A Christian can't become a spiritually mature person or experience ongoing wellbeing without learning to forgive, says a pastor and author, whose recently released book The Four Laws of Forgiveness reflects the process he learned while experiencing the devastation of making wrong choices in his life.
Brad Johnson, pastor of Life Change Community Church in Agoura Hills, Calif., told The Christian Post that although learning to forgive may be a painful process, it is a necessary one to move forward in life.
"Forgiveness doesn't erase the past, but it also doesn't change the past. It does change the future," Johnson said. "You begin to move on and forward through the process of forgiveness."
Johnson writes in his book, subtitled How to Forgive Yourself and Others, that he is not just theorizing about the need for forgiveness, he "spent a hard stretch of life figuring this out."
Five years ago, while pastoring Calvary Community Church, a congregation of about 4,000 in Los Angeles County, Johnson had an affair which ended his 28-year marriage and led to his resignation from the church. A career in ministry that included leadership in some thriving and influential churches was in jeopardy.
"There was a time in the midst of deep depression that I made some choices that were extremely harmful to my family, to the church I served, to friends, and also to myself. I stayed in a place I call the prodigal state, far from the Father, and as a result many, many people were hurt. My life completely was wrecked – a marriage, a ministry, my children, you name it," he explained.
"There wasn't an area of my life that was unaffected and there wasn't an area of my life intact," he continued. "Absolutely every area of my life was destroyed by my choices for which I take full responsibility."
Johnson said that it was in this "very dark and distant place" that God encircled him with friends that assured him that God still loved him and that they would not walk away from him.
"They still believed in God's hand on my life and God's plan in my life. I couldn't believe it, but ultimately through their love and grace and the continued patience of God the Holy Spirit, my heart began to soften, and the blinders slowly started to come away from my eyes, and some of my clarity returned about the things of God and the promises of His Word, and the character of God that I had come to know from 30 years as a pastor," he said.
"Forgiveness was the centerpiece of that because we can say God loves us, but if that doesn't include forgiveness then we are still estranged from God. He might love us, but it is forgiveness which allows us to be welcomed home."
Johnson developed the concepts for his book while doing a sermon series about forgiveness. Small groups from the church also used the weekend messages for study and discussion.
The book was created in the church while its congregation was "really engaging in the word of God" and the book finally emerged, he said.
One of the concepts that Johnson writes about in bolstering one of his four laws of forgiveness based on biblical principles is that God is a forgiving God, and not one as some people have interpreted, a "punishing, angry, fire-breathing God."
He writes, "It's time the world stopped imagining a bully Messiah who came to kick butt and take names. We do ourselves a disservice when we fictionalize a Savior who stood on street corners screaming 'Turn or burn!'"
Johnson, who said he has counseled thousands of people, says many have revealed to him that they have grown up in a guilt-based religion.
"They've given testimony about their religious past and they've said they always felt beat up in church. They were made to be afraid of a punishing God and therefore left the church because they didn't sense that they could get close to this God who they perceived as being continually angry," he explained.
However, the nature of God is a loving God who sent Jesus Christ to remind us that He loves us, Johnson wrote in his book.
"I haven't met anybody yet who hasn't needed forgiveness and who hasn't needed to give it," Johnson told CP. "It's amazing to me how often people give me their list after reading the book. Usually there's a very specific issue or person that immediately comes to mind. The most common response is, 'Brad, we've been waiting for a book like this for a long time.'"
As Easter approaches, Johnson wanted to talk about the Christian holiday in terms of forgiveness.
"If we were to summarize Easter in a word, certainly the word could be 'resurrection.' But the point of the Easter weekend – crucifixion and resurrection – was the very Son of God died for our sins so that we could be fully forgiven. So, 'forgiveness' could also be a word that really captures the whole meaning and intent of Easter weekend."