“As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.”—Psalm 103:12
When we say to the Lord, “I am sorry,” and truly mean it, that is enough for God. He doesn’t beat us black and blue or require us to go on a thirty-day marathon fast to supplement Christ’s atonement. Don’t get me wrong, spiritual exercise is profiting. The Holy Spirit convicts us of sin to get our attention, but having done that, He wants us to move forward in the journey of faith.
All accusations regarding confessed sin come from the devil. When you know you have applied 1 John 1:9, and you still sense an accusing voice over the past failure, mark it down: That voice did not come from your heavenly Father. It did not emanates from Jesus Christ, your Lord. It did not come from the Holy Spirit. It came from your enemy, the devil, who works either as a roaring lion to scare or as a pretentious angel of light to deceive—or both (1 Pet. 5:8; 2 Cor. 11:14). Never forget, perfect love drives out fear (1 John 4:18).
However, A Christian who is not willing to forgive others will find his fellowship with God hindered (Matthew 6:15 ) and can reap bitterness and the loss of reward (Hebrews 12:14–15 ; 2 John 1:8 ).
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 (Matthew 5:44 ). Ideally, the offender will seek reconciliation, but, if not, the one wronged can still make a decision to forgive.
Of course, it is impossible to truly forget sins that have been committed against us. We cannot selectively “delete” events from our memory. The Bible states that God does not “remember” our wickedness (Hebrews 8:12 ). But God is still all-knowing. God remembers that we have “sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 ). But, having been forgiven, we are positionally (or judicially) justified. Heaven is ours, as if our sin had never occurred. If we belong to Him through faith in Christ, God does not condemn us for our sins (Romans 8:1 ). In that sense God “forgives and forgets.”
If by “forgive and forget” one means, “I choose to forgive the offender for the sake of Christ and move on with my life,” then this is a wise and godly course of action. As much as possible, we should forget what is behind and strive toward what is ahead (Philippians 3:13 ). We should forgive each other “just as in Christ God forgave” (Ephesians 4:32 ). We must not allow a root of bitterness to spring up in our hearts (Hebrews 12:15
However, if by “forgive and forget” one means, “I will act as if the sin had never occurred and live as if I don’t remember it,” then we can run into trouble. For example, a rape victim can choose to forgive the rapist, but that does not mean she should act as if that sin had never happened. To spend time alone with the rapist, especially if he is unrepentant, is not what Scripture teaches. Forgiveness involves not holding a sin against a person any longer, but forgiveness is different from trust. It is wise to take precautions, and sometimes the dynamics of a relationship will have to change. “The prudent see danger and take refuge, / but the simple keep going and pay the penalty” (Proverbs 22:3 ). Jesus told His followers to “be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16 ). In the context of keeping company with unrepentant sinners, we must be “innocent” (willing to forgive) yet at the same time “shrewd” (being cautious).
The ideal is to forgive and forget. Love keeps no record of wrongs (1 Corinthians 13:5 ) and covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8 ). However, changing hearts is God’s business, and, until an offender has a true, supernatural heart change, it is only wise to limit the level of trust one places in that person. Being cautious doesn’t mean we haven’t forgiven. It simply means we are not God and we cannot see that person’s heart. The sweet consequence of not keeping a record of all wrongs is that we let go of the past and its effect on the present. We cast our care on God and rely solely on Him to restore the wasted years and to cause everything to turn out for good. We find ourselves, almost miraculously, accepting ourselves as we are (just as God does) with all our failures (just as God does), knowing all the while our potential to make more mistakes. God never becomes disillusioned with us; He loves us and knows us inside out.
Having forgiven others, it is time to forgive yourself. That is exactly what God wants of you and me. It is long overdue: let the past be past … at last.