What Does True Forgiveness Look Like?

Recently, a friend of mine asked if the Bible really said that we are to "forgive and forget." The principle sounds Biblical. However, if forgiveness is truly based on whether or not we remember any past hurts, I'm in big trouble. How about you?

The actual phrase "forgive and forget" is not in the Bible. (Whew!) God does, however, give us insight to help us forgive ourselves and others. He also gives us ways in which we can choose to deal with our hurt and betrayal so that we can live peaceably with those who have offended us. With God’s help, we are able to forgive others and in a way "forget" those offenses. We may not literally forget the pain or the circumstances, but we choose to live beyond the pain and then begin to experience the freedom of peace given through God’s grace working in our lives.

1. The Bible teaches that we all sin, and that God is able and willing to forgive us of our sins. See Romans 3:23, Psalm 103:10-14, 1 John 1:9

2. The Bible teaches us that as a believer we have the responsibility to seek reconciliation – whether we are the offended or the offender. Forgiveness does not require the request of the offender. See Matthew 5:23-24, Matthew 18:15-17

3. The Bible teaches us to forgive one another. Choosing to forgive someone is an act of the will and is possible because of God’s power working in us. Choosing to forgive does not necessarily mean that our ‘feelings’ toward that person or event will correspond immediately with the action. Forgiveness frees the offended from the power of the offense and pain. See Matthew 6:9-15, Ephesians 4:22-29, Colossians 3:12-17, Matthew 18:21-35

4. Forgiveness hopes for reconciliation and restoration of the relationship. That process requires both parties (offender and offended) to work together toward that end. See Hebrews 12:14-19

5. The memory of an offense does not necessarily mean that we have not chosen to forgive the offender. However, the Bible warns the Christian about the root of bitterness. See Ephesians 4:31-32

6. Forgiveness does not necessarily mean that the relationship continues in the same manner. There are times when it is healthy to separate (distance yourself from the offender) with the goal that trust may be restored. See Proverbs 17:9, Matthew 10:11-14, Acts 15:36-41

7. The Bible teaches us to pray for our enemies. See Matthew 5:43-48, Luke 6:27

8. God is able to "forgive and forget." See Isaiah 43:25, Jeremiah 31:34, Hebrews 8:12

God treats us as if we had not sinned against Him. He does not hold our sins against us. In learning to become more and more like God, we are also to work toward this "forgive and forget" attitude. We may remember the sin, but we choose not to allow that sin to control our actions and emotions. We choose not to hold a grudge against the offender. We choose to forgive the offender a) for our sake, b) in obedience to God and c) as an act of love toward the offender.

9. While God forgives us and treats us as if we have not sinned, He also does hold us accountable for our choices (sins). See 2 Corinthians 5:9-10, Matthew 16:27

10. We can live a holy life even when we have the memory of sin. As we remember our sin, it allows us to humbly acknowledge God’s grace in our life each day. As we may not be able to "forget" others sins against us, it allows us to choose daily to trust God to make things right. See Romans 12:17-21

Forgive and forget? Maybe not. However, through the power of the Holy Spirit we can personally live in freedom by choosing to forgive others - as God has forgiven us. What a gift to be truly thankful for this Thanksgiving season!


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