It’s not Just about Belief and Forgiveness

Once upon a time, I suggested that “teaching people to know the Word rather than to know the Lord is the single greatest failure of the modern church era.”  

There were fewer responses to that post than one might imagine. A pastor friend of mine chimed in and took me to task, saying that “properly teaching the word is teaching the Lord.”  The operative word in that phrase is “properly.” There is a difference in teaching law and doctrine and teaching relationship with God. One may properly teach the Bible regarding law and doctrine but not know how to demonstrate faith and relationship. The Pharisees and Scribes were masters in teaching law and doctrine, as are many of our pastors and teachers.

If one lacks faith and a relationship with Jesus, what business does one have teaching it, or even the doctrine and law? And therein is the problem: we have learned how to teach and exposit the law (good versus evil), but rarely have we succeeded in properly teaching the word of faith and relationship (life).

Just because someone has been to Seminary and sat under or read after the venerated saints and learned from the self-proclaimed best doesn’t mean that same person can teach faith and relationship. We actually believe (to our detriment, I might add) that all one must do is go to seminary and regurgitate what they’ve been taught and repeat the things they’ve managed to scribble in notes or memorized from Sermons On the Net.

Case in Point: Reconciliation vs. Forgiveness

You may believe that going to heaven hinges completely on God forgiving you of your sins. Or you may believe that you will be judged according to your works before God makes up his mind where He is going to send you. But the problem is this:  your status before God does not rely upon what He is going to do in the future at your judgment, nor is it entirely about what you’ve done in the past, nor it is entirely about faith and Him forgiving you.  There is a deeper root, and it’s called reconciliation.

You’ve been Forgiven: You need Reconciliation

One of the core issues concerning redemption and salvation is reconciliation. Our misunderstanding of this stems from the fact that we have taught and preached that humanity needs, yea, requires God to forgive them of their sins when we should teach and preach that humanity needs to be reconciled to God.  To compound the problem, we have incorrectly taught that reconciliation and forgiveness always go hand-in-hand, and at worst, we have taught that they are the same.

Reconciliation is not  Forgiveness

Nowhere is this fallacy more apparent than in the typical Sunday morning pulpit teaching regarding forgiveness and reconciliation between you and a friend. Conventional wisdom states that if your friend sins against you 490 times, and you forgive him 490 times, then you and your friend are also reconciled by the act of your forgiveness.  

And that, my friends, is the lie.

When you study reconciliation and forgiveness, you will find that they’re not the same words, and they don’t have the same meaning. You will also find that forgiveness can happen privately, while reconciliation is a mutual agreement between two parties.  


The word forgive is aphiēmi (af-ee’-ay-mee).  It means “to send forth, in various applications: – cry, forgive, forsake, lay aside, leave, let alone, let be, let go, let have, omit, put away, send away, remit, suffer, yield up.”   


The word reconcile is katallosso; (kat-al-las’o).  It means “to change mutually, that is, (figuratively) to compound a difference: – reconcile.”  In this day and age, the word “compound” may seem out of place in this definition.  Well, there is an additional meaning of this word, which is “to settle amicably: adjust by agreement” (Meriam-Webster)

While there are other words used for reconcile and forgive in the NT, it can be clearly seen from these definitions that reconciliation is not the same thing as forgiveness.  Forgiveness is a singular, personal matter of laying aside, whereas reconciliation is a cooperative, plural matter of mutually changing.

If your Brother Sins …

Consider the Matthew discourse on forgiveness and reconciliation

If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.

Matthew 18:15-18

Expose the Fault; Brace against failure?

The first step of the process, as outlined by Jesus, is to “show him his fault in private.” And if he hears you, then you have won your friend.   Also, consider what Jesus said in Luke:

Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.

 Luke 17:3-4

Therefore the Matthew 18 instruction of “if he listens to you” means that your friend, having been rebuked and/or shown his fault, there must be a subsequent and appropriate response: a demonstration of repentance. In such a case of demonstrated repentance, you offer him forgiveness. Pay special attention to the fact that Jesus said: “if he repents.”  It is only in the presence of repentance that forgiveness is offered.

The other warning relates to not forgiving: “Be on your guard…” Your job is to guard against unforgiveness.

What then, of Forgiveness?

Does God command and expect us to forgive? Absolutely.

But not the way we’ve been taught in our churches. There are two types of forgiveness.

The first type is personal forgiveness which is commanded and expected of the offended in every case of an offense. Secondly, there is reconciliation forgiveness which is offered to the offender in the presence of repentance. Personal forgiveness and reconciliation forgiveness are not the same. Personal forgiveness is meant to free you – the offended – of bitterness and resentment, and reconciliation forgiveness is meant to free the offender of his conscience regarding his offense against you.

In terms of a relationship with God, the scriptures teach that only through faith and repentance is reconciliation achieved. Why? Because without belief and trust, there is no acknowledgment of a Holy God nor a Holy standard. Without repentance, there is no turning away from that which caused offense. Therefore, faith and repentance are paramount, and reconciliation forgiveness does not happen outside of those two things. During his journeys, Paul taught both of these things, repentance towards God and faith towards the Lord Jesus Christ. And in doing so, he referred to this ministry as a ministry of reconciliation, not as a ministry of belief and forgiveness. This is what some evangelists and evangelistic messages teach: just believe, and you’re forgiven. 


What people don’t like about this process is the rebuke. But doesn’t God have plenty of rebuke for sin (just read the books of Moses and the prophets)?  People prefer not to hear the rebuke. Instead, they would rather persuade you to “just wipe this and that under the rug and move on, as if it never happened; we’ll just forgive and forget the whole thing, okay?”  It is the epitome of co-dependence, and Jesus is not co-dependent.

If God is not willing to be reconciled with you outside the confines of a rebuke and a reconciliation (whether it be of the Old Covenant of bulls and rams or of the New Covenant of Jesus Christ), why then do we act as if we can just wipe things under the rug and pretend they never happened, and call that forgiveness and/or reconciliation? Are we greater than God?  Does God pretend sin never happened?  Does He overlook rebellion? Does God save a person who refuses to repent of their sin?

Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from My sight.  Cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, reprove the ruthless, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.  Come now, and let us reason together,” Says the LORD, “Though your sins are as scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they will be like wool.   If you consent and obey, you will eat the best of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword. Truly, the mouth of the LORD has spoken.

Isaiah 1:16-20

Belief in God and faith in Jesus Christ must work in concert with repentance and confession of sin: they are necessities for salvation. Anything less or more is heresy – anything that adds works to faith, excuses faith, or removes or minimizes confession and repentance, or excuses God from the process, is a lie. Grace is that which makes you into something which you cannot become by yourself. And grace can not be used of God to activate the power of redemption unto salvation outside of the precondition of your faith, your confession of sin, and your repentance:

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.

Ephesians 2:8-10

From that time Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. ()

Matthew 4:17

I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.

Luke 5:32

I acknowledge my sin unto thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the LORD; and thou forgave the iniquity of my sin. ()

Psalm 32:5


So, the point is this: you can believe that God exists.  You can also believe that Jesus died for your sins.  And you can believe that God has forgiven you.  Or not, as the case may be.  But the fact of the matter remains until you’re willing to repent of your sin and be reconciled to God, you will remain in your sin.  And should you remain in your sin, you will die and be judged in your sin.

Reconciliation Forgiveness

In a previous post, I discussed Personal Forgiveness.  Personal forgiveness is not tied to the person who offended you in that it is something you can do even if the offender is dead or the offender cannot or refuses to communicate with you. Personal forgiveness is referenced in the model prayer, and it is required to maintain a proper relationship with God.

Personal forgiveness is not reconciliation, and personal forgiveness does not provide reconciliation, although it will free one up to move towards reconciliation.

God has standards for reconciliation: first of all, it happens in the presence of repentance.

What Is Repentance?

Repentance is a change of thought and action to correct a wrong. It is a turning away from that which caused offense for the purpose of gaining forgiveness from a person who is wronged. For salvation God requires not only faith but repentance of sins:

But go ye and learn what that means, ‘I will have mercy, and not sacrifice’: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. (Matthew 9:13)

John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. (Mark 1:4)

For godly grief and the pain God is permitted to direct, produce a repentance that leads and contributes to salvation and deliverance from evil, and it never brings regret; but worldly grief (the hopeless sorrow that is characteristic of the pagan world) is deadly [breeding and ending in death]. (2 Corinthians 7:10)

For Whom is this Forgiveness?

Reconciliation forgiveness is for the purpose of mending and possibly restoring a relationship between two or more people. This type of forgiveness is not for the person who was offended, but for the person who caused the offense.

In as much that personal forgiveness heals the damage caused in us by the offender, reconciliation forgiveness enables the healing of the damage in those who have caused the offense. This is why repentance is required: for without repentance, the offender is in denial regarding the offense they caused.

When an offender realizes and is sorry for their error, remorse sets in. In the presence of this remorse, forgiveness from the offended releases the offender from their indebtedness and frees them to begin the process of healing the damage they have caused within themselves.

When does reconciliation forgiveness occur?

Some people will tell you (incorrectly) that as soon as someone has sinned against you, then you go to them, you forgive them and that makes everything right.

You, the offended, must participate in personal forgiveness for yourself and your right relationship with God – that much is commanded of us. The question then, is this: when someone has caused you damage – and before they speak to you or admit their wrong – do you go to them and say “I forgive you for causing me damage …”?

The Short Answer:

No, you do not.

The Reason Why: The Process

If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. (Matthew 18:15-17)

That is a very clear process. But first, you must recognize that you’ve been damaged when your brother sinned against you. That’s usually the easy part, figuring out when you’ve been damaged.

The next step is to go to your brother in private. How many times have you seen this step ignored? Instead of going to the brother in private, the person is brought before a committee, or the friend of the offender goes to a friend of the offender, or the offended starts spreading gossip, or in the at least telling everyone who will listen what so-n-so did to them.

God is a one-on-one type of person, and He expects you to be too. So do it. When your brother offends you, you do what God said to do: go to him in private. You, the offended are to go, not your father or your husband or your wife or your sister. No one else has a place in this until you’ve gone in private and your brother has refused to listen.

A Failure to Communicate

What does it mean to “refuses to listen?” It means there is no repentance. Not listening means you have explained your grievances to the person who offended you and the offender ignores what you had to say. They may even give you good reasons why they’re paying you no attention, at least from their perspective, such as you’re immature to even bring this up or you’re creating lies out of whole-cloth, and so on and so forth.

In the end, it doesn’t matter what excuse is presented. Any dialog in which some type of resolution could be obtained is forfeited when the person who offended you refuses to acknowledge the possibility that they may have committed wrongs against you or refuses to have dialog regarding the situation.

When you confront the person who hurt you and enumerate their sins, you are giving them an opportunity to contemplate and understand what they did to offend you. In this process, several things could happen: they will agree with you, become remorseful and repent, you will understand they actually meant no offense and they will apologize for the miscommunication, or they will disagree completely and spurn you.

Take Some Witnesses

If your brother does not listen to you, then you take witnesses.

What exactly is a witness?

A witness is someone who has intimate knowledge of the offense. A witness is not someone to whom you enumerate your side of the story and thereby turn them into your champion. It may be that there are no witnesses to the offense other than yourself and the offender. In such a case, personal forgiveness may be all that you have in the presence of the un-repentant malefactor.

And the rest …

If being confronted by yourself and the witnesses of the offense does not lead one into repentance, then the next step is to bring them before the Church. By this point in the game, it’s probably already gotten sticky, and if you’re not full of mercy and grace you might as well forget the process until you are. The point of this process is not to prove your righteousness; the point is to restore the offender from bondage to sin and un-repentance to a place which can receive the healing of God.

Do I really have to do this?

Jesus was clear on this process:

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.” (Luke 17:3-4)

In this statement we have a warning, a process, and the possibility of two outcomes.

The Warning: You’re in a Pit

The first thing Jesus says of the person who has been sinned against is this: “take heed to yourselves.”

Read that again.

He did not say “take heed to your brother who offended you”. The first thing we are to do after having been sinned against is to “take heed to ourselves.”

What this means is that you’ve been pushed into a pit (example: Joseph) and you need to take inventory of where you are and how you’re going to get out. If you don’t, you will stay in the miry clay and your feet will sink deeper into the bondage of the damage inflicted upon you.

Once the average Christian has found himself in a pit, he usually tends to compromise himself further by offering forgiveness or an apology when neither has been sought by the malefactor, what-so-ever – typical co-dependent behavior. Can’t you hear Joseph screaming from the pit, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’ll never do that again,” all the while his brothers who never asked for an apology in the first place sat down to a tasty meal?

Job addressed the issue of taking heed to ourselves in this way:

Is my strength the strength of stones, or is my flesh bronze? Is it that my help is not within me, and that deliverance is driven from me? For the despairing man there should be kindness from his friend; so that he does not forsake the fear of the Almighty. (Job 6:12-14)

Once you’ve been pushed into that pit, you typically do not have the ability get out on your own. You have been damaged by someone else, and they owe you a repair. In such a situation, it is imperative that someone come alongside you and help you out of the pit, lest you ‘forsake the fear of the Almighty’.

Causing your brother to forsake God is the risk you take when you sin against your brother and refuse the process God has outlined for reconciliation – as the malefactor not only have you pushed your brother into the pit, you have forsaken kindness and prohibited God’s purpose of reconciliation and peace.

The Next Step: Rebuking and Condemning

Once you’ve found yourself in the pit, there is a process to get out: it’s called rebuking: “If your brother sins against you, rebuke him.”


That doesn’t sound fun, and it certainly is confrontational. Can’t we all just get along? Apparently not, else why were you pushed into the pit in the first place?  You have a right to call sin what it is. As a matter of fact, if you refuse to call sin wrong, you are denying your heritage in the Lord. Once you’ve found yourself in the pit, call it what it is: a pit. Don’t move in and set up the couch and big-screen television. That’s refusing to acknowledge the wrongs committed against you.

In Isaiah 54:17, God says it like this:

No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper; and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shall condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and their righteousness is of me, says the LORD.

So what does it mean to rebuke, and what does it mean to condemn? A rebuke as sharp scolding, and to condemn is to pronounce something as wrong.  As a person in a pit, it is necessary to admit that the act of pushing you in that pit was wrong: that’s condemning the action.  But be careful that you do not condemn your brother – God is the judge of hearts and of people, not us.

However, refusing to acknowledge a wrong done is tantamount to standing in front of a moving bus that has already hit you once before. When we refuse to acknowledge a wrong done against us, it is impossible to act out in personal forgiveness and reconciliation forgiveness. Furthermore, it prohibits God from repairing your damage.

Nevertheless, we must consider the whole counsel of God when we confront our brother, for He says “be angry and sin not” (Ephesians 4:26), so this rebuke is not a license for an all-out assault of verbal abuse. It is better that you stop, wait, and consider carefully your words:

He who is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who is quick-tempered exalts folly. (Proverbs 14:29)

All the ways of a man are clean in his own sight, but the LORD weighs the motives (Proverbs 16:2)

In the Presence of Repentance Forgive

… 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.” (Luke 17:3-4)

Does God provide salvation and reconciliation to those who refuse to repent?  Tha\’s a patently simple answer: of course not. Unequivocally no.

Does God require you to offer reconciliation forgiveness to those who refuse to acknowledge and repent of their sins against you?  Before we answer that question, read the scripture again:

… If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.

There’s a really, really big “IF” in that commandment.  This is not conditional, “if I feel like it, then I perform the process.”  This is a mandate.  I cannot be stated any more plainly or clearly: “if  he repents, {then} 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.”   The good thing about this part of this post is that God said it, and not me! Interestingly, the converse is true as well.

This isn’t Personal Forgiveness

I will remind you that I am discussing forgiveness offered to those who have offended you and repented. I’m not talking about the personal forgiveness which we are commanded to exercise in order to provide a right relationship between ourselves and God.  There is a vast difference between personally forgiving an offense and offering reconciliation.

Forgiveness clears the offense in your heart which provides release from the damage.  It can be done with or without the participation of the offended.  For example, you offender may be dead, but you can still forgive them.  However, it is impossible to reconcile with them.  Reconciliation provides two things: assurances that the offender is aware of the wrongs committed, and that he/she has repented of those wrongs, and secondly, an assurance that the offence will not happen again.

What If He Doesn’t Repent?

Then you don’t reconcile. Jesus said, “if he repents”. He did not “when you think about the offence”, or “when you go to him to discuss the offense, forgive him.” If an offender refuses to repent, then we must not offer them forgiveness for something they either refuse to acknowledge or do not believe was an offense.

To offer an offender forgiveness outside of their remorse and repentance towards you (not towards a third party) is to give the offender permission to offend you again.

Scripture is clear: if the offender repents towards you, then you must offer him forgiveness. If he refuses to repent, do not offer him forgiveness.  And again, I must stress that this forgiveness is for them – not for you.  If you have not personally forgiven your offender, it is not possible that you can truly be reconciled.

Nevertheless, in the later case where he refuses to repent, you will need to take your hurts and damage to God, thus continuing the process of healing through your personal forgiveness.

But first and foremost in this scenario where repentance is not to be found, we do not ever hold a grudge of unforgiveness. In no way do we ever not forgive – in our hearts we forgive the offense and the damage, we practice personal forgiveness, which releases us from the bondage of the damage inflicted upon us by the other person.

What we’re talking about is making an offer of forgiveness to the offender who is repentant – for the purpose of initiating their healing and for the purpose of providing some type of relational reconciliation between you and them. Offering forgiveness to a repentant offender is never performed from a point of self-righteousness or false piety, or from a point of abusive power: it is offered in love and grace knowing that it will initiate a form of reconciliation and healing in the offender.

If you cannot offer forgiveness to a person from a point of grace (allowing them to repent), love (building them up) and mercy (offering them something they cannot earn), then you have not forgiven them, you have not first practiced personal forgiveness.

They Must Repent

It is impossible for anyone to be released from bondage when they chose to remain under their self-imposed yoke. Therefore, when we offer forgiveness to those who do not seek forgiveness, we implicitly provide them permission to offend and damage us again in the future. A co-dependent would offer forgiveness without change. A co-dependent would also stand again in front of a bus that just ran them over if they believed it would make the bus driver love or approve of them.


There are clear processes outlined in scripture for conflict resolution. We are to take heed of ourselves when we have been offended, lest the result of the offense become a worse thing than the offense itself. In the least, we are to go to those who have offended us (in private) and tell them how they caused offense. If they listen and repent, then we have won our brother and we must offer them forgiveness.

In order to continue the process, for someone who is unrepentant, we take witnesses of the offense, or in the least, an objective and unbiased third party. If they continue to refuse to repent, then they are to be brought before the church. Should they continue to refuse, they are to be treated as one who is not a brother in Christ, as one who would continue to do you damage. (Matthew 18:15-17)

In such a case as this, reconciliation forgiveness is not offered to the unrepentant offender because to do so would provide them permission to do more of the same damage in the future. Furthermore, by excluding this person from your life, you take an active role in protecting yourself from future offenses.

Conflict resolution is never easy. Personal forgiveness is for you and your relationship with God: it is always necessary and is never optional. Reconciliation forgiveness is given only in the presence of repentance.

You may find that your circumstance prohibit you from following through on all of the steps. In such a case prayer and counsel are advised. Always remember that God can heal anything, but you may be the only one who receives the healing. In such case, thank the Lord that He rescued you from the pit and set your feet on solid ground.

You can read my post on personal forgiveness, here.

Personal Forgiveness


There is a fallacy maintained in our churches today, and it is this: forgiveness and turning the other cheek go hand in hand, and forgiveness should look like, be like and feel like turning the other cheek.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Turning the other cheek is one of two things: it is either getting what you know you deserve, or it is a subtle rebuke which will drive the repentant to confession and reconciliation. In the worst case, you will be slapped again, and having no more cheeks, you turn and leave.

In regards to forgiveness, wise people will tell you something like this: “forgiveness does not mean you allow yourself to be run over by the same bus more than once.” Doing so is passivity which results in further damage and resentment towards the bus driver and yourself.

The two types of forgiveness

There are two types of forgiveness: personal forgiveness and reconciliation forgiveness. In this post, we will explore the necessity of personal forgiveness.

Why Forgive?

Forgiveness is necessary because the damage has been caused to you. Someone did something to you that caused some type of damage. It’s as if you are a car and someone smacked you with a sledgehammer, leaving a large hole in your fender. Forgiveness is necessary because you’re damaged, physically and/or emotionally.

If you’re like most people, you may be thinking that forgiveness opens you up to another attack. No, actually, it does not. What opens you up to another attack is an improper boundary. If you’ve been robbed because your door was unlocked, and you refuse to lock your door after the robbery, then you are partially responsible for subsequent robberies. Should the robber keep out of your house? Of course, he should. Should you erect the proper boundary, in this case, a locked door, to keep future attempts at bay? Most certainly, you should. So then, forgiveness does not obliterate proper boundaries; rather, it has the potential to enable you to erect proper boundaries in the future.

While you’re holding onto unforgiveness, you are not in any way hurting the offender, nor are you protecting yourself. The way you protect yourself is by erecting a proper boundary, by locking the door. But this doesn’t negate that fact that you still have damage, something has been stolen. The robber is perfectly happy with your goods, and you’re perfectly unhappy without them.

It’s about letting go

Personal forgiveness is the mechanism that begins the process of releasing us from the damage caused by others. Until you can let go of the damage caused by others, you will continue to suffer in that damage in which you maintain.

If someone threw a rock through your window during the middle of the winter, do you fix the window, or do you maintain anger against the person who broke your window? You fix the window because you’re cold, and your heating bills will break the bank.

What sense is there in leaving the damaged window and maintaining anger against the person who threw the rock when you’re the one suffering? The logical thing to do is fix the window and ask the person who broke it to pay for the damages because to make you whole is what he owes you.

When we choose not to forgive, we chose to hold on to damage, and in doing so, we become bound to the damage – we are in bondage to the pain, the suffering, and they hurt. Furthermore, failing to forgive causes more damage than the actual offense: you’re living the hurts continually. Failing to forgive does nothing to the one who hurt you, but it causes a root of bitterness to grow deep, strong, and hard in your heart.

What is Personal Forgiveness?

Personal forgiveness is a private, volitional exercise that we perform so that we may be released from the bondage of the damage caused by those who sinned against us. It is the forgiveness is spoken of in the Lord’s Prayer –

… and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors … (Matthew 6:12)

In this type of forgiveness, we do two things: we release the offender from their obligations to repair the damage they caused in us, and we release ourselves from bondage to the damage in us.

This type of forgiveness is not tied to the offender repenting of their sins, nor is it tied to the offender saying they’re sorry. Sometimes the offender cannot repent or refuses to speak to you, or worse, they’re dead. In this type of forgiveness, the participation of the offender is never required.

Condemning the Damage

Personal forgiveness requires that you call sin what it is: sin. If you don’t mind people robbing your home, then you’ll leave the doors open and replace all of the things people take just so those things can be stolen again. In this case, you’re not agreeing with the sin, you’re not condemning the sin, and you’re not calling it wrong. But God has given us a permission to call a spade a spade:

“No weapon that is formed against you will prosper, and every tongue that accuses you in judgment you will condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and their vindication is from Me,” declares the LORD. (Isaiah 54:17)

You have a right and obligation to call offenses and sin what they are: sin. We refuse to condemn the sins against us; we are in effect calling them blessings and goodness.  If you don’t call it wrong (condemn it), then you have no place to forgive, for how does one forgive the good done by another? Good is not forgiven, it is praised, and thanksgiving is offered.   

Avoiding a Root of Bitterness

See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled

Hebrews 12:15

Unforgiveness results in bitterness. But forgiveness is the key that opens the pathway to grace. And grace is that thing that makes you into something that you cannot become on your own. When your car is damaged by someone else, they typically have insurance that makes you whole again. But if they don’t, you can call your insurance company, and they will make you whole.

In personal forgiveness the participation, or repentance of the offender is absent. It’s as if they hit you and ran away. But God is your insurance company, and He will make you whole again. But, you have to be willing to condemn the sin (agree that it was wrong) and report the offense to God, and then release the offender from their responsibility to you. Once you’ve released them of their obligation to you, then you have enabled God to make you whole.

Personal Forgiveness is not Reconciliation

You cannot be reconciled to someone who is dead, but you can forgive them.

Reconciliation is not the goal of personal forgiveness. Personal forgiveness is not for the offender and it is not for restoring the relationship with the offender, it is for you, your freedom and your relationship with God. Personal forgiveness always frees you to pursue reconciliation with the offender, should they be available and participatory.

When we take our hurts and our damage to God, He makes us whole. But only when we choose to let go can we be free of hurts. Personal forgiveness not only releases us from the damage caused in us by others, it is also the mechanism by which we maintain or re-establish communion with God in the midst of the trial caused by other people.

When we do not forgive, we shy away from God and hide from Him. When we harbor bitterness in our hearts, we damage our walk with God. When Adam and Eve sinned in the garden, they hid from each other and hid from God. Jesus said, “whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions.” (Mark 11:25) Having something against another is sin – it is something that you must confess. The Law of Bitterness ensures that your relationship with God suffers while you suffer in un-forgiveness.


When we fail to forgive, we hold onto something that is not ours: we hold onto the damage caused and created by someone else. Ultimately, we allow the person of offended us to continue an additional offense.

Personal forgiveness is the gateway to eradicating or preventing a root of bitterness. It’s not necessarily easy, and you may find that you pick up the offense again and again. But when you do, just take the offense back to God and forgive again. Eventually, you will find God has honored his word by restoring you to the place you were before the offense, and by giving you an additional blessing to move you forward in your relationship with Him:

Return to the stronghold, O prisoners who have the hope; this very day I am declaring that I will restore double to you. (Zechariah 9:12)

You can read my post on reconciliation forgiveness, here.