Biblical forgiveness is unmerited, undeserved and unearned by our actions, and is completely contingent on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. To truly understand this concept, we must first define what we mean by forgiveness.
To forgive is to pardon a debt or offense that has been committed by another against you. If you stood before a judge and were convicted of a crime but he pardoned your crime, the law would no longer enact punishment upon you or regard you as guilty. You would no longer be associated with the wrongdoing, and you would be free.
To truly forgive requires that we see unforgiveness as a sin.
Sin breaks God’s command to love Him and our neighbor, even though we have experienced Christ’s love for us. It is impossible to honestly declare that we have both embraced the forgiveness of our sins, and also continue hating our brother and refuse to extend the similar forgiveness. Even if that “neighbor” is the father who abandoned his fatherly duties by leaving you, or for not fulfilling his fatherhood roles.
True forgiveness must model the biblical forgiveness we experienced in Christ who forgave our sins — without reservation and without exception.
We know from the example of Jesus that forgiveness is necessary. Jesus even lobbied before the Heavenly Father for those who crucified Him when He said,
‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.’ Luke 23:34 (NASB)
When we then refuse to imitate Christ and forgive the offender, how can we expect God to forgive us?
Forgiveness Does Not Mean Reconciliation
While we see many examples of forgiveness in the Bible, there are a few other things about forgiveness to keep in mind. Today, many Christians confuse forgiveness and reconciliation by conflating or combing them into a single concept. This is a critical distinction we must fully understand (more on this later).
So, let me state it again for good measure. Forgiveness does not mean Reconciliation.
Forgiveness may turn into reconciliation through the conduit of true, born-again repentance, but I am not suggesting that when one forgives they must be around an evil, dangerous or abusive person or father. Biblical forgiveness is not dependent on an earthly reconciliation, but heavenly fellowship does require forgiveness.
Sin on Sin: It’s a Natural Feeling, but Not Right
We often want revenge on those who harm us, born from our hurt and anger. But our Savior wants His children to extend mercy and experience His love. Leave discipline or eternal punishment to Him! After all, experiencing the love of God is one of His greatest desires for all those made in His image. Our sense of justice can lead us to partially forgive others with a contingency that there’s repentance on our terms by he who has wronged us. God, in His infinite mercy, puts no additional conditions on our repentance to Him — other than it is genuine.
We see this most vividly portrayed by Jesus, who as He hung on the cross forgave the repentant criminal hanging next to Him (Luke 23:39-49). Jesus did not demand signs of repentance but understood the authentic expression and granted reconciliation to an undeserving sinner.
What Forgiveness is Not
When seen as total freedom from debt or offense, forgiveness cannot just be verbally saying that you won’t harbor resentment, anger and hatred because of the evil actions that another person has brought to your life. It must be removed from your heart and granted to them completely. Ultimately, it means giving no power to the memory of those actions. When invariably the memories come up and your heart grows angry, true forgiveness will allow you the freedom to live it out by reinforcing your commitment and you saying to yourself, “I have forgiven that hurt, and I refuse to be held captive by letting it change my behavior and attitude.”
Forgiveness is not a feeling, but a conscious choice to be spiritually obedient to the command of God to love Him by imitating Him. To truly love your neighbor, you must extend him the same forgiveness God extended to you. Loving your neighbor does not mean you have to be blind to the sinful actions and desires of others, but it does require you to love your enemy as yourself, to pray for them and extend the forgiveness to them that God showed you while you were “still His enemy.” (Matthew 5:44-48)
This doesn’t mean you won’t experience times in your life when the old hurt comes to the surface and all the heart wrenching emotions come flooding into your mind and heart. The difference is you are making a conscious effort to not let these hurts and emotions run your life. We hurt ourselves when we hold on to the offense. How many times have you been bitter and defiant, roiling in resentment and maybe even hate, when the other person is blissfully unaware or unconcerned about your pain? In other words, you allow hurt and anger to punish yourself.
Forgiveness is at the Heart of Our Relationship With Christ
As Christians the Holy Spirit helps us to truly understand biblical forgiveness and the precious gift it is to extend forgiveness to others who have harmed us as a testament to our relationship with Christ.
Forgiveness is at the heart of the Gospel. We know this is a tough subject for many because of the deep, hurtful body and soul wounds that have been inflicted. And even more so because who dealt the pain was often the person who was supposed to protect you – even your father who should have been your protector and hero.
My hope and prayers are that you are open and man enough to fully understand what biblical forgiveness is and what it requires of us.
“Because it is hard” is not an excuse to skip this vital part of your spiritual maturation and development. Don’t remain in the chains of unforgiven bondage, out of fellowship with the Heavenly Father, and bring doubt upon your eternal salvation. Rather, follow and model the example of forgiveness that is so important it was the final lesson the Son of Man taught as a human on the cross.
With the Lord’s help, we pray that you are willing to ask the Holy Spirit to help you extend this forgiveness, even to your earthly father, so you can finally heal and become the man God intended for you to be. Be man enough to ask God Almighty for help through prayer.
Adapted from Man Enough to Forgive: Healing the Wounds of Fatherhood Abandonment by John J. Smithbaker. Provided by Dunham Books. Copyright 2023. Used by permission.