The topic of forgiveness in the Bible is extensive. And yet many Christians struggle to actually put what the Bible says into practice.
The reality is forgiveness is HARD. But while hard, forgiveness also offers us a way into a better life. The freedom that you can experience is worth it.
So we are going to dive into some Bible verses about forgiveness and then look at some practical lessons we can apply to our life.
What Is Forgiveness?
Let’s start by defining exactly what is forgiveness.
Merriam-Webster says that forgiveness is “to cease to feel resentment against an offender” or “to grant relief from payment of debt.”
Simply put, to forgive is to let go of the wrongs that have been done to us.
In this article we are specifically exploring forgiveness in the Bible and the definition here is largely the same. But the Bible changes some of the terms. Debt is replaced with sin. According to the Bible forgiveness is God’s promise to not count our sins (our debt) against us. That’s the picture of grace.
The Bible doesn’t stop there. Forgiveness isn’t just bestowed upon us. We are called to forgive those around us. Our forgiveness of those who have sinned against us is a reflection of God’s forgiving our sins.
Forgiveness means that God is letting go of the wrongs that we have committed against him. And in response we are to do the same for those that have wronged us.
So, what does the Bible say about forgiveness?
Bible Verses About Forgiveness
Alright, let’s look at some Bible verses about forgiveness.
Forgiveness is a rather large topic in the Bible. From cover to cover you will find forgiveness as a key message in just about every book.
Let’s look at some of the highlights. First in the Old Testament.
- In Isaiah, it describes our sin as a bright red stain and God’s forgiveness as washing us white as snow. (Isaiah 1:18)
- Jeremiah carries a similar message about God’s forgiveness. (Jeremiah 31:34)
- David writes extensively in the book of Psalms praising God for his forgiveness. (Psalm 32:5, 38:3-4, 51:2-5, 86:5, 103:10-14, 130:4)
- Solomon talks about the wisdom and benefits in forgiving others. (Proverbs 17:9)
In the New Testament it continues this theme and expands on it.
- Jesus embodies God’s forgiveness of us. (Matthew 26:28)
- Jesus builds on this by saying we are not only to receive forgiveness but to give it. (Matthew 6:14-15)
- Jesus challenges us to take forgiveness beyond the point of fairness. We don’t stop forgiving. (Matthew 18:21-22).
- Later in the New Testament Paul continually mentions the importance of forgiving others in his letters to the early church. (Ephesians 4:32, Colossians 3:13, Romans 12:17)
- And James offers practical wisdom on loving our neighbor through forgiveness. (James 2:8)
The Bible verses about forgiveness fall into two broad categories. God forgiving us, and in response we are to forgive those around us.
Of course these are just the highlights. There’s much more that could (and should) be covered about forgiveness in the Bible. But we would be here all day if I listed every verse. I think the above verses give a broad view of how the Bible portrays forgiveness.
For a full list of Bible verses about forgiveness check out: Bible Verses About Forgiveness
9 Lessons Forgiveness In The Bible Teaches Us
Now that we’ve looked at what the Bible says about forgiveness, I want to break that down into lessons we can take away.
Here’s 9 lessons that we can pull from forgiveness in the Bible.
1. We Forgive Because We Were Forgiven
The Bible is clear from the front to the back that God is a God who forgives. He’s paid our debts, forgiven our sins, and set us free. We have been forgiven much.
Our response isn’t to hoard this to ourselves. But to pour it out on those around us. God has generously given us grace and therefore we are to do the same.
This is the message from the parable of the unmerciful servant (Matthew 18:21-35). His large debt was forgiven. But he went out to demand small debts that were owed to him be paid. He missed the heart of forgiveness. We are to forgive because we have been forgiven.
2. We All Need Forgiveness
We often have an inaccurate picture of who we really are. Sure, those people over there need forgiveness. But we aren’t as bad as them.
But forgiveness in the Bible paints a different picture. Romans 3:23 tells us that we ALL have fallen. We are ALL in need of forgiveness.
At the cross we find that we are all broken and incapable of saving ourselves.
3. God Forgives Us As We Forgive Others
Maybe one of the most challenging teachings from forgiveness in the Bible is that we are forgiven when we forgive. (Matthew 6:15, Luke 6:37)
In the Sermon On The Mount, Jesus lays out one of the most difficult, and life changing, teachings of his ministry. In it he says, “But if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” Matthew 6:15
Our relationships with others have a direct impact on our relationship with God. We cannot love God and hate a person he created. Our lack of forgiveness breaks our relationship with God.
This does’t downplay the hurt that others have caused us. And this certainly doesn’t mean we instantly forgive. It’s a process. It can take time. But we should be moving towards forgiveness rather than harboring hate.
4. Forgiveness Sets Us Free
When we are harboring hatred in our hearts we think we are hurting the person who wronged us. But in reality we are only hurting ourselves.
Unforgiveness grows bitterness in our heart. It festers. The Bible tells us that and science has proven it to be true. It can lead to real symptoms such as depression, anxiety, heart issues, stress, and diabetes. (Source: Mayo Clinic and John Hopkins)
When we forgive we are set free. We can experience the good life that God has for us.
5. Forgiveness Isn’t Fair
We like things to be fair. The message of karma has infiltrated our western culture. You get what you deserve. Good or bad. That’s what we want. We want each person to get what they deserve. But that’s rarely reality in this world.
The reality is karma isn’t true. The Bible shows a different way to live. Romans 3:23 says we all deserve death, but God instead gives us life. Forgiveness in the Bible isn’t about people getting what they deserve, it’s about people getting what they need.
By definition forgiveness isn’t fair. It’s letting go of a debt that someone has racked up. They deserve to pay, they deserve punishment. Karma says they should pay. The Bible says we should forgive.
Forgiveness isn’t fair. It gives us what we need, rather than what we deserve.
6. Forgiveness Is Extended To EVERYONE
Jesus teaches us that we aren’t to just forgive our friends, but also our enemies (Luke 6:27). Jesus extends his forgiveness to all, and we are to do the same.
This might be the hardest step in forgiveness. To forgive our enemies is to forgive the people who have caused the most amount of harm to us.
Again, this isn’t something that we do overnight. This is process. That’s why Jesus tells us to pray for our enemies. This allows us to see them as God does and for God to transform our heart.
7. Forgiveness Isn’t About Forgetting
Forgiving someone does not mean that we forget their actions. Nor is it excusing the pain they caused us.
Forgiving someone means that we let go of their sin. We aren’t going to dwell on it anymore and let it affect our life. We don’t forget it or say that it was okay. And it also doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t be consequences should they be warranted.
It just means that we are ready to move on. You are letting go of the debt they owe you.
8. Forgiveness Isn’t A One Time Affair
When Jesus was asked how many times we should forgive someone who has wronged us, he answered “seven times seventy.” (Matthew 18:21-22)
This isn’t a Bible math problem. The number seven in Jewish culture represented “perfection” or “completion.” What Jesus is saying is that you should forgive the “complete” amount. In other words, we are to keep forgiving until there’s no more to forgive.
Forgiveness isn’t something we do once. It’s the way we live our lives.
9. Jesus Is Our Ultimate Example
Jesus doesn’t ask us to do something he’s unwilling to do himself. He is the ultimate example for us to follow. Through Jesus the sins of the world are forgiven. All of them. Even the really heinous ones.
He’s done the heavy lifting. He’s set the example. Our charge is to do the same for those around us. He’s forgiven each of us of much. Therefore we are able to forgive those who have wronged us.
Also check out: What Does It Actually Mean To Follow Jesus
How Do We Forgive Someone?
I want to end by looking at how we can actually practice forgiving those who have wronged us. For many they will read a list like this and struggle to apply in to their life. So let me give you a few practical methods so you can practice forgiveness.
This should always be our first step towards forgiveness. Pray for God to change your heart and provide healing. Don’t just pray once, but pray consistently throughout this process.
Forgiveness isn’t going to happen overnight. The more serious the sin against you the longer it will likely take to forgive. Give yourself time. Don’t just forgive the person once, forgive them daily until it sinks into your heart.
I am a firm believer that everyone needs counseling at some point in their life. Likely, multiple times. If you’ve been wounded deeply you will likely need someone to help you process what happened and how to move forward in a healthy way.
There’s power in words. When we speak our forgiveness out and let the person who hurt us know they are forgiven, real change can happen. Depending on your situation this might look different. And it’s wise to seek out counsel on how to do this in a safe and healthy manner.
Closing Thoughts On Forgiveness In The Bible
It’s clear that forgiveness in the Bible is a dominant theme. We are reminded time and time again that we are forgiven and challenged to go do the same for those around us.
Forgiveness is not easy. But it is necessary for followers of Jesus. Without forgiving we will be unable to be forgiven. Our lives will suffer. If you want to live the good life that God has for you then you need to be willing to forgive.
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