Defining Forgiveness

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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. Matthew 6:14-15

You can see from the scripture that we just read that forgiveness is not an option. Our willingness to forgive our offenders is directly related to the level of forgiveness that we walk in before God. This is a sobering and challenging truth. True forgiveness seems to be one of the most difficult things to experience.

How is it accomplished?

To truly answer this question, I believe that we must first answer basic questions about forgiveness because like many biblical realities, forgiveness is misunderstood by many.

So, let’s talk about what biblical forgiveness is not.

  1. Biblical forgiveness is not deserved.

You know better than anyone else that you do not deserve God’s unconditional love or His forgiveness. These blessings were given to you because of the goodness of God, not because of your goodness.

I know that, in your eyes, your offenders don’t deserve forgiveness for what they have done. We make these judgments based upon several factors:

“They should have known better.”

“They were supposed to treat me differently.”

“They represented God but acted like the devil.”

This is a very basic overview of some thoughts that make walking in forgiveness difficult for us. Now, add this one to the others:

“They don’t deserve to be forgiven.”

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I know that God offers forgiveness to you and I based upon our true repentance. But, you need to get it clear in your mind right now:

We forgive because we are commanded to, not because people deserve it.

Understand for now, that your forgiveness by God was not based upon you deserving it…….and neither is your offender’s.

  1. Biblical forgiveness does not require trusting your offender.

While we are commanded to forgive, trust is something that is earned. Let me use an example. If your teenager took your car without permission, you should forgive them. While forgiving them, you will be calculating their ability to be trusted with responsibilities like driving your car. I can love someone and forgive them while realizing that they are not at the place in which they can be trusted with certain privileges. I don’t withhold these things because I’m hurt but because they are simply not capable of handling them.

You may forgive someone while understanding that you cannot entrust them with certain things. I’m not withholding because I’m punishing them – I’m withholding because they are not capable.

  1. Biblical forgiveness does not require reconciliation.

I need you to understand this clearly because this has traits similar to the trust factor we just spoke of.

Healthy relationships require two people to function. These two people must understand some basic principles of healthy relationships. Abuse is not a part of a healthy relationship. While we need to forgive some folks, we would be foolish to allow them access into our lives simply because they are abusers. This is important information for those who have been abused sexually or physically by others. I can forgive them while discerning their capability to be trusted in a healthy relationship. Some people have not exhibited the characteristics necessary for a relationship. In these situations, I must keep healthy boundaries between myself and them. I don’t do this out of anger and hatred; I do it out of discernment.

  1. Biblical forgiveness is not justifying wrong behavior.

If I forgive an offender, I am not saying through my forgiveness that what they did was “ok.” I forgive because I am commanded to and because I need to! If I don’t forgive, I am the one who pays the price for my choice. My forgiveness is not saying that what was done to me should have no consequences. My forgiveness is saying that I am not going to allow anything to rule over me but the Holy Spirit!

  1. Biblical forgiveness is not a feeling.

You need to get this. I didn’t say that you will never feel freedom. I said that biblical forgiveness does not come through feeling. Biblical forgiveness comes through revelation of God’s word and through a choice to embrace God’s word. God tells us to forgive, so we forgive. I often don’t feel like doing many things He tells me to do, but I obey and then “feel” after obedience.

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I encounter many people who when confronted with the fact that they need to forgive someone, will tell me, “I can’t forgive them.” This is my response to them:

You can’t forgive, or you won’t forgive?

Without Jesus, true forgiveness is impossible. With Jesus, there is no can’t! People don’t forgive because of the “size” of the offense but because they don’t want to or don’t understand forgiveness.

If you choose to truly forgive, God will give you the power to experience freedom!



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