• Mark Alan Williams

What Is True Forgiveness?

Updated: Mar 29, 2019

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What does true forgiveness mean when you have been obviously violated? Recently someone did some poor work on our new house and failed to make it right. It appears that a clear act of negligence will result in a loss for Carolyn and me.

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Who hasn’t been violated in some way and had to wrestle with forgiveness? And how many times have we been the violator. This week I hiked up a hill but in the process walked across a man’s property. He got very angry at me for going through his property and even yelled about getting out a gun. I needed his forgiveness.


Before considering what forgiveness means, let’s consider what forgiveness is NOT or not necessarily:

Pretending there is no pain or loss.Let it go, let it go…if that means allowing someone to repeatedly injury a helpless victim when we can stop them.Forgetting it ever happened. That might be a nice goal, but unattainable. (However we can refuse to obsess about past events.)Letting a guilty party be unaccountable to the law. (Prosecution might be necessary and helpful to stop a recurrence.)

Another great question is: Why should I forgive and what are the benefits of forgiveness?

First, forgiveness is primarily for the forgiver, not for the forgiven. Why? Because if we don’t forgive, we live with bitterness, anger, resentment, and angst. All of these create unrest for our souls AND greatly hinder our spiritual life.


Also, our prayers will not be answered:


Isaiah 59:2 says, “Your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear.”


The Psalmist wrote “If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not     have listened” (Psalm 66:18).


In addition, we won’t be forgiven for our sins:


Jesus said, “But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:15 NIV)


Someone said that not forgiving is like drinking poison and expecting someone else to die.

Someone else said “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and then find out that the prisoner was you.”

So what is true forgiveness? I came across a wonderful definition from a Puritan writer Thomas Watson.

Question: When do we forgive others?

Answer: When we strive against all thoughts of revenge; when we will not do our enemies mischief, but wish well to them, grieve at their calamities, pray for them, seek reconciliation with them, and show ourselves ready on all occasions to relieve them. (Thomas Watson, Body of Divinity, p. 581)


There is a lot in that definition. But every part is biblical and vital.


Let’s consider how each part of this definition is a biblical description of true forgiveness:


01. When we strive against all thoughts of revenge;

“Do not say, ‘I will repay evil’;     wait for the Lord, and he will deliver you.” (Proverbs 20:22 ESV)

“Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.” (1 Peter 3:9 ESV)

02. when we will not do our enemies mischief,

 “Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.” (Romans 12:17 ESV)


03. but wish well to them,

“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.” (Romans 12:14 ESV)


“But to you who are willing to listen, I say, love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you.” (Luke 6:27-28a NLT)


04. grieve at their calamities,

“Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” (Romans 12:15 ESV)


05. pray for them,

“Pray for those who hurt you.” (Luke 6:28b NLT)


06. seek reconciliation with them,

“If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the offense. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back.” (Matthew 18:15 NLT)


07. and show ourselves ready on all occasions to relieve them.

See that no one pays back evil for evil, but always try to do good to each other and to all people.” (1 Thessalonians 5:15 NLT)


So there we have it: a biblical definition and description of true forgiveness.


If we live by this description, we will know freedom of spirit and peace.If we fail to forgive, we will have bitterness of spirit, our prayers won’t be answered and God will not forgive us!


So who do you need to forgive and how are you doing in true forgiveness?


The Bible says: “But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth.” (James 3:14 NIV)


Andy Rooney made a wise observation: “When you harbor bitterness, happiness will dock elsewhere.”

To help you evaluate, here’s a summary checklist for true forgiveness:


  • When we strive against all thoughts of revenge;

  • when we will not do our enemies mischief,

  • but wish well to them,

  • grieve at their calamities,

  • pray for them,

  • seek reconciliation with them,

  • and show ourselves ready on all occasions to relieve them.

For more help with forgiveness, revenge, and bitterness see my posts on:



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