Pre-forgiveness is prerequisite before you can truly forgive someone

Article by Rick Thomas, Greenville, SC 

Have you ever granted forgiveness to someone who hurt you?

Did you mean it?

I mean, did you really, really mean it?

Here’s a test: after you forgave the person were you able to talk about the hurt in such a way that communicated you were no longer sinfully controlled by those hurts?

A sign of complete biblical forgiveness is when you can be hurt, grant forgiveness, and then talk about what happened to you without being sinfully controlled or bothered by what was done to you.

Too many times we grant forgiveness because it is the Christians thing to do. It is a better version of how our culture works through stuff.

I’m not saying that “forgiveness granting” is not genuine if it is not as I have described. I am saying that it is not truly biblical if we cannot genuinely let it go. But it must be more than just letting it go. We must not only grant forgiveness to those who have hurt us, but we must understand that what happened to us was part of God’s plan for our lives.

We must, by the grace of God, filter the events of our lives through the filter of God’s sovereignty. We then humbly accept those events as part of His good work in our lives. If we do this then we have a mature understanding and practice of biblical forgiveness.

Let me illustrate what real biblical forgiveness looks like:

As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. – Genesis 50:20 (ESV)

I think most us know the context of this verse. The speaker in this verse is Joseph, the son of Jacob. He is talking to his brothers who initially tried to kill him only to end up selling him to slave traders.

Joseph spent 13 mostly horrible years away from his family, accused of a crime he did not commit, served time in jail, and was treated in many other cruel ways. Frankly, I cannot fully understand what Joseph’s life must have been like. Just being violently separated from the family he loved would be enough to whack me.

At this point in the story he is finally confronting his brothers after all the years of exile.

He really forgives them.

No…he really, really forgives them.

What is Pre-forgiveness?
Before Joseph could get to the place of genuinely forgiving his brothers he had to “do business with God.” He had to work out what happened to him with God. If you don’t succeed in this indispensable step, then you will have a hard time “going the distance” with someone who needs your forgiveness.

You can’t be truly released from what happened to you until you understand that God was behind what happened to you. Your view of God must be established and you must be convinced that He is working good in ways that you did not expect or perceive.

Pre-forgiveness is the work I am describing here.

When bad things happen to me, the only way I can process and accept them correctly is after I have gained “sovereign clarity” on my troubles. Joseph had sovereign clarity.

•Do you have sovereign clarity on the disappointments in your life?
•When you review the tape of your life, can you now see with sovereign clarity?
If you cannot, then you’re a candidate for harboring such things as bitterness, anger, anxiety, discouragement, worry, criticism, resentment, cynicism, and even hate. And more than likely the person who offended you will feel some of these things from you.

It is very easy to look at the person who hurt you and become bound by the pain, anguish, and frustration of it all. If this happens, then your heart is not anchored in God’s sovereignty.

You will be like a kite in the wind. Your response to the offender will depend on how you’re feeling, the type of sin sinned against you, the kind of relationship you have with the person, their attitude, your attitude, and the cravings of your heart.

There is a 99.9% chance you will not respond humbly to the person if this is how you’re processing the disappointments they caused.

Pre-forgiveness illustrated
Leone’s husband committed adultery. It was the most devastating news of her life. It took many months of biblical care, among many friends, in the context of her local church to help her walk through the smashing anguish of her heart. She called it her nightmare from hell.

When Stephen repented, he eventually came back to Leone to ask for her forgiveness. What he did not know was that Leone had already “done business with God.” She was ready to grant forgiveness.

It was more than her Christian duty. It was God-centered, grace-empowered, Gospel-motivated forgiveness.

She was just like Joseph. When the time came, the hard work (pre-forgiveness) was over and forgiveness could be granted. It was the amazing grace of God working in her heart.

Let’s back up to over a decade earlier.

Leone had been praying for just over 13 years that God would make their marriage right. They had sex while dating and though she was not totally convinced she wanted to marry Stephen, it seemed like a better option than staying single. She was lonely. After their marriage, she became even lonelier.

In addition, to Stephen’s ongoing bouts with anger, their three sons were accelerating in their rebellion too. Their finances were never great, though they did manage to scrape by. They professed to be Christians and were moderately committed to their local church.

In God’s autonomous and non-manipulatable time He answered Leone’s 13-year, long-standing prayer request to fix her marriage. What did He do? He blew it up. God dropped a bomb in the middle of their marriage and blew it to smithereens.

The initial devastation on Leone and the children was hard to describe. From all perspectives it made no sense. To find good OR God in their mess seemed to be a stretch.

As the numbness began to wear off Leone, she began to seek God’s mind on what was going on in her life, marriage, and family. That was when she came to the story of Joseph.

Whose story are you living in?
She learned that God not only worked in the present, but He planned for the future too. What Joseph and his family could not know was that there was going to be a famine in the land. Therefore, Sovereign God needed to get someone to Egypt in order to set things up so the nation of Israel could be preserved.

As you know, God was not just doing this for the nation of Israel or Joseph’s family. He was doing this because of His promise to Adam (Genesis 3:15). Humanity needed a Savior and that Savior was going to come through Jacob’s line.

Therefore, it was essential that Jacob’s clan was preserved.

When God dropped the bomb in Jacob’s family, it blew it apart and Joseph landed in Egypt…according to God’s plan. Do you think it is odd or wrong for God to write bad things into people’s lives? …into your life?

If you think it is odd or wrong, then you do not understand the Gospel. Minimally you need a Gospel adjustment.

Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief… – Isaiah 53:10 (ESV)

What God orchestrated in Joseph’s life and did to His one and only Son is what He was doing in Leone’s life too. Somehow, someway Joseph and Leone grasped enough of this to know that God was working out something very special in their families.

They both gave up trying to control their respective stories and humbly stepped into God’s story. Joseph and Leone had sovereign clarity.

Once they came to this place in their understanding of God, though they were legitimately hurting and most definitely living out the dysfunction in their families, they were ready to move forward with God’s new plans for their lives. The point became less about what was happening to them and more about what God was doing through them.

•When you think through your disappointments are you more aware and affected by what God is doing or are you more aware and affected by how you have been hurt?
•Can you humbly let go of the script you have been holding on to and expecting to come to pass and then grasp the new script that God is writing for you?
Where does the accent mark go?
There were three things that Joseph shared with his brothers:

1.What God did was for good.
2.What they did was for evil.
3.God’s good trumps their evil.
Therefore, he was able to genuinely forgive his brothers for what they did to him.

•What controls your heart: what God allowed or what the offender did?
•Where do you put the accent: on the good of God or on the evil of man?
How you answer these questions will determine the depth and quality of your forgiveness. In fact, if you can’t get to where Joseph was, I don’t think you can make a biblical case for forgiveness.

One of the ways I check my heart regarding my forgiveness of others for what they did to me is how I think about what they did to me. Initially, what was done to me hurts. I am usually disappointed, probably angry, and typically struggling with letting it go.

I then begin to bring the Gospel in view. I like to put the cross of Christ beside the offense against me. That helps me, always. If I can see my offense against God and then their offense against me at the same time, then my attitude begins to take a Gospel shape.

The cross has a way of shrinking what was done to me. It puts my problems in their proper place.

From there, the pain and disappointment begins to be absorbed by the grace of God. The same Gospel grace that saved my wicked soul flows from the cross onto my current disappointment and onto the person who perpetrated my current disappointment. In short, God softens my hard and deceived heart.

This is all a part of the “pre-forgiveness process.”

I highly recommend this before you approach your offender. The longer you stand before the One you offended, the better it will go for you when you stand before the one who offended you.

If you have done this correctly, then you’re in the perfect place to forgive the person who hurt you. It will really be real.

Pre-forgiveness, forgiveness, and beyond
Pre-forgiveness will not come easy. Getting your thoughts straightened out and aligned with God is the hard part. Forgiveness should not be the hard part if we have wrestled through pre-forgiveness. Note how Joseph was ready to forgive his brothers.

Don’t miss the fact that he had at least 13 years to figure this out with his God. I’m not suggesting you need 13 years to figure it out. But I am strongly suggesting that you need to figure it out with your God.

If you do, then when the time for forgiveness does come, it won’t be that hard. However, if it is hard, then you can guarantee that more time before God is required because you’re still struggling with God. Typically that means there is some form of anger between you and God.

We’re all Sovereigntist. Whether we consciously think about it or not, we all know that there is a God and He is ultimately in control. If we cannot forgive others for what happened to us, then there is an underlying issue that needs to be resolved with God first.

Once you have sovereign clarity and you can now freely forgive the person who hurt you, you will be able to go beyond the hurt and genuinely be reconciled to the offender. This is the good part. But it goes further than just being reconciled.

When Lucia and I make up the way I have described here, we then begin talking about the sin. The sin that caused the division becomes our servant: it serves us.

It becomes a practical, working illustration that we can talk about in order to grow and mature to the point where we can reduce the amount of future sinning that we sling on each other.

It should not be difficult to talk about the sin if the sin has been killed-dead[1] by the power of the Gospel. I think it is important that we revisit our past sins, not as a punitive reminder. That is first grade stuff. We’re in college now. We can talk about our sin in order to mature in Christ and to relate more effectively to each other.

Here are the steps:
1.Pre-forgiveness: allowing God to adjust your heart so you can forgive.
2.Forgiveness: genuinely granting forgiveness to someone who hurt you.
3.Reconciling: the relationship is no longer separated by sin.
4.Maturing: the sin has been neutralized so you can discuss it from God’s perspective, your perspective, and the former offender’s perspective.
If you can’t get to Step #4, I suggest you go back to Step #1 and start over.
Just as Joseph could talk to his brothers about what they did in a non-punitive way, you should be able to do the same. If you can, then you will not miss out on what God was up to and what He has planned for you in the future.

God answered Leone’s prayer. She had enough Christian maturity about her to get it. It has been 7 years since the bomb went off. What happened during those dark days has almost been completely swallowed up by the incredible selfless and God-glorifying marriage that she and Stephen have today.

Related Article: Pre-forgiveness does not mean you will reconcile


About John
A follower of Christ and sinner who needs his grace everyday.

One Response to Pre-forgiveness is prerequisite before you can truly forgive someone

  1. Siew-Leng Willis says:

    One can truly forgive when s/he knows and accepts that God is Sovereign. God freely forgave us by giving us His Son Jesus to die for our sins, and He keeps forgiving us when we confess our wrongdoings. Obeying God’s command to forgive is His will for us. It is for our good, for one we do not become bitter. Jesus Himself teaches us not only to forgive seven times but seventy times seven. (Matthew 18 v 21, 22)

    I believe that the hurt/incident does get replayed in our minds, and we question whether we have truly forgiven. We must not dwell on it. It could be the condemnation from the devil. We reaffirm that we have forgiven and bear no malice/grudge against the person. Remember that ‘There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.’ (Romans 8 v 1) Amen.

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