“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” – Colossians 3:12-13 

There is no waffling about forgiveness in the Bible. Matthew 6:15 tells us:”But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” That seems pretty straightforward, doesn’t it? The question that often surfaces is something like this: I understand that I should forgive, but how do I know whether I have truly forgiven them? Can we forgive yet not be sure how we did it? Forgiving, and knowing that we’ve truly forgiven, comes easier when we understand a few things about forgiveness. 

The first thing we need to remember is that forgiveness takes time. We expect change and peace to be instantaneous, but the reality is that while God can forgive in a fraction of a second, we need time. Just before he died, C.S. Lewis wrote: “I think I have at last forgiven the cruel schoolmaster who so darkened my youth. I had done it many times before, but this time I think I have really done it.” As you’re forgiving someone or yourself, know that forgiveness takes time. It’s a process. You will have to be honest with yourself and accept the fact you were hurt, but there are ways to not stay bound to the hurt.

The second thing is forgiving does not require forgetting. Forgive and forget—it’s a cliché we all know. But honestly, will we ever forget the wrong someone did to us? What if someone abused you? Cheated? Lied? You may try to dump those things out of your head, but they’re things you will probably never completely forget no matter how forgiving you are. It is impractical and ineffective for us to try to forget. Rather, the goal is to detoxify the memory to the extent that it no longer controls our lives. Philippians 3:13 says, “Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead.”  Ask God to heal and defuse the power of old memories and empty out stored emotions so you can find peace.

We have the example of real forgiveness in our Lord and Savior. Think about Jesus when He was on the Cross, taking on our sin and dying one of the most agonizing deaths so that we could experience true forgiveness.

But while Jesus does forgive, He doesn’t forget. He doesn’t remember our sins either. Isaiah 43:25 says, “(43:25), “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.” Hebrews 8:12 says, “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” Jesus never said He would forget our sins, but instead that He won’t remember them—He won’t bring them up again because we have been forgiven.

Isn’t that beautiful to know that God won’t throw our past sins in our face?

My prayer is that we will trust God to redeem the failure and pain of the past and that we can forgive even if we can’t forget.

Tomorrow: The gift of forgiveness.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you believe you can forgive even though you can’t forget?
  2. What do you have to change in your mind in order to give yourself permission to forgive?
  3. Picture the person who has caused you the most hurt or the person who has greatly offended you. Imagine forgiving that person, and imagine what that would look like. What is the biggest obstacle to making that happen in real life? 
  4. Pray and ask God to give you the strength to forgive those who have hurt you.