Jesus said in Matthew 6:12, “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” Forgiveness is what being a Christian is all about. There are basically three types of forgiveness that we need to apply to our lives—and each one is crucial in our walk with God.
We learn in Romans 6:23 that the wages sin is death, and in Psalm 55:15 we see that this death is destined to eternity in hell. When we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we accept that on the cross He took all of our sins upon Himself, died with those sins, and took the punishment of hell for those sins on our behalf. We are forgiven for every sin we have ever committed or ever will commit. We now stand righteous before God—but it’s not our own righteousness. It is His righteousness that was given to us when we were saved. His sacrifice pardoned us from those sins and God will never again acknowledge those sins.
- For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.—John 3:16
Jesus removed the sinful nature that we had inherited from Adam and that had separated us from God. In 2 Corinthians 5:17 it says, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”
When we accept that Jesus died on the cross for our sins and then repent for those sins, we are forgiven by God for all of them. There is then no sin in our life. We are not only forgiven but our old nature is removed—that spirit of the world controlled by the devil—and we are filled with God’s Spirit. We have been forgiven and nothing stands between us and God, and anything we do wrong after we are saved is immediately forgiven when repent for it. This freedom is called “living in grace”.
Galatians 3:13 says, “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us.” We’re now pure before God because of Jesus’ righteousness. And for this reason, we are eternally grateful to Jesus and we praise Him continually.
However, this grace does not give us permission to deliberately sin and just assume that we are forgiven. We are accountable for all we do after we are saved, and there will be times that we all do things we know are wrong, but God will continue to forgive us as long as we ask Him and mean it. As we grow we would pray for God’s strength to help us so we would not commit those sins again. But don’t be fooled; if we don’t repent of these sins we will have to answer to Jesus for them the day we stand before Him.
- For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.—2 Corinthians 5:10
Forgiveness Towards Each Other
There are times in life when we offend people, whether deliberately or unintentionally, and God expects us to ask them to forgive us so we can keep peace with them. There are other times that people offend us and God also expects us to accept their apology to keep peace with them. He doesn’t want us to assume that these people will just forget it after time.
- Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; 24 Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.— Matthew 5:23-24
God wants His children to be at peace with each other, and if we don’t keep this peace then we are not obeying God. If we don’t obey God, then we won’t have peace with Him, either.
- And be ye kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.—Ephesians 4:32
Unfortunately, we won’t always have the ability to speak personally with all those who have offended us or who we have offended. But we can forgive them in our heart and have peace with God because we obeyed Him and didn’t harbor bad feelings toward them. And then if the opportunity came when we could speak to any of these people in person, we would.
There may be times, however, when our apology might not be accepted, but if we mean it then we’ll have peace within us, and our heart and our conscience would be free even if they hold onto their bad feelings toward us. We would have obeyed God and there would be peace between us and God, and that’s what counts.
When the offense is great and we can’t forgive someone on our own merits, we ask God to give us a forgiving heart. Through the strength of the Holy Spirit we’ll be able to forgive them and forget the hostility and anger we’ve carried toward them. We need to get rid of these bad feelings so the devil doesn’t have any ground to work on.
- Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.—Psalm 51:10
Then there will be those who habitually offend us and apologize without any genuine remorse or care—and this can be very frustrating. This bothered the Apostle Peter, too, and so he asked Jesus how many times we have to forgive someone who does this.
- Then came Peter to him, and said, ‘Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?’ 22 Jesus saith unto him, ‘I say not unto thee, until seven times: but until seventy times seven.’—Matthew 18:21-22
According to Strong’s Greek Concordance: 1441, the words “seventy times seven” are translated from the Greek words ἑβδομηκοντάκις ἑπτά, which mean countless times. The word “seven” is used frequently in both the Old and New Testaments and is most often translated from the Greek word “teléo”, which means “complete or finished”.—Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance: 5055. So when Jesus told Peter “until seventy times seven”, He was saying, in essence, that we continue to forgive countless times—until it is finished—until it’s not necessary to forgive anymore.
Why do we have to keep forgiving the same person for things over and over when they don’t seem to mean it? We do it in obedience to God. We do it so that we don’t raise our self up to being tempted to judge that person for his or her actions. When we are filled with frustration or anger or any number of emotions caused from the offender, we build a wall between us and God. But when we forgive the person, the wall is knocked down and our life is free again. Our thoughts and our relationship with God are pure again. We cannot allow anything of this world to get in the way of our relationship with our Heavenly Father.
- But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.—Matthew 6:15
The fact that the person doesn’t mean it is irrelevant and they’ll stand accountable for their actions before God one day. But when we harbor unforgiveness in our heart toward someone, we create an anxiety that the devil can play with and use to grow into something big and bad. Apostle Paul warns us about this:
- Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.’—Romans 12:19
We don’t have to like the person who offends us, but we won’t have any bad feelings toward them, either. If we have to communicate with these people, we will be able to remain sociable and respectful toward them because we represent the Lord. But most of all, we will have peace with God regardless of this person’s feelings toward us.
Sometimes the most difficult person to forgive is our self. We may have come to the cross, given our heart to Jesus and forgiven everyone who ever offended us, but there are things that we may have done that we just won’t let go of.
Perhaps it was an abortion or maybe we had too much to drink and caused a car accident that killed or permanently injured someone. Possibly we were a bad parent and our relationship with our child is broken because the child won’t forgive us, or maybe we exchanged harsh words with someone who died before we could apologize. Whatever the issue is, our thoughts are tormented as the unforgiving scene plays over and over in the cobwebs of our mind.
We hurt because there’s nothing we can do to change what happened and we live in constant agony over it. As we inflict our own subconscious punishment for what we did, we will not—we cannot—forgive ourselves. But God can help us when we ask Him. We need to come to Him and ask Him to help us accept what happened and to help us to forgive ourselves so we can put it all behind us. Only God can give us the peace that we need to deal with this type of hurt and pain.
Sometimes it will take a long period of prayer and fasting, but that’s not because God is taking a long time to come to us; it’s because we’re taking a long time to let go. Some kinds of healing do take longer, so we must not give in to defeat, but rather, we must constantly look to Jesus for His help. And when we finally do let it go, and we finally do accept that it happened and that we’re sorry about it, then the grip that the devil had on us will be gone and God’s peace will fill our heart.
- Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.—Matthew 11:28
There’s power in forgiveness!
Forgiving others demonstrates the power and grace of love because it’s the basis of the gospel of Jesus. When He was on the cross, Jesus endured physical torture and was beaten beyond recognition. He took all of our sins onto Himself and that meant every sin and every sickness from every person ever born. He was separated from God while He suffered this horror— and this was the greatest torment of all. He knew that He would be sent to hell to suffer the punishment for all of our sins, and it was terrifying. What Jesus bore on the cross was more horrifying than any person could ever imagine.
And yet, Jesus was still able to say, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”—Luke 23:34. And if He can forgive all of us who nailed Him to the cross with our sins, then surely we can forgive others for offending us.
- For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.—Matthew 6:14-15