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Key Idea – Attitudinal forgiveness releases you from their sin even though they never request forgiveness from you. Transactional forgiveness is when they do humbly come to you for forgiveness to transact forgiveness by asking you for it and you granting it to them. Attitudinal forgiveness releases you from the other person’s hurt though they don’t receive forgiveness because they do not own the offense or request you to forgive them.
Temptation #1 – What if I attitudinally forgive the person, but they do not change?
This type of thinking is legalistic. “I will forgive you if you change” is a manipulative attitude (wittingly or unwittingly) that would like to coerce change out of someone. The offender’s repentance is not your ultimate concern because God is the one who grants repentance to people, not you (2 Timothy 2:24-25).
This perspective could also point toward fear that motivates you to seek assurances that you won’t be hurt again by this person. It would be better to ask a God-centered question rather than a self-centered one that has self-preservation in view. Your goal must be God-reliance, not self-reliance.
For further study: A Detailed Study in Self-Reliance
Temptation #2 – What if I attitudinally forgive them, but they do not own their sin?
This question is similar to the first one: you are attempting to be their god, at least in a practical way. While they must repent of any sin in their lives, your attitude must never be, “I will do right if they do right.”
The longer you “hold out” from doing what you know to do, it will be detrimental to your soul (James 4:17). If God is calling you to forgive today attitudinally, the most useful thing you can do is respond to His loving agitations (Hebrews 3:7).
For further study: When I Kept Silent about My Sin, This Happened
Temptation #3 – How can I attitudinally forgive them while I’m hurting so badly from what they did to me?
The greater the severity of the offense, the longer the “recovery time.” All sin is not the same consequentially. Some hurts are harder to recover from, as it pertains to the effects. You could think of these offenses as analogous to death in that there is a grieving season; you cannot make it go any faster.
The more vital question for you is your willingness to forgive. Are you willing is more critical than will you do it now? Harboring bitterness versus an attitude of forgiveness are two wildly different things. If you’re leaning toward sinful anger, you will have difficulty with them and with God.
For further study: Pre-forgiveness Is a Prerequisite before You Can Genuinely Forgive Someone
Temptation #4 – If I attitudinally forgive the person, what if they repeat the same offense, which will compound the past hurt?
This question is fear-motivated as you think about your future relationship with this individual (Matthew 6:34). There are two things you must address. The first is your fear, and the second is future potential problems.
Crippling fear is a common struggle with all people, and it’s worse when threatening people or painful events enter our lives. I hope to direct you vertically—focus on God—more than horizontal—focus on fear. Our strongest temptations come from our hearts as we fixate on what is in front of us, which is a “horizontal perspective.”
For further study: A Few Thoughts on an Unchanging Situation
Temptation #5 – How aware am I that withholding attitudinal forgiveness can be a way of punishing the offender?
Having a healthy, biblical self-suspicion is critical when thinking about those who have hurt you. Our hearts are deceptive, and we’re incredibly loyal to ourselves. Self-preservation is one of our strongest, controlling desires.
Forgiveness is a gift from God that He never meant to be a hammer to hurt others so we can level the playing field—you hurt me; I will hurt you. You must not serve two masters, and if being punitive to another person is one of those masters, you are its slave, which makes you a big loser.
For further study: A Few Thoughts on an Unchanging Situation
Temptation #6 – How much of my anger is righteous v. sinful?
You will want to go back to the self-deception issue I mentioned previously. Because of our high self-loyalty, our typical first response is to call most of our anger righteous.
Submitting your attitude to someone who is not afraid to tell you the truth is a great idea. There are at least three redemptive aspects to righteous anger. They are humility, redemption, and community. You see all three of them when Jesus turned over the tables in the temple Matthew 21:12-16.
For further study: What Is Righteous Anger?
Temptation #7 – What does a lack of attitudinal forgiveness reveal about my relationship with God?
This question is the biggest of all, and how you respond to everything that I have written thus far will reveal your relationship with the Lord. For many folks, the hurt that comes into their lives shows an inadequate relationship with God. They have a crisis in their faith, which is their call to draw near to him.
Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded (James 4:7-8).
For further study: Three Things that Will Crush Your Faith
Temptation #8 – How should I interact with this person in the future?
Let the offender define the kind of relationship you have with them:
This process does not mean you have to be buddies with the person. Every act of forgiveness does not imply an ongoing relationship.
It would help if you did not let relatives and non-relatives be the primary way you think about your relationships. The transcendent dividing line is between the saved and lost, those who do the will of God, and those who do not. It is your job to do as much as depends upon you (Romans 12:18), which requires wisdom to how much of your life you let them access or how much you enter into theirs (John 2:24-25).
If you discipline your mind according to these few guidelines (Hebrews 5:12-14), you will see bitterness and other angry sins vanish from your life. And it’s even better than that: you are not dependent on anyone owning their sin and repenting; that is God’s business. You can be free from the nonsense of others whether God ever releases them from their shenanigans.
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Rick Thomas leads a training network for Christians to assist them in becoming more effective soul care providers. RickThomas.Net reaches people around the world through consulting, training, podcasting, writing, counseling, and speaking.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology, and in 1991 he received a BS in Education. In 1993 he was ordained into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University in Santa Clarita, CA. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).