“What Possesses our Hearts?”, from L.Willows (forgiveness, righteousness, justice)


Positions about being right can be held like possessions that are dear to our hearts.

But is it for our good and does it bring us closer to God? Is it possible that the need to be right, especially in times that can feel so ‘out of control’ can actually separate us from the very help from God that we are seeking and deeply needing? What possesses our hearts will own us. Then it controls us and our lives.

Righteousness and Being Right

In today’s world, it appears acceptable to feel “right” yet no one wants to claim the possibility that we might actually be moralizing. It seems to be everywhere. Being true to something is different than being right. True means being devoted or being loyal to something that you believe in.  That can be “positional” based upon your beliefs. We all admire that quality but start to argue about what truth is and what to be loyal to.

Being right is entirely different. It is a moral point. Right and wrong go deeper than cultural or historical or even personal beliefs. (For the sake of this writing)

Moralizing is the very common action of personally commenting either to ourselves or to others about what is right and wrong. Is anyone immune? Be honest. We see it constantly in the world around us. It appears to be encouraged. It becomes easy to gather momentum with a sense of right and wrong. Moralizing is judging. It casts ourselves as superior, as the one with the power to weigh right and wrong. When we do that to ourselves and to others it is equally wrong.

Romans 13:13 -“Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.”

Matthew 7:1-5 -“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”

Can our Judgements Possess us?

Have you had an experience when afterward you reviewed it to yourself and decided that someone or something was “right” and the other was “wrong”, and you placed yourself in the role of the commentator or judge? As the judge didn’t you feel that you had compiled knowledge about the subject? From that did you eventually feel wiser. Then comes a sense of relief, perhaps even satisfaction. But did the issue feel resolved? Maybe not. It may have recirculated. This can happen to us.

We review and review. As judges, the “court” of appeals is never over. Have you noticed that? We, as moralizers and arbitrators of right and wrong, are imperfect judges. We weigh with mortal hearts. We make ourselves the “eye” of the righteous one.

Proverbs 21:2 -“Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the heart.”

Romans 2:1 – “Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things.”

Matthew 12:36 -“I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak.”

The reason for that is because when we judge, we are stepping away from our purpose. We slip into moralizing and into pride. We lose grace. We step away from our relationship with God because we start to make little gods of ourselves. We make ourselves the ones that try to control the Outcomes. When we insist on making things right and wrong, especially taking sides in the arena of life we are literally lowering ourselves into a battleground that is not “ours to fight”.

Finding our way Back

1 Peter 3:4 -“But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled.”

Philippians 2:3 -“Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.”

The rights and wrongs of this world are injustices that are seen by the Eyes of God.  When we are appointed to speak out, and those moments will be known to us vividly and boldly, God will lovingly supply the moment, the words and the message.

Psalm 34:15 -“The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous and his ears toward their cry.”

1 Corinthians 16:13 -“Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.”

Deuteronomy 31:8 -“It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.”

That is different than judging and moralizing by a longshot, don’t you agree? Can you tell the difference in your own life, in your own world? We are asked to be merciful and to trust that the Lord is with us and will not forsake us. We are not to fear or to be dismayed.

When we trust that the Lord goes before us, that He prepares the hours, the days and each detail of our lives – we can rest in faith. We live in trust in God. Then, we stand firm in Faith.

Standing Firm in Faith

In Corinthians we are reminded to be watchful, to stand firm in our faith and to be strong! When Psalm 34 says that the eyes of the Lord are towards the righteous it means that those that serve the Lord are called into obedience to His Law. It asks that we submit our hearts before God at all times for review, asking for his blessings in obedience to the laws of forgiveness and with the observance of His sovereignty in justice and mercy.

We place the desire for righteousness in the space that is reserved for the invocation of God . In that sacred and holy place where we are meant to step back and understand that we do not have the power to make all things right, that God is sovereign even when This World appears to be moving ‘out of tilt’ with what makes sense to us, it may be the very moment of opportunity for a door to open that we ourselves by our own power could not. 

Invoking the Righteousness of God

Galatians 6:9 -“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”

1 Peter 3:14 -“But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled.”

Psalm 112:6 -“For the righteous will never be moved; he will be remembered forever.”

Proverbs 21:3 -“To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.”

The biblical definition of Righteousness is that it is one of the chief attributes of God as portrayed in the Hebrew Bible. Its chief meaning concerns ethical conduct (for example, Leviticus 19:36; Deuteronomy 25:1; Psalm 1:6; Proverbs 8:20). In the Book of Job the title character is introduced to us as a person who is perfect in righteousness.

Beholding Holiness

What is suggested is that rather than acting from our moralizing which encourages us to step away from God by creating a false right and wrong of our own, we lean into the character of God, beholding His holy righteousness. 

Acts 18:9-10 –“And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.”

Colossians 3:12-14 -“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive.

God’s holy presence shows us that He embodies forgiveness. How can we hold one another as right and wrong in our hearts and also behold Him as Forgiveness? When we see how much we have been forgiven ourselves, it becomes very difficult to view others, even the world through such a lens of right and wrong.

Yielding to the Power of Forgiveness and Love

We yield the perspective back to God, who surely must be the One WHO sees and KNOWS, the One that has prepared a way for us all to walk forward. I pray that we can each prepare our heart to receive His Blessing and live our lives boldly and courageously so that we are led to participate in that Holy plan. We each have a way to walk in it. Only the Lord can impart that to you.

The only one that must Possess your Heart is God.

© 2019 Linda Willows

“Generous Forgiveness”, from L.Willows (motive and value, a measure of mercy, generous love)

I love the idea of generous forgiveness. To me, it means that love surpasses all. Ultimately we allow everything to fall through the heart of a love bigger and stronger than anything that we know or fathom and “it” wins.

In the King James Version of the Bible the text reads: “For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again”. Matthew 7:2

We are called to faithfully follow God’s law and use good judgment. Good judgment is discernment. This is related to wisdom which is an inner knowing sourced in genuine truth, while judgment is sourced in fear. 

Judgment, Righteousness, and Motive.

We usually believe that we are right. It is our most notable characteristic through the ages. So when we judge something, we do it whole-heartedly. Have you ever half-heartedly felt that something was true and right? Then we hold onto it. Here a few questions to help to determine the source. You may have better ones:

  1. What are my motives in holding on to this feeling, this judgment?
  2. What would change in my life of I let go of it?
  3. How would I need to adjust my heart in order to let go of it?
  4. Do I have a history with this person or circumstance that colors this judgment?
  5. Am I willing to heal this? Why not? What would happen if I did?
  6. What is the fear that I may not want to feel about this issue?
  7. How would it feel to be free of this? What might I learn from releasing this?

When we hold onto an accusation in our hearts it binds us to what we are judging. Hearts and minds are not only holding onto thoughts and feelings, but they also become the slaves of what has been judged. We cast a part of ourselves onto it like a hook and there it stays until we remove it.

When we cast is our ego forward as our worth, it becomes the measure used in the future.

It is a false sense of worth and value. Yet it a mortal ‘default”. We assess ourselves against an “other”. (measuring) As long as this lasts we are not free. The hook is in. This is the bait and hook that self-righteousness produces when it comes to accusation and judgment.

We have created the “measure” by which we will be measured. (That same hook will find us again someday)

If the “other” is not reflecting something that makes us feel worthy or valued then one leans towards the need to judge it. Fear rises up with an accusation. By making you wrong, “I” can stay right. “I can keep a fuller measure of good worth for myself”.

Noting the word, “myself” is helpful. The key to understanding how to unlock freedom is learning how not to live for the lesser self (me, myself) but to lift it up. Lifted living being turned towards the Love, Truth, and Spirit of God for identity. Worth and value are poured from that source rather than from worldly sources. The result is that perspective shifts. Heart view alters. The core of self lifts from where it was to a new place (literally). It moves to the Altar of God.

We are called to follow higher law, to live as seekers of wisdom and discernment.  We are more than “just myself”. We have the spirit of God in our hearts. Good Judgment is living from His truth and in obedience to God’s law.

When scripture says, “For with what “judgement ye judge, ye shall be judged”, the importance is upon the words for with what. It suggests that there is more than one judge.

Only With God

We are not the arbiters of truth. In the world, we attempt to use laws to arbitrate civilly. In human life, there is no measure. We step in. We often feel helpless. We cannot see into the hearts of one another with clarity and depth though we do try, we do earnestly long to know. We forget that God is there. Scripture tells us that there is only one Judge and that He is God.

 “There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?” James 4:12

My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me.” 1 Corinthians 4:4

When we accuse one another and become accusers, we are holding ourselves to be “gods” before Him. We are saying that we know better. We are claiming that moral compasses are working with greater clarity than His. Or, we are saying that God is not there, does not exist, or is powerless to act. We are actually also accusing God as well when we judge others. We are accusing Him of 1. not being able, 2. of not being present and 3. of not being Sovereign. We are taking His place.

“And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear.” – Isaiah 11:13

“But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” – 1 Samuel 16:7

Measure for Measure, Generous Mercy

I love David Guzik’s explanation in his commentary on this scripture so I will quote it here:

i. According to the teaching of some rabbis in Jesus’ time, God had two measures that He used to judge people. One was a measure of justice and the other was a measure of mercy. Whichever measure you want God to use with you, you should use that same measure with others.

ii. We should only judge another’s behavior when we are mindful of the fact that we ourselves will be judged, and we should consider how we would want to be judged.

“with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again”.

The measure that I would put before my heart first needs to be God law.  As a Christian that is my first plea and purpose. It isn’t easy. I fail at it often. Honestly, we all do because we are still on this journey, in this life, not yet perfect but walking with Christ. But the encouragement is that by filling our hearts with His Spirit, there is wisdom, renewal, and the strength to walk with generous Love. 

When our hearts are filled with God’s Love we fulfill his laws. The generous and full measure of what has been given to us pours into and through us towards life. A measure of mercy- the measure of mercy which has been so very great towards us, can be directed towards life and others. 

When we realize how much we have been given, hearts turn from looking out with  ones that have the capacity to judge and accuse to those that are at peace restful gratitude.  

“Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.” Romans 14:13

The Treasure

The measure that we are given is the full treasure of Christ, His gift- planted within each of us at birth. As we view His Glory we can only see what is true and be inspired to love as he does. From that, we will all fall lovingly into lives that forgive generously and walk with mercy both toward all that we know and encounter and on the inside, with the transforming nature of our hearts so devoted to Him.

© 2019 Linda Willows

“Serving Each Other Through Forgiveness” from Tim Keller



On both a theological and a practical level, forgiveness is at the very heart of what it means to be a Christian. True forgiveness comes at a cost and is pursued intentionally within a community of believers. The new human community that the Bible requires cuts across all cultures and temperaments. Put another way, it doesn’t fit any culture but challenges them all at some point.

Christians from more individualistic cultures love the Bible’s emphasis on affirming one another and sharing hurts and problems—but hate the idea of accountability and discipline. Christians from more traditional communal cultures love the emphasis on accountability for morals and beliefs but often chafe at the emphasis on racial reconciliation and being open about one’s personal hurts and financial needs.

But one could argue that the biblical teaching on forgiveness and reconciliation is so radical that there are no cultures or societies that are in accord with it. It may be here most of all that we see the truth of Bonhoeffer’s statement, “Our community with one another [in Christ] consists solely in what Christ has done to both of us. Christian brotherhood is a spiritual and not a human reality. In this, it differs from all other communities.”1

In its most basic and simple form, this teaching is that Christians in community are to never give up on one another, never give up on a relationship, and never write off another believer. We must never tire of forgiving (and repenting!) and seeking to repair our relationships. Matthew 5:23–26 tells us we should go to someone if we know they have something against us. Matthew 18:15–20 says we should approach someone if we have something against them. In short, if any relationship has cooled off or has weakened in any way, it is always your move. It doesn’t matter “who started it:” God always holds you responsible to reach out to repair a tattered relationship. A Christian is responsible to begin the process of reconciliation, regardless of how the distance or the alienation began.


When speaking of forgiveness, Jesus uses the image of debts to describe the nature of sins (Matt. 6:12; 18:21–35). When someone seriously wrongs you, there is an absolutely unavoidable sense that the wrongdoer owes you. The wrong has incurred an obligation, a liability, a debt. Anyone who has been wronged feels a compulsion to make the other person pay down that debt. We do that by hurting them, yelling at them, making them
feel bad in some way, or just waiting and watching and hoping that something bad happens to them. Only after we see them suffer in some commensurate way do we sense that the debt has been paid and the sense of obligation is gone.

This sense of debt/liability and obligation is impossible to escape. Anyone who denies it exists has simply not been wronged or sinned against in any serious way.

What then is forgiveness? Forgiveness means giving up the right to seek repayment from the one who harmed you. But it must be recognized that forgiveness is a form of voluntary suffering.

What does that mean? Think about how monetary debts work. If a friend breaks my lamp, and if the lamp costs fifty dollars to replace, then the act of lamp-breaking incurs a debt of fifty dollars. If I let him pay for and replace the lamp, I get my lamp back and he’s out fifty dollars. But if I forgive him for what he did, the debt does not somehow vanish into thin air. When I forgive him, I absorb the cost and payment for the lamp: either I will pay the fifty dollars to replace it or I will lose the lighting in that room.

To forgive is to cancel a debt by paying it or absorbing it yourself. Someone always pays every debt.

This is the case in all situations of wrongdoing, even when no money is involved. When you are sinned against, you lose something—perhaps happiness, reputation, peace of mind, a relationship, or an opportunity. There are two things to do about a sin. Imagine for example that someone has hurt your reputation. You can try to restore it by paying the other person back, voicing public criticisms and ruining his or her reputation. Or you can forgive the one who wronged you, refuse payback, and absorb the damage to your reputation. (You will have to restore it over time.)

In all cases when wrong is done there is a debt, and there is no way to deal with it without suffering: either you make the perpetrator suffer for it or you forgive and suffer for it yourself. Forgiveness is always extremely costly. It is emotionally very expensive—it takes much blood, sweat, and tears. When you forgive, you pay the debt yourself in several ways.

  1. First, you refuse to hurt the person directly; you refuse vengeance, payback, or the infliction of pain. Instead, you are as cordial as possible. When forgiving you must beware of subtle ways to try to exact payment while
    assuring yourself that you aren’t. Here are specific things to avoid:
  • making cutting remarks and dragging out past injuries repeatedly
  • being far more demanding and controlling with the person than you are with others, all because you feel
    deep down that they still owe you
  • punishing them with self-righteous “mercy” that is really a way to make them feel small and to justify yourself
  • avoiding them or being cold toward them
  1. Second, you refuse to employ innuendo or “spin” or hint or gossip or direct slander to diminish those who have hurt you in the eyes of others. You don’t run them down under the guise of warning people about them or under the guise of seeking sympathy and support and sharing your hurt.
  2. Third, when forgiving you refuse to indulge in ill-will in your heart. That is, don’t continually replay the tapes of the wrong in your imagination, in order to keep the sense of loss and hurt fresh so you can stay actively hostile toward the person and feel virtuous by contrast. Don’t vilify or demonize the offender in your imagination. Rather, recognize the common sinful humanity you share with him or her. Don’t root for them to fail,
    don’t hope for their pain. Instead, pray positively for their growth.

Forgiveness, then, is granted before it is felt. It is a promise to refrain from the three things above and pray for the perpetrator as you remind yourself of God’s grace to you. Though it is extremely difficult and painful (you are bearing the cost of the sin yourself!), forgiveness will deepen your character, free you to talk to and help the person, and lead to love and peace rather than bitterness. Further, by bearing the cost of the sin, you are walking in the path of your Master (Matt. 18:21–35; Col. 3:13).

It is typical for non-Christians today to say that the cross of Christ makes no sense. “Why did Jesus have to die? Why couldn’t God just forgive us?” Actually, no one who has been deeply wronged “just forgives”! If someone wrongs you, there are only two options: (1) you make them suffer, or (2) you refuse revenge and forgive them and then you suffer.

And if we can’t forgive without suffering, how much more must God suffer in order to forgive us? If we unavoidably sense the obligation and debt and injustice of sin in our soul, how much more does God know it? On the cross we see God forgiving us, and that was possible only if God suffered. On the cross God’s love satisfied his own justice by suffering, bearing the penalty for sin. There is never forgiveness without suffering, nails, thorns, sweat, blood. Never.


The experience of the gospel gives us the two prerequisites for a life of forgiveness: emotional humility and emotional wealth. You can remain bitter toward someone only if you feel superior if you are sure that you “would never do anything like that!” To remain unforgiving means you are unaware of your own sinfulness and need for forgiveness. When Paul says he is the worst among sinners (1 Tim. 1:15), he is not exaggerating. He is saying that he is as capable of sin as the worst criminals are. The gospel has equipped him with emotional humility.

At the same time, you can’t be gracious to someone if you are too needy and insecure. If you know God’s love and forgiveness, then there is a limit to how deeply another person can hurt you. He or she can’t touch your real identity, wealth, and significance. The more you rejoice in your own forgiveness, the quicker you will be to forgive others. You are rooted in emotional wealth.

Forgiveness flounders because I exclude the enemy from the community of humans even as I exclude myself from the community of sinners. But no one can be in the presence of the God of the crucified Messiah for long without overcoming this double exclusion—without transposing the enemy from the sphere of monstrous inhumanity into the sphere of shared humanity and herself from the sphere of proud innocence into the sphere of common sinfulness. When one knows that the torturer will not eternally triumph over the victim, one is free to rediscover that person’s humanity and imitate God’s love for him. And when one knows that God’s love is greater than all sin, one is free to see oneself . . . and so rediscover one’s own sinfulness. 

Jesus says, “If you do not forgive men their sins, your heavenly Father will not forgive your sins” (Matt. 6:15). This does not mean we can earn God’s forgiveness through our own forgiving but that we can disqualify ourselves from it. No heart that is truly repentant toward God could be unforgiving toward others. A lack of forgiveness
toward others is the direct result of a lack of repentance toward God. And as we know, you must repent in order to be saved (Acts 2:38).


When God reveals his glory to Moses, he says he forgives wickedness yet “does not leave the guilty unpunished” (Exod. 34:6–7). Not until the coming of Jesus do we see how God can be both completely just and forgiving through his atonement (1 John 1:7–9). In the cross, God satisfies both justice and love.

God was so just and desirous to judge sin that Jesus had to die, but he was so loving and desirous of our salvation that Jesus was glad to die.

We too are commanded to forgive (“bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another,” Col 3:13–14) on the basis of Jesus’ atonement for our sins (“Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. . . . If you do not forgive men their sins, your heavenly Father will not forgive your sins,”
Matt. 6:14–15; cf. Luke 6:37).

But we are also required to forgive in a way that honors justice, just as God’s forgiveness does. “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him” (Luke 17:3). “Christians are called to abandon bitterness, to be forbearing, to have a forgiving stance even where the repentance of the offending party is conspicuous by its absence; on the other hand, their God-centered passion for justice, their concern for God’s glory, ensure that the awful odium of sin is not glossed over.”


The gospel calls us, then, to keep an equal concern (a) to speak the truth and honor what is right, yet (b) to be endlessly forgiving as we do so and (c) to never give up on the goal of a reconciled, warm relationship.

First, God requires forgiveness whether or not the offender has repented and has asked for forgiveness. “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him” (Mark 11:25). This does not say “forgive him if he repents” but rather “forgive him right there—as you are praying.”

Second, God requires speaking the truth. That is why Jesus tells his disciples in Luke 17:3 to “rebuke” the wrongdoer and “if he repents, forgive him.” Is Jesus saying that we can hold a grudge if the person doesn’t repent? No, we must not read Luke 17 to contradict Mark 11. Jesus is calling us here both to practice inner forgiveness and to rebuke and correct.

We must completely surrender the right to pay back or get even, yet at
the same time, we must never overlook injustice and must require serious wrongdoings to be redressed. This is almost the very opposite of how we ordinarily operate. Ordinarily, we do not seek justice on the outside (we don’t confront or call people to change and make restitution), but we stay hateful and bitter on the inside. The Bible calls us to turn this completely around. We are to deeply forgive on the inside so as to have no desire for vengeance, but then we are to speak openly about what has happened with a desire to help the person see what was done wrong.

In reality, inner forgiveness and outward correction work well together. Only if you have forgiven inside can you correct unabusively—without trying to make the person feel terrible. Only if you have forgiven already can your motive be to correct the person for God’s sake, for justice’s sake, for the community’s sake, and for the person’s sake. And only if you forgive on the inside will your words have any hope of changing the perpetrator’s heart. Otherwise, your speech will be so filled with disdain and hostility that he or she will not listen to you. Ultimately, to forgive on the inside and to rebuke/correct on the outside are not incompatible, because they are both acts of love. It is never loving to let a person just get away with sin. It is not loving to the perpetrator, who continues in the grip of the habit, nor to those who will be wronged in the future, nor to God, who is grieved.

This is difficult, for the line is very thin between a moral outrage for God’s sake and a self-righteous outrage because of hurt pride. Still, to refuse to confront is not loving but just selfish.

Third, as we “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15), we are to pursue justice gently and humbly, in order to redress wrongs and yet maintain or restore the relationship (Gal. 6:1–5). There is a great deal of tension between these three things!

Almost always one is much more easily attained if you simply drop any concern for the other two. For example, it is easy to “speak the truth” if you’ve given up on any desire to maintain a warm relationship. But if you want both, you will have to be extremely careful with how you speak the truth!

Another example: it is possible to convince yourself that you have forgiven someone, but if afterward you still want nothing to do with them (you don’t pursue an ongoing relationship), then that is a sign that you spoke the truth without truly forgiving.
Of course, it is possible that you do keep these three things together in your heart and mind but the other person simply cannot.

There is no culture or personality type that holds these together. People tend to believe that if you are confronting me you don’t forgive or love me, or if you really loved me you wouldn’t be rebuking me. God recognizes that many people simply won’t let you pursue all these things together, and so tells us, “As far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Rom. 12:18). That is, do your part and have as good and peaceful a relationship with people as they will let you have.

Copyright © 2005 by Timothy Keller, © 2009 by Redeemer City to City. This article first appeared in The Gospel and Life conferences
of 2004 and 2005.