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Jeffress calls forgiveness the bottom-line issue in life

RIDGECREST, N.C. (BP)–“Failing to grant forgiveness to other people results in a living hell,” Robert Jeffress told people attending Discipleship and Family Week, July 1-7, at Ridgecrest (N.C.), a LifeWay Conference Center.

“We cannot control the offenses that come into our lives. What we can control is how we handle them,” said Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church, Wichita Falls, Texas, and author of “Free to Forgive,” an interactive course published by LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.

He called forgiveness “the bottom line issue in life. In more than 20 years of ministry, I’ve seen bitterness destroy individuals, couples, entire congregations.”

He cited a national survey by the George Barna Group in which four out of 10 Americans said they were currently having difficulty forgiving someone who had wronged them.

“As many of those people were Christians as non-Christians,” he said. “Forgiveness is not the preferred choice of most Christians.

If becoming a Christian were the only requirement for being a forgiver, then our churches would be filled with loving and forgiving people,” Jeffress said.

Despite worldly standards of justice, he said Christians must “forgive on the basis of grace, not justice. Forgiveness is not earned; it is granted.”

Noting tragedies such as the murder of a child or the pain of incest that can make a person a “prisoner of bitterness,” Jeffress said “forgiveness is sometimes the only way to break free of that vicious cycle of hurt and get on with our lives.”

“When you demand that your offender do something before you forgive him or her, you are binding yourself to that person,” he said.

Perceptions to the contrary, Jeffress said, “refusing to forgive hurts us more than it does our offender. When you refuse to forgive, you enter into your own private torture chamber.”

In another area, he said, for Christians, there is an “inseparable link between receiving God’s forgiveness and granting that forgiveness to others.”

Jeffress cited four reasons some people choose not to forgive others: (1) they believe forgiveness denies the seriousness of the sin; (2) it places too much responsibility on the victim; (3) it is unfair; and (4) forgiveness lets people off the hook too easily.

Also, he said at least four myths about forgiveness exist. They include:

— Confusing forgiveness with repentance. “This is the myth that my forgiveness has to be conditional on their repentance.”

— Confusing forgiveness with consequences. “When I forgive you, I give up my right to hurt you for hurting me, but that doesn’t release you from the consequences of your actions.”

— Confusing forgiveness with reconciliation. “Forgiveness has no strings attached. Reconciliation has many strings attached.”

— Confusing forgiveness with forgetting. “Forgetting is neither possible nor profitable.”

Jeffress urged church leaders to involve members in a study of forgiveness.

“If you will teach your people to be better forgivers, you will destroy the greatest barrier to spiritual and numerical growth in your church,” he said.

Discipleship and Family Week, July 1-7, was sponsored by LifeWay’s discipleship and family group.

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  • Linda Lawson