What is forgiveness?

Updated: Nov 16, 2019

Matthew 6:14-15

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.


How important is it for us to forgive? Jesus says our forgiveness depends upon

whether we forgive everyone who sins against us. It must be of first importance,

because in this chapter He has just given them the model prayer – the Our Father

– and His only comment regarding what is said in the prayer is this instruction

about forgiveness.



Later in Matthew’s Gospel Jesus teaches on forgiveness once again. In chapter 18

beginning with verse 15 He gives instructions for the right way to deal with a

sinning brother, and follows it with the parable of the unforgiving servant. After

describing the punishment given the one who refused to forgive, He makes a very

direct and disturbing pronouncement: “So My heavenly Father also will do to you

if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.

(Matthew 18:35)


How do we truly forgive? First, we must understand guilt. Each of us must say,

with full certainty, “I did it. I am guilty. I deserve God’s judgment.” Yes, I may

have had a hard life. Yes, things may have happened to me that were not fair in

the least. Others may even have accused me falsely … but whatever the case I

am the one responsible for what I have done.


Second, we must understand the nature of the forgiveness we have received. “He

is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of

the whole world.” (1 John 2:2). Jesus paid the price for my sin, but also for the sin

of the one I am commanded to forgive – whether that person acknowledges Jesus

or not! If I withhold forgiveness from anyone, then I am declaring, “Jesus has paid

for your forgiveness, but that’s not enough for me. I demand more!”


Third, we must understand the sovereignty of God. The book of Genesis

describes how Joseph’s eleven brothers sold him into slavery and lied to his

father, claiming he was dead. Yet years later, when God brought them back

together again after Joseph was made second in command of all Egypt, what did

Joseph say to them? “And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with

yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me

ahead of you.” (Genesis 45:5). In essence he told them, “you did not put me here;

God put me here.” Not everything that sets us back, that makes life difficult,

comes from the enemy.


Finally, we must understand what forgiveness is … and what it is not. Forgiveness

is erasing the debt: nothing more is owed. Nothing more is required, nothing is

expected, nothing is desired. There still may be consequences – broken trust, not

putting a vulnerable person back into a bad situation, etc. – but the heart has

marked the debt, “Paid in Full”.


We must also understand what forgiveness is not. It is not shunning: “I forgive

you, but I don't want to see you right now; I don't want to talk to you; my children

can't play with your children.” It is not balancing the scales: “I want you to feel

the pain of what you did to me.” It is not erasing their existence: “I will not honor

or respect you; I will pretend you don't exist.” It is not belittling them: “I will not

recognize your accomplishments.” It is not revenge: “I will rejoice when you feel

pain.”


You’ve heard it said, “To forgive is to forget.” It is not true. God has created us

with memory – we even call it a disease when our memory begins to fail. The

harder we concentrate on forgetting something, the more embedded it becomes

in our memory. True forgiveness does not consist of forgetting. True forgiveness

is revealed in remembering without any hint of desire to harm the other person.


True forgiveness comes when we give our hurt, our offense, and all our pain to

God and let Him keep it – permanently. It is not our business to follow Him

around, watching to see how He will get revenge for us. His goal is not revenge;

His goal is salvation for that person who wronged you. “He is patient with [them,

just as He is with] you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to

repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9b)


Word of God: speak!

Non nobis Domine+


by Fr. Dana Jackson

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