The Forgiveness Process

Forgiveness is an act of the will

Forgiveness is an act of the will, not an emotion.  We forgive others in obedience to Christ because we know Christ forgives us.  Often we don’t “feel like” forgiving someone who has deeply hurt or offended us.  The emotions will follow the obedient act of our will.  They often take time to “catch up” with our will.  This often does not take place fully until the restoration process.

Forgiveness is not saying the offense is of no importance.  It does not mean that the offence wasn’t painful or doesn’t still hurt.  It doesn’t mean we can’t grieve our losses caused by the offence, or that we can’t be angry with the offender.  It has nothing to do with fairness or being right or wrong.

Forgiveness in stages

After a severe hurt we often need to forgive in stages as we recognize the magnitude of the offence.  We initially forgive for all we are aware of, but as we realize more fully the extent of the damage, we need to forgive for that too.  We often also need to repeatedly affirm our forgiveness during this process as we recognize more fully just how much damage was done, or as the enemy tempts us to pick back up unforgiveness, bitterness, or resentment – each a destructive tool of the enemy in our lives.

Forgiveness is letting the offender off the hook.  It is acknowledging that they don’t owe me anything.  They don’t owe me an apology, they don’t owe me any compensation for the wrong they have done me.  Forgiveness is giving up my right to punish them and make them pay for their sin.  It does not mean that I must hide their sin or keep it in the dark, or that the person should not be held accountable for their actions.  If they have broken the law they need to face the consequences of that.  If they are physically unsafe I may need to take action to protect others and myself.  However, they don’t have to do anything to earn my forgiveness.

Forgiveness is turning the offender over to God.  We were never designed to be sin bearers, not of our own sin, nor of anyone else’s sin.  Carrying sin will destroy us.  In forgiveness we turn the offender and the debt they owe us over to Christ to carry and to administer justice.  The offender is now answerable to Christ for his sin, not to us.  Christ will deal with the offender and He will deal with the sin.

The necessity of forgiveness

Paul instructed and warned the church in Corinth about the necessity of forgiveness: “I have forgiven that one for your sakes in the presence of Christ, lest Satan should take advantage of us; for we are not ignorant of his devices.”  (2 Cor. 2:11)  If we don’t forgive and express our forgiveness to the repentant one Satan can and will take advantage of the situation: causing self-condemnation in the brother; division in the body as people take sides, and pride, bitterness and resentment in the one who refuses to forgive.  Also, if we don’t forgive our fellowship with Christ will suffer.  (Matt. 6:15, “If you do not forgive … neither will your Father forgive you.”)  Paul forgave “In the presence of Christ”.  True forgiveness must be made in relationship with Christ.  It is something we cannot truly do in our own strength.


Forgiveness is a transaction between Christ and us to deal with the past offence.  It does not directly deal with reconciliation or trust building.  Forgiveness deals with the past, once that is accomplished reconciliation can begin in the present, looking towards the goal of trust being restored in the future.

Reconciliation is the process of extending and receiving forgiveness horizontally: between people.  It cannot happen until the offended party has forgiven the offender before the Lord.  It is also most effective if the offender has already repented of his sin before the Lord.  This is vital especially for believers that are aware they have caused offence, even if they believe it to have been in ignorance or due to misunderstanding.  For reconciliation to take place the offended party usually needs to hear that the offender is fully repentant, that they understand what they did that caused the hurt, they own their fault in it completely, and they can share what changes they are making to make sure they don’t re-inflict such harm again in the future.  Once these points are fully embraced, the offended party can usually begin to hear possible reasons for behavior or misunderstandings that may have led to the offence in the first place.  At this point misunderstandings of actions, words, or motives can be cleared up.

In the reconciliation process both parties must hear each other’s hearts, and forgiveness extended to each party as needed.  Very often we respond to being hurt in ways that hurt others.  “Hurt people hurt people.”  The original offended party needs to examine their response to being hurt, repent, and apologize for any pain caused to the ‘offender’.

Rebuilding trust

Once reconciliation has begun, the process of rebuilding trust can begin.  Trust takes time to rebuild.  Trust is built as the offended party sees changes in the offender’s behavior, showing that they have internalized and applied the recognition of their past mistakes.  Humility and a true dependence upon the Lord are important expressions of such change.  In trusting relationships each person gives the other the benefit of the doubt before arriving at negative conclusions and asks for clarification if the motive seems unclear or negative.  No assumptions are made!  To build trust, it is important to commit to this process.  Trust is also built as each party learns to admit their weaknesses and mistakes openly, not hiding or defending them.  Offering and accept apologies without hesitation builds trust.  As genuine care and interest in the heart processes of the other person are expressed, confidence grows that the other person’s intentions are good.  This replaces a need to be guarded or protected.  As these steps take root and grow in a relationship, trust will also surely grow and flourish.  The Kingdom of God will be strengthened in each person involved, the kingdom of darkness will loose footholds and power in each life, each person will be conformed to the image of God, and God will be glorified!