Sometimes we don’t forgive ourselves even though God has forgiven us. But who are we to refuse to forgive one whom God has forgiven? What makes us so wicked that God’s forgiveness is not enough to cover our sin? In effect, we’re saying that we’re so evil that even the grace of God can’t help us. No, we’re so proud that we refuse God’s grace.
Now let’s look at what forgiveness is. The Bible teaches that when God forgives us, He forgets our sins. This doesn’t mean He erases them from His memory. It means that He doesn’t hold them against us anymore.
How many times has someone told you that he has forgiven a sin you committed against him, and then, the next time you have a fight, he brings up what you did the last time? That person has, in a sense, rescinded his forgiveness. God doesn’t do that. If I am pardoned by God, it is settled and is never to be brought up again. God puts those sins aside and will never speak of them. However, we often reopen old wounds. We allow them to disturb the relationship. If I have forgiven someone, I should never again mention that sin. Forgiveness means not bringing it up.
There is another issue to look at, and that is our obligation to forgive others who sin against us. If such people confess their sin and repent, it is our moral obligation to forgive. However, if they don’t repent, we are not required to forgive. We may forgive, as Jesus did for those who killed Him (Luke 23:34). But in doing that, Jesus didn’t command that we must always forgive those who don’t repent. You can go to those who have wronged you and tell them they have offended you (see Matt. 18:15). If they repent, you have won them. But you are not called to forgive if they don’t repent. You are not allowed to be bitter or vindictive. You have to be loving, caring, concerned, and compassionate, but you don’t have to forgive. You can still talk about it and seek public vindication.
Here is one last problem related to forgiveness that we deal with often as elders in Christ’s church. A husband or wife commits adultery, repents deeply, and then asks his or her spouse for forgiveness. In such a situation, the offended spouse must forgive the guilty partner. However, that spouse is not obligated to stay married to that partner. The Bible makes a provision for the dissolution of a marriage in the event of adultery. The person is required to treat the repentant person as a brother or sister in Christ but not as a spouse.
Another example is a man stealing from us fifty times in our office and repenting each time. We must forgive him, but we can ask for restitution. We don’t have to keep him in our employ, but we must still treat him as a brother in Christ. This situation is an important practical application of the concept of forgiveness. We can have forgiveness and restored relationships, but that does not necessarily mean there are no lasting consequences for our sin.