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forgiveness is a command, not a choice

Side notes

All Bible references are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.

[1] Mark 11:25
And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you anything against anyone, so that your father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.

[2] Ephesians 4:31-32
Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

[3] Colossians 3:13
..bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.

[4] Matthew 6:14-15
For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

[5] Hebrews 8:12
"For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.”

[6] Matthew 18:21-25
Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times. “Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made.

So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, 'Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.' And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, 'Pay what you owe.' So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, 'Have patience with me, and I will pay you.' He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt.

When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, 'You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?' And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers,until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart."

Forgiveness is one of the most basic principles found in Scripture and is absolutely essential for successful, victorious living. It is a command from God. That means that we have open to us only the options of obeying or disobeying. Mark 11:25[1], Ephesians 4:31-32[2], Colossians 3:13[3]

More often than not, we don’t feel like forgiving those who wrong us, but forgiveness has nothing to do with our emotions. It is a choice and therefore involves the decision making part of our souls called the will.

Each soul consists primarily of three parts – will, mind, emotions. The emotions are the feeling part and are not designed by God to think. The will, on the other hand, is designed by God to be the top authority part of the soul, and as such, is not programmed to feel, but rather is given the job of making decisions whether or not such decisions may be hurtful.

God knows that we do not naturally desire to forgive the wrongs that others do to us. But he knows that forgiveness is essential to our ultimate well being, so he has made it a command to forgive and expects us to obey. When we do follow his command, and forgive completely, we always find a wonderful release with resulting internal freedom.

Many of us, however, operate so strongly on feelings and allow our emotions so much free reign in our lives that we often discover forgiveness extremely hard to extend. Sometimes, because of emotional dictatorship we even become unwilling to forgive. Being unwilling to forgive is a most dangerous state to be in. God has harsh things to say about such an attitude. In fact, he makes his forgiveness towards us, dependent upon our forgiveness towards others. Matthew 6:14-15[4]

It is good, therefore, to consider what his forgiveness towards us means so as to have an accurate basis of knowledge upon which to submit to his command that we act likewise towards others.


So, what does forgiveness really mean?

The prime meaning found in one dictionary is most intriguing. Forgiveness means ‘to give up resentment against or the desire to punish.’

This definition really hits home, doesn’t it?

We know from the Bible that God has forgiven us. But do we realise that he has even given away any resentment towards us, and he no longer has even any desire to punish us? Hebrews 8:12[5]

If we are at all honest, we will admit that we have broken many of his requirements. We must have disappointed him so much at times. We certainly have caused him much pain. His very own unique Son had to die before we got the message! The suffering we have caused God will probably never be fully understood by us. Because of his total forgiveness towards us though, we, who should be dispensed to hell, are instead welcomed into his arms. And he is genuine! His pleasure in us is real. He has no hidden agendas for us. He really truly wants us to enter into all his blessings. Ephesians 1:4-5 from the Living Bible says this: Long ago, even before he made the world, God chose us to be his very own, through what Christ would do for us; he decided then to make us holy in his eyes, without a single fault – we who stand before him covered with his love. His unchanging plan has always been to adopt us into his own family by sending Jesus Christ to die for us. And he did this because he wanted too!


What God in effect says is this. “Look, I’ve forgiven you a huge indebtedness towards me. You owed me more than you could ever repay, so I gave my Son to pay for it instead, and because of Jesus you can go free. Can you not, therefore, forgive in the same way the itsy bitsy things that others do to you? It doesn’t matter how many times you are sinned against, the billion dollar debt I’ve set you free from is not worth comparing with the ten dollar debts that others owe you here and there.” Matthew 18:21-35[6]

Friends, let’s give revenge away. Give it away before the offender even apologises. That’s what forgiveness is. Releasing the offender ahead of time. For-give them. Give them release before they ask. It is a delightful place to be in, knowing that we have nothing against anyone. It helps us sleep at night and it saves a lot of brain cells wasted on negative thinking! It also keeps us from sinning. You see, if we disobey God’s command to forgive, then we become involved in sin as well, this time the sin of rebellion. Then it is not only the other person who is in trouble!

There are at least three more reasons why we don’t enter into the release of forgiveness.

  1. If we perchance struggle and struggle to forgive, and find ourselves seemingly unable to enter into the freedom of forgiveness (and we will know when we do enter that freedom), it may be that a demonic squatter is holding us captive in that area of our life. We can be set free, but we may need to ask someone we can trust to help us.
  2. We can sometimes hold the guilt for another’s sin within ourselves. If we read the Bible through, we will discover that God consistently places a person’s sin back on the person who committed that sin. He never requires anyone to substitute for another’s sin. We must consider the source of any sin or wounding. Any sin that belongs to another must be recognised as theirs, not ours. Forgiveness needs to find the source of guilt in order to balance the scales. If we pronounce forgiveness towards another person, but contain the guilt within ourselves, how can any results be achieved?
  3. We may need to extend forgiveness further than at first thought. Do we, for example, perhaps hold a grudge against God for his seeming inaction when we were suffering? God, of course, doesn’t need our forgiveness, he hasn’t sinned against us in the first place, but we may need to admit and deal with our feelings towards him. Do we perhaps still hold a grudge against someone who we thought should have protected us, but didn’t? In addition, maybe we still need to forgive ourselves for something done. We sometimes say things like – “I can never forgive myself for being so stupid!” Well, it is sin not to forgive ourselves. If God commands us to forgive as he does, then we must include ourselves as recipients for forgiveness.


How do we know when we are free?

Permit me to offer this suggestion:

We are free of the pain when we can remember the pain without feeling the pain.

Below is a sample prayer for forgiveness. It is not essential to speak your forgiveness to the offender. Forgiveness is primarily a spiritual and legal transaction, and is for your benefit more than the offender’s. It is important, however, to speak your forgiveness out even if nobody else is present. An important principle founded in Deuteronomy 19:15 teaches that: A single witness shall not suffice against a person for any crime or for any wrong in connection with any offence that he has committed. Only on the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses shall a charge be established. Remember that there are always angels and demons who witness everything you do and say, and the speaking out process establishes your testimony in the courtroom of Heaven.


Praying Forgiveness:

  1. Who wounded me? ……..
  2. What was the wounding I received? ……..
  3. What was the effect it had on me? ……..
  4. What reactionary sin did I perhaps commit? ……..
Towards offender

…1…, you wounded me when you …2… . It made me …3… . I will no longer carry the guilt of your sin, or the wounding I have received from it. I place that sin back on you …1…, and I choose to forgive you for doing this to me. I release you from the need to make up for what you have done to me.

Towards God

Father, I confess to you that I …4… as a result of the wounding I received from …1… . I ask your forgiveness for my sin, and your cleansing from it. I also give to you the hurts I have felt from …1…, and ask to be released from their effects upon me. I ask you to forgive …1… for this sin against me, and I pray that you will bring release to him/her/them. By faith I thank you for your answer to my prayer, and I trust you, in your time, to make my release real to me.

Towards self

I choose to forgive myself for any feelings of guilt I have had over this sin of …1…, and for the sin I have since entered into. Because I believe God has forgiven me, I release myself from any more self-judgement and self-condemnation.
Signed ………………………….. Date…….…………


This paper seeks to accurately represent the teachings of Holy Scriptures. You are free to copy or alter all or any part of this paper PROVIDED that the Holy Scriptures are not misrepresented as a result.