Digging Deeper into the Word Prayer Studying the Bible

What is forgiveness? 

Author: Rachel Kidd 

We all want to be forgiven for our mistakes. When we bump into someone at the grocery store or forget about an important date, we usually want to be forgiven as quickly as possible. For little blunders, like stepping on someone’s toe, typically, a quick “I’m sorry” is met immediately with “that’s okay,” and all is forgiven. More egregious errors, like a car accident, usually take longer to be resolved and time for the relationship between the offender and the offended to be restored. Because we are human, we often struggle through our anger, hurt, and pride to forgive and be forgiven by others.   

Forgiveness is an intentional decision to let go of our resentment and anger towards someone else for an action that hurt us. It allows us to be in a continued, restored relationship with that person without hurt eroding it. When resentment is allowed to build up, it eats away at the fabric of the relationship and eventually destroys it.  

Forgiveness is essential to both interpersonal relationships and our relationship with God. Because of our sinful nature, we are inherently separated from the close relationship we were designed to have with God the Father. God cannot tolerate sin, no matter how much He loves us. This is why Jesus died to restore that relationship, forgiving all our sins that hurt God.  

 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. –1 John 1:9 

The Bible tells us that if we confess our sins and believe in the Lord, He will forgive us.  

Verses on Forgiveness 

We were shown incredible grace and forgiveness through Jesus Christ and the scripture reminds us repeatedly that we are intended to extend this grace to others.  

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

Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. –-Colossians 3:13  

And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’ 

For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. —Matthew 6:12-14  

This section of the Lord’s Prayer, where Jesus taught his disciples how to pray, specifically asks God to forgive us as we have forgiven others. It is a reminder to be constant in both asking for and extending forgiveness to others. It also indicates the importance of forgiveness, that it was included in the model Jesus gave us for prayer. He intentionally modeled and spoke about forgiveness, emphasizing how crucial it is in a faithful walk with God.  

What does it look like to forgive as Jesus forgave us?  

Parable of the Unforgiving Debtor 

Then Peter came to him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?” 

 “No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven! 

“Therefore, the Kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a king who decided to bring his accounts up to date with servants who had borrowed money from him. In the process, one of his debtors was brought in who owed him millions of dollars. He couldn’t pay, so his master ordered that he be sold—along with his wife, his children, and everything he owned—to pay the debt. 

“But the man fell down before his master and begged him, ‘Please, be patient with me, and I will pay it all.’ Then his master was filled with pity for him, and he released him and forgave his debt. 

“But when the man left the king, he went to a fellow servant who owed him a few thousand dollars. He grabbed him by the throat and demanded instant payment. 

“His fellow servant fell down before him and begged for a little more time. ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it,’ he pleaded. But his creditor wouldn’t wait. He had the man arrested and put in prison until the debt could be paid in full. 

When some of the other servants saw this, they were very upset. They went to the king and told him everything that had happened. Then the king called in the man he had forgiven and said, ‘You evil servant! I forgave you that tremendous debt because you pleaded with me. Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?’ Then the angry king sent the man to prison to be tortured until he had paid his entire debt. 

 “That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters from your heart.” —Matthew 18-21-35 

 Jesus tells Peter that we should forgive people “seventy times seven” times, extending a more than generous amount of grace. He then explains this concept in the form of a parable through the relationship between a master and his servant, who owed him a great deal of money. The servant is clearly in over his head, unable to even fathom repaying the debt to his master. He begged for pity and patience. His master did feel pity for the man, choosing to forgive him of his debt entirely.  

But the man then leaves and encounters another servant who owed him some money. He is angry and demands repayment, even when the other servant tells him that he is unable to pay. The man has the other servant arrested and shows no mercy. Hearing of his actions, the master rebukes the servant and tells him that because he showed mercy on him, he should have done the same to his fellow servant. As punishment, the master sends him to prison, destined to be tortured until his debt is repaid in full.  

Jesus gives us a glimpse here of our fate without forgiveness. He says that if we refuse to forgive others, we are destined to be judged for eternity. Because we were so graciously forgiven and Jesus paid our debts, shouldn’t we extend that same forgiveness to our friends and family, even strangers?  

Jesus is the ultimate example of forgiveness, the one who died so that all my sins could be forgiven and my relationship with God the Father would be fully restored. I know I sin every day, and I am far from perfect, but I still long for that forgiveness so I can be in a relationship with God. How can I then turn to a friend and refuse to forgive them for hurting me? How much more has God forgiven me? Jesus reminds us that our debts have been forgiven, debts that we could never even begin to repay. He urges us to lend that same forgiveness to others, giving them the gift that has been so generously given to us.