What is Biblical Forgiveness?

What is forgiveness? Jay Adams, in his book The Theology of Christian Counseling says, “Forgiveness is a lifting of the charge of guilt from another, a formal declaration of that fact and a promise (made and kept) never to remember the wrong against the person in the future.

Forgiveness is not a feeling, forgiveness is an act of faith. It’s an act of the will that triumphs over the feeling to not be forgiving and the feeling to seek revenge or remain bitter.

“Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart.” Corrie Ten Boom

It’s remembering that we ourselves are sinners who get into the kingdom not on our merit but by our Savior’s merit. We make a choice to extend grace to others on the basis of the abundance of grace we ourselves received. We choose like Joseph, like Esau, like Paul, like Stephen, and like Jesus to release the offender from the sense of debt we believe we are owed by someone who hurt us. It’s like saying, “offender, you do not owe me anything, nor will I personally punish you for what you did to me. I choose to forgive this debt just as I have been forgiven my enormous debts.”

Forgiveness is a promise to not dwell on the incident mentally. This is big. A person who can successfully resist the temptation to dwell on or cherish the hurt will forgive and eventually, begin to forget. But it’s making the choice to not dwell on the incident as often as it takes. It’s choosing to remember you’ve forgiven the incident.

Promising to not dwell on the incident is the put off. The put on is found in Phil 4:8-

Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. Philippians 4:8 (NASB)

Forgiveness is a promise to not bring the offense up to the person (as a weapon). If you've forgiven someone, then shut up about their offence. If you haven’t truly forgiven you’ll constantly be bringing it up to get your digs in. There are times when it may be productive to have a conversation about something, but that is not the same as bringing it up to hurt them. If you are still talking to others about how so and so hurt you, you haven’t forgiven (and you are gossiping). You are still trying to get your pound of flesh to make them pay. This means you are bitter.

And beware of the gossipy prayer request with your friends that goes something like this, “Oh Lord help me forgive so-and-so who hurt me and did this and that..” this is thinly disguised slander. Instead go to a friend, who is enough of a friend to remind you of truth…

Forgiveness leads to reconciliation. Ken Sande of Peacemaker’s Ministries says you should not allow the incident to stand between you and the other person or hinder your personal relationship with them.

Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. 2 Corinthians 5:18-19 (NASB)

This of course is not always possible as we sometimes have to forgive people long dead or otherwise removed from our lives. Nevertheless, forgiveness from the heart opens the door wide open to reconciliation and it works when both parties seek to honor God and follow Christ rather than their own feeling of the flesh.