Just the term forgiveness can bring to mind unwelcome memories or unresolved pain. Forgiveness is only necessary where there is hurt. And, if you are interested in this subject then likely someone has hurt you deeply. There’s a wound that you want healed.
All of us know what it’s like to be hurt by other people. It’s only human to be grieved, bitter, resentful, to want to retaliate, and even forfeit wounded relationships.
In our world, every once in a while, we may witness stories of forgiveness that overcome hate, but overall we’re mostly okay with harboring a grudge wherever we think it is justified.
We often breathe the air of human resentment to one degree or another.
Yet, when we have hurt other people and feel remorse, we long for reconciliation. We understand that in an ideal world love would win more often, and we wish hatred weren’t so prevalent.
The Bible answers our longing for forgiveness. First, by helping us understand that our longing for reconciled relationships is a faint echo in our hearts of a greater need.
We All Need Forgiveness
Every single person has done many wrongs; the Bible tells us we all owe an incalculable relational debt—to God. God is not transactional; he’s relational. When we break his law as revealed in the Bible, or ignore him, or malign his character, we hurt a Divine Person. We are rebelliously inclined from birth and continually offend our own Creator God (Romans 3:10).
Yet because of his steadfast love, God has responded to our offenses in an unimaginable way.
First, he responds to our offenses with kindness. Regardless of whether we acknowledge our offense or not, God showers kindness on us. He gives us good gifts like fun summers, family, rain for our crops, marriage, good food, and the new sunshine every morning (Matthew 5:45; James 1:17).
Second, God made it possible to mend the relationship. Though we hurt him, God did not retreat or exact immediate revenge; God pursued us in love. He did not want to give us the just punishment our sins deserved. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16 ESV).
Though none of us naturally pursue God for forgiveness, God paved the way for us to receive it; he forgave each and every person who turns to Jesus for forgiveness. God took the necessary steps so that when we come to ask for forgiveness, he can extend it to us.
Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrates his love for us in this, that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” God himself absorbed the pain of our offenses against him when Jesus suffered for our sins in our stead on the cross.
God tells us if we acknowledge that we are sinners in need of his mercy and forgiveness, he will forgive our sins (Luke 18:13). Jesus’ death paid the debt of our sins, satisfying God’s justice while also providing a way for us to be forgiven.
Forgiveness is a gift from God. It is something he paid for and extends to us freely. It’s a gift we all need. So how do we receive this gift?
How to Receive Forgiveness
Simply ask for it. 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (ESV).
God’s forgiveness is thorough and incredible. He promises to not punish you, but also tells you that he will consider your sins forgotten and will not deal with you or think of you according to your sin (Psalm 103:3, 9-12).
Why would God treat us with such kindness? Because we are precious to him as his creation, and because of who he is (Exodus 34:6-7; Hosea 11:8).
We are quick to harbor hatred because we love ourselves more than others—our pride stings and our self-esteem means more to us than our relationship with the person who offended us. But God isn’t like us—his first instinct is mercy.
God is so loving that though we sin against him, he still pursues us and desires for us to be reunited to him in a peaceful, loving relationship. He paid the cost, he invites us back, and he promises to mend our relationship himself, if we only ask.
Forgiven People Forgive
Only by understanding the forgiveness of God do we have reason or power to forgive others. Forgiveness is a character trait of God, because it’s an extension of love, which “keeps no record of wrongs” (1 Corinthians 13:5 NIV). Such love is not natural to us.
We know deep down that forgiveness is possible friend-to-friend, neighbor-to-neighbor, even friend-to-enemy. But the secret is that it’s something we all need to receive first before we can truly forgive.
But the secret is that forgiveness is something we all need to receive first before we can give it.
Forgiveness is something that you choose to give someone. The Bible teaches us that it’s only possible to extend forgiveness if the gift has first been given to you. Forgiven Christians are forgiving Christians.
We Forgive the Measure We’ve Been Forgiven
And, Christians forgive in the same way that we have been forgiven.
Think about this. Our God is infinite and eternal. Even our smallest sins against him are serious offenses, because he is the highest-ranking person we could ever offend. Yet God offers to forgive us of the immense severity of our sins. His forgiveness is eternally deep.
It’s also infinitely wide. His love promises to cover our past, present, and future sins. Every-Single-Offense-Ever-Committed. He says he has cast them away from us as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12). Jesus offers forgiveness for real life sin–cheating, abuse, murder, deception, lies, unrelenting mistreatment—these are the kinds of hurts we long to experience forgiveness for, yet we wonder if the hurts are too deep to heal. They’re not too deep for the Lord.
Ask for a Forgiving Heart
Friend, not only has God offered to forgive you freely forever just at the asking, but he’s also willing to empower you to forgive deeply if you just ask for his same heart. God does not just offer us pardon; he also promises to impart to us his very own character—his Spirit to live inside of us—so we would be able to show his love to others.
Only if you are forgiven much, can you forgive much. For the one who is forgiven little, will love little (Luke 7:47). Do you want to know how to forgive? Then you first need to consider how much you have been forgiven.
If you’ve never experienced God’s forgiveness, cry out to him and ask him to show you your need for the mercy and love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ. And let his love empower you to forgive as you’ve been forgiven.