Everyone has been wronged, offended, and sinned against at some point. How are Christians to respond when such offenses occur against them? According to the Bible, we are to forgive others. Ephesians 4:32 declares, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Similarly, Colossians 3:13 proclaims, “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” The key in both Scriptures is that we are to forgive fellow believers as God has forgiven us. Why do we forgive? Because we have been forgiven! Our forgiveness of others should reflect God’s forgiveness of us.
In order to forgive those who sin against us, we must first of all understand God’s forgiveness. God does not just forgive everyone automatically with no preconditions—if He did, there would be no lake of fire in Revelation 20:14–15. Forgiveness, properly understood, involves repentance on the sinner’s part and love and grace on God’s part. The love and grace are there, but the repentance is often lacking. So, the Bible’s command for us to forgive one another does not mean we ignore sin. It means we gladly, gracefully, lovingly extend forgiveness to those who repent. We are always willing to forgive when given the opportunity. Not just seven times, but “seventy times seven” times (Matthew 18:22, KJV). Refusing to forgive a person who requests it demonstrates resentment, bitterness, and anger, none of which are the traits of a true Christian.
To forgive those who sin against us requires patience and forbearance. The church has the command to “be patient with everyone” (1 Thessalonians 5:14). We should be able to overlook personal slights and minor offenses. Jesus said, “If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also” (Matthew 5:39). Not every “slap in the face” needs a response.
To forgive those who sin against us requires the transformational power of God in our lives. There is something deep within fallen human nature that thirsts for revenge and urges retaliation in kind. We naturally want to inflict the same type of injury on the one who injured us—an eye for an eye seems only fair. In Christ, however, we have been given the power to love our enemies, do good to the haters, bless the cursers, and pray for the abusers (see Luke 6:27–28). Jesus gives us a heart that is willing to forgive and will work to that end.
Forgiving those who sin against us is made easier when we consider the extent to which God forgives our transgressions. We who have been lavished with grace have no right to withhold grace from others. We have sinned against God infinitely more than any person can sin against us. Jesus’ parable in Matthew 18:23–35 is a powerful illustration of this truth.
God promises that, when we come to Him asking for forgiveness, He freely grants it (1 John 1:9). The grace we extend to those who seek our forgiveness should be just as readily available (Luke 17:3–4).
If sin has been confessed, repented of, and forgiven, it is time to move on. Remember that we who have come to Christ have been made new creatures in Him. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Part of the “old” which has gone is the remembrance of past sins and the guilt they produced. Sadly, some Christians are prone to wallowing in memories of their former sinful lives, memories which should have been dead and buried long ago. This is pointless and runs counter to the victorious Christian life God wants for us. A wise saying is “If God has saved you out of a sewer, don’t dive back in and swim around.”