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Two Kinds of Forgiveness: Transactional and Positional

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Let all bitterness, anger and wrath, shouting and slander be removed from you, along with all malice. And be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God also forgave you in Christ (Eph 4:31-32, emphasis added).

Are you angry at anyone in church? Do you have an unresolved grudge that won’t heal?

Sadly, Christians are just as liable to be offended and to give offense as any other people. But instead of letting that relationship die, believers have strong reasons to work for reconciliation and restoration. After all, we are brothers and sisters in Christ, bound together for all eternity. We’re members of the Father’s forever family, and He hates seeing His children biting and devouring one another (Gal 5:15). So what can we do differently?

We can forgive one another.

Since offenses are inevitable, emphasizing forgiveness is essential to healthy Christian communities. Palmer Becker suggests there are several kinds of forgiveness, two of which are transactional and positional:

Transactional forgiveness is when an offender confesses a fault and receives forgiveness from the offended. It is called transactional forgiveness because a transaction has taken place between the offender and the offended. Forgiveness of an offender releases that person from what he or she should be required to pay, and from the guilt and shame related to it” (Becker, Anabaptist Essentials, pp. 76-77).

Transactional forgiveness is ideal because it restores the broken relationship between the offender and the offended. But as you know, not every offender will admit they’ve done wrong (assuming the situation is black and white). What do you do then—continue to live in bitterness, anger, and wrath? Is forgiveness still an option?

Becker says it is.

When transactional forgiveness isn’t possible, you can engage in positional forgiveness. As Becker explains:

Positional forgiveness is when an offender refuses to confess what he or she has said, felt, or done. When there is no confession, a transaction is not possible. However, in positional forgiveness, the offended still holds an attitude or a position of forgiveness toward the offender” (Becker, Anabaptist Essentials, p. 77).

You can forgive your offender before they admit their guilt. Becker takes Jesus’ prayer from the cross as an example of positional forgiveness (cf. Luke 23:34). The Jews and Romans were actively killing Him, and yet, “He was ready to forgive those who were sinning against him, even though they had not yet confessed their wrongdoing” (Becker, Anabaptist Essentials, p. 77).

Becker notes that counselors call positional forgiveness forgrieving: “It is called forgrieving because the offended grieves that, despite his or her openness to forgive, a transaction has not been completed and the relationship has not been restored” (Becker, Anabaptist Essentials, p. 77). You’re grieving the broken relationship. But even though no repentance is forthcoming, you still choose to extend positional forgiveness, if only for your sake, to help you overcome the anger and hurt feelings that come with being sinned against.

If bitterness is your poison, forgiveness is the antidote.

Send your questions or comments to Shawn.


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