Forgiveness plays a big part in our Christian walk. Jesus says, “For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.” (Matthew 6:14-15) In fact it’s such an integral part of His message for us, He says it in Matthew 6:12, 18:21, 18:35, Mark 11:25, Luke 11:4, 6:37, and John 17:3. And these don’t even count the implied verses or when the apostles reiterate forgiveness in their epistles.
So what does forgiveness mean in realistic everyday terms?
I could go into a long study about the Greek word and how it means to leave behind, let go, give up a debt, which brings to mind the parable of the man who owed ten thousand talents in Matthew 18:24. But I’m sure you’ve heard it all before.
In fact you’ve probably heard sermons about how you don’t forgive people because they deserve it, but because it will release you from bitterness. Or maybe you’ve heard sermons about how God says, “vengeance is mine” (Romans 12:19), so just forgive them and God will get them in the end. And these things are kind of true, but do they really reflect what forgiveness is? Is forgiveness really all about you? Is it really all about hoping that other person will get they’re just desserts in the end? Can you really say you've forgiven someone with these motivations behind your forgiveness?
What does real, Biblical forgiveness look like?
When Jesus was dying on the cross, He said, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do?” (Luke 23:34) This wasn’t a “release me from bitterness” prayer or a “you get them in the end, God” prayer. Jesus asked that God would not take vengeance on those who crucified Him. He asked that God would forgive them.
A short time later in Acts chapter two, Peter preaches to a crowd full of men who had crucified the Lord. He specifically says to them: “this Jesus whom you crucified.” (Acts 2:36) And three thousand of these men who Jesus prayed that God would forgive were forgiven. (Acts 2:41)
In Acts 7:60, we can see this same thing happen again when Stephen prays that God won’t hold his murder against his murderers. In Acts 9, Paul who held the coats at Stephen’s stoning is saved.
When you forgive somebody, pray that God will forgive too. This is Godly forgiveness. Truly, in the same way you forgive, you will be forgiven.