Life Challenges

Freedom from Bitterness

We bind ourselves by bitterness. Bitterness arises out of a desire
for what we believe is justice. But somehow it punishes us more than the person we wish to see brought to justice.

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Short Content

How to Deal With Bitterness

“See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no ‘root of bitterness’ springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled…” (Hebrews 12:15 ESV)

My dad entered my room and lovingly told me the truth. “You’re allowing bitterness to take root in your heart. You don’t want that to grow, and I don’t either. It will only hurt you and others.”

He was paraphrasing this verse from the Bible from his heart.

Someone had wronged me, hadn’t said sorry, and continued to wrong me each time I saw them. I had a right to stay angry, right? It was okay to harbor bitterness toward them, right?

My dad saw what I could not—someone’s wrongdoing presented me with a choice. I could harbor anger and let it spoil my own attitude or I could “let it go.” Letting it go would mean I accept this person’s offense and entrust the situation to God (1 Peter 4:19).

But who wants to do that?

They deserve some sort of punishment, even if it’s just my disdain towards them. They’ve done wrong! Shouldn’t they be punished—why aren’t they being called into account by anyone?

And here we see that it’s a longing for justice, or rather retribution, that tempts us towards bitterness. That’s what Hebrews 12:15 tells us. Scripture commands us to see to it, or pay careful attention, that bitterness does not take root in our heart. But bonded to that command is a second and synonymous instruction: pay careful attention that no one “fails to obtain the grace of God.” Failing to obtain the grace of God fertilizes bitterness.

Let me explain.

Grace is God’s undeserved kindness towards us. To understand this, is to see that our life is absolutely awash in the grace of God. James tells us that everything good—everything—in our lives comes straight from God’s hand (James 1:17). What have we ever done for God to deserve the sun to rise each day, or the marriage we enjoy, or the delicious foods that spring up from the ground to nourish us? We experience God’s grace all the time whether we believe in Jesus or not.

But for those who believe in Jesus, there is an even greater grace—God has chosen to not treat us as our sins deserve—he has promised to not give us justice in this life or the life to come (Psalm 103:10; Romans 6:23). He has wiped clean the record of all our sin against him, because Jesus absorbed the justice due for our offenses at the cross (Colossians 2:13-14).

To obtain the grace of God means to understand and take to heart that God has been eternally kind to me though I do not deserve it and could never earn such favor. To think that God would not treat me as a divine offender, though I fail at keeping his law every single day, but instead to treat me like his perfect Son, Jesus—all as a free gift (Romans 3:24)!

That is amazing—it’s the grace of God.

Bitterness is the sin that woos us to exact punishment from people when we’re mistreated.

It says, you hurt me and deserve to be hurt.

Do you see why God would be so opposed to this attitude? God went to great lengths to make sure we did not have to suffer for our wrongdoing, out of his great love and mercy.

When we demand punishment from other people, we’re not only being quite unlike God, but we are forgetting the immeasurable debt we owed to God that he freely forgave (Matthew 18:21-35).

When we understand what God has done for us daily in his simple kindnesses, and what he has done for us eternally in his immeasurable love towards us in Jesus, we will become more forgiving people, quick to overlook offenses for the sake of love (1 Peter 4:8).

Perhaps the injustice done to you was exceptionally grave. It may sicken you to think of “overlooking” such an offense. The grace of God answers this distress. God has promised to punish all evil (Deuteronomy 32:35; Exodus 34:7). Every evil deed will be punished in one of two places: at the cross of Jesus for those who believe, or in hell eternally for those who don’t believe.

If the person who wronged you truly belongs to Jesus, Jesus bore the punishment they deserve on the cross. Justice has been dealt. We must give them the grace God gives both them and us. And if, God forbid, that person does not belong to Jesus, they will receive justice for every evil deed, including the one done to you. That should absolutely sober us and stir up compassion for that person and urge us not to demand their punishment, but instead plead for God’s mercy for them and seek to show them the love of Christ that they might turn and know Jesus.  

Bitterness really is evil, and God instructs us to get rid of it (Ephesians 4:31)—for our own good. Sin has destructive effects, beginning with your attitude, and then spreading through your lips, and then overflowing into your life (James 1:15). In the words of a friend of mine, don’t let bitterness live in your heart— “cut it at the root so it won’t bear fruit.” But how?

Confession is the only way to siphon out the poison of bitterness from your heart (1 John 1:8-9; Psalm 51). Tell God that you’re bitter, why you’re bitter, and ask for him to reveal his grace to you and change your heart. He is the master of miracles for the bitter soul, if only we will humble ourselves and confess our need. Don’t spend another hour watering this poisonous plant. Go to the Great Gardener, and ask him to help you weed it out.



Theme Verse

Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled.

HEBREWS 12:14-15 ESV

How to Be Free of Bitterness
Video: 5 Min
by John Piper at Desiring God

Bitterness Test: 
Is There Bitterness in Your Heart?

We thought the diagnostic questions Pastor Randy Smith asked in his sermon, "Overcoming Bitterness" were really helpful. So we wrote out our notes for you. Feel free to download this graphic or share it to social media! 

Ephesians 4:31-32 NIV

Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

Messages: 45 Min

Overcoming Bitterness

by Randy Smith


Sermon Summary:
Overcoming Bitterness

We thought it might be helpful to see the five main points of Pastor Randy Smith's sermon on bitterness. Download this graphic to help you remember how to overcome bitterness!



by Andy Mineo
Article: 10 Min

Understanding he Heart of Bitterness

In the Bible, we learn about a woman named Naomi, who helps us understand our own bitter hearts. But God's Word also provides us with the cure for bitterness. 

by the Biblical Counseling Coalition

Romans 12:17-21 NIV

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Messages: 38 Min

When God
Can't Forgive

by Colin Smith

Article: 8 Min

The Cure for Bitterness

by Stacy Reaoch at Open the Bible

Mark 11:25 NIV

And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.

Psalm 37:6-8 ESV

He will bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday.

Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices!

Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath!
Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil.

Romans 2:1 NIV

You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.

Messages: 37 Min

Battling the
Unbelief of Bitterness

by John Piper

1 Peter 2:23-24 NIV

When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.


The way to battle bitterness
is to believe that
vengeance belongs to the Lord and
he will repay.
If you keep a grudge,
you doubt the Judge.


Praying Against Bitterness

With a blank piece of paper before you, ask God to bring to mind anyone you need to forgive. If he gives you a name or two or ten, start praying for those on your list. Pray every day until you feel God melt that resentment you've been holding onto.

I have found it is impossible to be unforgiving toward those I am praying for. It’s not easy to start praying for them; it’s one of the hardest things I’ve done. But when I make that person an object of prayer, I open the door of my heart a little wider so that God can come in and breathe on my hardened heart, melting the icy resentment that is there.

by Anne Peterson at Christianity Today | Source
Luke 6:27-28 NLT

“But to you who are willing to listen, I say, love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you.”

1 John 1:8-9 ESV

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.