Forgiveness: Definition & Significance

Jesus not only taught frequently about forgiveness, but He also demonstrated His own willingness to forgive. 

If you list down the reasons relationships end, I’m guessing one of them will be unreconciled conflict. The fact is no relationship in this world is ever conflict-proof. With conflict comes hurt, anger, and resentment.  On the contrary, many successful relationships point to forgiveness as an essential value to uphold. Aside from love, forgiveness might be one of the most loaded words to explain. Nevertheless, let’s unpack it.

What is Forgiveness?

To forgive someone implies a hurt or offense committed by someone to us. Forgiveness is an act of putting an end to anger, hurt, and the desire for retribution. Most people will experience forgiveness as a conscious choice to let go of these negative feelings.

What Does the Bible Say About Forgiveness?

There are two truths that the Bible tells us. One is that God is a holy God; and two, human beings have a sinful nature. Thus, we are separated from God because of our sins. But in His love for us, God sent Jesus to pay the penalty of our sins (John 3:16). As seen in the light of salvation, forgiveness is the death of Jesus for the pardon of our sins. Because of Jesus, we are justified. That is, we are forgiven and declared righteous before God. Because of this, we are reconciled with God (Ephesians 1:7-10). This truth in Scripture gives us a radical view of forgiveness.

Who do we forgive?

Forgiveness in the Bible is seen two-fold. The forgiveness of God and our forgiveness of others. Scripture tells us to forgive the people who offended us, hurt us, and betrayed us. (Colossians 3:13).

In some instances, the person you need to forgive is you. This forgiveness of the self means that when you accept Christ as your Savior, you are forgiven. Thus, you receive this forgiveness and let it fuel your thoughts and actions. Many Christians act as if they are not forgiven. They fall into self-pity, resentment towards themselves, self-loathing, and further sin. Forgiving yourself is seeing yourself through the lens of how God sees you – the veil of the righteousness of Jesus covered upon you. 

How often should we forgive?

Minor offenses done once are easy to forgive. Slight offenses done numerous times may annoy us. But significant offenses done multiple times? These hurts challenge our capacity to forgive. When we are constantly hurt in the same way by the same person, we are tempted to sever ties and avenge ourselves. 

Amid the deep hurts, the question remains – how often should we forgive? The apostle Peter asked Jesus this question for us, and Jesus gave him a straight answer – forgive others not seven times but seventy-seven times (Matthew 18:21-22). The key to this statement is not to count the number of times you are to forgive someone. Jesus is pointing to a tremendous amount, one that is innumerable. 

What do we forgive?

We may have a checklist of heinous offenses that are unforgivable to us. Indeed, it is unimaginable to forgive someone who has abused and mistreated us. But it does not matter what these people have done to us; the Bible is clear about forgiving others (Colossians 3:13). 

Importance of Biblical Forgiveness

It grows our relationship with God

Some people consider forgiveness as a sign of weakness. But it takes solid trust and faith to be able to forgive someone. When we do not forgive others, we allow hurt and resentment to fester in our lives. Our hurts and pains can lead to a calloused heart. God cannot dwell in a heart that is hardened by anger and resentment. When we release forgiveness, we draw closer to God. When we think about the gravity of the forgiveness we received from God, we become more grateful. This posture of gratitude draws us closer to God. As we follow Jesus, we aim to be more like Him. Forgiveness refines us into Christlikeness.

It demonstrates our obedience to God

The gift of forgiveness is a liberating gift. Through the forgiveness of God, we become free from the cuffs of anger, hurt, and offense. When we accept Christ as our Lord, we allow Him to sit on the throne of our lives. We keep Him at the center. He becomes our anchor and compass. Thus, we obey His commands because we trust that He is for us. Forgiving others is a clear command to God’s children. Scripture tells us that when we forgive, we too are forgiven (Luke 6:37).

It shows our humility before God

Forgiveness recognizes the finished work of Jesus on the Cross. We are sinners in need of salvation and redemption. Without a repentant heart, there will be no forgiveness (1 John 1:8-9). The recognition of biblical forgiveness puts us in a position of humility before a holy, just, and loving God. If a holy God can forgive sinners like us, then all the more that we need to. When we forgive other people, we are not doing so out of our goodness. We forgive others from an overflowing place of gratitude for the forgiveness that God afforded to us (Ephesians 4:32).

What are the Benefits of Biblical Forgiveness?

It prevents bitterness and resentment

Let’s do a simple exercise. Think of one person right now and enumerate all the things they did that hurt you. I would assume many of you didn’t find that hard to do. The human heart has a massive capacity for storing resentments and hurts. We go back to hurts that were done years ago and still feel the same pain as if they were new. Bitterness and resentment are blocks for relationships to thrive. Releasing forgiveness is also releasing bitterness and resentment. This release allows our relationships to grow and endure. 

It brings about healing

Emotional pains and hurts can cause anxiety, depression, and stress. Bitterness and resentment can even manifest in physical problems like immune system concerns and heart issues. Thus, releasing forgiveness can do the opposite – it can lead to an improved psychological state, heart health, and a stronger immune system.

Forgiveness does not only help in physical healing but also in our spiritual healing. By dying on the cross, Jesus cured us of the iniquities of our soul (1 Peter 2:24). As we accept this healing work of Jesus, we are brought from death to life. 

It cultivates healthy relationships

God created human beings for connection and fellowship. Each of us has relationships that we treasure and value. But no relationship is ever perfect. There are times we hurt other people without intending to do so. Some of the people we love hurt us in ways we never imagined they could. All of us fall short in our words and actions.

By forgiving others, we acknowledge, accept, and even embrace this imperfection. Because relationships are the coming together of two imperfect people, forgiveness becomes essential for growing and solidifying them. We afford others the grace that we, too, have been afforded by forgiving them when they commit mistakes. Forgiveness is a declaration that we value our relationships more than conflicts and problems.

Ways to Practice Biblical Forgiveness

Remind yourself of and trust who God is

The first step in forgiveness is going back to the forgiveness we received from God. In our sinful state, God loved us enough to forgive us (Romans 5:8). God forgives us and welcomes us back to Him. This great love allows us to forgive those who hurt us, just as God forgives us. It is a reminder that we are God’s children. This declaration remains true no matter our shortcomings.

Forgiving is also trusting God’s justice. When we forgive, we remember that nothing escapes God’s sight (Proverbs 15:3). He knows the depth of our betrayal and the circumstances that surround it. Most importantly, He knows the hearts of the one wronged and the one who committed the wrongdoing. Because of this, we need not retaliate. We do not need to take revenge to redeem ourselves. We leave it to the Lord to take revenge and redeem (Romans 12:19).

Bring your hurts to God in prayer

Because of the healing work of Jesus on the cross, we can come before God in prayer. We can talk to God and pour out our thoughts and feelings. God knows our hurts and our pains like no one does. He does not just listen to our prayers, but He promises to comfort us (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).

When we have difficulty forgiving others for the pains they cause us, we can pray to God to soften our hearts. Pray to God to remind you and revitalize the forgiveness you received from Him. Pray that He helps you to release forgiveness by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Avoid dwelling on the pain

Hurts and pains have a biological lifeline. Biologically speaking, feelings reside in our brains for only a particular period. But why do some hurts and pains last longer than just mere minutes? Why do they linger? One reason is that we dwell on them. Some of us even hold grudges that span decades.

Dwelling on the pains that other people inflict on us magnifies our resentment all the more. When we dwell on the offenses and hurts, it becomes extra difficult for us to forgive. When things and circumstances remind us of our hurts, it may do us well to take captive of our thoughts. It can help us to focus on the insights that these events brought us. In this way, we can release forgiveness and not hold grudges.

Seek godly counsel

Some of us find it difficult to process our feelings on our own. When we are at the height of our emotions, we tend to make irrational and rash decisions. Thus, seeking godly counsel from wise people can help us process our hurts. These people may be our family members, friends, accountability partners, or spiritual leaders and mentors.

Verbalize your forgiveness

Healthy communication is an integral part of any relationship. Misunderstandings are a barrier to growth. People value clarity in their relationships. They want to know where they stand and how to act. Without verbalizing forgiveness, this leaves others to second-guess how they should approach us or behave around us. Being open about your forgiveness prevents confusion, assumptions, and further resentment.

Practice patience

Forgiveness is something people should give willingly and freely. It is a decision that people think hard about. When we hurt others, it may take some time before they can be okay being around us or interacting with us. Forgiveness does not expect reconciliation to be abrupt. It does not forget the hurt instantaneously. When we forgive others, we act with humility and patience in waiting for others to forgive us. This realization is why we should refrain from forcing those we have hurt to forgive us. Forgiveness becomes more meaningful when it is sincere. It is more beautiful as a shared experience between acquaintances, friends, and family whose hearts are open.

In Summary

To forgive is one of the most challenging things to do. When people hurt and commit a wrong to us, it is in our sinful nature to crave revenge and retribution. Many people believe that forgiving those who hurt us with grave offenses and crimes is not possible. But we do not forgive those who hurt us through our own constructed goodness. Forgiving others countless times with an open and genuine heart is made possible only because God first forgave us. Jesus’ death on the cross in Calvary shows us God’s justice, love, and forgiveness.

Forgiving others is actually for our good. It brings about healing, moves us closer to God, and shows our obedience to and reverence for Him. Though forgiveness is challenging, we can do so by not focusing on our hurts, verbalizing our forgiveness, and asking for wise counsel from our peers. It is best to remind ourselves of the forgiveness we received from God and to pray to Him to soften and open our hearts to forgive others. 

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Alex Shute
Alex Shute, MBA
Alex is a family man and entrepreneur based in Los Angeles. His passion is to serve the global Church and bring people of diverse backgrounds together to learn & grow.

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