What is forgiveness? Here’s a part of a conversation between Peter and Jesus that might help clear it up:
Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “ I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” Matthew 18:21-22 NIV
Seventy-seven times is a lot. Like, a lot a lot (and spoiler alert: by seventy-seven, He means you should never stop forgiving someone). Sometimes it’s hard to forgive someone even once. Maybe you already forgave them and are wondering why you should consider forgiving them again. Maybe forgiveness doesn’t even seem like an option—what they did seems unforgivable. But Jesus said to forgive seventy-seven times, and He Himself has forgiven us—I know this is true for me—so many more times than that.
It’s hard to forgive and extend grace sometimes, so we hold on to hurts and resentment. But that’s not what Jesus wants for us. We can continue to focus on our hurt feelings, or we can see forgiveness for what it really is.
What is forgiveness? First, let’s take a quick look at what forgiveness is not.
Forgiveness is not:
- Based on a feeling.
- Forgetting what happened.
- Denying the hurt.
- Ignoring or disregarding the wrong done.
But forgiveness is freedom. Holding on to unforgiveness takes a heavy toll on your emotions, mental state, physical well-being and spiritual life, but forgiveness penetrates those areas of darkness and despair with light and hope. Forgiveness allows emotional healing, increased intimacy with God, and spiritual freedom.
To forgive doesn’t mean to give in, but it does mean to let go. When you forgive, you reclaim your power to choose. It doesn’t matter whether someone deserves forgiveness—you deserve to be free. We can bang our head against the wall and become angry and bitter. We can let our pride rule our souls. Or we can extend forgiveness to people who don’t deserve it, have not earned it, and might even misuse it. Not in your own strength or power. But Jesus can release us from our emotional prison of unforgiveness. We just have to let Him.
The value we place on God’s forgiveness can be best measured by our willingness to forgive others. We should forgive those who have wronged us, even if we feel they do not deserve it. We didn’t deserve forgiveness, but through the blood and grace of Jesus, we have been set free from our sins.
Measure your forgiveness through God’s eyes, not your own. Every time you feel anger or bitterness, choose to forgive instead of dwelling on the emotions that torment you. Instead of replaying old hurts and focusing on the past, stay in the present, trusting God’s unfailing love and good plan for your life. Unforgiveness only hurts you. It keeps you isolated, alone, and bitter.
We don’t have to—nor can we—forgive in our own strength. But we can ask God for His help letting go of offenses. And when we rest in His strength, we find even more freedom in Christ through forgiveness.
How to forgive yourself
Even though all of this applies to forgiving others, it also applies to forgiving yourself—arguably the hardest kind of forgiveness there is. When I am unable to forgive myself, it’s like I don’t believe that God has forgiven me or that He loves me unconditionally. Or I don’t always feel worthy of forgiveness. But forgiveness isn’t based on feelings—it’s freely given by God. Stand on God’s promises and walk forward in His truth. We can trust that what we did or didn’t do is not more powerful than what God can do from this point forward.
When you truly forgive, it is like the Lord reaches into your heart, rips out all the bitterness, anger, resentment, and pain, and throws it away. The pain that once controlled you will disappear. That’s the power of forgiveness.