Forgiveness is a cornerstone of following Jesus – the word “forgive” alone appears over 120 times in the Bible. One of the most well-known verses about forgiveness is found in Matthew 18:21-22, where Jesus instructs his Disciple, Peter, to forgive someone “seventy times seven” times!
Forgiveness, though widely talked about, is easily misunderstood. The Bible sheds a lot of light on why forgiveness is important. Here are some of the most common misconceptions about forgiveness and the truth about how to forgive:
What is forgiveness in the Bible?
To better understand what forgiveness is, let’s clarify what it isn’t. The Bible is clear about how to approach forgiveness, and we can use that wisdom to debunk some of the most common myths about what it means to forgive:
Forgiveness is not linear
Have you ever heard the phrase “Forgive and forget?” Our culture has fabricated this idea that once we’ve forgiven someone, a switch is flipped and we stop feeling negative emotions. If you've ever needed to forgive someone before, you’ve probably discovered it isn’t that simple.
Jesus seemed to understand that the act of forgiving isn’t typically a one-and-done thing. Forgiveness is a process that starts in our own hearts and minds, but we may not feel its benefits immediately. Let’s look again at what he said in Matthew 18:21-22 – nowhere does Jesus say that we should only need to forgive someone one time. This verse reminds us that people can hurt us in different ways, and we must continue to forgive them. We also may need to reposition our hearts toward forgiveness multiple times for the same offense.
Forgiveness is not reconciliation
Another misconception is that forgiveness requires us to restore the relationship. However, that's not the case. Forgiveness is a posture of our hearts, and reconciliation is the action of healing a broken relationship – and the two are not interchangeable.
You can have forgiveness with or without reconciliation. Forgiving someone, whether or not we try to make amends, simply means we’ve decided not to try to hold the other person accountable for the way they hurt us. We’re done trying to get even or settle the score. And sometimes, in order to do that, we need to walk away from the relationship for good.
That may sound harsh, but Jesus clarifies that sometimes allowing a relationship to sever is the only way to prevent more relational damage. In Matthew 18:15-20, he talks through the steps of forgiving and reconciling with someone who has wronged you, saying that if all else fails, “treat that person as a pagan or corrupt tax collector” and stop associating with them.
Forgiveness is not justice
When we’ve been wronged, it’s natural to want to see proper punishment carried out. But the reality of forgiveness is that it isn’t contingent on any particular consequence or accountability. In fact, forgiveness can be given even when justice isn’t served – a truth illustrated powerfully by Jesus.
Jesus took on the punishment meant for each of us forgive our sins and to cleanse us of our past.. The consequences of all the sins of mankind fell on Jesus – who never once sinned – as he died on the cross (2 Corinthians 5:21). Because of this remarkable sacrifice, we are forgiven for our sins and mistakes without receiving any punishment. In turn, we forgive like Jesus when we choose to absorb a debt that someone else owes us.
Though forgiveness is often over-simplified in our culture, the Bible offers us valuable clarity on the facts and myths about forgiveness. Here are some more resources to help you explore forgiveness:
Is There a Limit to Forgiveness?
The 7 Most Impactful Psalms for Forgiveness
4 Steps to Freedom From Anger
Or check out this episode of the Live Changed Podcast, where our hosts have an honest conversation about finding purpose in our pain and discovering how to forgive others in the process.
The Live Changed Podcast is produced by LCBC Church. LCBC stands for Lives Changed By Christ. We are one church in multiple locations across Pennsylvania. Subscribe to the Live Changed Podcast wherever you listen to podcasts!