How to Forgive Someone

Free Bible Study Materials for Christian Discipleship
 January 2016

How to forgive someone

Dear fellow disciple-maker,

C.S. Lewis once said, "To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you." For those of us who follow Jesus this is a challenging statement. In theory, we agree with it because we know what the Bible teaches: Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ forgave you (Ephesians 4:32). In reality, forgiveness is perhaps the hardest lesson in the Christian life to learn.

It's not Personal

One of the more obvious differences between Jesus and the average person is that Jesus didn't take things personally. By contrast our tendency is to take everything personally. We take rejection personally. We take criticism personally. Because of sin, we all suffer from self-centered thinking. Our nature is to personalize everything. The truth is, what people say and do is a reflection of them, not us. This is something Jesus fully grasped. Jesus understood, in the deepest possible way, that people’s actions merely reflected who they were, not who he was. That's why Jesus didn't take what they did to him personally.

A Reflection of the Doer

Christ understood that what someone does is a reflection of the doer, not the receiver. While on earth, people spat on him, abandoned him, betrayed him, denied him, mocked him, tortured him and ultimately killed him. In short, Jesus knows all about what it means to be wronged and treated unjustly. But from the cross Jesus said, "Father forgive them for they do not know what they do" (Luke 23:34). How was he able to pray that? Jesus was able to ask God to forgive them because they were revealing their own moral bankruptcy and lack of character. He knew that what they did to him was a reflection of them, not him. Thus, it wasn't personal.

Jesus Understands

In learning to forgive, we first need to be reminded that since God made us in his image, we were all created to experience anger and hurt. Our Father in heaven has never sinned, yet he gets angry and knows what it feels like to be rejected. It is not a sin to be angry. It is not a sin to feel hurt. Jesus experienced these same emotions and he supports us when we grieve.

Forgiveness is Hindered

Second, we need to come to terms with the fact that we can't be truly loving and forgiving toward others if we assume that the actions of other people are personal attacks on us. The evil actions of others demonstrate that they are living in horrible spiritual darkness and have no awareness of the truth. When people act out of selfishness, their actions will inevitably be hurtful and destructive. Yet those who are on the receiving end of their actions must constantly be reminded that it isn't truly personal. Knowing this frees us to forgive.

photo courtesy of Glen Van Etten

It's a Two-Way Street

Finally, we need to realize that whatever wrong has been done to us, we have done something similar to someone else. Selfishly, we want forgiveness to be a one-way street. We want God to let us off the hook for what we've done, but we aren't that excited about letting others off the hook for what they have done to us. The truth is our sins put Jesus on the cross. When we grasp what our sins cost Jesus, we will be much more forgiving of the wrongs that others have done to us.

Forgiving others is an essential element of living a mature, Christ-like life. As you begin a new year, it's time to let the people who have wronged you off the hook.

Author:Paul Schlieker

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