How To Forgive Even When You Can’t

Forgiveness isn’t complicated but it is difficult. In this article, we tackle the tough topics with Scriptures on forgiveness when forgiving is hard. This topic comes up all the time in counseling. Simply put – Sin plagues the world we live in, therefore forgiveness is a crucial skill set.

“Forgiveness is a crucial skill set in a broken world.”

Forgiveness is a crucial skill set in a broken world.CLICK TO TWEET

Scriptural Forgiveness Defined

Forgive is a verb, and action. Dare I say, a choice. The dictionary defines it as “canceling a debt”. Debt cancellation is exactly what we received through Christ. We were released from the punishment of our sin. As a result, we are called to release others from their debt as well.

Often times our perspective of forgiveness leads us to stand our ground. We stubbornly fold our arms in adamant refusal. We demand our rights. Narrowing our focus to the offense keeps us from seeing the bigger picture in forgiveness. God does not call His people to anything that doesn’t ultimately get worked for our good (Romans 8:28), including forgiveness.

Forgiveness is for the offender and the offended. Nothing in God’s economy is wasted. When rightly faced, hurt drives us deeper into God’s loving arms. In His loving arms, we find comfort and healing.

Before I go on to discuss the scriptures on forgiveness, I have to stress that each scripture on forgiveness is an intentional choice. None of the elements are dependent on our circumstances or other people. In other words – God’s Word or call on our lives never depends on our circumstances or the behavior of others. His Word stands regardless of the difficulties we face.

“Forgiveness is a choice.”

Forgiveness is a choice.CLICK TO TWEET

7 Scriptures on Forgiveness

1. Pray (Matthew 5:44)

This is twofold. Lift up your own heart to God, talk to Him about your hurting heart and any difficulty you’re facing in offering forgiveness. Ask for help. We are told directly to pray for the offender.

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2. Love and do good to the offender (Romans 12:9)

Neutrality is not enough here. Instead, we are to offer love sincerely. This is hard stuff. This step usually gets thrown out the window because we don’t feel sincere or genuine (more on that later). Obedience doesn’t require feeling like it.

3. Don’t speak poorly of the offender (Romans 12:14)

As the old adage goes, if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. Speaking poorly of someone is a great way to get the anger churning, which leads to bitterness and resentment. This is not to say you can’t speak to a trusted friend, but the focus would be more about your feelings, responses and struggles rather than tearing someone else down (more on that here).

4. Release them from your punishment (Romans 12:17-19)

Punishment? How am I punishing them? This may not apply to an offender who is not in close proximity, however, typically an offense that we’re struggling to forgive is in a relationship close to home. And the punishment I’m talking about usually looks like the silent treatment, withholding affection, and keeping the offender at arm’s length, etc.

5. Don’t celebrate their failures (Proverbs 24:17)

This means refrain from gloating, saying, “I told you so” or having a mindset of, “That’s what you get”.

6. Treat them the way you want to be treated (Luke 6:31)

Breathe this one in for a moment. When I mess up I want grace and I want a second chance. Am I willing to offer this to others when I get hurt?

7. Stop dwelling on the past (Isaiah 43:18)

So often people say, “But I can’t forget what happened”. I get that. I wish I could hit delete on a few old hurts and never remember them again. Dwelling is different from remembering. Dwelling literally means a place you live. Do you spend your time turning an old hurt over and over in your mind? Accept that forgetting isn’t an option, but dwelling on that old hurt is a choice. Choose to replace those thoughts with new ones. Resolve to stop bringing up the past and focus on today (Philippians 4:13-14).

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Forgiveness is a Clear Command

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. ~Ephesians 4:32

We are to forgive because God has forgiven us…not for any other reason. Not because the offender apologized, promised to never do it again or because we feel like it. We’ve been forgiven much and our call is to forgive much. It is also important to keep in mind, when we know our calling and choose not to do it…it’s sin (James 1:22-25). But when we choose to obey, even though it’s hard, we reap blessings (John 13:17).

Forgiveness and Challenging Situations

1.What if they do it again or don’t change?

The question of reconciling or releasing a relationship has nothing to do with forgiving. Peter asked this question in the gospels. Likely he pictured his own challenging relationships as Jesus talked about forgiveness. I picture him scratching his head as he asked, what if they keep doing the same thing over and over? This convo made it into the canon of Scripture because in His wisdom, God knew this would be a challenge! Yet, His command to forgive is not dependent on our situation. Nor is it dependent on whether or not the other person changes.

2.I can’t forgive someone because it doesn’t feel sincere or genuine.

Remember, forgiveness is a verb, and an action. Scripture clearly gives the command to forgive. There is no additional criteria to feel like forgiving. Feelings are not reliable guides.
Encouragement: As we step out in faith and obedience, God will do the heart part (AKA hard part). We are responsible to obey God’s Word and entrust the rest to God. He is faithful to work in us (Philippians 1:6).

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3.What if they don’t say sorry?

Our calling is never dependent on another’s behavior. There is not command to forgiveif the other person apologizes. It certainly helps the situation and sometimes makes forgiveness easier, but not necessary in order to move forward in obedience.

Scriptures on Forgiveness and Blessings

Blessings are promised alongside obedience (Deuteronomy 30:16, John 13:17,James 1:25). Choosing to obey the command to forgive leads to blessing. Keep in mind that nothing is wasted in God’s economy(more on purpose in pain here). He is known for turning ashes into beauty, mourning into joy and despair into praise (Isaiah 61:3). It is in a place of hurt that we find comfort and healing in the arms of God. Plus, forgiveness has a two-fold blessing. The other person receives forgiveness, which often softens the heart and hopefully leads to repentance. But even more so, offering forgiveness brings peace that cannot accompany bitterness and resentment.

Scriptures on Forgiveness Wrap Up

Forgiveness is a crucial skill set in this broken world. It is also a difficult calling on the life of a Christian. We must make the choice to obey the command to forgive. There are seven elements of forgiveness that are not contingent on other people, our circumstance or our feelings. God promises to bless us when we obediently choose to forgive. Who is God calling you to forgive?