By Donna Bucher
When people think of unforgiveness, visions of prison rarely come to mind.
Sadly, refusing to offer forgiveness holds us in a prison of bitterness, resentment, and pain, causing us to relive the offense repeatedly.
The prison of unforgiveness held me captive for many years.
Pain inflicted more than twenty years ago has revisited me on many a dark night, relentlessly parading the atrocious events before my mind.
My offender never apologized and moved on with their life, unpunished.
Each time the agonizing memories crowded my mind, I vowed never to forgive, as if such a vow held the power of punishment I thought my offender deserved.
Though I had no relationship with Jesus Christ at the time of the offense, years later, when the distressing memories surfaced, I called Christ my Lord.
Almost simultaneously, when the events disconcertedly played in my mind, the Holy Spirit pressed the words, “Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive” upon my heart. (Col 3:13 HCSB)
But anger welled up inside every time and forced the verse from my conscience. This happened over and again—until I came face to face with the healing power of biblical forgiveness.
I pray this article equips and encourages you to seek out and claim the freedom that biblical forgiveness brings.I pray this article equips and encourages you to seek out and claim the freedom that biblical forgiveness brings.
Establishing a Biblical Definition of Forgiveness
Webster’s 1828 dictionary defines forgiveness as “remission of a debt, fine, or penalty.”
Jesus used the same accounting language of “forgiveness of debt” through the parable of the unmerciful servant in Matthew 18:22-35.
In this parable, the master forgives the servant’s substantial monetary debt, yet the servant refuses to extend the same mercy to another owing him a small debt.
Sinful behavior breaks God’s law and creates a debt that demands repayment—a debt we are utterly incapable of satisfying on our own.
Jesus portrayed the debt of sin in accounting terms to help us understand how profoundly we need Him to forgive our debt.
“He erased the certificate of debt, with its obligations, that was against us and opposed to us, and has taken it out of the way by nailing it to the cross.” Colossians 2:14 HCSB
Christ also reinforced our understanding of sin as a debt when He taught His disciples to pray, saying, “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” (Mt 6:12 HCSB)Webster’s 1828 dictionary defines forgiveness as remission of a debt, fine, or penalty.
Understanding What Biblical Forgiveness IS NOT
As a Christian of many years, I understood forgiveness intellectually, and I frequently sought and received forgiveness from God and offered it to others.
I turned away in fear each time the Holy Spirit confronted me with my need to forgive the person who hurt me severely all those years ago.
For some reason, I believed that extending forgiveness in this particular situation negated the pain and suffering caused by the offense.
I eventually learned that forgiveness was not a dismissal of suffering.
- Biblical forgiveness is not forgetting what happened or letting someone “off the hook.”
- Biblical forgiveness is not absolving the other person of any wrongdoing.
- Biblical forgiveness is not restoring trust or reconciliation (though that may come later).
When we forgive, we relinquish our right of payment for the wrong done and entrust justice to God.When we forgive, we relinquish our right of payment for the wrong done and entrust justice to God.
Recognizing What Biblical Forgiveness IS
I believed the lie that my unforgiveness somehow forced the person who hurt me to suffer. Regrettably, I was the one who was suffering the ill effects of failing to extend forgiveness.
But ultimately, choosing forgiveness releases hurt, anger, bitterness and resentment.
- Forgiveness is releasing negative emotions like anger, bitterness and resentment.
- Forgiveness is the willingness to stop rehearsing the offense.
- Forgiveness is an act of obedience and is between you and God.
Requiring someone else to change or own their “fault” before you forgive keeps you the prisoner.
Choosing biblical forgiveness brings freedom!Choosing biblical forgiveness brings freedom!
Why Is It So Hard to Forgive?
“And be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God also forgave you in Christ.” Ephesians 4:32 HCSB
If God commands forgiveness, land it leads to healing and freedom, why is it so hard?
The main difficulty with choosing forgiveness rests in our desire for justice.
We want the offender to pay for the pain and suffering they caused. Offering forgiveness feels like giving up on justice and letting the offender go free.
Self-righteousness often prevents the offer of forgiveness.Self-righteousness often prevents the offer of biblical forgiveness.
Like Simon in Luke 7:36-50, who viewed himself better than the sinful woman at Jesus’ feet, we think our offender’s sins are more significant than the ones we have committed against God.
The Apostle Paul reminds us in Ephesians 4:32 that we must forgive as God forgave us. As we turn toward God with a genuine desire to understand the forgiveness we received from Him, we discover how to forgive others.
How Does God Forgive Us?
- Freely: He offers forgiveness freely, though it cost Him everything. (1 Jn 1:9)
- Limitlessly: He forgives every sin regardless of intensity, as often as we ask in repentance. (Act 3:9)
- Ungrudgingly: He remembers our sins no more, no longer counts them against us. (Heb 8:12)
How Does God Instruct to Forgive Others?
- Freely: Forgive the offender before God, even if they never ask. Release your “right” to payment and self-righteous attitude. Release your own idea of judgment; trust justice to God. (Hb 10:30)
- Limitlessly: Forgive as many times as you are hurt. (Mt 11:21-22)
- Ungrudgingly: When memories resurface, avoid reverting back to each incident in anger and resentment, using the past as ammunition. (Ps 103:10-14)
The Biblical model leads us to reflect and release—not forgive and forget.The Biblical model leads us to reflect and release—not forgive and forget.
We are to reflect on the experience and learn from it, but release the anger, bitterness, and resentment.
Reflecting and releasing empowers us to move forward with our lives.
Unfortunately, biblical forgiveness does not equal reconciliation in all situations.
Reconciliation involves healing a damaged relationship, which may not always be possible. Broken trust must be re-established, which requires both parties’ time and effort.
Abuse is never OK. Unrepentance, excuses, rationalization, justification, refusing to “name” specific sin indicate a lack of readiness for reconciliation.
Finding Healing in Biblical Forgiveness
One night, when the memories of the past paid a visit, and the Holy Spirit whispered, “Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive” (Col 3:13 HCSB), the eye of my mind saw a different scene within the torturous memories.
The scene depicted a bedraggled sojourner bent and weeping beneath the cross of Christ. Though unseen, the face of the sojourner drew me in.
When I looked closer, the figure turned, and I stared into my own reflection.
In a moment, all became clear: my sins, though many were laid upon Him, paying a debt I could not pay. Though guilty, I was freely, limitlessly, and ungrudgingly forgiven.
For the first time, I understood the priceless gift of forgiveness.
Biblical forgiveness unleashes the miracle of healing. The power of God’s greatest gift heals broken relationships, the pain of past trauma, anxiety, fear and bitterness.
My heart overflows with gratitude to God for giving me the strength and grace required to forgive the unforgivable.
Embracing the healing found in biblical forgiveness happens when we choose to forgive as fully as we are forgiven.
Donna Bucher is a women’s ministry leader, teacher, speaker, retired missionary, CASA volunteer, experienced counselor and hospice and palliative care support personnel. Her personal writing ministry was born out of personal struggles and the spiritual growth she experienced walking through the hard places of life. At her Serenity in Suffering blog, Donna shares ways to find spiritual intimacy with Christ and purpose in the trials you face. You can also connect with Donna on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.