Because we are sinners, both sinning and being sinned against, we cannot live life without forgiveness. Forgiveness is part and parcel of life. Yet as much as forgiveness should be a part of everyday life, forgiveness often seems nebulous. We often misunderstand what forgiveness truly is. We have three common misconceptions about forgiveness.
1. Forgiveness is a feeling
We often confuse forgiveness with feelings. “I don’t feel very forgiving.” Have you ever felt like you didn’t want to forgive someone who asked for it? Many times. But failing to forgive because you don’t feel very forgiving is not biblical. We are commanded to forgive whether we feel like it or not. Jesus tells us: “If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him” (Luke 17:3). Notice Jesus doesn’t say, “If he repents, forgive him if you feel like it.” Good feelings may or may not be present when you forgive someone.
Someone might think: If I forgive someone even when I don’t feel like it, doesn’t this make me a hypocrite? When was the last time you felt like getting out of bed, going to work, or doing laundry? You do many things even when you don’t feel like it. Hypocrisy is when you pretend to like doing something when you truly don’t. Hypocrisy, for example, is telling people that you like getting out of bed, even when you don’t. So not feeling very forgiving does not make you a hypocrite.
2. Forgiveness means excusing sin
We often think that forgiveness means excusing sin. So, we think forgiveness entails saying: “You know, what you did wasn’t really wrong.” “You couldn’t help it.” The problem with excusing someone’s sin is that excusing sin is, by definition, the opposite of forgiveness. If you excuse sin, you are saying in essence that the person never sinned against you. And if they never sinned against you, you don’t need to grant them forgiveness. So, forgiveness does not excuse or overlook sin. Forgiveness and justice are not mutually exclusive.
3. Forgiveness entails forgetting
We tend to assume that forgiveness means forgetting. “Forgive and forget” is the common mantra. Yet, nowhere in Scripture are we commanded to “forgive and forget.” Typically, however, forgiveness will eventually lead to forgetting. When we forgive someone, we let go of the offense; we don’t hold it against them. Not holding the offense against them, over time, typically leads to forgetting. We forget what we don’t dwell on. If the offense is particularly egregious, we might never forget. But that doesn’t mean that we haven’t forgiven.
If forgiveness is not a feeling, and is not excusing, and does not demand forgetting, what then is forgiveness? That’s for another post.
Pastor Dan Burrus