The Oxford English Dictionary defines forgiveness as “to grant free pardon and to give up all claim on account of an offense or debt”. As Christians we are familiar with the forgiveness that God extends to us because of the death of Jesus on the cross. Without that forgiveness we would not be able to escape judgment.
Divine forgiveness sets the pattern for our forgiving others. Jesus said in His famous model prayer that we are to ask for forgiveness even as we forgive others (Matthew 6.12). This was a part of Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount and has become a treasured teaching of the church. Interestingly enough, this is not the only time Jesus gave this particular model of prayer to His disciples. In Luke 11: 1 “one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray as John taught his disciples.’” Jesus’ response was almost identical to what He taught in the Sermon on the Mount.
Speaking of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus talked about forgiveness in that message:
Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. (Matthew 5:7) Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift. (Matthew 5:23-24)
He talked about forgiveness on several other occasions as well.
And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. (Mark 11:25) But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you. And unto him that smiteth thee on the one cheek offer also the other; and him that taketh away thy cloke forbid not to take thy coat also. (Luke 6:27-29) Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful. (Luke 6:36) Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven: (Luke 6:37)
Of course the most famous one of all is when Jesus was hanging on the cross. He had the power to obliterate all of His tormenters and the authority to call legions of angelic armies, yet He said, “Father, forgive them, because they don’t know what they are doing” (Luke 23.34).
Jesus was all about forgiveness. He wanted us to be forgiving people. He still wants us to be forgiving people. So what, exactly, does it mean to forgive someone? We hear the term “forgive and forget” a lot. That sounds great, but we are human. Sometimes it is impossible to forget. Especially if the hurt is a deep personal hurt. Does that mean that Jesus has asked us to do the impossible?
Jesus would not do that. He knows our limitations. He lived in a human body. Remember our definition of forgiveness is “to grant free pardon and to give up all claim on account of an offense or debt”. This does not say anything about forgetting. A friend of mine some time ago defined forgiveness by saying that forgiving is the act of remembering to forget. Oddly worded, but it makes sense. We are going to remember an offense. Not only is it is human nature, but Satan is called our “accuser” for a reason. He is very good at reminding us of the things we want to forget.
Another friend once described forgiveness with a little more detail. He said that when we forgive someone we agree never to bring the offense up to that person again, never to tell anyone else about it and when Satan reminds us that we will consciously think of other things, such as scriptures that talk about how Jesus forgave us.
It is not an easy thing to forgive those who have hurt you. And some hurts are worse than others. Some people think that their pain is beyond forgiveness, but it’s not. Jesus would not tell us to do this if it were not possible. Maybe it will take the strength of Jesus Christ for us to forgive, but we have that strength available to us. The apostle Paul said that he could do everything that he needed to so through Jesus (Philippians 4.13). We too, as believers, have this power within us. It’s not magical and it’s not some hocus pocus stage trick. It’s the power of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit that indwells Christians the moment they believe.
Forgiveness is possible. Forgiveness for you if you believe in Jesus died for your sins and rose again to gain victory for you over sin and death; and forgiveness for those who have sinned against you.