We’ve all heard that there are benefits of forgiveness – of being forgiven and offering forgiveness – and it’s a common theme of advice for healing from trauma and broken relationships. There have been many books written about forgiveness, what it means and how you can apply principles that will transform and change your life. Most of the time, this concept of forgiveness is self-focused: how forgiveness can improve our lives.
But is this kind of forgiveness Biblical? What does forgiveness mean in the Bible, and what are the spiritual benefits of forgiveness?
The commonly accepted kind of forgiveness, the self-focused kind, is thought of as a healthy choice but one that is optional. But Biblical forgiveness is a command – the way all Christians are called to live.
This blog post is all about the spiritual benefits of forgiveness, the kind of forgiveness spoken of in the Bible.
Forgiveness Fact or Fiction?
I’ve often read that it’s not possible to forgive others until you’ve forgiven yourself.
But I disagree with this statement. It is true that forgiveness does happen in two stages, but rather than first needing to forgive yourself, it requires realizing that we have been forgiven and then accepting that forgiveness.
Ephesians 1:7 says,
‘He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins.’NLT
And Ephesians 2:8 says,
‘For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.’NIV
When we, in faith, accept God’s gift of salvation, we are accepting God’s forgiveness. Only God can forgive us our sins. We lack the power to forgive ourselves.
So, when we talk about self-forgiveness – about moving past the guilt and shame of our past – we need to understand that it is God who has forgiven us, not we ourselves.
Let Go of the Shame
But God does want us to let go of the shame and guilt that accompany careless accidents, bad choices, and outright sin.
1 Peter 5:7 says,
‘Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.’NLT
This includes the guilt and shame about our past sins. But rather than see this as self-forgiveness, we need to see it as the need to accept God’s forgiveness.
God’s Forgiveness is Powerful
God’s forgiveness is powerful. It’s absolute and never fails. His forgiveness is big enough to cover any sin, even the worst kind of sin.
Having faith and trusting in God requires believing in him. Believing his promises. Believing that he has forgiven us and that when he looks at us, he sees our righteousness through the work of Jesus Christ.
This is the basis for our ability to let go of our shame, because we are no longer guilty according to the Highest Judge. Not only has he declared us to be NOT GUILTY, but he also declares that we are GOOD.
But you may still say, “I just can’t let go of the guilt.” If this is you, realize that it is essentially the same as not accepting God’s forgiveness. It’s declining the new life of peace that surpasses all understanding. It’s rejecting the blessings and goodness that God has to offer his forgiven adopted children. It’s embracing Satan’s lies.
Don’t Fall for Satan’s Lies
John 8:44 says,
‘…He has always hated the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies.’NLT
God has declared us forgiven, righteous, and good. When we believe any other version of that narrative, we are embracing Satan’s lies. We are choosing to believe Satan over God.
Who Can Receive God’s Forgiveness
Before going on further about forgiveness, it’s important to qualify who can receive God’s forgiveness. It is available for everyone however, to receive it, not only must we have faith in Jesus – the One who saves – but we must repent of our sins. We must admit that we are sinners and that we are in need of a Savior.
The Command to Forgive
We have been forgiven and now we are called to forgive others. Who are we commanded to forgive? Everyone.
Nowhere in the Bible does it say, only forgive those who are sorry and stop their behavior. It simply says to forgive those who sin against us.
Let’s look at these verses on forgiveness.
Matthew 6:12 says,
‘and forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.’NLT
Matthew 6:14-15 says,
‘If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.’NLT
Mark 11:25 says,
‘But when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive your sins too.’NLT
And Colossians 3:13 says,
‘Make allowances for each other faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must also forgive others.‘NLT
None of these verses say that we should forgive those who first ask for forgiveness, or that they must first be sorry for their actions or words.
We Were Offered Forgiveness While Still God’s Enemies
Some of you might think that this is automatically assumed in this passage – that we must offer forgiveness to anyone who repents and asks for it. Someone who isn’t seeking forgiveness and doesn’t even want it, shouldn’t be forgiven should they? Especially someone who enjoys hurting us?
But remember, when Jesus died for us, offering himself as a sacrifice for our sins so that we might receive God’s forgiveness, we were not seeking it.
Romans 5:10 says,
‘For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son.’NLT
We were offered forgiveness while we were still his enemies. We were actively rebelling against God, we even hated him, and we especially didn’t want a Savior. This is when God offered us forgiveness. Why?
LOVE, shown through mercy (which means withholding something that someone justly deserves) and grace (giving something to someone that they don’t deserve), has the power to change everything. It breaks down walls and completely transforms hearts and minds. Love turns enemies into friends.
God so loved the world, that he offered his Son as a sacrifice, so that he could show us his love through mercy and grace. To win us over. To make us his friends.
3 Reasons We Should Forgive As God Forgives
1. We Won’t Receive Forgiveness from God if We Don’t Forgive Others
I don’t know about you, but that is a scary concept to me. I am completely amazed by God’s grace and forgiveness everyday. I need God’s forgiveness everyday. I have the joy and privilege of being called God’s child – of receiving all the blessings and benefits of belonging to the King of this Universe – while being an imperfect human yet treated as holy and righteous because of Jesus.
If God requires me to forgive everyone in order to continue in his grace and forgiveness everyday, I’m in! Nothing matters more than living under God’s grace everyday. There is nothing that matters more than to be forgiven by God.
2. Do to Others as You Would Have Them Do to You
In the first point, we are called to forgive so that we don’t miss out on God’s forgiveness. This is about fairness and justice. But in this second point, God wants us to forgive others out of LOVE. We naturally love ourselves – we look out for own interests without having to be told – but God wants us to treat others the way we want to be treated, with love.
We want to be shown mercy and grace, so we should show others that same mercy and grace – though underserved. We aren’t being asked to qualify who deserves our forgiveness, the same way God did not first qualify us. He just loved us.
Matthew 5:44 says,
‘But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,’NIV
3. Forgiving Others Comes with Spiritual Benefits
Though personal benefit is not the goal and purpose of forgiveness, there are wonderful benefits of forgiving others.
3 Main Spiritual Benefits of Forgiveness
- When we live in obedience to God, we live lives that please God. A life of obedience to God is rewarded with peace and joy (Romans 14:16-17), deliverance and protection (Daniel 3:12-30), and victory (Romans 8:37) just to name a few of God’s blessings for his faithful children.
- When we forgive others, we no longer carry around that burden. We can let it go and give it to God. When we hold onto the negative feelings towards the person who has wronged us, they aren’t feeling it, we are. Our God is a God of justice, and he is in total control. When we give it to God to handle, we can trust that he will handle it, and we can have peace within our hearts.
- When we forgive others, we may be opening the door to the possibility of amazing new relationships and personal healing. God created us to be relational – we were made for having relationships to help, uphold and support one another.
Two Things That Happen When We Forgive
1. We become spiritually and emotionally free to relate to others in a healthy way. We will be better at relationships. I’m not necessarily referring to a relationship with the person needing forgiveness, but rather in general, when you are not consumed with the burden of resentment, anger, and hurt, you will be free to give and receive in healthy relationships.
2. True forgiveness may lead to the blessing of a new relationship with the person in need of forgiveness.
Practical Steps of Forgiveness
This all sounds great, right? But it’s often easier said than done. How do we stop feeling shame and guilt about our own past actions? How do we forgive someone who has wronged us? How do we just ‘give it to God’?
Trusting that we can give it to God, and that good will result, takes time. Trust is built over time, as we learn to rely on God, and we begin to see his work in our lives and the lives around us. It’s not that God needs to earn our trust – we are just too damaged and flawed to fully understand just how perfectly trustworthy and loving God is.
Are you hung up on forgiveness and don’t know where to start?
Start with these practical steps:
- Read the Bible daily. Get to know God through his Word. See how he has made good on his promises in the past, and how he continues to uphold his promises even now.
- Meditate on his promises. Recall them, think on them, memorize them, and claim them! I like to have reminders of the promises that I am claiming and clinging to around me – in places where I will see them often, like on my cellphone or on my coffee table next to my devotional. Claim and believe these promises:
‘If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness’1 John 1:9 (KJV)
You are forgiven and nothing ‘will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Romans 8:38, NLT).
- Not forgiving someone means that we are holding onto our frustration and anger towards that person, and it’s often related to a desire for justice and revenge. It’s wanting them to understand what they’ve done wrong and make amends. But forgiving someone is not about a transaction between yourself and the person who has offended you. It’s about not holding onto the words or actions, and to your negative feelings for that person, that only serve to weigh you down and rob you of joy and peace. It’s about not harboring ill will and hatred for that person. And it’s not necessarily about forgetting what has happened – but it is about letting go of the responsibility of seeing justice to completion and the negative emotions that only affect you and those you care about.
- Forgiveness is a process that requires giving over to God daily. Some days may be easier than others, but it requires daily reflection of your thoughts and emotions and asking God to help you hand them over into his capable hands. Anger and resentment towards others can slowly creep in unnoticed. Praying daily helps unwanted attitudes to settle in and prevent us from experiencing the fullness of God grace.
The spiritual benefits of forgiveness – being forgiven and forgiving others – is a life full of supernatural joy and peace that only comes from obedience to God and his Word.
Forgiving What You Can’t Forget: Discover How to Move On, Make Peace with Painful Memories, and Create a Life That is Beautiful Again by Lysa Terkeurst – Have you ever felt stuck in a cycle of unresolved pain, playing offenses over and over in your mind? You know you can’t go on like this, but you don’t know what to do next. Lysa TerKeurst has wrestled through this journey. But in surprising ways, she’s discovered how to let go of bound-up resentment and overcome the resistance to forgiving people who aren’t willing to make things right.