There seems to be confusion among some in the Body of Christ regarding forgiveness and restoration. Forgiveness and restoration are not the same thing. We do well to understand the difference.
Forgiveness is mandated by Jesus. We are commanded to forgive those who have wronged us, just as God in Christ has forgiven us. Forgiveness simply means that you choose to not hold one’s sins against them. Forgiveness is a releasing of one’s sins from them. That’s the simple definition. Let’s allow that to be sufficient for the moment.
Restoration is very different. It is the rejoining of two people in a relationship. Ideally, the goal is to be restored to someone to the same depth of relationship as existed prior to the offense or offenses. Sometimes that is possible, and sometimes it doesn’t seem possible. I say seem, but I know that all things are possible with God.
Restoration can never take place without forgiveness, but forgiveness doesn’t always guarantee restoration. Forgiveness is a choice made by the one giving it. Restoration has to be earned by the one who caused the damage.
For example: A friend (Damager) lies and cheats his friend (Forgiver) multiple times. He steals from him, and abuses the friendsip. He comes back repeatedly, asking forgiveness, which Forgiver gives him. Damager then expects to be restored back into friendship as if nothing happened. Forgiver allows that restoration to take place, and tries dilligently to act as if nothing ever happened.
Damager repeats the damaging behavior. The cycle continues and escalates. Once again, Forgiver forgives Damager, but finally, he realizes that he must pull back from the relationship. He no longer trusts Damager, or lends him money, or gives him access to previously given privileges. Forgiver hates to have to do this, but realizes that it must be done for Damager’s sake, and for his own sake. To continue in the same manner would only perpetuate the sinful cycle of Damager. Forgiver realizes that something has to change. Damager needs to repent.
Damager cries foul. Damager claims that he is sorry. He promises to never repeat the sinful behavior. He asks forgiveness, and Forgiver does forgive him, but no longer trusts him, and takes a step back.
Damager demands to be restored to the same position in the relationship, and demands the same privileges as before. Damager now puts the blame on Forgiver, and backs him into a corner, implying that he, Damager, ought to be fully restored by virtue of his spoken apology. He is incensed that Forgiver is now acting coldly towards him. He reminds Forgiver that he apologized. He asks, “Isn’t that enough? What do you want from me? I said I was sorry”.
Damager has asked a very good question: “What do you want from me?”
Forgiver has every right to say: “I want to be able to trust you again”.
Forgiveness is commanded by Jesus. It is the choice of Forgiver.
Restoration must be earned. That takes time and effort from Damager, not just words.
2 Corinthians 7:9b-11 NLT “…the pain caused you to repent and change your ways. It was the kind of sorrow God wants his people to have, so you were not harmed by us in any way. 10 For the kind of sorrow God wants us to experience leads us away from sin and results in salvation. There’s no regret for that kind of sorrow. But worldly sorrow, which lacks repentance, results in spiritual death.
11 Just see what this godly sorrow produced in you! Such earnestness, such concern to clear yourselves, such indignation, such alarm, such longing…, such zeal, and such a readiness… You showed that you have done everything necessary to make things right.
1. Forgiveness is commanded.
2. When much damage has been done, restoration must be earned. Trust must be proven. One must prove himself trustworthy.
3. The offended one (Forgiver) must be hopeful and willing to restore, as God would lead. He must not seek to punish Damager or prolong the separation longer than needed.
4. The offender (Damager), must realize that he has caused much harm. He needs to be willing to do everything that God would have him do to restore this broken relationship.
5. Forgiver needs to be careful to not allow for restoration sooner than God would direct. The cycle will repeat itself unless there is true repentance by Damager.