By: Steve Shirley
What is forgiveness?
It is a decision or choice, (not a feeling), you make to pardon a wrong or hurt that was done to you. It is giving grace or mercy to someone who doesn't deserve it. Once we do this, it is in the past, and no longer held against the person.
This is the forgiveness that God has given to us. He gives us (Rom 3:24)(Rom
11:6)(Acts 15:11)(Eph 2:4-10)(Eph 1:7)(2 Cor 8:9)(Titus 3:7)
grace even when we don't deserve it. In addition, when He
forgives our sins, He does not (Isa 43:25) remember them, and
(Ps 103:12) puts them as far as the east is from the west.
Note: I do not believe God literally FORGETS our sins (He is omniscient: all-knowing), but rather, He chooses not to ever bring them up against us again. The same standard applies to our forgiveness. Remembering the offence does not mean we have failed to forgive it (forgetting the offence is VERY unlikely to happen in severe cases), but we choose not to bring it up again or hold it against them. Actually, forgetting the offence can be unwise in some cases, i.e. if a man has molested or raped you, that man needs to be forgiven, but it doesn't mean you should put yourself in a position where it can happen again.
There is a wonderful parable that Jesus told in (Mt 18:21-35) that helps us understand God's forgiveness of us. Let's look at that.
Key verse: (Mt 18:35)
The man with the large debt is us owing a great debt to God, and He forgives us when we ask. The man then failing to forgive the smaller debt is us failing to forgive a much smaller debt someone owes us in comparison to that which we owe God. We fall so short of a perfect God that any wrongs done to us pale in comparison to the wrongs we have done to God. In fact, we fall so far short, Jesus had to come and give His life to make payment for our sins, so that we might be forgiven. This example should give us perspective. Think about it. If God has forgiven us for our thousands of sins (sins of commission AND omission), shouldn't we forgive the few sins that someone has committed against us?
The goal of all Christians should be to become more and more like Jesus.
While on the Earth, He lead a life of forgiving people over and over (He was even accused by the scribes and Pharisees of Lk 5:20-25, Mk 2:1-12, Mt 9:1-8):
committing blasphemy for forgiving sins.
In fact, on the last day of His life, He was beaten, whipped, ridiculed, tortured, and finally nailed to a cross. And, what were some of His dying words? (Lk 23:34)
"Father forgive them; for they know not what they do.
Jesus also gave us the model of the perfect prayer: The Lord's Prayer. He said, (Lk 11:4)
"And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive everyone who is indebted to us".
(Also see: Mt 6:12).
How many people pray this prayer without even thinking about what they are saying? I DID! Isn't it a bit scary to think that there are thousands of people making this PROMISE to God that they have "forgiven those who have trespassed against them" when they actually haven't? (I'll tell ya, God showed me this in this study, and I immediately asked for forgiveness for doing this in the past...) If you think about it, it is actually the only promise we make to God in the Lord's Prayer. We are told in the Bible that when we (Ecc 5:4-5)(Deut 23:21-23)
make a vow or promise to God, He expects us to keep it.
Have you made this promise to God?
SCARY WORDS FROM JESUS!! Let's turn to (Mt 6:14-15)
God will not forgive us if we don't forgive others.
What does this mean? Does this mean that if we don't forgive, then we can't go to Heaven?
Let's also look at : (Mk 11:25-26).
Notice two things Jesus is saying here.
First, He is speaking to those who pray to the Father (Which I believe is Christians).
Second, Those who are praying to the Father can have their prayers hindered by unforgiveness.
(Sin separates us from a close walk with God: Isa 59:2, Ps 66:6, Jn 9:31, 1 Pet 3:12, Prov 15:29). (See 2 paragraphs down for an example of this.)
This being said, I see this as saying that a Christian CAN struggle with unforgiveness. HOWEVER, we should keep in mind that (1 Jn 3:9) says:
If we practice sin, it shows we don't know Jesus.
The Bible also tells us that a key to salvation is (Lk 13:3,5)(Acts 3:19)(2 Cor 7:10)(Acts 11:18)
If a person is UNREPENTANT, and UNWILLING to forgive someone for a wrong or hurt that was done to them, isn't this practicing sin? Does that person TRULY have a relationship with Jesus?
Note: Let me share a little example I felt like God showed me a while back about how sin can separate us from God and hinder our communication with Him.
Picture a long, narrow corridor with a large room at one end of it, and many doors between it and the other end of the corridor. God is in the large room, and the doors in the corridor represent sin. We are in that corridor, and when we sin, a door closes between us and the large room. We can still talk to God, and hear Him through the door to the large room, but it is a little harder. In addition, the more we sin, the more doors that close between us and the the big room where God is, as we move farther and farther down the corridor. Eventually, we have so many doors between us and the big room, that we basically cannot communicate with God at all.
So, how do we open these doors to get closer to the big room?
Confessing and repenting of our sins!
When we do this, our communication with God remains strong, the doors are opened, and we are never far from the big room at the end of the corridor.
(Jesus, who lived a perfect, and sinless life never had ANYTHING separating Him from that room, and was in PERFECT fellowship with the Father at all times. This is why I believe that the most painful thing in Jesus' life on this Earth was when the sin of the world was laid upon Him on the cross and He said, "My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me"? [Mt 27:26] The sin of the world broke that perfect communion He had with Father, and He keenly felt it.
Unforgiveness ultimately does FAR more:
harm to you than it does to those who you fail to forgive.
Frankly, I would be willing to guess that in a large number of situations, the offender who hurt you rarely, if ever, even dwells on what they did to you. However, a day rarely goes by that YOU don't remember it! Do you realize what this is doing? It is:
pretty much giving the offender control of your life.
That sure doesn't sound pleasant, does it?
Unforgiveness towards that person will begin to affect all areas of your
life, including relationships with your parents, spouse, children, people at
work, and most importantly GOD. It will make you bitter and resentful, and begin
to eat you up inside. The "root" of bitterness and resentment will grow deeper
and deeper; and the deeper it goes, the harder it will be to remove it from your
(Picture how hard it would be to uproot a newly planted tree as opposed to one that has been taking root for say 10 years.)
Let's look at (Heb 12:15)
bitterness is a root that grows.
(Eph 4:31) says:
we are to get bitterness our of our life.
If we continue to hold on to unforgiveness, it (2 Cor 2:10-11):
gives Satan a stronghold in our lives.
There also appears to be a pretty solid link between unforgiveness and
one's physical health.
Unforgiveness can result in depression. It can lead to
heart disease (i.e. stress).
There are even some cancer doctors who say that a large majority of their patients have a strong case of unforgiveness somewhere in their past!
Can't you kind of see a connection with that? Isn't unforgiveness kind of like a "cancer" that rots your insides? Wouldn't it save your life to have that cancer removed? Could it be that your ailment stems from unforgiveness? Wouldn't it be better to live your life with forgiveness rather than unforgiveness?
One Bible teacher that I listen to recently compared unforgiveness to carrying around a large sack of potatoes. Not only do you have to carry that burden everywhere you go, but eventually the potatoes rot, and you are carrying around a big, smelly, unpleasant sack of mush.
Unforgiveness is also partly based on pride. It is saying that
we deserve something because of the wrong done to us.
"I deserve to be happy."
"I deserve to be loved the right way."
"I deserve to see this person pay for what they did."
The Bible tells us (Gal 5:24)(Col 3:5)(Eph 4:22) that we are to:
die to our wants and needs.
God is to be our focus in all things, not ourselves. God hates pride, and a prideful attitude hinders our walk.
We are told in (James 4:6)(1 Pet 5:5-6) that we are to be:
humble, for God gives grace to the humble
and the (Mt 23:12)(Luke 14:11, 18:14)(James 4:10)
humble will be exalted.
Forgiveness takes humility.
Let me also take a moment to discuss one other aspect of forgiveness, and that concerns those who can't forgive THEMSELVES. It is said that if someone:
can't forgive themselves, they can't forgive others
I don't know whether this is true or not, but nonetheless, I suspect it certainly makes it more difficult. Condemnation for sin is not from God, and frankly, unforgiveness towards ourselves is just as sinful as unforgiveness towards others. It needs to be confessed and removed from our lives. As we said earlier, when we confess our sins, God removes them as far as the east is from the west (Ps 103:12). God loves each of us unconditionally, in spite of what we do, and (Mt 19:19) (Mt 22:39) tell us we should:
Love our neighbors as OURSELVES..
SO, what are some steps we can take to forgive others if we are struggling with this?
The Bible tells us to bless our enemies:
(Mt 5:44): Bless them that curse you.
(Rom 12:14): Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not.
(1 Cor 4:12) : Being reviled, ...we bless.
We can bless people in a number of ways. We can bless them in prayer, as we will discuss below, and we can also bless them with our actions.
Can you share any examples of where you have blessed someone who did wrong to you, and you showed them kindness in return?
Do you think that the verses below applied?
(Rom 12:21) tells us we should "overcome evil with good," and (Rom 12:20) precedes that by saying, "Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in doing so thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head."
How does it make you feel inside when someone does this to you, or how do you think it makes them feel when you do it to them?
(Mt 5:44) also tells us that we are to:
love our enemies and pray for them.
This is certainly not an easy thing to do if we have been hurt in the past, but it is necessary. When we pray for our enemies (those who have hurt us), we are interceding on their behalf and asking for God's favor to be upon them. Ask God to forgive them. We have some great examples of people in the Bible doing this. Let's look at them:
Stephen: (Acts 7:60)
Paul: (2 Tim 4:16)
Moses: (Num 12:13)
Jesus: (Lk 23:34) As we spoke of earlier, when He said on the cross, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do."
We can also pray that the Holy Spirit will convict them of their sin, and bring them to a point of repentance. If the offender does not have a personal relationship with Jesus, share your testimony with them and tell them how Jesus can change their life. You can even use your forgiveness of their sin against you as a springboard to show how they can be forgiven of their sins through Jesus Christ. Forgiving others is a mighty testimony of how God is working in our lives.
What are some other ways we can show people we love them?
Can you think of any recent examples you have seen of selfless, unconditional forgiveness?
Finally, you should keep in mind that no matter how hard you try, you:
cannot change a person who you hold unforgiveness towards (or for any other reason you try to change a person). While it is possible that you might COERCE someone to change their outward actions, you cannot change them on the inside. Change by coercion only brings resentment in the one you are trying to change. Allow God to change them on the inside, and when they are changed on the inside, there will be a resulting change in their outward actions. This is the kind of change that can last.
Remember that: hurting people hurt people. The person that is hurting you almost certainly struggles with unforgiveness themselves. Love them and forgive them. Keep in mind that the Bible says in (1 Cor 13:5):
love keeps no record of wrongs.
Make forgiveness a lifestyle, forgiving instantly so that it has no chance to take root.
(Eph 4:26-27) says: Do not let the sun go down on your anger.
Forgiveness takes strength, and God can give you that strength. If you take these steps, your life CAN be changed for the better.
Let's close with some other good Bible verses for you to remember.
How many times Jesus told us to forgive:
(Mt 18:21-22)(Lk 17:3-4)
Forgive an unlimited number of times.
[Forgive as many times as you want God to forgive you.]
Some other places Jesus said to forgive:
Other verses about forgiving others: