4 Relevant Lessons About Forgiveness

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4 Relevant Lessons About Forgiveness

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Recently, a lady in my church approached me and asked me what the Bible says about forgiving other people. I loved her honesty and told her I would think about it and let her know. After doing a little bit of research, I came up with a few verses that I sent her.

However, I could not send these Scriptures to her without being moved by them myself. Here are four lessons I am learning about forgiveness (and I expect I will always be learning them):

1. My forgiveness of others is evidence of God’s forgiveness at work within me.

When Jesus taught his disciples to pray with what we often call “The Lord’s Prayer,” he said to pray like this: “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12). Then, just in case there were any questions about that, Jesus followed that up with this:

“For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:14-15, ESV).

Elsewhere in the Bible, Mark records this similar teaching of Jesus from a different time:

“And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.” (Mark 11:25, ESV).

What I am learning as I live my life is that the more I experience and appreciate God’s forgiveness of my sins, the more I am reminded and even compelled to forgive others. This has played out, especially in my closest relationships, such as with my wife and father.

2. When God forgives me, he cancels my debt and removes my guilt.

I have a bad memory. My memory is so bad that my wife often has to remind me how bad it is.

But even with my bad memory, it is difficult (or even impossible) to forget how someone has hurt me, lied to me, or mistreated me in my past. Those experiences of trauma can stay with us our whole life. We do not have the power to forget them completely. We can suppress them, but they are still there in the subconscious recesses of our mind, and (as I have heard many times) “our body keeps the score” of the trauma we have gone through.

God, on the other hand, is able to choose to forget the debt. I am not saying that he misplaces his notes or that his omniscience has an end. Instead, he has the supernatural ability to decide what he connects to us. While I believe God still knows what we as Christians have done against him, he lets go of and forgets the debt that we owe for our sins. That is justification. Paul explains it like this:

“And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” (Colossians 2:13-14, ESV)

When we are in Christ (meaning we are essentially hidden behind Jesus in God’s sight), we are no longer living under condemnation for our sins. We will still have to deal with natural consequences, but there is no more guilt associated with our sin. Our judge has declared us unequivocally “not guilty.”

I love the picture the psalmist gives us about this when he writes in Psalm 103:12, “As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.”

3. Forgiving others is one way I express my love to them.

As tough as it is to admit, I have hurt others. There are times when I have hurt my parents, my spouse, my children, my friends, and the people I have tried to lead. There are times when it was totally accidental, and there are times when it was on purpose because I was angry or trying to be vindictive.

In the same way that I want others to not hold my sin against me after I have asked for their forgiveness, the way that I display my love to others is by forgiving them for their wrongdoing. Constantly bringing up someone’s sin against me or continuing to look at them through the filter of their mistakes is not loving.

The Apostle Paul (who knew a thing or two about being forgiven for much) wrote in Ephesians 4:32, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (ESV). He also wrote to the believers in Colossae, “If one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (Colossians 3:13, ESV).

If I do not forgive someone (as I have had to often do in my life), then I do not love them. For example, I do not hold the sins, mistakes, and failures of my children over them and treat them differently because I have an unconditional love for them (or at least as much as humanly possible). One of the understandings that I have realized that has really helped me do this is to recognize that we all have things we are dealing with and “hurt people hurt people.” In order to love and forgive others well, I often need to remember that they are just acting out in the best way they know.

4. I will never use up my forgiveness power.

One of the greatest abilities I have as a friend and family member of others is my power to forgive. Anyone can retaliate and hurt someone for their actions. It is so natural to do so that even animals can react and retaliate. But it takes great power and intentional love to forgive others after they hurt us. As Jesus taught Peter and his other disciples:

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

In the same way that God forgives me for my past, present, and future sins (for which I am incredibly thankful), I have the power to forgive others. While this doesn’t mean that I need to position myself in the same place I was before in order to get hurt in the same way, it does mean that when I love someone, I will continue to forgive them and move on instead of being stuck in bitterness and unforgiveness.

As I think back over my own life, I can honestly say that I have forgiven many people for how they hurt me. This forgiveness has given me a sense of closure and peace that has helped me live a better life. But this power to forgive did not come from me—it came from the Holy Spirit within me. Any unforgiveness I still have because of unsettled issues is still there because I have not allowed God to fill those bitter spots with love.

So, let’s allow God’s forgiveness to sprout in us. Let’s live in great appreciation for how he has canceled our debts and chooses not to hold our sins against us. Let’s live out our love by forgiving others. And let’s wield the greatest power we have at our disposal: forgiveness.

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/greenleaf123


Robert Hampshire is a pastor, teacher, writer, and leader. He has been married to Rebecca since 2008 and has three children, Brooklyn, Bryson, and Abram. Robert attended North Greenville University in South Carolina for his undergraduate and Liberty University in Virginia for his Masters. He has served in a variety of roles as a worship pastor, youth pastor, family pastor, church planter, and now Pastor of Worship and Discipleship at Cheraw First Baptist Church in South Carolina. He furthers his ministry through his blog site, Faithful Thinking, and his YouTube channel. His life goal is to serve God and His Church by reaching the lost with the gospel, making devoted disciples, equipping and empowering others to go further in their faith and calling, and leading a culture of multiplication for the glory of God. Find out more about him here.

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