Forgiveness is a popular topic within Christian circles. The Bible gives believers clear answers on forgiving one another.
What does God say about forgiveness? We should forgive one another because Christ forgave us. When God forgave us he empowered us to forgive others. This is discussed all throughout the scriptures and exemplified in Christ’s life.
Giving forgiveness, asking for forgiveness, and accepting forgiveness are all important areas for us as Christians to understand and apply in our lives. Throughout the Bible, we see forgiveness being addressed and multiple stories of forgiveness in action.
Meditate on what the Bible teaches on forgiveness. As you read, think on and consider the implications of the Bible’s teaching on your lives.
Christ forgave us and because of that, we can forgive others. Without Christ’s forgiveness, we have no reason to forgive others.
Receiving the forgiveness that Christ offers is the first step to learning how to forgive others and asking forgiveness for ourselves.
Romans 5:8 emphasizes God’s immense love and forgiveness displayed to us:
While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Christ dying for us while we were still in our sinful ways is incredible because in Ephesians 2:1 we are called “dead in the trespasses and sins.”
When Jesus died on the cross and forgave our sins, he saved us from living dead in our sins. This amazing act of forgiveness and grace should spur us on to forgive others.
Meditate on the great grace of God that he has given you. How can you give that kind of grace to others?
Asking for Forgiveness
We have all made mistakes from time to time and upset those around us, but since we are Christians we are held to a higher standard and should seek forgiveness when we have wronged someone.
So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First, be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.Matthew 5:23-24
It is important that we ask forgiveness not only of the people we have wronged but also God. Being Christians, we represent God our lives, and in everything we do.
When we sin and go against God’s word we need to ask God for forgiveness. It says in 1 John 1:9,
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
In Christ we have forgiveness.
When we do not ask forgiveness from God, there is disconnection which creates a broken relationship. Similarly, with people in our lives, unforgiveness creates disruptions in our relationships.
Unforgiveness truly disrupts our own lives. When you don’t forgive, you hurt yourself the most.
When we ask for forgiveness, we can help mend broken relationships and continue to act in a God-honoring way even after making mistakes. God wants a relationship with us, and asking for forgiveness from God and others helps restore that relationship.
“Seventy times seven,” that’s how many times Jesus tells us to forgive those who have sinned against us in Matthew 18:22.
We are not limited to forgiving our brothers seventy times seven, or four-hundred and ninety times, but instead encouraged to keep forgiving those who have sinned against us… no matter how many times.
Forgiving others is made possible because of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. He died for all of our sins and bore the burdens of our sins.
Because of the forgiveness we receive from God, we as Christians have every reason to forgive others. Our ability to forgive others is brought up multiple times throughout the Bible in connection with God’s forgiveness of us. For example:
- Ephesians 4:32 “forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you”
- Matthew 6:12 “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”
- Matthew 6:15 “but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
When someone has offended or mistreated me, and later asks for forgiveness, how should I as a Christian respond?
In most situations, it is easier to do avoid forgiving them by retaliating in some way or simply holding a grudge.
These options, retaliation, and holding a grudge, do not bring about any good. They are both spoken about in the Bible as ungodly alternatives to forgiveness. Romans 12:18 speaks against retaliation because others are watching and we want to do “what is honorable in the sight of all.”
We do not want to keep a grudge against someone since it is similarly a display of un-Christlike behavior, and God gives a better alternative to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18).
Unforgiveness is not Christlike, we should treat those we oppose with kindness as Christ would. Unforgiveness breeds hatred and strife, and these are not the characteristics that exemplify Christ in us.
Instead, Christ urges us to “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,” (Luke 6:27) and “forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you” (Colossians 3:13). Although it is hard to forgive those who have wronged us, we need to obey and follow Christs’ example of forgiving others.
Bible Stories About Forgiveness
Throughout the Bible we see may stories that exemplify forgiveness. In the Old Testament, Joseph has the opportunity for revenge on his brothers, that had sold him into slavery, but instead of revenge, he chooses to forgive his brothers.
We see in the New Testament stories and parables about forgiveness, for example, the parable of the prodigal son.
Parable of the Prodigal Son
Jesus tells the story of a man who took from his father his inheritance before his father had died. Leaving home he made unwise decisions and squandered away all he had.
Following his poor choices the son decided that his life would be better even a servant of the father than his current situation, so he returned home.
The son was still a long way off when his father came running to him, the son repents for all he did and asks for a humble position among his servants, but the father instead throws a celebration for his son that returned home, forgiving him and saying,
For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost and is found.Luke 15:24
Jesus uses this parable as a picture to represent God forgiving us even when we have strayed far from him.
The Story of Stephen
It is one thing to forgive someone who has sin against you in a small way, but we see through the life of Jesus, and others like Stephen that forgiveness can be applied in all situations.
In Luke 23:34 while Jesus is on the cross he prays for the very men who put him on that cross saying
Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.Luke 23:34
Similarly in Stephen’s life after preaching the gospel they then took him outside the city to stone him and Stephan cried out,
Lord, do not hold this sin against them.Acts 7:60
Some people do not seem to deserve forgiveness. They have done plenty of wrongs and do not regret their actions. But looking at the life of those in the Bible we can see that there were no preconditions to forgiving someone. Jesus forgave those who crucified him.
Stephen imitated Jesus by forgiving those who stoned him to death.
Everyone struggles with forgiveness, it is easy to ignore the issues that come up in our lives, but relying on God to help us forgive others is essential.
God gave himself up for us and forgave us, and because of that, we should look to do the same for others.