Forgiveness is an important area of healing that counselor’s employ in their work with clients. The extent of the need to ask God for forgiveness for you and for others is a topic of contention and debate. No less controversial is the level of interpersonal forgiveness and at what degrees forgiveness is given and needed. These questions can be answered with a study of Scripture on this topic.
This verse from Proverbs can be applied to our relationships with others as well as to our living God. We are promised mercy if we confess our sins. A Christian who receives a confession of wrongdoing from another Christian is acting in love and offering mercy. As per Micah 6:8, Christians are called “to act justly, and to love mercy and to walk humbly” with God.
Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy.– Proverbs 28:13
But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others, as you would have them do to you. – Luke 6:27-31
The Lord calls us to pray for those who mistreat us and bless those who curse us. We do not hold grudges even in the face of unrepentance over sinful actions, although, we do reach out to the person with a call to repentance by all necessary means.
We do not retaliate against them with destructive actions but seek to rebuke or correct based on speaking the truth in love. We show them kindness through our Christ-like actions. The story of Jonah compels us to offer forgiveness in Christ to those we dislike the most.
Interpersonal Forgiveness through God
When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots. – Luke 23:33-34
This is the quintessential act of forgiveness. Jesus did not pursue active personal reconciliation here, although one could safely assume that there was some unrepented of sin here on the part of those who were responsible for crucifying him. Jesus, in submission to the Father, asked that their evil acts not be counted against them.
I do believe God the Father would honor the requests of the Son, therefore, these acts were not counted against them, though certainly, if they did not come to faith in Jesus in their lifetimes then rejecting Him would create eternal separation for our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” – Matthew 18:21-22
This is a statement of the unlimited nature of forgiveness.
Here Luke qualifies unlimited forgiveness with that fact that repentance is necessary for restoration of the relationship between each other. When repentance is not forthcoming, we as Christians offer a call to repentance and restoration for the wrong done.
So watch yourselves. “If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.” – Luke 17:3-4
If we have any part in the wrong doing, as Christians, we do our part by confessing our sins as well. The word repentance literally means turning 180 degrees away from sin and moving in the direction of righteousness to make each other whole again.
Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. – Ephesians 4:32
Kindness and compassion are hallmarks of Spirit filled forgiveness.
For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. – Matthew 6:14-15
Unforgiveness we practice with others has direct consequences affecting our relationship with God. The Lord will not honor a heart that turns away from His heart, which is by nature forgiving.
Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. – Colossians 3:13
Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. – Luke 6:37
And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins. – Mark 11:25
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. – Matthew 6:12
There is a sense than forgiveness involves cancellation of debts owed, much like the dissolution of legal and financial contracts.
Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. – James 5:14-15
Often, Scripture pairs forgiveness of sins with physical healing in the finite world.
While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
Jesus pairs spiritual forgiveness with physical healing here. It is interesting that in an absolute sense Jesus is saying that what the world considers righteous – spiritually following the letter of the law with the Jewish animal sacrificial system to make one holy in the eyes of the Lord – is not what being follower of Yahweh is all about.
On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners. – Matthew 9:10-13
Rather, the Lord, desires the following of the spirit of the law. The spirit of the law involves receiving God’s mercy and allowing it to fill our lives. Often, Christians point out that the Old Testament does emphasize mercy and grace, and Jesus clearly makes it a point by quoting the Old Testament here.
Forgiveness from God
If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land. – 2 Chronicles 7:14
Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. – Micah 7:18
You, Lord, are forgiving and good, abounding in love to all who call to you. – Psalm 86:5
Therefore, my friends, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is set free from every sin, a justification you were not able to obtain under the law of Moses. – Acts 13:38-39
He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. – 1 John 2:2
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace. – Ephesians 1:7
Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity. – Joel 2:13
Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.” And you forgave the guilt of my sin. – Psalm 32:5
For the Lord your God is gracious and compassionate. He will not turn his face from you if you return to him. – 2 Chronicles 30:9b
Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord. – Acts 3:19
In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. – Acts 17:30
“Return, faithless Israel,” declares the Lord, “I will frown on you no longer, for I am faithful,” declares the Lord, “I will not be angry forever.” – Jeremiah 3:12b
Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will freely pardon. – Isaiah 55:7
But in your great mercy you did not put an end to them or abandon them, for you are a gracious and merciful God. – Nehemiah 9:31
Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. – Psalm 32:1
This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. – Matthew 26:28
The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. Otherwise, would they not have stopped being offered?
For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins. It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.
Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said: “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased.” Then I said, “Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll— I have come to do your will, my God.”
First he said, “Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them”—though they were offered in accordance with the law. Then he said, “Here I am, I have come to do your will.” He sets aside the first to establish the second. And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool.
For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First, he says: “This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord.
I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.” Then he adds: “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.” And where these have been forgiven, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary. – Hebrews 10:1-18
These passages illustrate that our relationship with the Lord requires following His will and living into His mercy and grace. Our relationship with God is based on love rather than a following a formula of worship or devotion. His forgiveness cancels our debts but in turn we are freed from the power of sin over us so that we can be free to love God, others, and ourselves holistically and spiritually.
If you are struggling with unforgiveness in our life seek help from a Christian Counselor who can help you towards the path of full forgiveness in and through Christ so that you can live in freedom from bitterness and resentment.
“Mountain, Cliff, and Valley”, Courteys of Daniel Malikyar, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Praying Woman”, Courtesy of Ben White, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Touch of the Other World”, Courtesy of Akshay Paatil, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Country Church”, Courtesy of NeONBRAND, Unsplash.com, CC0 License