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Forgiveness — What It Is Not


. . . and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. . . For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.  Matthew 6:12,14,15 (ESV)

From these words spoken by our Lord, we know that we need to be concerned about forgiving others.  Like so many other aspects of the Christian walk, forgiveness can be difficult to nail down since it is something that takes place in the heart and mind of the believer.  I recently read an article* about forgiveness that helped shed some light on this topic.  There were five points listed about what forgiveness is not. Here they are.

1) Forgiveness is not a feeling.
2) Forgiveness is not pretending you were not hurt.
3) Forgiveness is not condoning what the person did to you.
4) Forgiveness is not trusting the offender.
5) Forgiveness is not relieving the person of responsibility.

Sometimes, instead of actually forgiving someone, we tell ourselves that there really is nothing that warrants forgiveness.  This allows us to not deal with the issue and we deceive ourselves into thinking that we don’t need to do what is at times the hard work of actually forgiving someone.  Of course, this means that we are not forgiving others so we are going against the clear directive of Christ.

In Matthew 6:12, the word “debt” is used.  I think that helps us understand what forgiveness is.  It’s fairly easy for me to understand what it means to forgive a monetary debt.  Someone owes me money, and I forgive them.  Now they no longer owe me money.  My dealings with that person are free from any sense of debt.  This idea carries through to other areas.

About a month ago, one of my sons messed up a part for one of my tools.  I thought I had forgiven him for this.  Then a couple of days ago, I ran across this part again (it’s still messed up) and I became quite irritated with my son.  I had to ask myself if I have really forgiven him.  My answer was “probably not” since I felt the way I did.  So then I had to REALLY forgive him.  This forgiveness thing can be quite the challenge.

* Forgiveness: Clearing up common misconceptions, Laura Petherbridge, Focus On The Family Magazine, November 2008

8 Responses to “Forgiveness — What It Is Not”

  1. on 26 Oct 2008 at 3:04 amMark C.

    I’m glad you brought this up. A lot of people (including Christians) have expressed the view that they only need to forgive someone if that person has asked for forgiveness. While that may be true of God, it is not what the Lord commanded. We are supposed to forgive regardless of whether the person asks for it, as far as I understand it.

  2. on 26 Oct 2008 at 3:04 amWolfgang


    to add a few thoughts here …

    I would say that forgiveness is dependent on the “debtor” asking for it. It is a matter which involves two parties, two sides .. it is not just a one side action, which seems what folks at times think.

    Consider God and man … yes, God has provided a means (a way) for all mankind to be forgiven … but are all mankind forgiven without doing anything on their part? Obviously not (even though some do claim that such is the case) Man must come to God, must acknowledge his sin (debt), must admit that he of himself is unable to pay the debt, and ask God by trusting in His mercy and grace that God would forgive the debt. If there is no such action on the part of man, there is also no forgiving on the part of God.

    In dealings with other people, the same principle holds true … the one who has sinned against his brother must come to the one to whom he has done the wrong, must acknowledge his wrong, must repent and admit that he can’t of himself make good (if he is able, he should make retribution, and the matter is cleared up as well!) and therefore ask for his debt to be forgiven. The other party then can forgive … and from that time forward, there is no longer a debt between them.

    I think that people quite often mistake “forgiveness” with “bitterness” …. and they talk about having forgiven “so and so”, even though there have never been the above mentioned steps … in reality, the person whom they supposedly “forgave” doesn’t know it, hasn’t asked for it, has not shown any repentance, etc …

    What people most likely really mean (and wrongly think as “have forgiven”) is that they carry no bitterness toward the other person despite the fact that there exist a debt between them and that they would be willing to forgive the moment the other person comes and repents and asks.

    As the great example of God and man and God’s forgiveness for man shows, forgiveness only comes AFTER the sinner (the one who did wrong) comes to the other with an attitude of repentance and ASKS for forgiveness of his debt because he is unable to pay them.


  3. on 26 Oct 2008 at 3:15 amWolfgang

    Hi Mark,

    seems that we posted at the same time ….

    As you can see from my post, I do think that forgiveness is definitely dependent on the debtor repenting and asking for it …

    I do not see anywhere in Scripture that we as Christians should forgive someone who has not asked for it … such would not be a “forgiveness” in the first place because the person needing forgiveness would not know of it, not be aware of it, not have it …

    We are commanded to not be harboring thoughts of bitterness, evil thinking, thoughts of revenge, etc. against others …. but forgiveness can only happen if the other party is involved.

    In addition, it seems that “forgiveness” can and will only benefit, if the “debtor / sinner” does repent of his wrong and indeed has no means of paying his debt … while a person could forgive someone else a debt even though they have not repented, have not confessed it, have not asked for it, such “forgiving” would not follow God’s example .. and yet, are we not asked to be “imitators of God” (cp Eph 5:1)?


  4. on 26 Oct 2008 at 1:25 pmJohnE

    Hi Wolfgang,

    As you can see from my post, I do think that forgiveness is definitely dependent on the debtor repenting and asking for it …

    I guess you feel this way because of what Jesus said in Luke 17:3?

    Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.

    I do not see anywhere in Scripture that we as Christians should forgive someone who has not asked for it …

    How about Mark 11:25?

    And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone; so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your transgressions.

    Is there any condition presented here by Jesus, that has to be satisfied, in order for us to forgive?

    Getting back to Luke 17:3, it seems to me that Jesus is not imposing a condition here for when we should be forgiving, but he refers to what should happen when the debtor comes to us, in person, and says he repents. We should make it clear to him that we forgave him. Notice, the debtor does not specifically ask for forgiveness, he only acknowledges he made a mistake and he is sorry for it.

    This seems to be the case because Jesus says earlier:

    Luke 11:4 And forgive us our sins, For we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us

    We “forgive everyone”, but not everyone may have asked for it.

    In addition, it seems that “forgiveness” can and will only benefit, if the “debtor / sinner” does repent of his wrong and indeed has no means of paying his debt …

    You seem to be thinking that forgiveness is for the sole benefit of the debtor, right. This may be true when do one who forgives is God, but not when it is we who forgive.

    The main beneficiary when we forgive is ourselves, because Jesus says “For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.” – Mt. 6:14

    while a person could forgive someone else a debt even though they have not repented, have not confessed it, have not asked for it, such “forgiving” would not follow God’s example .. and yet, are we not asked to be “imitators of God” (cp Eph 5:1)?

    Well, if we’re talking about God’s example, one who Jesus followed, let us notice that Jesus forgives sins not because someone asks for it, but because of these debtors’ faith and love:

    Matthew 9:2 And they brought to Him a paralytic lying on a bed. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralytic, “Take courage, son; your sins are forgiven.”

    Luke 7:47-48 “For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.” 48 Then He said to her, “Your sins have been forgiven.”

    These people did more than just repent, they had a great faith in one case, love in the other, and that is the reason God forgave their sins.

    Now when Paul says “be imitators of God” in Eph 5:1, the context shows that this is indeed related to forgiveness as well, for the previous verse says:

    Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.

    The Greek word for “forgiving” used by Paul here is different from what the Gospels use, it is “χαρίζομαι”, which basically means “to give freely as a favor, give graciously ” according to one lexicon (BDAG 7893).

    So one can notice that this forgiveness is not conditioned by something, like you do something, and in turn I’ll forgive you. This forgiveness is given away freely. It is the same word used in Romans 8:32:

    He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?

    It is the same word used in Colossians 3:13

    bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.

    Whoever has a complaint against anyone, should forgive him, right?

  5. on 26 Oct 2008 at 3:58 pmMark C.

    Good points, JohnE. Also, when we don’t forgive, we hold onto the offense and it eats away inside us. It is to our advantage to let it go by forgiving. And what about someone who is dead and can no longer ask forgiveness? Are we supposed to never forgive them?

  6. on 26 Oct 2008 at 8:28 pmJohnE

    Thank you Mark.

    You’re example is a very good one; should I not forgive somebody that didn’t have a chance to ask for my forgiveness?

  7. on 26 Oct 2008 at 10:41 pmJoseph

    Can one be overly forgiving or sorry?

    What did Christ mean by turn the other cheek?

  8. on 27 Oct 2008 at 4:19 pmWally

    Some thoughts about forgiveness: Jesus said that “What you mouth speaks is the abundance of heart”. Jesus also said ” Adultery is also comitted if somebody is thinking passionately in their mind to sleep with a woman” not necessarily doing the action. Yes, forgiving somebody also entails to do it in our mind and our heart. Since God knows what is in our hearts, he discerns who is genuine and who is not. Everything starts with our thoughts and desires. If we think, we should forgive our neighbor (debtor) with our heart, this will reflect our actions from within. God is love, and those practicing love are being drawn closer to Him by Love. The more we love our neighbor the closer we are imitating (drawing to) God. He will also be closer to us in union with Christ, because Jesus imitated his Father. Where there is Love, there is true forgiveness because there is no fear, where there is Fear, there is no Love. Jesus always looked into people’s hearts and intentions or (mind). His introverted way of seeing people was to discern people’s intentions and desires. Sometimes what people professed was not what they were practicing. People forgive but not forget. That is not what Jesus referred to when forgiving your neighbor (debtor), rather he emphatically taught, the true way of forgiving. There is saying ” Actions speak louder than words”..well the same being forgiving, we have to accept it in our mind and then execute it (show it) to our neighbor with actions of acceptance and kindness. Why do we need to forgive our neighbors? For the same fact that we make mistakes as well. Reciprocation with kindness and forgiveness make us imitators of the Christ. I personally believe if we don’t imitate the Christ, ” No one can call himself/herself christian” or at the very least strive to imitate the Christ. Once again, “imitating the thinking of the Christ”. Forgiveness is a subjacent fruit of the spirit. It is a spiritual quality to display among our neighbors. Not forgiving our neighbor in our mind and heart will only cause resentmet and grievance. This is a harmful mentality course of action to our mind and entire spirituality. If our mind is occupied thinking these things causing more anxieties and disturbance in our quest of holiness. It is almost like blocking our vision and focus with our spiritual progress. Based on how we conduct ourselves in this life is what we will harvest in the book of life for the day of judgement. What we plant is what we sow! Eternal life is at stake!


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