After you have granted forgiveness to those who have wronged you, you must seek forgiveness from those you have wronged. Believers should seek forgiveness for their wrongs from both God and man. While the previous section touched on this matter, it is essential to take the necessary steps to clear your conscience.
First, you need to go to the Lord, if you haven’t already, and confess your sins. Our relationship with God is affected by our many horizontal relationships. If you have sinned against others by being unforgiving, you have also sinned against the Lord. You need to confess this sin. The Bible says, “If we confess our sins [agree with God about them], he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). To walk with God, we must agree with God. The moment we become aware of wrong actions, attitudes, or reactions, we should side with God and own up. Agreeing with God means that we take the witness stand against ourselves. Confession is the first step.
Next, you may need to ask for forgiveness and make restitution.
“I’m not used to talking to you face to face; I normally talk behind your back. Will you forgive me?” One woman tearfully said these words while standing in front of her fellow church members. Was her request for forgiveness appropriate? In her case, yes. She had publicly sinned with her tongue by gossiping, and the entire church was aware of her sin. In this instance, and many others like it, we need to seek forgiveness from those we have wronged.
Let’s examine instances in which we have wronged another party. Once we are convinced of our offense toward someone, we need to go to that person and seek reconciliation. The Holy Spirit’s mission is the conviction of sin. When the Spirit broods over someone, the person becomes aware of things previously unnoticed.
A bakery worker felt convicted about two bags of cookies he had stolen. Stealing was an offense that resulted in automatic firing. He was so desperate to get a clear conscience that he confessed his sin to his boss. He was not worried about the possible consequences. He was desperate to clear his conscience. His employer was shocked; no one had ever admitted to thievery and asked for forgiveness. (By the way, the bakery worker didn’t lose his job.) Afterward, he joyfully testified to the newfound freedom resulting from clearing his conscience.
A seminary president was surprised when a graduate returned his diploma and admitted to cheating on an exam. In the middle of a church business meeting, a man rose to his feet and said, “I was not wrong in what I said a moment ago, but I sure was wrong in the way I said it. Will you forgive me?” Can you imagine the surprise of the IRS employee who opened an envelope and found a check and a letter from someone who was admitting to cheating on his taxes? What about the young man who apologized to his parents for being disrespectful and rebellious? A common thread runs through all of these cases; in every one of them, the individual was seeking to clear his conscience. When the Holy Spirit brings conviction, a guilty conscience becomes unbearable. Instances like these are common in seasons of revival. When God makes us aware of wrongs, we must respond in obedience. If we don’t, we develop a hardened conscience.
In the first grade, some of my classmates and I teamed up to steal items from a small country store. One of us would distract the widow storekeeper who ran this particular Esso station. While distracted, another one of us would sneak behind the counter and lift cigarettes and Esso Tiger keychains. (I bet I collected one hundred of these keyrings!) I was not bothered about it until I became a Christian. Then my conscience began to trouble me. I went to that widow store owner and asked forgiveness. She brushed it off, “Harold, all children take things.” I said, “I don’t know what other children do, but this child [me] was wrong and I am sorry.” It was not a big deal for her, but it was huge to me. There were several people with whom I had to clear things up. As I obeyed in the matter of restitution, it was like weights being lifted off my shoulders. The peace and freedom that followed were incredible!
Like a tall building, life’s foundations must be deep, strong, and secure. Confession, forgiveness, and restitution are foundational principles for obedient, successful Christian living. We are responsible for the day-by-day, hour-by-hour, moment-by-moment task of appropriating these indispensable principles as the need arises. As long as we are living on planet Earth, we will need to apply God’s rules to human relationships. These truths relate to the home, church, work, and neighborhood. By responding in total obedience, we can do our part in maintaining a clear conscience. Life is too short to carry this baggage. This is the right way to live!
- I do not have a license to wrong those who have wronged me. My wrong reaction is sin, which needs to be put right with God.
- Confession is my responsibility toward God. Making restitution is my obligation to those I have wronged.
- Obtaining and maintaining a clear conscience are key to personal peace and spiritual freedom.
- When God convicts us, we must respond in obedience.
STUDY QUESTIONS AND POINTS OF APPLICATION
- Walking with God requires a harmonious relationship. What does confession mean?
- Keeping in step with God makes us sensitive to offenses we commit toward others. Spiritual dullness and insensitivity result from ignoring such offenses or failing to clear our conscience. Can you think of someone who could face you right now and say, “You hurt me and never tried to set things right”?
- If someone, possibly several people, come to mind, purpose before God to obey Him as He directs you through the truths presented in this section of the book.
From “The Power of Forgiveness” written by Harold Vaughan
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