Defining Forgiveness

It’s Narcissist Friday!

Narcissists have long memories. I know they forget things like birthdays, names of important people, promises made, and rules they are supposed to keep. But they remember every detail of every time you did something wrong, even the things you only told them about. They know who they don’t like and why. They know the information that compromises you or those above them at work. And they remember.

They remember so they can use it against you. When you think you are relaxed in a group of people, enjoying a certain intimacy, the narcissist will bring up that old bit of information. He/she might refer to it directly: “Hey, is this like that time you…?” or indirectly: “Don’t you wish you were in Chicago right now?” Only you will know the reference, but you will blush or sputter or get out of there. And the narcissist will laugh at your expense.

A friend of mine rode with a narcissist to a meeting. My friend put his briefcase on top of the narcissist’s car as he took off his coat to get in. The narcissist went ballistic, accusing my friend of scratching the car. My friend apologized and took his case off the car carefully. Nothing more was said. Then. But in the weeks and months to come, the narcissist referred to the incident over and over. My friend was supposed to apologize over and over.

Forgiveness, in a narcissistic relationship, has a twisted meaning. Somehow, the narcissist can speak forgiveness and then continue to use the offense against you. So, are you forgiven or not?

Legalist Christians do much the same thing. They learn of your past indiscretions and then label you. Once you are labeled, you rarely escape. You may be considered forgiven, but you are still the person who did that thing. Unless you can be controlled, you will not be trusted. After all, they know your area of weakness. It doesn’t matter how long ago it was or how hard you have tried to overcome it. The change in you does not overcome the fact of your sin.

So, are you forgiven or not?

The Bible connects sin and debt. We see that in the Lord’s Prayer. The word for “transgression” or “sin” in the prayer is the word for “debt.” When we hurt someone, it is as though we have taken something of theirs and now owe them something. We don’t have to push that very far to understand. The two ideas of offense and debt simply run parallel.

Now, if you have a debt and it is paid off, whether by you or another, can it still be used against you? It shouldn’t be. That debt is gone. If you look on the ledger, there is nothing more on your account. You owe nothing. All your buying power, all your freedom, all your ability to deal with future debt is restored. It is finished.

And those were the words Jesus said at the end of His ordeal on the cross. The debt was paid in full. What debt? Your debt. The price of your sin. When you came to Jesus, He washed away your debt with His blood. You were and are forgiven.

The narcissist might not want to give you that freedom. The legalist might not understand that freedom. But you are still free. The sin that was on your account has been removed from you and cast away “as far as the east is from the west.” The account that was “red like scarlet” is “as white as snow.” The fact that you remember what you did changes none of that. You are forgiven.

When God forgives you, you are forgiven.

Forgiveness in the human realm is less pure, perhaps more complicated, but of less consequence. The Scripture says that all sin is ultimately against the Lord, so the only forgiveness that matters is His. But the people you hurt may still respond to you in their flesh. They may choose not to forgive what God has forgiven. But you are still forgiven.

When I counsel people who want to forgive, I usually say that forgiveness is moving on. It means turning the offense over to the Lord, perhaps repeatedly as you remember and feel the pain, and moving forward with your life. It does not mean pronouncing the person good or denying what happened. Nor does it require trusting that person again or being his/her friend. It simply means moving on without the need for justice or revenge.

In the flesh, forgiveness is hard work. In the spirit, forgiveness is walking with Jesus as we remember and relate to the other person.

Under grace, we have no need to put others down or hold their offenses against them. All that we need we find in Jesus. His love is sufficient to heal our hearts. I can release any debt I hold against others to Him. He can release those who look to Him in faith. Under grace, I remember that forgiveness is up to Him.

So, are you forgiven? Yes!


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5 responses to “Defining Forgiveness

  1. Karol Harper

    One problem with forgiving someone else goes to the matter of character. If the person in question continues to “sin” in the same manner, and does not appear to have truly repented, the particular sin might be forgiven, but the character is still suspect.

  2. Z

    I agree with the confusion stated in the above comment by Karol. When we repent and receive salvation and the Holy Spirit now lives in us, God makes it possible for us to turn from sin. Jesus defeated sin and death on the cross. Of course, none of us will be perfect and sinless like Jesus, but those who have TRULY REPENTED in the first place to be saved DON’T continue to habitually and knowingly walk in sin! They just aren’t able to run away from the Holy Spirit’s conviction which, as now-saved saints, makes it possible for us to NOT continue to walk in known, unrepentant, habitual sin. So where does forgiveness enter into this kind of scenario? Either the person who continually, unrepentantly, knowingly (and often arrogantly) sins with no repentance or remorse before our holy God never really was saved because they did not truly repent in the first place. Or, they think “salvation” means “cheap grace”, a “license to sin” and a “get out of hell free pass” and they mock God and His power by their actions, making no changes in their heart or behaviors/sins. Showing NO FRUIT OF REPENTANCE, they show that they have no intention of allowing the Holy Spirit to do His work of conviction of their sins as soon as they happen nor His indwelling then giving them the power and desire to resist and turn from their sins. I just don’t see how a TRULY REPENTANT and SAVED person could ever so arrogantly ignore the “New Creation” God made them into and the new power of the Holy Spirit living in him/her to be victorious over habitual sins. We are to recognize our sins when they happen as soon as possible and truly repent and make our best effort WITH the Holy Spirit’s POWER OVER SIN IN US NOW to turn away from knowingly and continually engaging in habitual sins unrepentantly. That’s a perversion of “grace”! That’s living and walking in the FLESH and not the SPIRIT as a New Creation with a whole New Heart that is supposed to replace the “Heart of Stone”. So were these kinds of people ever really repentant/saved? Doesn’t seem possible to be both a knowing, hard-hearted, unrepentant, habitual sinner AND be saved. And when these people go on to sin repeatedly and unrepentantly against us, are we to forgive them? God requires repentance for His forgiveness. Aren’t we to do the same? We can move on, turn them all over to God and forgo vengeance. But aren’t they still sinners, not fellow saints? And aren’t there Scriptures that point to what our our behavior is to be towards wolves in sheep’s clothing, who profess to be “brothers and sisters” but continue (arrogantly most times) in their habitual sins, who we are told to have “nothing to do with” and not even “eat with such people”? And to expose them and put them out of the church to protect the flock from these wolves? And shouldn’t we do the same in our personal interactions with such people? Have nothing to do with them? Expose them? This is where I get confused about “forgiveness”. I know no reconciliation is possible with people who unrepentantly harm us. But what is our duty, apart from church actions, as far as forgiveness, association and exposure of their evil?

    • beautiful swan

      Dear Z,
      I appreciate your post. The scripture references you listed are ones that have confused me about forgiveness. I am no theologian, but I wanted to express some thoughts on this. Hopefully Dr. Orrison will post to offer his insight. I also appreciated the post ahead of ours by K. Harper on Character. I think of a quote that states, “Be careful of your thoughts because thoughts may lead to actions, and be careful of your actions because your actions may lead to habits, and be careful of your habits because your habits become your character.”
      In my experience, I think a person can be saved, but not delivered. I think a person can go through the motions, even recognizing they have a second chance, as with many aspects of life, remaining hard hearted, and not have the almighty dwelling within. They may say they do, but if there actions are done with a negative or harmful attitude of “I can, because I can,” then they don’t seem to be operating with a full awareness of how they may impact others with their self-centered or negative behavior. Having observed people I know well, on the sliding scale of “spinning chaos within” to “toxic behavior toward others.” They all professed to be Christian, though enacted their hurtful deeds repeatedly as part of their habits/character. But did not appear to be walking with Jesus as a delivered, released soul. I do not mean to pick on anyone, and we all want control from time to time. We can hope and pray that their walk with the Lord continues to grow with spiritual maturity, as we hope and pray for our own spiritual journey. I think the manipulation to exert control, self absorption, jealousy, negativity or the lack of conscience are character traits in the repeat offenses referred to in the post.
      When I think on the scriptures listed in the post, I think of the Godly gift of discernment. Choice, God’s free will to move away from or have space away from these folks for protection. Boundaries with these folks can actually be an expression of love for them, not something you refuse forgiving or cutting off from them. Caring for them enough to pray and possibly forgive from a distance or space, if possible. But remaining hedged in protection. I think some of these situations that I have had a difficult time understanding in terms of repeat offenders and forgiveness have revealed themselves with time to be the result of mental illness, trauma, drug or alcohol abuse, personality disorder, or difficult personality type. Plainly speaking, some out of mean spirit and no conscience. This has made it easier for me, recently, to remain centered in Christ, and let go. If I have to be in the same orbit with these people, I feel better equipped through Godly discernment, to extend grace and forgive or “touch” forgiveness, knowing that some people may really need help and I am not the one to help them. Even in sister or brotherhood. It’s typical for people with an intact conscience and healthy heart and mind to think that others are operating with the same or similar standards of right and wrong as we may be, but many are not. Thanks again for sharing your post.

  3. beautiful swan

    The narc I knew used to say things to me like “forgiveness is not necessary,” or no forgiveness needed “between kindred spirits.” Then always pulled out the shame shower to cause confusion in order to posture himself for power and make me feel less than or to draw attention to things that he did not like about me. What a manipulation!
    I believe that the narcissist stare is just as much about the narcissist trying to project their shame onto the victim as it is about sizing someone up to be the victim. Grace was my bridge to forgiveness. I needed to forgive myself for showing this person that I had long trusted, my vulnerabilities and expecting them to help me or validate me. Those aspects of my character are part of my inward work, my soul connection to our sovereign God. God who knows and loves me forevermore and will not forsake me. Jesus came to me to give me grace. I allowed myself to accept it. That grace was my own forgiveness of my vulnerable presence to this narcissist. I didn’t accept this to myself for the narcissist. God wanted it for me and in turn, allowed me to completely turn this matter over to God. I am human. Human emotions may creep in from time to time. But with time, the hedged protection of “no contact” and “boundaries” is always there, no waiver. The pain of trusting someone for decades then putting the sham together like a puzzle hurts and leaves one in the state of shock and awe. I think the narc secretly thrives on this in some way. But this experience having happened, has helped fine tune my awareness of other difficult personalities, and how to establish “healthy boundaries,” in order to deal with, or avoid them altogether. Thank you Dr. Orrison, for your work and recent posts on shame and forgiveness. I am learning more about these subjects along with vulnerability, courage, joy, and gratitude. I feel that grace and forgiveness are linked together as do I, concerning joy and gratitude. Looking back on narcissist or other extremely difficult personalities, it seems that the common factor of operating from little to “NO Conscience” is a common trait. A dangerous trait. I hope all that may read this will think of their pain in this way: Take heart that as an empathetic person you care, that as a person with a conscience you know right from wrong, as a person that may have shown vulnerability, and needed or asked for help, that you showed courage. The knowledge that not everyone is operating from a Godly or good heart, and that not everyone is operating with an intact conscience is powerful and protective!

    • Z

      Dear beautifulswan,
      I appreciate your insights as one who appears to have experienced what I was referring to in my comment. Those without conscience. Those with seared consciences who profess to be our brothers and sisters in Christ while they constantly plot and scheme and act INTENTIONALLY to harm in all the ways God detests, listed in Proverbs 6:16 and MORE.
      Scriptures say there are people who God sets apart for destruction. Who He turns His back on at some point. Some that we are NOT to pray for anymore. I believe these falsely professing “Christians” who love to harm others but think saying “The Sinner’s Prayer” once long ago gives them “cover” from hell. No matter what sins they continue to walk in, delightfully causing harm to others. That can’t be right. God sees the evil in their hearts no matter what Sinner’s Prayer they said to selfishly be able to continue to indulge in their sins and to think they are headed to heaven through “cheap grace”. That’s an abomination to God’s holiness. He is a God of grace and mercy. But He is also a God of wrath and judgment. He will avenge the harm to His TRUE children done by these conscienceless people. Manipulators of Almighty God. We, the harmed children of God, GIVE these sinful, harmful people over to God obediently for HIM to get vengeance. The foundations of His throne are righteousness and justice. He will always do what’s right, just and holy.
      As far as the harmed TRUE children of God, we have the discernment (sometimes too late-after violent harm is done by “professing Christians”) to create a hedge of protection around us and our hearts. We are commanded to “Guard your heart!” Sometimes it takes much abuse to finally realize there are some people we MUST go No Contact with for our own safety and sanity. That’s not unforgiveness. It’s turning them over to God. It’s wolves in sheep’s clothing I’m referring to. I don’t believe they were ever saved. Not possible to have such evil in their “New” hearts. These aren’t “baby Christians”. They’ve been walking in sins that harm people for decades. Arrogantly. And they are ravenous and dangerous. They seem to target and exploit the kind and forgiving open hearts of truly saved Christians. God’s people. I believe God wants His children safe and apart from wolves.

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