Are you struggling with knowing how to forgive? This article will outline eight steps to help you practice and experience true forgiveness.
The definition of forgiveness is essentially the act of pardoning an offender. In the Bible, the Greek word translated “forgiveness” literally means “to let go”, as when a person does not demand payment for a debt. Jesus used this comparison in his parable of the unmerciful slave (Matthew 18:23-35) as well as when he taught his followers to pray “Forgive us our sins, for we ourselves also forgive everyone who is in debt to us” (Luke 11:4).
The Bible teaches that unselfish love is the basis for true forgiveness, since “it keeps no record of wrongs” (1 Corinthians 13:5). Forgiving others means letting go of resentment and giving up any claim to be compensated for the hurt or loss we have suffered.
Why do we need to forgive?
Forgiveness is at the very heart of the gospel. Colossians 3:13 states, “Bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” We were born sinners against God, but He loved us enough to send Christ, His Son to die for us.
In the same way, we are commanded to forgive those who do wrong to us, not just those who are asking for forgiveness, or those who are first-time offenders or whose wrongs seem forgivable. Jesus famously told Peter in Matthew 18 to forgive someone “seventy times seven” times and he makes the sobering statement that if we do not forgive others, our Father in Heaven will not forgive us (Matthew 6:15).
First and foremost, forgiving others is obedience, however, we also need to forgive others so that we don’t grow bitter. Resentment is a very unhealthy emotion; it hurts us far more than those who have affronted us or anyone else.
The Bible states this in Hebrews 12:15, “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it, many become defiled.” As we release unforgiveness and all the bitterness and anger that comes with it, we are freed to live and serve with real peace and joy and to grow in spiritual maturity.
What forgiveness isn’t
In Rick Warren’s well-known book, The Purpose Driven Life, he explains that many people are reluctant to show mercy because they don’t understand the difference between trust and forgiveness. Forgiving others must be immediate, whether or not a person asks for it.
Trust, on the other hand, has to do with future behavior and it will likely take time to build or rebuild. Warren explains, “If someone hurts you repeatedly, you are commanded by God to forgive them instantly, but you are not expected to trust them immediately, and you are not expected to continue allowing them to hurt you.”
Forgiveness isn’t sweeping things under the rug and saying what the other person did or said was okay. Forgiveness is also not necessarily forgetting what happened. Depending on the situation, it may require a time of healing.
But if you hold on to the transgression like a trump card and play it every chance you get, you can be sure that unforgiveness is still present. This goes against Jesus’ command to forgive “seventy times seven” times. After all, remember that God has forgiven you more times than you will ever have the opportunity to forgive someone else.
How to forgive
How then do we achieve this “letting go,” which can feel like an impossible task? Even if we desire it; our emotions can rise up at the least expected time and overwhelm us with anger and pain.
In our own strength, forgiving others in the way we have received God’s forgiveness is impossible, but with God, nothing is impossible, and with His Spirit inside us we can go through a process that leads to true forgiveness.
Here are eight steps to help you truly forgive and have freedom in your life. If you have been significantly hurt by someone’s actions or words, working through these stages with a Christian counselor can be immensely helpful. Having someone to whom you can reveal your internal feelings and who will gently nudge you towards God’s word, can guard against stagnation, and those bitter roots which Hebrews 12 warns about.
The 8 Steps to Forgiveness
- Acknowledge the pain
- Think through things
- Imagine being on the other side
- Remember God’s forgiveness
- Reflect on our Biblical command
- Let go of the hurt
- Continue to forgive
- Pray for the person who hurt you
SOURCE: LA CHRISTIAN COUNCELING