“Forgive, as God in Christ has forgiven you.”
These words are repeated throughout the New Testament. Over and over again we are reminded that forgiveness is part of following Christ. It’s a supernatural act, one beyond human ability. To forgive another person is to effectively acquit them of a debt they owe use—an emotional, physical or mental debt. This is incredibly hard.
It’s natural to struggle with forgiveness because we want to hold onto what others have done to us. But there is a deep truth woven into the gospel, the same gospel that offers us eternal life and salvation—and this truth requires that we forgive.
The truth? God has forgiven us more than we could ever forgive others. Here are three things to remember about forgiveness.
1. Remember What Forgiveness Is
If you struggle to forgive, the first step is to remember what forgiveness is. It is not reconciliation. It’s not restoration to the relationship you had before. These things may follow forgiveness, or they may not. Sometimes it’s not wise or healthy to restore a relationship with someone who hurt you. It’s possible to forgive someone without staying in close proximity to them.
When we forgive, we release the person from their debt to us. We release them to God’s justice. I don’t know about you, but thinking about forgiveness in that context makes me feel like something is actually being done. Just saying “I forgive you” often feels empty, like the offender is getting off without a consequence. But when we forgive, we’re committing someone to the justice of God, who is the only righteous Judge. This frees us to love and show kindness because God will take care of the rest.
2. Remember How God Has Forgiven You
Ephesians 4:31-32 says: “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with all forms of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.”
God has removed our sins as far as the east is from the west. He died so we could have a hope and a future! That’s pretty incredible. When we realize just how much it cost the Lord to reconcile our sins, we are much quicker to show grace to others. Forgiveness springs from a heart that knows just how much it has been forgiven. As Beth Moore once said, “Those who live under grace, give grace.”
3. Remember That Forgiveness Is a Process
Forgiveness, like many spiritual acts, is not a one-time thing. You may have to decide to forgive many, many times—even for the same person! Sometimes you will have to forgive without that person even repenting to you. Once again, the key is to commit the person to God’s justice instead of trying to work justice out on your own.
Seeing forgiveness as a process, not just a singular choice, can help you give grace over periods of time. Difficult people will always be in our lives. Hurts will happen, even within the church. But we can show grace because God has shown grace to us! In Christ, we forgive. He strengthens us to do so.