Powerful Scripture Truths about Forgiveness and Why We Must Forgive

Powerful Scripture Truths about Forgiveness and Why We Must Forgive

1 John 1:9 is one of the most encouraging verses in all of Scripture, for it offers the promise of forgiveness. What is forgiveness?

The Greek word is aphiēmi, and it signifies to send away, to set free, or to let alone. Forgiveness is more than a feeling; it is an action taken by the one wronged to release the wrongdoer. It is a setting aside of the desire to punish or receive retribution. Forgiveness is relevant in many situations; it applies to injuries and insults, but even more to debts and sins.

The concept of debt forgiveness is essential to understanding God’s view of forgiveness. We can only practice forgiveness to the degree that we are aware of our own need for it, and this begins with our relationship to God.

“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

All of us owe a great debt to God. We have wronged our Creator deeply by our sin. We owe a payment — death. And not just physical death. The ultimate price of sin is spiritual death which is eternal separation from our Creator. It is the price Adam and Eve paid in the Garden of Eden when sin destroyed the fellowship and intimacy enjoyed with God in the sinless perfection of creation.

Here’s what we need to understand, so that we not only seek forgiveness from God for ourselves but are able to freely forgive others.

God Is the Author of Forgiveness, and All Sin Is Ultimately against God

“And Jesus seeing their faith said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’ But some of the scribes were sitting there and reasoning in their hearts, ‘Why does this man speak that way? He is blaspheming; who can forgive sins but God alone?’ Immediately Jesus, aware in His spirit that they were reasoning that way within themselves, said to them, ‘Why are you reasoning about these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven’; or to say, ‘Get up, and pick up your pallet and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’ — He said to the paralytic, ‘I say to you, get up, pick up your pallet and go home’” (Mark 2:5-11, emphasis added).

When we realize that the person who hurts us deeply is sinning against God, not us, it changes our perspective. We see the greater need.

How Do We Receive the Forgiveness of God?

The Bible tells us that God is willing and able, and even right to forgive our sin if we do what He asks us to do: repent and confess. To confess is to agree with what God says about sin, acknowledging that He alone has the authority to determine what is good and what is evil, and that as His creation, we do not have the right to disagree with His decrees. Yet, as beings created in the image of God, we have free will, and can disobey (and thus, become sinners) in need of His forgiveness. God defines sin, and we must confess it.

To repent is to literally, make a U-turn. In sorrow and repentance, we turn away from our old life of sin and begin a new journey of following Christ and all His commands.

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

“If I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or if I command the locust to devour the land, or if I send pestilence among My people, and My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:13-14).

“Incline Your ear, O Lord, and answer me; for I am afflicted and needy. Preserve my soul, for I am a godly man; O You my God, save Your servant who trusts in You. Be gracious to me, O Lord, for to You I cry all day long. Make glad the soul of Your servant, for to You, O Lord, I lift up my soul. For You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive, and abundant in lovingkindness to all who call upon You. Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer; and give heed to the voice of my supplications! In the day of my trouble I shall call upon You, for You will answer me” (Psalm 86:1-7).

Related article: How Can I Pray for Forgiveness?

What Is the Basis of God’s Forgiveness?

On what grounds does He remove His wrath against our sin and offer mercy and forgiveness?

Our sin is like a criminal’s “rap sheet.” We are called to account for all the charges. God does not forgive our sin by dropping the charge. He placed it on someone else’s account — Jesus’! We receive forgiveness on the basis that our sin debt (death) was marked “paid in full” at the cross.

“And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins’” (Matthew 26:27-28).

“When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross” (Colossians 2:13-14).

“I am writing to you, little children, because your sins have been forgiven you for His name’s sake” (1 John 2:12).

Why Should We Forgive Others?

There’s a saying, “Hurt people hurt people.” The idea is that we often do to others what has been done to us. In the realm of forgiveness, this is a very good thing, and is what God commands us to do. We who have been forgiven by God are able to forgive others, drawing upon the vast resources of the grace that has been lavished on us.

“Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:32).

“In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace which He lavished on us” (Ephesians 1:7-8a).

See also Jesus’ story in Luke 7:40-50.

Related article: Are We Like the Unmerciful Servant in Jesus' Parable About Forgiven Debt?

What Happens if We Refuse to Forgive Others?

There are consequences for unforgiveness. We know the verses below do not teach that we can lose our salvation if we refuse to forgive someone who wronged us. When the blood of Jesus is applied to our sin debt, it covers all our sin — past, present, and future (Hebrews 10). But we can lose our fellowship and intimacy with God. Jesus said we need “our feet washed” through daily confession of sin, and unforgiveness is sin. Struggles in our relationship with God are often rooted in unresolved issues with our fellow man.

“And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. … For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions” (Matthew 6:12, 14-15).

“Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions. [But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your transgressions.]” (Mark 11:25-26).

How Often Should We Forgive?

Just as God’s grace and mercy and willingness to forgive us is infinite and unlimited, there should be no limit on our forgiveness.

“Then Peter came and said to Him, ‘Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven’” (Matthew 18:21-22).

“Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him” (Luke 17:3-4).

Related article: Why the Meaning of "Seventy Times Seven" is So Radical Today

How Can We Forgive Those Who Have Hurt Us, but Have Not Apologized or Shown Any Remorse?

Satan is the prince of this world, and exerts great influence on the minds, hearts, and actions of human beings who are not surrendered to Jesus. This causes great pain, lifelong scars, and mental, physical, and emotional abuses for many people. It is certainly difficult to forgive in these situations, especially if the wrongdoer has not repented.

We must remember that forgiveness keeps bitterness, anger, and hatred from consuming our own lives. Ultimately, sin is against God. We can trust Him (and only Him) to execute justice against the wicked.

“Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Romans 12:19).

“For we know Him who said, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay.’ And again, ‘The Lord will judge His people.’ It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:30-31).

“Cease from anger and forsake wrath; do not fret; it leads only to evildoing. For evildoers will be cut off, but those who wait for the Lord, they will inherit the land. Yet a little while and the wicked man will be no more; and you will look carefully for his place and he will not be there” (Psalm 37:8-10).

“Do not say, ‘I will repay evil’; wait for the Lord, and He will save you” (Proverbs 20:22).

Related article: Finding Ways to Forgive after Deep Hurt

Why Should We Forgive, When We Can’t Forget?

Forgiveness requires patience and humility. We need patience to trust that God will set all things right in the end and that justice will prevail. It also requires humility to remember that we, too, are prone to sin, and through no merit of our own, have received forgiveness. As forgiven followers of Jesus, we did not receive justice. Jesus took the just payment for our sin, and in exchange, we received the gift of His righteousness. “For by grace you have been through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

God knows that our human minds have trouble forgetting offenses and hurts, but when we consider that we, too, have often hurt others, and are likely to do so again, we are humbled to forgive. Unforgiveness is a form of pride, judging others when we most likely have our own issues to consider (Matthew 7:1-5).

“Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12).

“Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before stumbling. It is better to be humble in spirit with the lowly than to divide the spoil with the proud” (Proverbs 16:18-19).

Forgiveness is a product of spiritual growth. As followers of Jesus, may we press on to live in the joy of our own forgiveness through faith in Jesus Christ. Let every day be an opportunity to share what we have received with those who need it so desperately.

“Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:12-14).

Photo credit: Unsplash/alirezaesmaeeli

Author Sheila Alewine is a pastor’s wife, mother, and grandmother of five. She and her husband lead Around The Corner Ministries, which serves to equip Christ-followers to share the gospel where they live, work and play. She has written seven devotionals including Just Pray: God’s Not Done With You YetGrace & Glory: 50 Days in the Purpose & Plan of God, and her newest one, Give Me A Faith Like That, as well as Going Around The Corner, a Bible study for small groups who desire to reach their communities for Christ. Their ministry also offers disciple-making resources like One-To-One Disciple-Making in partnership with Multiplication Ministries. Sheila has a passion for God’s Word and shares what God is teaching her on her blog, The Way of The Word. Connect with her on her blogFacebook, and Instagram.