Unmasking the Domestic Abuser in the Church

More Helpful Truths About Forgiveness

Luk 5:20-21 And when he saw their faith, he said, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.” (21) And the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, saying, “Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

Col 3:11-13 Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all. (12) Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, (13) bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.

We have all fallen prey at some time to false teachings on this subject of forgiveness. I hope that all of us have now come to see truth and clarity in this matter – what forgiveness really is, that it does not always include restoration of relationship, and so on. But this business still causes all kinds of grief and trouble to victims of evil that it still helps to be reminded of what God really has to say about it.

One of our friends sent me her thoughts and research on forgiveness and she did an excellent job. I want to share some of the things she discovered in Scripture. Many thanks to her! This is how her essay begins:

Corrie Ten Boom said ‘forgiveness is the key that unlocks the door of resentment and the handcuffs of hatred.’ Corrie Ten Boom was wrong. This has absolutely no basis in Scripture whatsoever. The Bible NEVER speaks of forgiveness this way.

Most people’s idea of forgiveness comes from the New Age/ New Thought Movement or Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. I recently saw a couple definitions of forgiveness and the person attempted to use Scripture. This person essentially said ‘forgiveness is a giving up of the right to hurt the other person back’ or not ‘entertaining fantasies of vengeance against the hurtful person.’ The Scriptures given were Col 3:13, Prov 15:1 -which has nothing to do with forgiveness and Matt 6:14.

Even Scripture that tells us to forgive, many times is used in complete isolation from the rest of the Bible, and we end up with a version of forgiveness that sounds more like something Oprah Winfrey would say, not what God Himself would do. The best way to understand forgiveness is to know what God’s forgiveness looks like and to look at what the Bible as a whole teaches how this is carried out. I believe God is the original author of forgiveness. So rather than going to the dictionary for its definition, we need to go to the Very One who made forgiveness possible, Jesus Christ Himself. When God forgives, what does He forgive, and to what purpose and how does that inform our forgiveness of others?

Now, what our friend is getting at here is that definitions are very important. Just what do we mean by “forgiveness”? Because, think about this carefully, there are really at least two aspects of forgiveness. There is 1) the forgiveness which the Colossians passage (above) is speaking of – a forgiveness which we exercise, and 2) There is ultimate forgiveness which ONLY God can grant. So when we start talking like WE can grant forgiveness, things get very muddled and damaging if we fail to be precise in what we mean. Most teaching and talk among Christians these days on this subject is muddled.

Our friend goes on (after quoting quite a number of additional scriptures that speak of God’s forgiveness) –

If we truly want to understand forgiveness we have to look at God’s forgiveness first, to lay a foundation, because forgiveness is imbedded in God’s attributes. If we distort forgiveness in any way, we will end up distorting His character and the Gospel. The way it plays out when God forgives us, generally will play out in the way we forgive others. I say, generally, because there’s not going to be an exact 100% 1:1 correlation. But we have to begin with God.

First of all, when God forgives, what does He actually do? The Biblical language for it is…

who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; forgiving iniquity and transgression;

He will by no means clear the guilty; pardons all your iniquities,

wipes out your transgressions; Passes over rebellious act

Retains His anger

Cleanses us from all unrighteousness  

So from a Biblical standpoint forgiveness essentially is a pardoning of sin, a clearing of the guilty, a removing of debt or wiping out transgression. And because God’s forgiveness of us entails our salvation, there is a sense in which no one can forgive sins but God, and the people were right to marvel that Jesus would say this when they didn’t know He’s God. (I believe this means that there is a sense in which we extend God’s forgiveness when we forgive another person, so we better get this right. We do not have any right to invent our own version of forgiveness, just like we can’t redefine ‘love’!)

This is enough food for thought for now. I will continue to present her essay to you in portions in the next few blog posts. But let’s leave off here today and really digest the points she has made. When someone tells us “you must forgive your abuser,” quite often – whether they realize it or not – they are acting as if we must clear the record of the wicked person’s evil and treat them as if their evil has been atoned for. In other words, we are being told that we are to be a kind of Christ to the wicked, bear their evil upon ourselves, and thereby atone for their sins. Because, you see, that is the ONLY way God in Christ forgives sin. But we are not Christ.

…to be continued

More Truths about Forgiveness (Part 2)


I Bet All of You Will Recognize this Scenario


More Truths about Forgiveness (Part 2)


  1. Already I can’t wait for the sequel!

  2. Lynn

    Thanks for this post Pastor Crippen.

    Forgiveness, along with repentance and reconciliation are words that most in today’s professing church don’t understand. Often what they believe and teach about these three words is wrong. Reconciliation is not a requirement of forgiveness. There are some sins that will not allow for complete reconciliation on this side of heaven. Someone who’s been abused for decades most likely will not be able to fully reconcile with their abuser, even if the abuser demonstrates genuine repentance. Part of an abuser’s genuine repentance would include being willing to do everything in their power to facilitate the healing of the victim, even if that means that they never see that person again. The greater and more chronic the sin, the longer the evidence of genuine repentance is needed. This is why I think way too many churches rush through repentance. They have no desire to watch and see if the repentance by the abuser is genuine because all they care about is perceived reconciliation.

    In one sense it is true. Only God can truly forgive sinners. It’s why the Pharisees were so mad at Jesus. He was equating himself as equal with God, something they rejected in spite of all of his miracles and inspired teaching.

    Forgiveness must start with genuine repentance by the sinner as a result of the Holy Spirit convicting them of their sin. Without the conviction of the Holy Spirit and the evidence of genuine repentance by the sinner, there is no hope of forgiveness. You can’t make an abuser repent. Only God can do that. Any effort on our part to force repentance is manipulation.

    As we think about what Corrie Ten Boom said, ‘forgiveness is the key that unlocks the door of resentment and the handcuffs of hatred,’ we must ask ourselves, of whom is she speaking of? The perpetrator or the victim? The context matters. Her statement may have some elements of truth if it is related to a genuinely repentant sinner who demonstrates his or her repentance, but even that is a weak argument. It’s more of a feel-good statement one expects from a New Ager than a statement rooted and grounded in biblical truth. Having forgiveness granted after genuine repentance may release resentment and hatred, but it may also not.

    It definitely doesn’t do that for the victim who is being pressed to forgive. We don’t see God telling us that his forgiveness is the key to unlocking resentment and hatred or that is the result of his own practice of forgiveness. God doesn’t forgive everyone. Only those who genuinely repent and believe, which is a direct result of the Holy Spirit at work in them. Those who don’t repent and aren’t made right with God will not receive his forgiveness, only his justice.

    Even with Christ asking the Father on the cross to forgive them for they know not what they do, we can’t assume that every single Roman or Pharisee that had a hand in crucifying Christ was granted God’s forgiveness. Some may have repented and believed, but many didn’t. How do we know? They didn’t evidence repentance. They tried, even after his death, to hinder the work of God and distort it from the people by spreading lies about Christ’s resurrection, denying the truth so that others may be hindered from hearing and believing, and being saved.

    If you’ve been abused, know that you are not required to forgive your abuser without seeing evidence of genuine repentance. For those of us who’ve suffered chronic abuse, remember genuine repentance isn’t just an ‘I’m sorry’. It is a total transformation of character. A turning away from the old abusive behavior and putting on Christ. This evidence takes time. You won’t know its genuineness in a day, week, or month. It may take years, maybe even the rest of your or their lives to prove their repentance. No 3rd party can determine the genuineness of repentance for you. Not your family. Not your friends. Not your pastor or elder team. Only the victim gets to determine the genuineness of an abuser’s repentance.

    I know it would if it was coming from my family. Words are not enough. I’d have to see a sustained change in behavior, a surrendering of all rights to their own way, and voluntary restitution for the damage they’ve inflicted on me. They’d have to agree to leave me alone and abide by my boundaries, not trying to cross them in order to get their own way.

    Repentance is costly. It’s why abusers won’t pay it. They love themselves too much to do what is right and seek forgiveness in order to be reconciled with their victims. So, be wary of an abuser trying to get by with forcing forgiveness and reconciliation with no evidence of repentance. You do not owe them forgiveness while they remain in a state of unrepentance or reconciliation.

    Grow in wisdom. Become wise like a serpent and remain innocent as a dove so that you are not deceived by unrepentant men and women. You do not honor God or help yourself heal by extending forgiveness to unrepentant people. You only inflict more pain on yourself. Find the freedom that Christ offers. Learn how he forgives and follow his model. For whom the son sets free is free indeed.

  3. Lisa

    Amen to all of this! So helpful to look at the forgiveness that God extends. Forgiveness harping by church members to victims is the epitome of Re-victimization. I am not a Biblical scholar; however, I see the validity of an explanation I received that the original Hebrew translation of “forgiveness” is that “I choose to remove the stink (or stench) you have created from inside my body to right there out in the open.” It is a fabulous visual actually. It does not mean that the abuse does not exist or that we don’t ever talk about it either. Otherwise it would be easy for many to believe the Holocaust never happened. It needs to be exposed to the light and we make a choice to no longer protect or cover up this stench. We no longer burden ourselves with a putrid thing that someone else created. Maybe this is a possible explanation that could co-exist with Corrie ten Boom’s explanation that ‘forgiveness is the key that unlocks the door of resentment and the handcuffs of hatred.’ I feel that this viewpoint that I physically remove someone else’s stench from MY BODY is freeing me!

  4. elfmom55

    I used to think that if I thought of an offense and the offender against me that I still had not forgiven them but John here says he will remember Diotrephes for his wicked deeds.
    3 John 1:9-10 KJV
    I wrote unto the church: but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them, receiveth us not. Wherefore, if I come, I will remember his deeds which he doeth, prating against us with malicious words: and not content therewith, neither doth he himself receive the brethren, and forbiddeth them that would, and casteth them out of the church.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Also Paul told Timothy to watch out for Alexander the coppersmith who did Paul much harm.

  5. lg

    thank you so much for posting this!

    I also remember reading a Corrie Ten Boom story from the “Hero Tales” books I bought when my daughter when she was younger called, “”Thank you God for the Fleas.” While I have always been inspired by Corrie Ten Boom, and even visited her house outside of Amsterdam, I took pause when I stumbled across the line in the Corrie Ten Boom flea story about “giving thanks FOR all things.”

    The Bible tells us to give thanks IN the midst of all things ( “give thanks in all circumstances,” 1 Thes 6:16-18) which is a big difference from being told to give thanks FOR all things.

    Like the twisted messages we receive about forgiveness as a requirement to prevent a bitter spirit, so is the twisted message about giving thanks for all things, which as we know can be misconstrued to encourage abuse victims to give thanks for the abuse heaped on them.

  6. Good luck…..

    Thank you for these messages.

    If an abuser is truly convicted by the Holy Spirit there are things that will be evidenced and so easy to spot, for starters, a public and humble confession of their choices to be abusive and the acts, genuine repentance, restitution to those they abused and…… they stop being abusive.

    Does not happen….. so after the church victim bashing’s over this – when I see or hear the think false positivity approach to abusers I move on – they can say and try that approach all day long if they want…. good luck with that – because that is what they will need.

  7. Noka

    I just thought of another quote that’s really misleading.

    “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.” — CS Lewis

    It should be saying “We forgive the repentant when they no longer make excuses because God only forgives us when we repent and no longer make excuses. “

    • Be free….

      Excellent point! Particularly when such CS Lewis quotes are so prevalent in Christian church communities, they too are weapons that can be and are used by professing Christ followers to excuse the abusers, and instead manipulate and retaliate on the very person and people that were abused.


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