Forgiveness is a familiar concept in Christianity. Most people realize that they have done bad things, have sinned against God and need His forgiveness. When we receive His forgiveness, we receive many other benefits including freedom and peace.
Most people appreciate being forgiven, but when the time comes for them to forgive someone else for a wrong committed against them, they have a difficult time extending forgiveness. So what does the Bible say about forgiveness? Why should we forgive others?
Why is Forgiveness Needed?
Romans 3:23 says “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Each one of us has wronged God; we have broken His laws. Even if we think we are a “good person,” 1 John says, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
Sin separates us from a Holy God. But because of Jesus’s sacrifice, we can be forgiven and made right with God. “In Him [Jesus] we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace.”
Likewise, when we have wronged someone or someone has wronged us, a wall forms between us causing problems in relationships, marriages and families. The antidote is forgiveness.
Forgive to Be Forgiven
Perhaps the most well known prayer on earth is the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus said, “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” And later, “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” Why should we forgive others? We must forgive others if we want our wrongs to be forgiven by God.
In fact, Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus’s answer surprised Peter: “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” Peter thought forgiving someone seven times was pretty generous, but Jesus raised the bar by instructing that we are to forgive people every time they sin against us.
Jesus told a story to make His point:
There was a king who was settling accounts with those who owed him money. One of his servants owed him an enormous amount of money, so the king ordered that the servant be thrown into prison and his wife and children be sold until he could pay all he owed. The servant begged the king for mercy, and the king mercifully forgave the huge debt. But this same servant then went and found a fellow servant who owed him a tiny amount of money. Instead of having mercy, he threw his fellow servant into prison until he could pay the tiny debt.
When the king heard how the servant didn’t extend compassion and mercy toward his fellow servant, he was furious and said, “You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?” Then the servant was imprisoned until he could pay the large debt.
This is a picture of what God sees when we don’t forgive others. Jesus ended this parable: “So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.” We must genuinely forgive others if we want God to forgive us. This isn’t an option but a command. And God wouldn’t tell us to do something if we weren’t capable of doing it.
Forgive to Be Like God
According to Genesis, human beings were created in God’s image. God forgives, and as image-bearers, not only are we able to forgive, we should forgive. Forgiving means releasing someone from a debt that we say they owe us. When we forgive, we let the debt go and don’t demand that amends be made.
While Jesus hung on the cross, He forgave the very people who were crucifying Him. “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” These people didn’t even ask for forgiveness, but Jesus still freely forgave them for wounding Him.
I believe that many times people don’t even realize what they’ve done or how they’ve hurt us. In our own minds we were terribly wronged, but perhaps there was an incorrect perception or misunderstanding. We need to be ready to forgive even when there’s no apology offered. This keeps us free from bitterness and resentment.
In some cases people do intentionally hurt us. Interestingly, the Bible doesn’t say to forgive our enemies: Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.”
Once again, Jesus raises the standard; He instructs us to love our enemies and do good things to those who hurt us. Wow! That sure can be challenging! But when we truly understand how much God has forgiven us, it’s easier to release forgiveness to those who have wounded us. As Philippians 4:13 teaches us, we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.
Remember, when we forgive someone, it doesn’t mean that what they did to us was okay. But holding on to hostility or resentment toward them only hinders us and steals our peace. We are the ones who end up in a prison of emotional pain.
Also note, Jesus isn’t advocating staying in an abusive relationship where we are continually mistreated. God’s plan for us is freedom and abundant life, as we read in John 10:10.
Unforgiveness Hurts Us
When we refuse to forgive, it only hurts us. Unforgiveness has even been linked to various physical ailments and diseases like cancer. Holding on to bitterness or anger toward someone will result in emotional anguish and unrest. But when we forgive, we can experience inner peace and restoration in relationships.
Psalm 86 says, “For You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive, and abundant in mercy to all those who call upon You.” May we be like God, merciful and ready to forgive, so that our relationships can be healthy and our hearts peaceful. Forgiveness is important so that our relationships with God and others are right.
~ by Jennell Houts