How do you deal with people who keep attacking you? How to do you handle people who week after week spew out lies about you? How do you respond when people masterfully manipulate others to think the worst of you and the best of them?
That’s right. God actually tells us to forgive the very people who are continually attacking us. Rather than throw a pity party for yourself, rather than try to call as many people as you can to make yourself look like the victim, rather than waste your time refuting every lie spoken against you, God has a very different plan.
He doesn’t require you to speak with your attacker or pretend he or she is your friend. He doesn’t require you to act like the lies about you are true. He doesn’t even forbid you from taking the necessary steps to protect yourself from further harm. But God does require you to say three little words in your heart, “I forgive you.”
Man . . . that’s tough. Really God? Forgive the very person who is seeking to destroy me? Forgive the person assaulting people I really care about? Forgive my enemy?
God is so lavish, so full of power to help us, so unlike sinful people, he tells us to do exactly the opposite of what we could do in our own strength – he calls each of us to radical forgiveness. Thankfully his word doesn’t just tell us what to do, it also tells us how to do it.
So how can we forgive those who are continually attacking us?
How to Forgive Your Attacker: Realize Forgiveness Is Not the Same As Reconciliation
One reason forgiving those who continue to assault us is often resisted is because forgiveness is confused with reconciliation. Does God call us to rejoin a relationship that would only continue in abuse? Are we called to endlessly subject ourselves to hurtful treatment or else not be considered a Christian?
Questions like these occur when forgiveness and reconciliation are confused. God always calls every Christian to forgive others, but God does not call us to always be reconciled. Forgiveness can be done in your heart between you and God. Reconciliation must involve the willful choice of two people or parties.
Additionally, it is against Scripture to reconcile with people who claim to be Christians and yet refuse to repent in action of the sins you have pointed out to them (Matthew 18:17, 1 Corinthians 5:12-13). When people are retaliatory, threatening, a risk to you, a risk to others, or someone is consistently living in a way contrary to the Scriptures, it is your biblical obligation to forgive while not reconciling. To reconcile with a rebel is to endorse their sin and further encourage it. Once you warn them, discipline them, and they still don’t listen, the blood is not on your hands and you must move on for your sake and theirs (Ezekiel 3:17-19).
We must always love, but love comes in many different expressions. Love is doing what is best for the person’s long-term, eternal good. If you reconcile with someone who is walking in darkness, you are harming that person further. You can hug people to hell. God disciplines those he loves (Hebrews 12:6). God removes his favor and presence when people persist in sin to help them come to their senses. He expects Christians to do the same for the sake of the sinner. To reconcile with someone walking in unrepentance is the most unloving thing you can do for him or her.
How to Forgive Your Attacker: Forgiveness of People Flows from Your Faith in God
If you are wondering how genuine your faith really is, you must measure it by how forgiving you really are. Never do we reflect God more than when we forgive because of the sacrifice of Christ. And never do we look less like God when we refuse to forgive because people don’t deserve it.
It is so easy to play games with oneself, pretending our weekly Sunday attendance to a building proves we are a Christian. We can fool ourselves into thinking that we are pleasing God by loving only those who have yet to let us down, but then hating our attacker and doing everything in our power to destroy him or her. Or you can finally get serious about your faith in Christ by forgiving those who have repeatedly attacked you so that you might please your Master.
If you’re struggling to forgive your attacker, you will find the victory by putting more of your faith in God. The more you know, believe, and love God, the more your faith in him will be expressed through your forgiveness of others (1 John 2:4-6).
How to Forgive Your Attacker: Look at the Cross, Not the Sinner
God knows the hurt people have caused you. He knows your attacker does not deserve for you to free him from the pain he inflicted on you in your past.
But when you come to God to receive forgiveness from your sins, he remembers his Son hanging on the cross. He thinks about the whips ripping into Christ’s back. He remembers once more the thorns being dug into his Son’s head and twisted into his hair as the soldiers spit on him and mangled his flesh and mocked him and bowed down in false worship.
The Father saw the nails driven into Jesus’ hands and feet. He saw his Son’s dehydrated body roasting in the sun as the open wounds began to fester, all while the people he came to save jeered and laughed and turned away in doubt.
When we come to the Father for forgiveness, he looks at Jesus and he says to us, “My Son didn’t deserve that . . . you did. But because he and I love you, I put the punishment of your sin on him so that I might be able to put his righteousness on you. For his sake, because the great price he paid for you, and because I love you unconditionally, I forgive you completely. I totally wipe away your debt by grace when you put your faith in my Son.”
And now our Father expects the same from us. When others are in need of your forgiveness, even if they keep attacking you, you are to look at Jesus on the cross, bloody and bruised with beads of sweat dripping off his tortured body, and say, “I forgive you. Jesus . . . he didn’t deserve that punishment on the cross. You did. But since Jesus put your sin on himself so he could put his righteousness on you . . . I forgive you. Because of Jesus, because of the Father, because of the price they paid to cancel your sin and mine, I forgive you as Christ has forgiven me. I forgive you.”
To look at Jesus on the cross and then not apply the gift of forgiveness to those who have wronged us is an insult to the great gift God has purchased for us. He didn’t just die so you could be forgiven. He also died to set you free from the bondage of not forgiving others.
Life is messy. Hurt people hurt other people. People lie and convince others about their lies. What are you going to do about it? Refute it all point by point? Find a louder microphone? Find your own stage to yell on? Find your own listening ears to gossip in? Expose them and embarrass them with the truth you know you can prove? Hate or forgive?
We can hold on to the shame and guilt and pain others have caused us, or we can depend on the blood of Christ and start the healing process. We can forgive our attackers as God forgave us. Because of his grace, we can move on.
To my attackers, by the grace of God, all I will say is, “I forgive you.”
Moving on . . . .