Forgiveness is easier said than done. It might be easier to forgive if the offense is minor, but what about a victim of abuse? Forgiveness is a process. If we say we have forgiven someone, yet our blood boils at the mere thought of them, have we truly forgiven?
Deep down, we know God calls us to forgive those who have wronged us, but what does the Bible have to say specifically about it?
Here are 15 verses on the importance and power of forgiveness:
Forgiveness in the Old Testament
“Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.”
When we refuse to forgive others, we are doing exactly what this verse claims. By holding a grudge, we are refusing to release that person from their self-made prison. We are playing judge and jury for others, exacting the punishment we think they should receive for their sin. Yet, God says it is He who gets vengeance, not us. Instead, we are to forgive others and leave vengeance to God.
“I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more. Review the past for me, let us argue the matter together; state the case for your innocence.”
I have heard many people say, “I can forgive but I can’t forget.”
Forgiveness is not the same as forgetting. Forgiveness is letting someone off the hook for their offense. Forgetting is choosing to never bring up the offense again. God, who has infinite knowledge, chooses to remember our sins no more. If God can choose to forget our sins, so can we.
“The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him.”
Forgiveness and mercy are inextricably linked. Although we sin against God, He chooses to show us mercy by forgiving our sins. God expects the same of His children. When we forgive, we show mercy to our debtor. Mercy, by definition, is “compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm.” When our offender deserves punishment and we choose to show compassion, we demonstrate the same love God demonstrated to us, since our deeds deserved death until Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.
Forgiveness in the Gospels
“…And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors…”
This is part of the way Jesus tells us we should pray. First, we should honor His name by proclaiming how holy He is. Then we should ask for His kingdom work to be done here on earth as it is in heaven. Part of the work God expects us to do to usher in His kingdom is to forgive as we have been forgiven. Think if it this way: every time we forgive because we have been forgiven, we are one step closer to Jesus’ return and His restoration of the earth to the way God intended it to be.
“For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”These are harsh words! These are Jesus’ words to those who think they can have a relationship with God without doing the hard work of becoming a disciple. This means showing grace to people who don’t deserve it, which starts with forgiving those who have wronged us.
“When Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘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-seven times.’”
Not only do we have to forgive others, but we may have to forgive the same person multiple times. I have a hard time with this. Why should I forgive someone for the same offense more than once? It is one thing for someone to ask for forgiveness; it is another for them to be truly repentant about that behavior. Regardless, Jesus still asks us to forgive that person, whether they ask for it or not.
“This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”Jesus shed His blood so we can receive God’s forgiveness for our sins. Knowing what we have received from God, we are to show the same forgiveness for others. Jesus spilled His blood so we could have access to His Father’s love. It would be hypocritical of us to prevent others that same access.
“‘Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.’Then Jesus said to her, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’” According to this verse, love and forgiveness are connected. This makes sense considering it was God’s love for His children that caused Him to sacrifice His Son for our righteousness. If we love little, we forgive little. But if we love much, we will forgive much.
“Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’”
It amazes me that the last words Jesus utters on this earth are for His Father to forgive us for our sins. Sometimes we do things and have no idea they are sinful. Yet, God forgives both our sins that we do with evil intentions and the ones that we don’t realize are sinful. Because of Jesus’ act on the cross, it is important to always check our hearts. Is there anything impeding us from having the type of intimate relationship Jesus wants us to have with His Father?
Forgiveness in Paul’s Letters
“For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
Because of God’s forgiveness, we are redeemed. When we forgive others, we give that person the chance to be redeemed. This means they have a chance to turn from their sinful ways and have access to the Father because of our choice to forgive. That’s the gospel in action.
“Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”
Forgiveness also means to bear with one another. This is because not everyone changes their behavior after receiving forgiveness.
Some people get used to behaving a certain way and it is hard for them to break that habit. We have to bear with that person until they change. Just as God does with us, we must exhibit patience, waiting for our offender to change and forgiving him when he does wrong.
2 Corinthians 5:17
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone, the new is here!”
Although this doesn’t directly address forgiveness, it does address who we are once we yield our lives to follow God. The person we were before we knew Christ refuses to forgive, as we were dead in our own transgressions. However, once we have accepted Christ, we are new creations. This means we receive a renewed soul and a new heart—one that forgives freely out of the abundant love we have experienced.
“Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
When love, kindness, and compassion are growing within us, it is natural to want to forgive out of those same qualities. Because Christ is the epitome of love, compassion, and kindness, we will be able to forgive others if we have His Spirit dwelling within us.
Forgiveness in the Epistles
“And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven.”
Sometimes, we have to ask God to help us forgive our offender. If you are having trouble forgiving someone, pray this:
Lord, I can’t do this on my own. I know you have forgiven me of my sins. Help me to forgive my offender of his sins. Amen. God says our faith will help move our hearts toward forgiveness. Even if we don’t feel like we have forgiven, we will have done so with His help.
1 John 1:9
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
God not only chooses to forgive us, but He is faithful in doing so every time. We can’t do anything to earn it as Christ’s death already paid the price for our forgiveness. In the same way, if we profess to know Christ and follow Him, we must be faithful in forgiving people every time whether we feel they deserve it or not.
Forgiveness is not easy, no matter how many times we have forgiven in the past. Yet, we bring God’s work of the kingdom to earth every time we do forgive. Not only do we let the offender free, but we also live in the freedom of being new creatures in Christ because of His atoning sacrifice.
And that’s good news.