First let’s define the word forgive. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary:
- to stop feeling anger toward (someone who has done something wrong) : to stop blaming (someone)
- to stop feeling anger about (something) : to forgive someone for (something wrong)
- to stop requiring payment of (money that is owed)
To forgive is to stop feeling anger toward someone or about something, to pardon them.
Forgiveness in the Bible
The Bible does, in many places, command us to forgive each other. Here are two examples:
- Matthew 6:14 (HCSB) “For if you forgive people their wrongdoing, your heavenly Father will forgive you as well.
- Ephesians 4:32 (HCSB) And be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God also forgave you in Christ.
Jesus’ comment to Peter when he asked how many times we should forgive implies constant forgiveness without holding it against the one we forgive.
Matthew 18:21-22 (HCSB) 21 Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how many times could my brother sin against me and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 22 “I tell you, not as many as seven,” Jesus said to him, “but 70 times seven.
Why should we give anybody a clean slate who has wronged us? Because God, who is our example for how to forgive, does. He forgives and overlooks everything that we have done and do against Him, through Jesus, so that we can have eternal life and an eternal inheritance.
Micah 7:18 (HCSB) Who is a God like You, removing iniquity and passing over rebellion for the remnant of His inheritance? He does not hold on to His anger forever, because He delights in faithful love.
Forgiveness is an act of the will and since God commands us to forgive we must make that choice. We must forgive even if the person who offended us doesn’t ask for or doesn’t even want forgiveness.
Matthew 5:44-45 (HCSB) 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. For He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
When we need forgiveness, it is amazing how we seek after it. Yet when we must give forgiveness, sometimes we can be a little slow on the draw. One reason is we forget how much we have been forgiven, and when that happens, we can treat the act of forgiving someone else as if we are doing them a favor instead of extending grace that we ourselves have received.
But What About Forgetting?
To forget is to not remember or think or care about something, to unlearn or disremember.
God totally forgives, but apparently He doesn’t completely erase the memory of our sins. He will evaluate every act and every even careless word and our rewards will be based on that evaluation.
1 Corinthians 3:10-15 (HCSB) According to God’s grace that was given to me, I have laid a foundation as a skilled master builder, and another builds on it. But each one must be careful how he builds on it. For no one can lay any other foundation than what has been laid down. That foundation is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on that foundation with gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay, or straw, each one’s work will become obvious, for the day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire; the fire will test the quality of each one’s work. If anyone’s work that he has built survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, it will be lost, but he will be saved; yet it will be like an escape through fire.
We that now belong to Him through faith in Jesus Christ are assured that He doesn’t hold our sins against us. Following that example we should, as best we can, act as if it never happened. Forgiveness does not mean you forget; it means you no longer hold it against that person. When you can do that, you are operating in the grace and forgiveness you have received.
Now I don’t believe that means that we must allow the same thing by the same person to happen again especially if it’s something serious. We will remember it because it’s impossible for us as human beings to truly forget what others have done to us. If we’re healthy we can’t selective remove some things from or memory. Forgetting is not required in order to forgive. Because we still remember doesn’t mean that forgiveness isn’t complete and total.
Unforgiveness is a very heavy burden to carry
Unforgiveness is a prison that you walk into and willingly lock the door behind you. It keeps you trapped in the past and hinders you from living fully and freely in the present. Therefore, it hurts your future.
The person who won’t forgive is the real victim. We want to be forgiven for stuff we have done because we rationalize that we really didn’t mean it or what happened was the result of a bad decision, so of course we should be forgiven. How arrogant of us to feel this way and then we not forgive.
“Withholding forgiveness does not hurt ‘them’ it hurts you. Withholding forgiveness is like drinking poison and expecting it to kill the person who hurt you. Withholding forgiveness puts a barrier between you and the blessings of God. Withholding forgiveness overwhelms you with feelings that the human body was not designed to sustain”.
Here is a great quote from the book “Overwhelmed: Winning the War Against Worry” by Noble Perry. “Forgiveness is like putting a key in a prison door to release someone else, only to discover that the person you are releasing is yourself.
Forgiveness is not just for the other person. Forgiveness releases you from the grip the other person’s actions have over your life.
It may be very difficult but God wants us to forgive each other every time just like He has forgiven us through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. God treats us as though we never sinned at all and doesn't hold our sins against us.
In the same way when we forgive we need to act as though it never happened. We do still remember the offense, and we should learn from it, but to truly forgive, we should treat the person as though it never happened.
Father, I pray for those who are reading this article. I pray if there is someone they need to forgive that you would prepare their heart. I pray that you would go before them and give them the words to say, and help them to simply give forgiveness as Jesus showed us. God, I pray this, not because of who we are, but because of whose we are. For we pray this in Jesus’ precious name. Amen.