How Forgiveness Sets us Free

Learn what forgiveness does and does not mean and how it can set you free.

Forgiveness can be a touchy subject. We hate being told to forgive, we struggle to forgive those who have wronged us, we ache when others withhold forgiveness from us; ultimately many of us are walking around with many misconceptions about forgiveness and what it means to forgive someone. In counseling and inner healing ministry I have seen over and over how forgiveness is often the key to break through in healing — even when you think you’ve already forgiven. A lot of freedom comes simply when we know what it really means to forgive. 

One of the best parables of forgiveness comes from Matthew 18. Jesus tells the story of the servant who is forgiven much, but then refuses to forgive a lesser debt owed to him. Ultimately the servant is thrown in prison for refusing to forgive the lesser debt.

Matthew 18:23-35 The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant

Verse 35 “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

Forgiveness is not as much about setting the person who has wronged you free, as much as it is about setting yourself free. Unforgiveness puts us in a self-made prison to which only we hold the key

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.”

When we refuse to forgive others we also prevent ourselves from being forgiven.

Resentments become buried deep in the heart, and over time become hidden and forgotten…all the while we remain in our self-made prison.

woman stretching arms out freely

How we recognize unforgiveness when we’ve been hurt by someone

  • Do you have strong emotional reactions when you see the person who hurt you?
  • Do you want relationship with the person, or do you try to avoid them?
  • Do you still rehearse the “speeches” you’d like to deliver?
  • Do you imagine ways of getting even, getting revenge?
  • Can you sincerely bless this person?
  • Do you honestly rejoice when good things happen for the person who wounded you?

Other signs of unforgiveness may have nothing to do with the person who wounded you

  • Difficulty in relationship with God
  • Physical problems
  • Difficulty sleeping or resting
  • Physical, emotional, mental exhaustion or torment
  • Continuing patterns of sin or difficulty

These signs may be caused by other factors, but when we experience them it is important to consider if we are harboring any unforgiveness.

Key marked with the word restore

Who and what do we need to forgive?

Often we will think of specific things people have done to wrong us, but sometimes we need to forgive for things that weren’t done, like forgiving a parent for not being there when we needed them. It may even be ourselves that we need to forgive. It is even possible that we may need to forgive God. Even though God is perfect and has done no wrong, we may feel hurt by Him and be holding unforgiveness towards Him.

Forgiveness does not mean

that we must deny our hurt or anger, that we have to work to change our feelings, that we must forget that the offense happened, that what the person did to us was ok, or that the person who hurt us should not be held accountable for their actions. It does not mean we have to trust the person again, or that we have to have a relationship with them. Forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation. Reconciliation takes two people and means the other person is willing to really apologize and repair the relationship. Forgiveness only requires you.

Forgiveness does mean

that we allow God to take the bitterness and resentment from our hearts and set us free from our self-made prisons. It means that we give up our right to be judge and jury over the person who harmed us and trust that God makes a better judge and jury than we do. It means that we get to walk in freedom.

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