People, including Christians, are confused about forgiveness. The Bible speaks mostly about God’s forgiveness of us and doesn’t say much about how forgiveness between people works. Words like forbearance, repentance, and reconciliation are sometimes added into the conversation making the issue even more difficult to understand. The heart of the issue though is the purpose of forgiveness is the healing of a relationship.
Here’s Where They’re At
When you talk about this topic with your adult children or people in your neighbourhood, you may hear statements like, “Let bygones be bygones”; “Forgive and forget”; “Get over it and move on”; “Don’t get mad, get even”; “People are too sensitive”; “I never meant to hurt you so I don’t need to ask your forgiveness.”
Here’s Where You’re At
You believe we are to love our enemies and we are to forgive because God forgave us. You believe God forgives the repentant and you believe no matter what a person does you are to forgive them. You may believe until a person repents you should not forgive them and be reconciled.
Here’s Where Scripture’s At
The governing command regarding all who have offended us is “love your enemies” (Luke 6:27). In all instances we are to be free from bitterness, hatred, and vengeance (Ephesians 4:31). When faced with the annoyances of another person we must exercise forbearance and overlook them (Ephesians 4:2). If others commit major offences against us and repent we are to forgive them even as God in Christ has forgiven us (Luke 17:3; Ephesians 4:2). If we do not forgive others, our Father in heaven will not forgive us (Matthew 6:12). Our forgiveness is modelled upon God's forgiveness of sinners, whom he forgives conditioned upon their repentance (Acts 3:19). If others commit major offences against us but are not repentant, we are to forgive in the sense of being in a position where we are willing and ready to be restored. Until they repent there is no forgiveness in the sense of reconciliation. The result is they will pay the penalty of separation from having a relationship with us. We are responsible to pursue reconciliation (Matthew 5: 23-24; 18:15-35) but live with the pain if it does not succeed (Romans 12:18).
Where to Go From Here
1. Others’ major offences against you
To forgive means to release or let go. It means cancelling a debt incurred against you and not holding it to the offender’s account in favour of a restored relationship. You know your heart attitude isn’t right if, when thinking of that person or their actions, you get upset, angry, or you feel tightness in the pit of your stomach. You need to seek reconciliation.
If someone repents and asks for your forgiveness grant it and be reconciled, because God forgave you. To not grant it shows perhaps you have never experienced God’s forgiveness.
When someone sins against you but isn’t repentant, have an attitude of mercy and love and do not seek vengeance. Be ready to reconcile upon repentance but do not dwell on the offence.
When your offender is repentant be reconciled to them and commit to not bring up the incident again, not talk to others about it, and not allow the incident to hinder your relationship with that person.
2. Your major offences against others
Even if you didn’t intend to hurt someone but you did, you still need to go to them and ask their forgiveness, seeking reconciliation.
If someone is continuously hostile, angry, or upset with you then you have likely offended him or her in some way at some time. You need to find out what it is if you don’t know, and ask for forgiveness.
Telling someone you are sorry is not the same as asking them to forgive you. Saying sorry is simply telling someone how you feel. Asking them to forgive you requires them to make a choice to forgive and be reconciled or not.