We’ve all been hurt at times in our lives. Sometimes we forgive. Other times, we hold grudges and anger. What does it look like to walk through the process of biblical forgiveness?
What is biblical forgiveness? Biblical forgiveness is the process of forgiving someone or being forgiven as illustrated in the Bible. Forgiveness itself is defined as the letting go of sin. In the Bible, this includes forgiving everyone, every time, of everything, as an act of obedience and gratefulness to God. It acknowledges the sacrifice God made through His Son Jesus who died to restore the relationship between God and man. Forgiveness does not mean excusing, forgetting, permitting repetition of the sinful act against you, or guaranteeing reconciliation with the perpetrator.
In the past few years, I’ve it difficult to forgive people in my life who hurt me. However, I can assure you that harboring unforgiveness is the worse alternative. This post will help you to avoid falling into some of the same patterns of unforgiveness that I did.
What Is Forgiveness?
Forgiveness is the letting go of sin. God has forgiven us our sins, and we forgive others of theirs. It is moving on instead of dwelling on that sin and refusing to harbor it against them.
To take that a step further, however, you need to understand the context of the human condition. Humans are sinners from the beginning and are therefore born condemned, keeping us from having a relationship with God.
However, God, in His great love and mercy, has created a way for our debt of sin to be repaid, resulting in the forgiveness of our sins.
Ephesians describes this act of mercy and grace:
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.Ephesians 1:7-10 ESV
Jesus, God’s only Son, paid the price for us to have a relationship with God, and so that one day we may be able to join him in his kingdom.
His love for us was so great that he would sacrifice his Son to pay the price for our sin. And not only that, but he casts it away so that it can never come between us and Him.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,Psalm 103:11-12 ESV
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
This is the forgiveness that God offers, we only have to accept that gift which he has already paid the price for. Then, in overflow of the forgiveness we have received we must in turn go and forgive others, dealing with them graciously just as God has done with us.
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 also must forgive.Colossians 3:12-13 ESV
Who Should I Forgive?
It is out of the forgiveness that we have been given that we must also forgive all those around us. Regardless of what they have done, or how they have hurt you or those you love, we must continue to forgive.
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.Ephesians 4:32 ESV
Sometimes that person is you. You may have messed up so badly you are unforgivable. However, regardless of what you have done Scripture says that you are forgiven. So instead of holding yourself to a standard that even God doesn’t require of you, take a deep breath, walk in God’s promises, and forgive yourself.
For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving,Psalms 86:5 ESV
abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you.
What Is Forgivable?
There is only one sin that the Bible says is unforgivable, the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. At first glance this statement seems overwhelming so allow me to explain.
The only sin that is unforgivable is to know who Jesus is and reject his teaching and offer of forgiveness. It’s unforgivable because you are rejecting His ability to forgive you in the first place.
This is called blasphemy of the Holy Spirit because you are rejecting the witness of the Holy Spirit about Jesus and claiming it to be a lie.
So, if you choose not to accept who Jesus is, His forgiveness, and reject the witness that the Holy Spirit, God will not forgive you.
He will not force you to accept a gift you don’t want. However, if you do accept who Jesus is, accept his forgiveness, and affirm the witness of the Holy Spirit then all your sins will be forgiven.
For I will be merciful toward their iniquities,Hebrews 8:12 ESV
and I will remember their sins no more.
It doesn’t matter how bad a person you perceive yourself to be. You were condemned from the beginning, and your own view of how good or bad you does not decide your salvation.
What is required is a humble and repentant heart. Your works have no power to save you, nor condemn you.
However, a word of caution. Romans 6 reminds us that after being made alive in Christ through forgiveness that shouldn’t then become our excuse to sin more, but that it should transform our lives and make us desire to become more like Christ.
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?
We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.Romans 6:1-4
Since God has forgiven us then we should forgive everyone else. We should also, in love, forgive all sins of those who have sinned against us. Don’t steward bitterness against others, but remember what God has done for you and forgive them in love.
Hatred stirs up strife,Proverbs 10:12 ESV
but love covers all offenses.
How Many Times Should I Forgive?
Depending on the sin, it is often not too hard to forgive someone one time. However, what happens when they continue to hurt you over and over again? When can I stop forgiving them?
Peter had the same question, which he asked of Jesus:
Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.”Matthew 18:21-22 ESV
Jesus is not saying that you have to forgive someone 539 times and then you can do what you want. He is showing Peter that just as He will forgive us over and over, so must we forgive over and over.
Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,Psalm 32:1 ESV
whose sin is covered.
It is definitely not an easy thing to continue to forgive when people hurt you. However, Jesus commands us that in the same way that God forgives us, so must we also forgive others.
What Is Forgiveness Not?
We have talked about what forgiveness is, so let’s take a moment to discuss what it is not.
Forgiveness is not:
- Excusing their actions
- Permitting them to repeat their actions
- Forgetting what they did
- Saying that the relationship has to go back to what it was
Forgiving someone is letting go of their sin, not saying that it was ok. It also doesn’t mean that their actions should be without consequences if consequences are warranted.
It just means that you are ready to move on and not dwell on their sin anymore.
Forgiveness does not mean you are allowing them to repeat that sin against you.
Whoever covers an offense seeks love,Proverbs 17:9
but he who repeats a matter separates close friends.
Forgiveness doesn’t mean you have to forget what they did altogether. Some sins hurt more than others, and it may have a lifelong impact on you. You don’t have to forget what they did, but God still calls you to forgive them.
Forgiveness also does not mean that the relationship has to go back to what it was before that sin. In some cases, it may be appropriate and necessary to step back from a relationship that has been damaged by sin.
Doing this does not mean that you are being unforgiving. You can and should still forgive that person, but things don’t have to go back to “normal.”
Why Is Forgiveness Important?
Forgiveness is unquestionably important for two main reasons.
It may seem that by withholding forgiveness from someone that you are able to hurt their feelings or keep them accountable for what they did in some way. However, this is not how forgiveness works. Forgiveness is about you and not them.
Unforgiveness hurts you and grows bitterness in your heart. It can lead to a variety of very real symptoms as well such as depression, anxiety, stress, and heart issues. It can also lower your immune system.
Also, don’t sit around waiting for an apology that may or may not come. Forgiveness is always better sooner rather than later.
Unforgiveness also hurts your relationship with God. This is the biggest reason why forgiveness is so important.
The Bible says that if you steward unforgiveness in your heart, God will not forgive you. Our forgiveness from God is conditional on our ability to forgive others in return.
For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.Matthew 6:14-15 ESV
Forgive others, don’t hold on to that bitterness in your heart. You don’t have to forget what they did, excuse it, allow them to repeat it, or resume the relationship as it used to be but you must learn to forgive and move on.
How Do I Forgive Those Who Have Hurt Me?
You have decided that you are ready to forgive the person who hurt you, but how when they have cut a wound so deep?
Some situations are easier than others, but some are really difficult. However, here are some steps you can take to help you forgive and process.
- Prayer – This is always the first step to forgiveness. Pray for God to open your heart to healing and to soften your heart towards the person you are trying to forgive. Continue to pray throughout this process, asking God to help you forgive others the way He has forgiven you.
- Journaling – Prayerfully journaling about the situation can be an effective tool in exploring the areas that need healing from their actions and how you can begin to forgive them for what happened.
- Counsel – In some situations, it may be good to seek out wise counsel to help you process what happened and decide how to move forward.
- Speak it Out – Words have power, so find a place where you can speak, out loud, your forgiveness for the person that hurt you.
- Confrontation – Then it comes time to evaluate whether you can confront this person, in person, to forgive them or not. This may be something you want to discuss with your wise counsel and definitely continue to be praying through with God.
- Time – Finally, know that this process will take time. Saying “I forgive you” one time is good but may not be enough to truly allow that forgiveness to penetrate your heart. You may have to wake up every morning, look in the mirror, and say “I forgive so and so for xyz,” and that’s ok. Keep walking out that forgiveness every day. Say it as often as you need to until they are completely forgiven.
And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.Mark 11:25 ESV
How Do I Seek Forgiveness From Others?
Perhaps, you are not the one that needs to forgive, but the one who needs to be forgiven. In this case, there are some steps that you need to walk through as well.
- Pray – Once again, prayer needs to be the center of this process. Take some time talking to God, asking Him to forgive you for sinning against this person. Ask him to bring healing to that person and that they would forgive you. Pray for God to continue to work out repentance in your heart and that he would help to keep you from that sin in the future.
- Ownership – This is one of the most important steps. You can’t walk in repentance for your sin if you don’t own your sin, to begin with. This is something to pray through as well. That God would help you to take full ownership of what you did without downplaying it or spreading around the blame.
- Journaling – It may be helpful to journal out what you are looking to be forgiven for as a way of processing and humbling yourself. This may also help with taking ownership as well.
- Counsel – Seeking wise counsel is rarely a bad idea. You may need to seek wise counsel to decide how to best proceed in seeking forgiveness and reconciliation with the person you have wronged.
- Confrontation – Determine if it is possible to confront the person you wronged, in person, to admit your mistakes, apologize and ask for their forgiveness. Recognize that they may not be up to meeting with you in person and that you may need to explore other ways to express your apology and ask for forgiveness.
- Time – Lastly, give the other person time. They may need more time to process what happened than you realize. Also, realize that they may not want to seek reconciliation of the relationship and continue to pray through that.
Ultimately, all you can do is seek out forgiveness and the confession of your sins. You can’t force the other person to forgive you. Live with a repentant heart, seek their forgiveness, and leave the rest to God.
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.1 John 1:9 ESV
To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness, for we have rebelled against him and have not obeyed the voice of the Lord our God by walking in his laws, which he set before us by his servants the prophets.Daniel 9:9 ESV
A Final Reminder
At the end of the day, whether you are the one forgiving or being forgiven, no conversation on forgiveness would be complete without reminding ourselves of the one who made it possible.
Mankind was condemned from conception for their sinful nature. We all deserve death and eternal punishment in Hell. This is the way of things since the sin of Adam and Eve in the garden.
This sin has put a barrier in place between God and man, keeping us from the relationship with Him that He desires and created us for. However, because of his great love for his creation, he already had a plan of redemption to work out our salvation.
He unveils this plan throughout the Old Testament and then brings it to fulfillment in the birth of Jesus Christ, who would live a perfect and sinless life, fulfilling the prophecies made about Him since the beginning, winning battle after battle with temptation, and then sacrificing himself, though he was innocent, in order to take on the sins of the world.
By His resurrection on the third day he conquered sin and death, and through this the sins of the world are able to be forgiven.
This has allowed for the beginning of the restoration of the relationship between God and Man which will be completed in the New Jerusalem.
Now, by repenting of our sin, acknowledging Jesus as Lord, and clinging to him as our Savior we are able to participate in God’s redemptive plan, and will one day experience eternal life with him.
Because of his sacrifice, our sins are able to be wiped out, and we are forgiven.
I, I am heIsaiah 43:25 ESV
who blots out your transgressions for my own sake,
and I will not remember your sins.
He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.Colossians 1:13-14 ESV