Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid, for am I in God’s place?”
–Genesis 50:19

True forgiveness acknowledges that a debt exists. You see, wrongs create an obligation. A traffic violation results in a fine. Negligence results in a lawsuit. Sin results in eternal death. In Romans 6:23 Paul said, “The wages of sin is death.” A wage is what you earn for your deeds. Now, most of the time wages are a positive thing. But the wages of sin is death. Whenever you sin against God or others, you create a debt that you owe God and that other person. Wrongs create obligations. So you have to acknowledge what it is that you are forgiving–what is that debt you are letting go of–before you can forgive.

We see this in the story of Joseph. Joseph told his brothers in Genesis 50:19, “Do not be afraid.” He was saying in effect, “You have every right to be afraid. I have every right to kill you because of what you did to me.” Before you forgive somebody for the wrong he has done to you, I encourage you to calculate what that person owes you. “Because of your affair, I should divorce you.” “Because of your negligence, I should sue you.” “Because of your action, I should prosecute you.” It is almost impossible to let go of a debt that you have not calculated.

True forgiveness also releases our offender of their obligation. Only after we have identified the offense and the debt can we let go of it. There needs to be a time when we release the person of the debt he or she owes us. Joseph illustrates that in Genesis 45:10 when he said to his brothers, “You shall live in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children’s children and your flocks and your herds and all that you have.” By not giving his brothers what they deserved–death–and instead giving them what they didn’t deserve–life in a new land, a new beginning–he was formally releasing them of the debt that they owed him. The same thing is true for you and me when we forgive. There needs to be a time when we say to God and ourselves, “Today I am letting go of the debt.”

If there is somebody you need to forgive, say something like this to God: “God, You know what this person did to me and the effect it has had on my life. You know they deserve consequences for what they did, but today I am letting go of those consequences. I am going to let You settle the score with them. I want to be free so that I can get on with my life. Help me to let go of this offense, to forgive them in the same way You have forgiven me.” Once you have done that, turn to the flyleaf of your Bible and write the words, “Today I forgave this person of what they did to me because of the forgiveness God has extended to me.” Sign it and date it. And when you are tempted to relive those hurts, go back to your Bible and remember what you did on that date. Forgiveness is a formal transaction in which we let go of a debt that is legitimately owed to us.

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Today’s devotion is excerpted from “Granting the Gift of Forgiveness” by Dr. Robert Jeffress, 2015.

Scripture quotations are taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

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