Two problems do great psychological, emotional, and spiritual damage to anyone. One is guilt; the other is bitterness. Guilt imprisons us. Bitterness poisons us. Guilt comes as a result of something we’ve done wrong; bitterness may come as our reaction when someone has wronged us. Forgiveness is the answer to both. God’s forgiveness of us sets us free from the prison of guilt; our forgiveness of others sets us free from the prison of bitterness.

When you truly forgive from your heart, you set two prisoners free. One is the person you’ve forgiven; the other is yourself. In a moment, I’m going to tell you how you can do this. But first, there are compelling reasons for forgiveness.

1. God requires it from us.

Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice; And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” Ephesians 4:3132

2. He has done it first—He has forgiven us. God Himself paid our debt for us. That’s the reason our Lord taught us to pray, “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” To forgive actually means to wipe out a debt.  We have sinned against Heaven. Sin is a debt we owe, a debt we cannot pay. But God in mercy and love has forgiven us.

Now, there are no free pardons. If someone owes me a thousand dollars and tells me, “I can’t pay,” if I say, “All right, I forgive you,” the moment I say that, what did it cost me? A thousand dollars.

You see, to forgive costs something. “Forgive” comes from a word that means “to bear the burden.” When someone is forgiven, someone else has paid. When our Lord forgives us, does He pay a price? Look at Ephesians 1:7.  “In whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace.”

Out of the riches of His grace, through His blood, He paid the debt Himself, and the debt was cancelled. It cost Him something! That’s why we call GRACE “God’s Riches at Christ’s Expense.”

Consider these three factors:

The Grace Factor

And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” Ephesians 4:32

God has willingly, lovingly, freely forgiven me when I sin—that’s grace. And the mercy that was shown to me, I must show to others.

When you come to the Lord and ask Him to save, cleanse, and forgive you, He does; you’re forgiven, placed into the family of God. But you’re not done with forgiveness then. Not at all. You must then learn to practice forgiveness of others. You receive mercy; you must show mercy. Jesus taught us to pray, “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.” If you don’t, you’re going to dam up the stream of God’s mercy.

The Guilt Factor

But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” Matthew 6:15.

If you don’t intend to forgive others, then you should never pray “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors,” because you’re praying: “Father, treat me like I’m treating them. Forgive me in the same manner I forgive others. Father, if I don’t forgive, don’t forgive me.”

And if you say, “Well, I’ll forgive her, but I’ll never have any more to do with her,” do you want God to say, “Okay. I’ll forgive you and never have any more to do with you”? 

Forgiving and being forgiven go together. The person who refuses to forgive destroys the bridge over which he must travel. The only person who can afford not to forgive is one who will never need forgiveness.

You say, “But, wait a minute. If you knew what they did to me, you wouldn’t let them off the hook.” What I’m trying to tell you is, you’re on the hook with them.

You say,

  • “But they’ve wronged me! They’ve hurt me. They’ve stolen from me.”
  • “My business partner stole from me and took away my business!”
  • “They gossiped about me and destroyed my reputation. They ruined my good name.”
  • “He left me a single mom with these children and never sends child support—we hardly have food on the table.” 
  • “He killed my family member. I will never have them again on this earth.”
  • “She caused the accident that put me in a wheelchair.”

Listen, all these hurts and many others are real. They’re not little or imaginary. They have lifelong consequences.

How Do We Forgive Such Debts As Those?

We can’t deny it happened or whitewash it—that would be phony. So how do we forgive such terrible evil? You have a meeting in prayer with the Lord Jesus Christ, in which you’re going to tear up the I. O. U. they owe you. Here’s what you’re not saying: You’re not saying, “Oh, it wasn’t that bad,” denying there is a debt. There is. It is legitimate. But you’re going to forgive the debt. You’re going to tear up the I.O. U.

Here’s how you can do it:

You take the I. O. U. they owe you, and in your mind reach out and say to the Lord Jesus, “Here, Lord, is the debt. Here’s how they wronged me. Here’s what they did. I know You know all about it already. But now, You take it from me. I’m handing it to You. The debt is real, and they owe it, but I’m handing it now to You. It’s Yours. You can choose to do with it as You please. It’s not mine to collect on anymore.”

Then you give it to the One who reaches out to take it from you with His nail-scarred hand, a hand that was torn and bloodied as He forgave you. This is how you do it if you find the words “I forgive” catching in your throat.

The debt is gone. It’s no longer in your hands but now in the hands of the Lord Jesus Christ. And as you dust your hands off—newly emptied hands—you breathe deeply with the release of knowing you no longer carry it around. God’s nature is a nature to forgive. If you don’t forgive, you’re not allowing Him to form you into the image of His Son.

Is there someone who’s wronged you, but you’re holding back forgiveness? Yet our Lord with the gold of His precious blood and the silver of His tears paid your sin debt. James 2:13 says, “For He shall have judgment without mercy [on those] that shewed no mercy.” Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” Matthew 5:7.

I need to forgive because of the grace factor. I have been forgiven. I need to forgive because of the guilt factor. I will still need to be forgiven day by day. Only a person who never sins can afford not to forgive—and that is no one. And I must forgive because of…

The Grief Factor

If you fail to receive and give grace, you’re going to know unusual grief. “Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God, lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and many thereby be defiled.” Hebrews 12:15.

You and others around you are going to be troubled. An unforgiving spirit does you personal harm. It’s not simply what your unforgiveness does to someone else; it’s what it does to you.

If you continue to withhold forgiveness, you’re committing emotional suicide; you’re filling yourself with bitterness, an acid that will destroy you as much as or more than the person on whom it is poured. You forgive them for their sake. You forgive them for Jesus’ sake. You forgive them for your sake. Remember, when you forgive you set two people free, and one of them is you.

In this task of forgiving those who have harmed or wounded us, there is also The Gain Factor. The person who is doing the forgiving is going to gain a great deal, and in Part 2 we’ll examine what you gain when you forgive.  Be sure not to miss Part 2.