Dr. Brent Potter
Forgiveness is one of the most fundamental teachings in Scripture. Bible verses about forgiveness can be found throughout the Old and New Testament as one of the defining themes of the Bible. Forgiveness’s finest moment is Christ’s death on the cross, where He sacrifices Himself so He can, in turn, forgive us for our sins. Anyone familiar with the Bible knows that forgiveness is one of its key principles.That being said, forgiveness isn’t easy. While it’s fair to assume that such a core teaching would be a marker of Christian communities, this is unfortunately not the case. For once, people inside and outside the church can agree that forgiveness isn’t easy or enjoyable.
Because of this, seeing an act of forgiveness is feels like catching a glimpse of bigfoot or a leprechaun. It’s there for a moment and then dissipates back to grudges, bitterness, and anger.
However, as you read Scripture what becomes clear is that even though the Bible highlights forgiveness as necessary, many Christians and non-Christians alike agree to disagree.
6 Bible Verses about Forgiveness
While forgiveness is difficult, it’s the key to releasing freedom, peace, and life in your life. There is a reason the word shows up all over the Bible. It’s not a suggestion, it’s a command intended to bring you life. Here are some Bible verses about forgiveness.
The Motivation Behind Forgiveness
Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. – Colossians 3:13
Of all the Bible verses about forgiveness, this one is really important because it explains why Christians are called to forgive. God is not calling them to do anything He hasn’t done, in fact, He is calling them to emulate Him. As an all-perfect Creator, He is worthy of worship and obedience. However, humanity sinned, rebelling against their all-powerful creator.
Instead of sending an asteroid to smash earth, God showed mankind grace by sending His Son to be their mediator. He bore humanity’s sin and suffering on the cross so all of mankind could approach the throne of grace. This is the single greatest act of God’s forgiveness in the Bible.
The rich themes of forgiveness running throughout Scriptures originate in this moment. What it is important for Christians to realize is that as forgiven people, they are called to forgive. God is not satisfied with His people receiving forgiveness while harboring bitterness and grudges.
White as Snow
Often, you are your own worst critic. Even if other people have forgiven you, you can’t. This isn’t uncommon, but it doesn’t align with God’s idea of forgiveness. God’s forgiveness isn’t like human forgiveness.
“Come now, let us settle the matter,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. – Isaiah 1:18
God keeps no record of wrong. Your sins aren’t covered up, festering deep inside. Instead, through the blood of Christ, you are made new, a completely new creation. While in this life you may still live with the consequences of sin, you need to remember that it is no longer who you are.
One of the lessons that is the hardest lesson for all Christians to learn is to trust in the promises of God. And one of the promises many people struggle to accept is that they are forgiven and have been made new.
Others Will Notice
Get rid of all bitterness, rage, and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. – Ephesians 4:31-32
As you grow into Christlikeness, you will begin acting differently. The Scriptures on forgiveness show that the sinful inclinations that once dominated you will begin to weaken, and you will be presented with new choices.
Instead of immediately rolling down your window to yell at the guy who cut you off, you will have the space to think twice realizing your kid is watching you scream out of your car. These decision points that begin to occur are the work of the Spirit in your life, giving you the opportunity to live differently.
As you live into these moments, others will notice. These should be the markers of the Christian faith. Forgiveness is one of these many factors. By choosing to forgive others and move forward without bitterness, other people will be shocked. The world is not familiar with forgiveness.
Almost every other day some new celebrity is being held accountable for something they said twenty years ago, even if they’ve changed. The fact is people don’t forgive each other. So, when you forgive someone, people will notice. It sets you apart as different, which makes people ask the question “why.”
Forgiveness, Not Judgement
Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. – Luke 6:37
It’s often easier to live in judgment and condemnation than in love and forgiveness. However, this Bible verse on forgiveness explains that Christians have been called to walk in forgiveness and love, not judgment.
While there is a place for accountability within Christians communities, Christians should practice forgiveness, especially to non-Christians. By choosing to live into judgment and condemnation, the Christian looks down upon people who don’t even know the truth or agree with your principles.
Even when it can be painful and difficult, Christians are called forgiveness, and this is specifically true when dealing with people who aren’t Christian.
The Root of a Forgiving Heart
When considering Bible verses about forgiveness, this passage reveals the root of what makes a heart forgiving. Unlike what the Pharisees thought, righteousness did not necessarily equal forgiveness. Instead, a sinful woman, known for her man trespasses receives great forgiveness.
Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little. – Luke 7:47-48
What Jesus is highlighting here is that those who understand how much they’ve been forgiven will be far more loving and willing to forgive and thus able to receive forgiveness.
On the other hand, the self-righteous who think they need little forgiveness will not be as able to give away love and forgiveness because they see themselves as better than other people. Recognizing your own sin and how much you’ve been forgiven is a key to living a life of love and forgiveness.
Confession is Necessary
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. – 1 John 1:9
The word confession often conjures up an image of a wooden box with a small window to talk to the priest. Unfortunately, this image can turn people away from confession. While this might not at first seem like a Bible verse on forgiveness, Christians need to realize that the confession of sin is necessary for forgiveness.
“Bright Horizons” Courtesy of Alex Iby, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; If you can’t confess to those you’ve wronged or to a trusted person for your private sins, then there is a problem. Confession is an important discipline Christians need to live into. It cannot be written off as antiquated and uncomfortable.
According to the Mayo Clinic (2017), forgiveness can be challenging, especially if the person who’s hurt you doesn’t admit wrong. If you find yourself stuck:
- Practice empathy. Try seeing the situation from the other person’s point of view.
- Ask yourself why he or she would behave in such a way. Perhaps you would have reacted similarly if you faced the same situation.
- Reflect on times you’ve hurt others and on those who’ve forgiven you.
- Write in a journal, pray or use guided meditation — or talk with a person you’ve found to be wise and compassionate, such as a spiritual leader, a mental health provider, or an impartial loved one or friend.
- Be aware that forgiveness is a process, and even small hurts may need to be revisited and forgiven over and over again.
Does forgiveness guarantee reconciliation?
If the hurtful event involved someone whose relationship you otherwise value, forgiveness can lead to reconciliation. This isn’t always the case, however.
Reconciliation might be impossible if the offender has died or is unwilling to communicate with you. In other cases, reconciliation might not be appropriate. Still, forgiveness is possible — even if reconciliation isn’t.
What if the person I’m forgiving doesn’t change?
Getting another person to change his or her actions, behavior or words isn’t the point of forgiveness. Think of forgiveness more about how it can change your life — by bringing you peace, happiness, and emotional and spiritual healing. Forgiveness can take away the power the other person continues to wield in your life.
What if I’m the one who needs forgiveness?
The first step is to honestly assess and acknowledge the wrongs you’ve done and how they have affected others. Avoid judging yourself too harshly.
If you’re truly sorry for something you’ve said or done, consider admitting it to those you’ve harmed. Speak of your sincere sorrow or regret, and ask for forgiveness — without making excuses.
Remember, however, you can’t force someone to forgive you. Others need to move to forgiveness in their own time. Whatever happens, commit to treating others with compassion, empathy, and respect.
Forgiveness is a very important teaching in Scripture. Its importance can be attested to by the many Bible verses about forgiveness that exist throughout the Word of God. While it’s important, it isn’t easy. As a result, many people choose to ignore this teaching.
It can feel powerful to withhold forgiveness but doing so keeps you in chains to anger and bitterness. The only way to be free is to recognize your own deep need for forgiveness and the amazing gift offered to you in Jesus. When you are able to accept this truth and forgive, releasing your frustration and bitterness, then you will finally be able to be free.
Mayo Clinic Staff (2017). Forgiveness: Letting go of grudges and bitterness. Available online: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/forgiveness/art-20047692
“Forgive the negative people…”, Courtesy of Susan Yin, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Stand by Me”, Courtesy of Brooke Cagle, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Love One Another”, Courtesy of Jon Tyson, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Bright Horizons” Courtesy of Alex Iby, Unsplash.com, CC0 License