How to Forgive When Your Offender Is Not Sorry

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Have you ever loaned money to a friend with a promise of repayment, but the debt was never satisfied? Or perhaps you sold an item but didn’t receive the money you were due? As a matter of justice, we want accounts to be kept. We want others to pay what they owe.

One of my first jobs involved debt collection. Thankfully, I didn’t work for a sleazy agency that harassed poor people who had no money. Instead, I worked for a corporation that sold products and called other businesses to remind them about overdue invoices. Many times, people appreciated the nudge and paid their bills. In these cases, the company could continue to buy products and services in a mutually beneficial business relationship.

When the company did not pay the debt, however, it could no longer purchase products. The business relationship was broken.

The debt of sin breaks relationships, too.

I remember my broken heart in third grade when my best friend said something mean. I hid and cried all through recess. That relationship never recovered. Little did I know life would grow more difficult. A few years later, my father’s neglect and my parents’ divorce damaged my family and skewed future adult relationships.

Since then, I’ve endured much worse offenses. I cannot think of any sin more painful than an attack against an innocent person I love. Must I forgive? And how could I possibly restore the relationship? What if the offender’s not sorry? I’ve wept and wrestled with these questions as I sought to imitate Jesus. In the process, I’ve learned more about what forgiveness is—and is not.

The First Broken Relationship 

Before Adam and Eve sinned, they enjoyed perfect fellowship with God. They walked and talked with Him in a transparent relationship. God revealed Himself to them, and they hid nothing from Him. The Bible says, “The man and his wife were both naked, but they felt no shame” (Genesis 2:25 NLT).

When Adam and Eve sinned, their seamless connection with God was torn. Fear gripped them because they owed God a debt for their transgression, but they had no way to pay. Just as monetary debts do not disappear when a person physically dies, the spiritual death of Adam and Eve did not cancel their obligation to God. The debt of sin passed down through generations and still torments people today.

In His infinite mercy, God provided a temporary solution for the growing debt of His people. He accepted the sacrifice of animals to cover their sins. Later, God sent His Son, Jesus, to accept the penalty so people would no longer need to offer animals. His death on the cross paid off the entire crushing balance of sin for all people. If you have trusted Jesus for salvation, then your debt of sin is paid in full.

We must never forget the sacrifice of His Son cost Father God dearly. He and Jesus had always enjoyed perfect unity since before time began. They, along with the Holy Spirit, are one. If you are a parent of a child who’s been hurt, you can understand a small taste of Father God’s anguish as He watched evil people torture and kill His innocent Son.

God’s Command

While Jesus lived on earth, He taught us to pray to God about our sins. He instructed us to say, “And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And do not lead us into temptation” (Luke 11:4 NASB).

Jesus showed us a pattern to follow regarding sin. When we disobey God, we should repent and ask for pardon. In response, He washes away guilt and restores us to a right relationship with Him. This pattern carries over into our relationships with others. If someone offends us, they should show remorse and ask for our forgiveness. Following God’s example, we forgive their debt to us (Colossians 3:13).

The Burden of Unforgiveness

What happens when someone can’t—or won’t—ask for forgiveness? Or perhaps they say they’re sorry, but then continue to commit the same sin. Peter posed this critical question to Jesus when he asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?” (Matthew 18:21 NLT). Essentially, Peter wanted to know when his responsibility to forgive ended.

When we neglect or refuse to forgive the sins of others, we become like a collection agency. The debt of their sin weighs us down with an obligation to make them pay. At first, we may relish the prospect of extracting restitution from the person who wronged us.

Over time, though, the task of debt collection grows burdensome. When the offender does not meet our expectations, our hearts harden toward them. If we continue the relationship, resentment may seep in. A feeling of superiority—pride—follows close on the heels of resentment. Over time, bitterness develops and gives Satan a foothold in our lives. The weight of the debt prevents us from obeying God’s mandate to love this offending neighbor as ourselves.

Jesus answered Peter’s question about how often to forgive: “’No, not seven times,’ Jesus replied, ‘but seventy times seven!’” (Matthew 18:22 NLT). I can imagine Peter’s heart must have plummeted when he heard these words. Impossible!

Seventy times seven is a figure of speech that means no limits. Jesus intends for us to forgive the coworker who gossips behind our back every day. The neighbor who bothers us with loud parties. The jealous sibling who always stirs up trouble. The spouse who broke vows. And even the person who victimized a loved one. This elevated standard of forgiveness would be impossible without the help of God’s Spirit.

Forgiveness means giving up our claim against the person who sinned against us. Depending on the nature of the offense, a pardon may also include the restoration of a broken relationship. When restoration is reasonable and safe, trust must be earned.

While reunification may not be possible or prudent in every instance, God always wants us to forgive.

adult son hugging dad fathers day forgiveness

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/seb_ra

6 Steps in the Process of Forgiveness

Empowered by the Holy Spirit within us, we can release control of debt collection to God and forgive every offense.

1. Meditate on the suffering and death Jesus endured to forgive all sins. 

Picture yourself at the foot of the cross of Jesus. Remember, the blood He shed covers every person’s transgressions, including the ones that hurt you. Ultimately, offenses are, first and foremost, against God. But we often get caught in the crossfire of sin. Let’s not shortchange the value of Jesus’ extreme sacrifice with a refusal to apply His shed blood to every sin we’ve suffered at the hands of others.

Here’s a link you could use on this topic: https://annieyorty.com/gods-person/the-crossfire-of-sin/

2. With God, lament the offense you’ve suffered.

In this necessary step, pour out your heart to God about the full scope of the sin against you. If the offense is minor, this process may be quick and easy. But life-changing hurts can take more time as you talk to God about the tendrils of pain that have crept into every area of your life. This is not the time to minimize or excuse. Be honest with Him about the effects of the other person’s actions on your life. If you think of the offense as a plant, you want to apply the power of Jesus’ sacrifice not only to the leaves and fruit, but also all the way down to the deepest root.

3. In prayer, turn the responsibility of debt collection for sins against you over to Jesus.

As the One who paid the penalty, He may choose if and when to exact payment from the offender. Thank Jesus for relieving you of the weight of this responsibility.

4. Release the person who sinned against you from their debt.

In your own words and in the presence of Jesus, follow this pattern:

[Name of person], I choose to forgive and release you for [name the offense]. I will no longer expect you to repay me in any way. This offense is now between you and God. I trust Him to deal with you according to His wisdom, justice, and mercy.

5. Speaking again to God, express your desire for God’s best for the person who has hurt you.

Jesus said, “Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you” (Luke 6:28 NLT). If you struggle to bless the offender, ask God to give you faith to trust and obey Him. He gives power to see the person who sinned against you through His eyes of love and compassion.

6. Conclude in prayer with gratitude for the mercy God has shown to you.

Dear Father God, I’m grateful for Your tender mercy toward me. Through Jesus, I have forgiveness for my own sins. You also carry the burden of offenses committed against me so my life won’t be controlled by bitterness and malice. You give me comfort and peace when I come to You. I trust You to bring justice to my situation in Your perfect timing, so I’ll turn over the offender’s debt to Your capable hands. I pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Live Unburdened

God’s forgiveness of our sins is always complete and lasting. But our forgiveness of others may sometimes need to be renewed. If old feelings resurface, we may once again feel the weight of unforgiveness. At these times, we can run to God and regain inner peace by going through the steps of forgiveness again.

Whether the offender is sorry or not, this process of forgiveness allows us to exchange the burden of exacting justice for the peace of God. We can trust Him to handle every offense against us.

Photo Credit: ©Getty Images/evgenyatamanenko

Writer Annie YortyAnnie Yorty writes and speaks to encourage others to perceive God’s person, presence, provision, and purpose in the unexpected twists and turns of life. Married to her high school sweetheart and living in Pennsylvania, she mothers a teen, two adult children (one with intellectual disabilities), and a furry beast labradoodle. She has written From Ignorance to Bliss: God’s Heart Revealed through Down SyndromePlease connect with her at http://annieyorty.com/, Facebook, and Instagram.



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