It has been said that ‘You are never more like Jesus than when you forgive.’ Even from the cross, Jesus cried out, “Father, forgive them.” [Luke 23:34] Jesus doesn’t ask us to do anything He won’t do for us yet, one of the most difficult things God asks us to do is to forgive–absolutely and unconditionally, no matter what. He doesn’t even qualify it by saying to forgive only when someone else apologizes, or when the offense wasn’t all that bad, He simply requires us to forgive.

Philip Graham Ryken writes: There is such a big difference between forgiveness and reconciliation. It takes two to reconcile, so it is not always possible to be reconciled. But it takes only one to forgive. So if people do you wrong, forgive them, whether or not they ask for forgiveness. You cannot cancel their sin. Only God can do that, and He will only do it if they repent. But what you can do is set aside your own anger, bitterness, and resentment towards them.

Our forgiveness to others is a direct result of the grace of God experienced in our own lives. Jesus underscored the importance of unconditional forgiveness with the parable about a servant who owed a king an impossible debt. The king forgave the debt, and the servant went out and immediately demanded that someone who owed him much less pay in full. The king found out and threw him in prison. Jesus said, “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.” [Matt. 18:21-35]

Forgiveness brings great joy, not only to the forgiven, but especially to the forgiver. The Greek term for “forgiveness” (aphiemi) comes from a word that means “to let go.” Forgiveness is a release, a letting go of self-destructive feelings such as anger, bitterness and revenge. Those attitudes poison intimacy with God and harmony with human beings.

Jesus lived a life of forgiveness and is still forgiving. It is this experience of having been forgiven (by Jesus) which releases the generous impulses to forgive others (Matt. 18:23-35), just as it is the refusal to forgive which betrays the reality that forgiveness has not been received, that the individual has not even recognized the need for forgiveness (Matt. 6:14-15). A community has hope of holding together and growing together only when the need for forgiveness is recognized on each side where fault has been committed and only when forgiveness is both offered and received.

Who do we need to forgive?

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