We’ve all heard we are supposed to forgive, right? But is forgiveness an emotion or a feeling? How do we know if we’ve actually forgiven someone? And why is forgiveness so important, anyway?
For years I thought I had forgiven someone. I had repeatedly spoken out loud that I forgave them, but the truth was that I was still holding on to the wrong they had done to me. I had not released it and let it go. How could I? What they did was so wrong. It screwed me up for years. It took me fifteen years to heal from it. How could I just let it go? I did not feel any emotion of forgiveness toward them.
Is Forgiveness a Feeling?
Forgiveness is not an emotion or a feeling. It is an act of the will to release someone from the wrong they have inflicted upon you. Forgiveness is the choice to let go of the wrong that has been done to you.
Feelings and emotions may come after forgiving someone, but not always, and not right away. If feelings of forgiveness come, they will be an effect of forgiveness, not the motivation to forgive.
Sometimes when you truly release an offense, you can feel a weight lifted or something released from your soul. But most of the time you won’t feel anything at first. The effects of forgiveness can be immediate, but most are long term.
There are no overwhelming emotions that would lead you to forgive, but it is always worth it to let go of the wrongs done to you.
God forgave all your sin, and reconciled you to Himself even while you were His enemy. If you really need some emotion to get you motivated to forgive, you can meditate on how much God has forgiven you.
For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. Romans 5:10
Jesus said that when you realize how much you are forgiven, you will love Him more. If you don’t realize the enormity of the sin you were forgiven of, you will love Him little.
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
Meditating on the fact that God has forgiven every ounce of your sin, past, present and future, will help you extend forgiveness to others.
And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you. Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. Ephesians 4:32- 5:1
You are literally imitating God when you forgive. Just as a young child imitates their daddy, we imitate our Daddy.
God not only forgave your sin, he wiped it away as if it had never existed. You have been justified. God sees you as if you had never sinned. Wow! The mercy of God is overwhelming.
What is True Forgiveness?
True forgiveness is the complete ‘letting go’ of what was done to you. You release it. You release the people involved and let them go. You are no longer holding on to the offense.
A statement I heard from my pastor changed my life. He said:
“What you won’t forgive, you retain. What you retain, you will become”.
Instantly the words that Jesus spoke in John 20 came to my mind.
If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained. John 20:23
When I heard my pastor make this statement, the words almost knocked me backwards in my seat. I instantly knew that I had to truly let go of the wrong done to me.
You see, I had forgiven the people that I needed to forgive, but I was still holding on to the wrong that had been done to me. I was still retaining it.
My pastor went on to say “I’ve met people that have held onto things for decades”. When he said this, I knew that although I thought I had forgiven, I was still carrying the wrong that had been done to me. It had become part of my identity.
In some weird way, it kept me safe. If I let go of the wrong done to me, would I be safe?
Forgiving someone does not mean that what they did was OK. I had heard this statement dozens of times. I had even helped other people walk through the process of forgiveness.
But somehow I was still retaining the wrong done to me. I had not truly let it go. Letting it go felt like I was saying that it was OK. I knew intellectually this was not true, but in my heart that’s how it felt.
The wrong done to me had become part of my identity, and was keeping me a victim in my own mind. I believed I was the way I was because of what had happened to me in my childhood. It was keeping me from moving forward, although I didn’t realize it.
I had started to act out some of those same behaviors that tore me apart as a child. I had been praying for a breakthrough, and this was it. I was ready to really let it go.
In my imagination, I went to the cross and brought two large, heavy, dark bags, full of the wrongs that had been done to me. I said “Lord, I’m going to let it go”.
This weight, this identity that I have carried for twenty years, I’m going to let it go.” I swung the bags off my back and dropped them at the foot of the cross. And there I left them.
The wrong that had been done to me was finally released. I let it go. I was no longer going to carry around with me anymore. I finally forgave completely. I separated it from my identity.
True forgiveness is really letting it go. It’s hard. We need the power of the Holy Spirit to do it. But when we do, it releases us from the offenses and we can finally move forward into our destiny.
Why is Forgiveness so Powerful?
Forgiveness is so powerful because it releases you from the torment of what was done to you.
Holding on to the wrong that has been done to you will hinder you in ways you don’t even realize. The offense gets a root in your heart and influences everything about your life.
Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. Proverbs 4:23
When you harbor unforgiveness in your heart, you become a victim.
Even if you don’t realize it, you are a victim in your own mind. A victim can not be a winner in life. A victim is stuck under the hand of the oppressor and cannot be free, even if they pretend to be free.
If you are carrying around the wrong that was done to you, you believe you are a victim, whether you acknowledge it or not.
The victim spirit will make sure you are held back from your destiny- the good life God designed for you.
Releasing what was done to you allows you to move forward. You become free. The people who wronged you no longer have a hold on you.
You can finally move into the good life- the overcoming life.
The success you want, the happiness you want, the freedom you want, is on the other side of leaving those offenses at the cross. You can not move into that life carrying the weight of the wrongs done to you.
How to Know if You Have Truly Forgiven
I did not realize that I hadn’t forgiven completely because I was not overwhelmed with anger towards the person who had wronged me. I thought I had forgiven them because I was able to have conversation with them, and even pray for them. But inside my heart, I was constantly recounting the wrong they had done. I was always thinking about how wrong it was. I would replay the situations in my mind all the time.
I had bitterness in my heart and didn’t realize it. I thought I had dealt with bitterness, but because I hadn’t truly released what happened to me, the bitterness was able to grow. Every time I thought about the wrong done to me, that tree of bitterness grew deeper roots.
Bitterness is extremely dangerous to your own body and those you are in relationship with. There are many diseases caused by this root of bitterness. The Bible says that it will defile many.
…lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled; Hebrews 12:15
If you are constantly thinking about how someone wronged you, this is a clear sign that you haven’t truly forgiven and let it go.
If when you are around them, you smile on the outside but inside you are hostile and recounting the wrong they have done, you are retaining the offense in your own soul.
If you are easily angered in your relationship with them, you are keeping a record of the wrong they have done.
The devil is crafty. He will deceive you into thinking you have no unforgiveness because you went through the motions of forgiveness. You said all the right words. You’ve been a Christian for 20 years. All the while he is robbing you of moving into your destiny.
Love keeps no record of wrongs. (1 Corinthians 13:5). God has no record of your wrongs.
If you have a record in your mind of someone’s wrongs against you, you haven’t truly forgiven. It’s time to let it go and be free.
The only way to truly walk in love toward someone is to have no record of wrongs against them.
When you keep a record of wrongs against someone, you become easily angered, self-seeking, and dishonoring of them (1 Corinthians 13:5).
This is why God is pure love. He keeps no record of wrongs against you. He harbors no offense toward you. He walks in absolute love toward you. Love keeps no record of wrongs.
What does Jesus say about Forgiveness?
Do you remember Jesus teaching about the sycamine/mulberry tree? Many people do not realize that this story is in the context of Jesus talking to His disciples about forgiveness. Let’s take a look.
Then He said to the disciples, “It is impossible that no offenses should come, but woe to him through whom they do come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones. Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, ‘I repent,’ you shall forgive him.” And the apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith.” Luke 17:1-5
Notice Jesus said, “take heed to yourselves”.
Take heed means to attend to, pay attention to, beware, be cautious, devote yourself to.
Jesus is saying that when a brother sins against you, or offends you- beware, pay attention to, and be cautious of yourself in this situation.
Pay attention to your mind when offense comes. Offense is a trap of the enemy to capture you.
When Jesus tells His disciples to forgive and keep forgiving, they respond with “increase our faith”. They apparently realize that this type of continual forgiveness is going to require supernatural help.
Jesus tells them that the faith they have is sufficient, but they must speak to the unforgiveness.
So the Lord said, “If you have faith as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be pulled up by the roots and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you. Luke 17:6
Jesus is instructing them to speak to the problem. He’s instructing them to speak directly to the unforgiveness, to the offense, and command it to be pulled up by the roots and planted in the sea. This is the supernatural help that they need.
How to Forgive Someone
You can use the authority that Jesus has given you to speak to the unforgiveness, the bitterness, and the offense in your heart.
You can command it to be uprooted. This is the first step to being free of unforgiveness. Command unforgiveness to be removed from your heart by speaking directly to it.
The next step is to forgive, which is an act of the will, not an emotion. You don’t have to feel like forgiving to make the choice to forgive. You can speak out loud by faith:
“I have forgiven (name). I have forgiven them for (insert offense). I have forgiven the wrong they did to me. I release this and let it go. “
It may help to imagine yourself letting go or releasing what has happened.
Remember, forgiveness is not an emotion. You may have done these first two steps and not feel a thing. That’s OK.
You are forgiving because you know it is what you must do to be free, not because you feel like forgiving. It is important to forgive the person and the wrong that was done.
Once you have commanded the unforgiveness to be pulled up by the roots and you have released the offense, you must begin to capture the thoughts of unforgiveness when they pop into your mind.
When thoughts come that remind you of the wrong that the person did, you say out loud “No, I have forgiven (name) for (offense). I have released it and let it go.”
As you continue to do this, the thoughts will get fewer and fewer until eventually you will not be regularly reminded of the offense.
The tree of unforgiveness and bitterness will have been completely pulled up by the roots from your thought life. You will be free!
Staying Free of Unforgiveness
When people offend you, and they most certainly will, it is important that you immediately do what Jesus taught and take heed to yourself.
Do not allow yourself to think about the wrongs done to you. When offenses come, immediately resist the spirit of offense by saying out loud “I refuse to be offended. I forgive them completely.”
Keeping your heart free from offense is so important. It is completely possible to live life without being offended. Although offenses will certainly come, we can shut the door to them before they enter into our soul.
Great peace have they which love thy law: and nothing shall offend them. Psalm 119:165
The words offend them in this verse mean a stumbling, means or occasion of stumbling, a stumbling block. When we allow our heart to be troubled by offense, it is a stumbling block to us. It is a scheme of the enemy.
Now whom you forgive anything, I also forgive. For if indeed I have forgiven anything, I have forgiven that one for your sakes in the presence of Christ, lest Satan should take advantage of us; for we are not ignorant of his devices. 2 Corinthians 2:10-11
Notice Paul says he forgives so that Satan would not be able to take advantage of him. You are no longer ignorant of Satan’s device of unforgiveness.
Forgiving everyone completely is the only way to truly walk in love. There is never a circumstance where Jesus teaches to hold on to an offense. There’s never a time where Jesus instructs you not to forgive.
Forgiveness is about your own heart, your own life and health. Completely forgiving the wrongs that have been done to you will allow you to walk into your destiny.
The enemy will not have a hold on you like he once did. You will be totally free to become everything you are destined to be!