What is Biblical Forgiveness and How Do We Forgive?
We hear an awful lot about forgiving each other, but many of us actually don’t know what it means to forgive, and if we’re not careful we might think it means that we are called to be a doormat and let offenders walk all over us.
Forgiveness is for YOUR benefit, not theirs
Forgiveness in its simplest form is giving up our right for someone else to pay back what we might think they owe us (example below). It’s giving up the right for them to like us, to respect us, to love us, pay us back for offending us, and I can think of many other examples. Here’s an example I’d like to share:
Forgiving Someone That Committed Adultery Against You
What it doesn’t mean:
It doesn’t mean you have to remain married to them.
It doesn’t mean you have to give them another chance.
It doesn’t mean you can’t have emotions of anger, hurt, and sadness.
It doesn’t mean you have to forget it ever happened.
What Forgiving an Adulterer looks like:
If a husband cheated on his wife religion might tell her she is required to forgive him, but the problem is religion would have a different idea of what forgiveness is. Religion’s definition might be to act like it never happened or to remain in the relationship, even if you don’t trust your spouse and/or think they will do it again. That is not at all what forgiveness for an adulterer should look like.
We are free in Christ and we are free to choose to stay in the relationship or exit it. You can forgive no matter which option you choose. To forgive you simply give up your rights. You give up your right to be respected and honored by your spouse. You give up your right for them to fix what they have destroyed. You give up your right for them to be the source of your joy. You make a decision that they owe you nothing and learn not to seek fulfillment in people (spouse included) or the things of this world, but instead, you make Christ your source. This doesn’t mean you can’t desire to be loved or for things to be made right. God is not asking you to hide your feelings. It simply means that you release them of their debt to you and you make a decision not to let their debt be a source of robbing your peace and joy in Christ.
In Philippians 4 The Apostle Paul tells his story of not only being blessed at times, but he also says there have been times when he was in need, he was hungry, and he had little, but in verse 11 he says “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances”, which simply meant he did not let worldly circumstances dictate his joy. How did he do this? We get the answer in Philippians 4:13 as Paul writes “I can do all this through him who gives me strength”. Paul was saying no matter what life throws at him he gets his joy from Christ alone. He gives up his right to have plenty, to be well-fed, or any other circumstance that the world would seek as their source of joy, which would include the right to a faithful loving spouse. Don’t hear me wrong, I am not implying that this is easy to do. It’s not. You’re human. But this is the answer.
Will God Forgive Me If I Don’t Forgive Others?
There’s a false teaching out there that says if you fail to forgive someone then God will not forgive you either. This teaching comes from a horrific misunderstanding of verses such as the following:
Matthew 6:15 “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
Mark 11:25 “if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins”
But what do these two verses have in common? They are both before the cross and before the new covenant. Why did Jesus teach this and what’s different today?
Before the cross, Jesus spent a lot of time talking with Jewish people who looked to the law for their righteousness. Jesus knew that if the people thought that righteousness could be attained through the law then no one would clearly see their need for a savior. In response, Jesus shows them the true standard of the law. Many teach the Sermon on the Mount as a guide for Christian living, but the truth is no one can do it, and that’s what Jesus was revealing. He took the standard of the law and raised the bar to its true measure. Remember, in this sermon Jesus said if you simply ‘look with lust’ you are guilty of Adultery. How many people listening to that message failed that test? Probably most of them. He said if you had ever ‘been angry with someone then you are guilty of murder’. Everyone listening was buried by Jesus’s teaching of this true standard of the law. Mission accomplished.
You’ll never see this kind of teaching after the cross. No threats of sending Christians to hell, which was done 3 times in the Sermon on the Mount. No threats to cut off our hands or gouge out our eyes to avoid hell. Yes, Jesus DID MEAN THOSE THINGS, but His point was that this is how you better respond under the law. Take away – You better find a better covenant.
Now remember in the Sermon on the Mount, according to the standard of the law, you are threatened with Hell and you won’t be forgiven if you don’t forgive, but let’s look at how forgiveness is described after the cross and we see a totally different teaching. A teaching under grace and a new covenant. We see that we are called to forgive others because we are ALREADY forgiven. In other words, pay it forward.
Ephesians 4:32 “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
Colossians 3:13 “Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”
Do you see it? Under the law, you earn forgiveness according to what you do. Under grace, it’s a free gift through faith and you always have it.
Notice the following verse using the words ‘have been’ which refers to past tense. Done.
1 John 2:12 I am writing to you, dear children, because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name.
There’s your reason to forgive. You are totally forgiven. Pass it on. But you’re human and if you struggle to forgive right away God will not revoke His forgiveness for you. He will never leave you or forsake you. Never.
Author: Mike Cynar
Mike Cynar was raised in a church setting where he frequently noticed that many attendees would eventually drift away. The church labeled these individuals as ‘back sliders’ or ‘fake Christians’ just looking for ‘fire insurance’. However, Mike realized the issue was rarely with these individuals but instead with the church’s message itself. The teachings heavily emphasized behavior improvement and one’s flaws, with only a fleeting mention of one’s identity in Christ. It felt as though every sermon was tailored to the church of Corinth, who as we know or committing sins that even unbelievers don’t partake in. This trend was noticeable not just in one denomination, but across Baptist, Catholic, Pentecostal, and many other churches. Upon understanding the true essence of the gospel – that our righteousness comes from Jesus’ actions, not our own – Mike was inspired to liberate believers from lifeless sermons and reconnect them with the genuine teachings of Jesus. He believes that one can nurture a vibrant and growing bond with Jesus, unhindered by rigid religious practices. And thus, “Jesus Without Religion” was born.
It turns out that it is grace that leads to repentance. And if our heart is to get others to walk in the Spirit and live a godly life, then the best approach is not a beat down sermon, but rather to remind other that it is only when we understand our true identity in Christ that we will live it out. Yes, it’s true, if you’re convinced that God thinks you’re a dirty sinner, you will ultimately continue a lifestyle that mirrors that view, but if you truly believe that even on your worst day, you are called holy, sanctified, justified, and will be presented blameless in the end, well, it turns out this is the secret to living out on the outside what has been worked in to the inside.