Looking at God’s example of forgiveness and how it is modeled throughout Scripture brings insight to what true forgiveness really looks like lived out in a practical, everyday sort of way. If you’re struggling with or currently seeking to forgive others in your own life, I pray these 7 truths about forgiveness will spur you on to keep making every effort to forgive.
1. True Forgiveness Renews Outlook
Films, books, and TV shows have characters who say lines such as “I’ll forgive you but I’ll never look at you the same way” and so on. But when God forgives, His outlook of the person who has been forgiven isn’t tarnished by past behavior and decisions but refreshed and renewed, like past offenses never happened.
Isaiah 1:18 illustrates God’s perspective when He says, “‘Come now, let us settle the matter,’ says the LORD. ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.’”
Becoming a parent helped me to understand this concept better than any other type of relationship in life. My little one could disobey, be difficult and throw tantrums, but then one look at her sweet face and I didn’t see any of her past bad behavior, only my much-loved child.
2. True Forgiveness Reflects God’s Glory
Proverbs 19:11 states, “It is to one’s glory to overlook an offense.” This encourages me that when I forgive another for something they did or didn’t do, I reflect the nature of God to those around me.
One time during a cross-country family vacation, our family was seated at the back of a very crowded plane. One row behind us, a young mother and her three young children squeezed into a couple of seats, making a loud commotion as they arrived.
We could hear the negative comments from other passengers questioning her mothering skills, criticizing her decision to squeeze three kids into two seats on such a long flight.
Having traveled cross-country alone with small children, we empathized with her situation. Seeming stressed, tired, and at the end of her rope as passengers made disparaging comments and shot disdaining looks her way, my husband stepped in and asked if he could help by playing with one of her toddlers.
She jumped at his offer and it immediately changed the attitude in the plane, calming not only the mom’s demeanor but also her critics on the flight.
As I observed the other passengers dropping their disapproval and becoming more supportive of this family, I realized that forgiveness doesn’t just benefit the ones offering it and being forgiven, but also all those who witness forgiveness in action.
3. True Forgiveness is God’s Will
As a Christian, I really don’t need to seek God’s will about whether to forgive someone or not because it’s very clear in Scripture that forgiveness is God’s will. It’s not something dependent upon a situation or a person.
Jesus states in Matthew 6:14, “If you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.”
It’s not something up for debate, discussion, pro-con lists, vote, polling, and so on. So when statements are made that some things are unforgivable or someone will never forgive another, it’s clearly not reflecting God’s will in a situation.
4. True Forgiveness Advocates Forgiveness for Offenders
As Jesus hung on the cross, He asked God to forgive those crucifying Him, pleading their case, for “they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).
Scripture describes a similar scene when Stephen is being stoned and he cries out concerning those killing him, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60).
Both examples model not only forgiving offenders in the most extreme situations but also going further to seek forgiveness for those who are committing the offenses.
5. True Forgiveness Has No Limits
It’s easy to decide to limit how many times I’ll allow someone to disappoint or hurt me through his or her actions or behaviors. Yet when Peter asked Jesus, “’Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?’ Jesus Answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy times seven'” (Matthew 18:21-22).
Especially with families, years of trespasses can build-up and foster unforgiving hearts. As a hospice chaplain, my husband ministers to individuals during end-of-life situations. Sadly, patients often face issues involving a lifetime of unresolved hurts and disappointments with family members. Seeking to bring peace to their lives, as well as to their family, he looks for opportunities to facilitate forgiveness and reconciliation among them, a process requiring unlimited mercy for past offenses.
In daily life it may be simply forgiving the person in my neighborhood who is rude every time we pass on the sidewalk. Or the co-worker who takes credit for my ideas. Or, forgiving myself for past failures.
6. True Forgiveness Forgets
I’ve often heard people say forgiving does not mean forgetting. Yet Isaiah 43:25 describes God’s forgetfulness of my sins stating, “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.”
It makes me think of how as a wife, I can tell my husband he’s forgiven but then the next time he slips up, I bring up things from a year ago. Instead of giving him a clean slate, I remember, adding up his offenses as I go, building an ongoing case against him. In comparing how God forgives me, my remembering his former transgressions may be an indication that I haven’t really forgiven him.
Unlike my tendency to keep a record, God’s forgiveness clears my account of wrong doings, stating “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12).
7. True Forgiveness Freely Forgives
It seems in life it’s easier to forgive someone who has made a mistake or error that I’ve experienced, too. Knowing how it feels to be regretful for a similar action or situation helps me to empathize and have compassion.
However, in situations where I haven’t experienced what it’s like, God still urges me to forgive. This can prove at times to be much harder to live out, especially in circumstances that are very difficult, hurtful, or seem unjust.
Often as individuals, it’s easy to want to make people jump through hoops or prove they are worthy to receive forgiveness. However, just like I have freely received forgiveness for my sins through Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:6-7), Scripture encourages me to freely forgive.
Ephesians 4:32 reminds me to, “Be kind and tender-hearted to one another, forgiving each other just as in Christ God forgave you.”
True Forgiveness Modeled
God’s model of true forgiveness involves my having a renewed outlook, reflecting His glory, choosing His will, and seeking forgiveness for offenders. It also includes my removing limitations on mercy, forgetting wrongdoings, and freely forgiving others as I have been forgiven.
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