Freedom through Forgiving
Lesson 15: Overcoming the Stronghold of Bitterness
All scripture citations are from the English Standard Version (ESV) unless otherwise noted.
In the previous lesson, Discerning the Enemy, we exposed the 'hidden' work of the enemy to divide us from God, others and even from ourselves—by accusations that turn us from God's way of mercy-giving love. Accusations seek to create division and separation over issues of hurt and offense and then hold it all in place by means of un-forgiveness.
So what is God's answer? Forgive! How much, how often, how thoroughly? As much as needed, as often as needed, as thoroughly as needed—to fully release your heart. The truth is a childlike heart of joy is waiting for all of us on the other side of fully forgiving the very ones who the enemy used to rob us of our joy. God really wants to turn the tables on the enemy, but He needs us to work with Him, not against Him.
Un-forgiveness in all of its forms is an agreement with Satan, not God. It not only hardens our hearts (separating us from peace and joy), but it also damages our bodies (through the stress response). These strongholds have to be torn down if we ever want to live a grace-filled life and become champion grace givers like our glorious Lord! You, too, can find freedom through forgiving.
Watch a short video about forgiveness on our YouTube channel
A cat's teenage pregnancy led to a very funny encounter with God.
Bitterness Is Not Your Friend
Bitterness holds in place a host of deadly emotions. Many people have testified that being bitter is like drinking poison and hoping the other person will die. Thanks to modern medical science we now know that grudges really do terrible things to our bodies, as well as to our relationships. Choose to get well rather than to get even.
The writer of Hebrews warns that if we have a root of bitterness it will trouble us and defile many others through their contact with us.
Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no 'root of bitterness' springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled. Hebrews 12:14-15
Bitterness is a very damaging stressor to the body, directly leading to illness. However, unforgiveness also keeps trauma from being healed and that adversely affects our health as well. Un-mended trauma of the past always increases the levels of anxiety and fear we carry which, like bitterness, are very harmful to health. The pain of an unforgiven offense is 'warning' us that God and others can't be trusted, keeping us 'on guard' and fear-filled.
Bitterness is also a block to healing because God has written that He will not release the extra measures of mercy we need or answer prayer if we don't show mercy.[i]
Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone; so that your Father, who is in heaven, may also forgive you your transgressions. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your transgressions. Mark 11:25-26 WEB
Bitterness is not your friend. Learn to carry it captive before it carries you captive.[ii] The high thought of bitterness is saying to God, 'My law of not forgiving is better than Your law of mercy.'[iii] Fall completely out of agreement with its thoughts and feelings, before what begins as a seed of hurt or offense grows into a stronghold of nightmarish proportions. Bitterness never stays where you put it, rather it seeks to grow and spread. It wants to take over your life.
There are at least seven stages of bitterness, an ascending order of descent into darkness:
Un-forgiveness (not letting go of hurt)
Resentment ('re-feeling' old offenses; keeping a record of wrongs)
Retaliation (getting even by criticism, passive aggressive behavior)
Anger and wrath (sudden upsurge toward the other person or down upon oneself)
Hatred (detesting, despising, strong disliking, hardness, apathy)
Violence (wanting to see harm come to another)
Murder (with the tongue, or in the heart, or by criminal act; wishing them dead).[iv]
Resisting the Stronghold
There is massive power released when forgiveness is combined with actively believing God's promises of redemption. Forgiving others truly releases the pain and weight of wrong off of us, but we may still feel saddened by the loss we experienced. To help us recover a rightful sense of fullness, God has given magnificent promises of the restoration He intends.
Notice, however, that the promise of all things being made to work for our good is restricted to 'those who love God,' which by Jesus' definition means those who obey Him.[v] To fully reap the benefits of restoration we have to choose to obey God's command of full forgiveness. This is a great and gracious incentive for releasing the past into His Hands:
We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, to those who are called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28 WEB
Recognize and resist the temptation to judgment. God separates us from our sins (see Separation from Sin), but judgment binds our spirit with bitterness and blinds us to our own prideful and unloving hearts. The Holy Spirit gives discernment about sin so that we won't walk in the dark, not knowing good from evil or right from wrong.
With proper discernment we can pray for people who are sinning and help them regain their freedom by speaking the truth in love. The enemy, however, desires to turn discernment into judgment. Such bitter judgments are the nature of Satan's kingdom, not God's.
Forgiveness is necessary for our own hearts. The truth is no one is ever trapped in their pain by the sins of others. We are entrapped by our own sin of bitter judgments. We actually imprison our own hearts. That's why we feel such freedom through forgiving! It is a major key to the Kingdom of God (see Keys to the Kingdom).
We are to loose sinners from their sins and bind the enemy. Sadly, when believers bind sinners to their sins, we unwittingly loose the real enemy and advance his kingdom—first in us, then into the world around us as we spread the poison. Turn the key that sets captive hearts free!
What Forgiveness Is Not
Compare these six common misconceptions to your own beliefs.
1) It is not a feeling: Forgiveness is a choice, an act of the will, not a feeling. We cannot control our feelings, but we can control how we choose to respond despite our feelings.
2) It is not glossing over: Forgiveness does not pretend the offense was not as bad as it really was. It does not turn a blind eye to real faults. It sees sin as sin and then forgives the person.
3) It is not nursing the fond memory: Real forgiveness does not keep score, hold grudges, or build walls. It is necessary to watch our boundaries, but not to build walls on them!
4) It is not a reward: Christian forgiveness is not something earned by being sorry or by efforts to change. The less deserved it is, the more it is Christlike, mercy-based forgiveness.
5) It is not a divine pardon: Forgiveness is not letting the other person 'off the hook'; it is taking them off our hook and putting them in God's Hands for redemption. Trust Him!
6) It is not blindly trusting: Forgiveness creates no obligation to trust the offender. Jesus trusted Himself to no one, but He lived in forgiveness and love with everyone. He still does. Aren't you glad He forgives you, even though He can't trust you never to betray his love? Let's learn to do likewise.
What exactly does forgiveness involve? Forgiveness means being open to loving and even liking the other person, accepting them just as they are—just as we would desire to be accepted and loved if we were them. It means releasing them, setting them free, letting them go, letting them be themselves and setting our own hearts free in the process. Forgiveness is giving your pain and the injustice to God and trusting Him with it. It will always liberate you!
Five Biblical Motivations to Forgive
Try these motivations for leverage, they really work.
1) Your own freedom: Unforgiveness brings torment by binding hurt, hardness and heaviness to our hearts.[vi] It also generates fear and insecurity and it is a block to receiving answers to prayers, even prayers for healing.
2) They don't know what they are doing: Because Jesus said it, we know it's true. Let it work for you.[vii] Everyone who sins has been deceived by an invisible enemy.
3) Humble yourself: See Jesus dying on the cross for you and it is easier to release others.[viii] See your own sin of bitterness for what it is and you will immediately be humbled.
4) Get compassion for them: God looks past the sin to see the wounds. Do likewise.[ix] Everyone who sins came into the world as an infant just wanting to be loved. Something went wrong.
5) Let Jesus gain the inheritance He died to receive—forgiveness for all sinners: He wants everyone forgiven and in heaven.
Prepare your heart to forgive. The first stage in gaining victory is recognizing the spiritual problem and being willing to take full responsibility for having it. The problem in this case is the sin of unforgiveness! The second stage is praying for God to help you with it, casting the burden on Him to do it in you, through you and for you. The third stage is coming into obedience with what the Lord shows you that you need to do.
The Way to Freedom
Usually it is not difficult to discern when we are holding hurt or a hardened heart against someone, only to release the 'death grip' we may have on them for the hurt or offense. But avoidance of dealing with past pains and doing the hard work of forgiving is a very real threat to ever gaining our true freedom.
Be determined! If you break a hard job down, it's easier to do. Really go to work with these ten steps and they will work for you. Bring the five motivations in and power up! Set your will to agree with God and let Him take your heart on a pilgrimage to new life.[x] If at first you don't succeed, don't give up. The Lord loves to reward those who persevere. You really can do this—with His help.
1) Seek grace: Ask God to help you by the power of His Spirit to make a real commitment of your will to do His will. If you really want to obey Him, then He will empower you.
2) Acknowledge the pain: Sin hurts. God grieved for you and has grieved with you, but comfort alone will not heal you.
3) Ask God to forgive them: Really mean it. He already does, but you need to express it and set His mercy in motion.
4) Ask God to catch the thief and make him pay: Commit the real enemy (Satan's kingdom) to God for His justice.[xi]
5) Ask God to forgive you (for judging them): Believe that He has and be ready to share with them the grace you just received.
6) Choose to forgive them: Pray it and say it by an act of your will; put your heart in it: 'By an act of my will, I choose to release you from all my bitter judgments... '
7) Choose to forgive yourself (for prolonging the pain): Accept it. Release the pain. Command the 'tormentors' to go.
8) Choose to believe God's promise of redemption is for you (Romans 8:28): Rejoice in restoration and blessings to come.
9) Pray for them: Pray for them to receive all of the blessings you would like God to bestow on you.[xii]
10) Thank God by faith for His wisdom and goodness in what He allows: Re-surrender and resubmit to His leadership.
God is seeking a people after His own Heart—a people willing to keep their hearts open and loving, no matter what the cost. Don't pass up this opportunity to become a grace giver. It begins as an act of the will. Feelings follow.
Experience the peace and release of finally letting go. Say Yes! to life.
Lord, help me want what You want (forgiveness) and hate what You hate (un-forgiveness). I would rather be free on the inside, than bitter. I will set free anyone I have to in order to get free. What was done to me is nothing compared to what bitterness is doing to me now. I am not bound by the past, only by my bitterness about it. Whatever the reasons are for being bitter, they are not as good as freedom feels. I will turn the key of forgiveness and walk away. I therefore choose to forgive ______ and release him/her from all my bitter judgments. I am giving _____ to You along with all the pain and injustice for You to redeem. I am trusting You with it all. Thank You for forgiving me for being so unforgiving!
Take It to Heart!
Don't just give these truths a 'head bob'! For further study and for help working these truths into your heart and life, see The Head to Heart Guide for Freedom through Forgiving and 'work out' with exercises, discussion questions, review of main points, digging deeper, more scriptures, model prayers, renunciations/affirmations and practical steps of life application.
Or Keep Reading
[i] Luke 6:37-38 2 Corinthians 10:3-6Art Matthias PhD., Wellsprings Ministries of Alaska, Anchorage, Alaska, seminar notes, Hilton Head, SC. January 2006.Teaching and insights concerning this sevenfold progression of bitterness and bitterness as a block to healing from Be In Health teaching and materials, Dr. Henry W. Wright, Thomaston, Georgia, seminar notes, October 2000.
[v] John 14:15
[vi] Matthew 18:34-35
[vii] Luke 23:34
[viii] Matthew 18:33
[ix] 2 Timothy 2:24-26
[x] Psalm 84:5
[xi] Exodus 22:7
[xii] Job 42:10