What Does Real Forgiveness Look Like?

It is hard beyond belief to forgive someone who really wronged you.  Sometimes even little things that others do to annoy, irritate, or just tick us off make it nearly impossible to forgive that person.  Remember that neighbor last fall who threw all his leaves on your side of the fence?  If we’d have things our way, next year he’d get twice the amount of leaves on his side!

Well, obviously revenge (even “leaf revenge”) is not becoming for a Christian.  As Ken Sande wrote, “Christians are the most forgiven people in the world.  Therefore, we should be the most forgiving people in the world” (p. 204).  In other words, we should treat those who wrong us like God treated us: with abundant mercy and forgiveness.

Here are a few notes from Sande on what our forgiveness should look like, based on the gospel.

1) Forgiveness is an act of the will.

2) Forgiveness is not a passive process of forgetting or letting something fade in memory.  Rather, it is an active process which involves a conscious choice and deliberate course of action.  Is 43.25 says that God has willed to remember our sins no more.  Same for us: we draw on God’s grace and decide not to think or talk about what others have done to hurt us.

3) Forgiveness is not excusing by saying, “Its okay, it wasn’t that big of a deal.”  Forgiveness is the opposite of excusing – forgiveness says, “yes, we both know that what you did was wrong, but since God has forgiven me, so also I forgive you.”

4) Forgiveness can be costly and painful.  Sometimes certain effects of a person’s sins linger for quite a long time – you have to fight against painful memories, work on trusting the person, and sometimes you may have to deal with physical costs such as finances or injury.  The forgiving heart will put the other person first and self last.

Again, Sande repeatedly reminds the “forgiver” of the gospel:  I will remember their sins no more…he has removed our transgressions from us…love keeps no record of wrongs (Jer 31.34, Ps 103.12, 1 Cor 13.5, etc).  This radical forgiveness results in our radical forgiveness of others.

I’ll close with a few promises a forgiving person makes when he or she says, “I forgive you.”

1) I will not dwell on this incident.

2) I will not bring up this incident again and use it against you.

3) I will not talk to others about this incident.

4) I will not let this incident stand between us or hinder our personal relationship.

This is where our faith in Christ hits the road: if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other, as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive (Col 3.13).

See The Peacemaker 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004), 204-224.

shane lems

sunnyside wa


3 comments on “What Does Real Forgiveness Look Like?

  1. Brian says:


    I am assuming that the 4 promises that you close with are also from the book. I would have to disagree with point number 3. I had something happen in my life that affected me deeply. It is/was life changing for me. Now, I can agree with the other three points, but to not talk about this incident with other people is difficult. At least for me, I learned how God was working in my life through that incident. To share this as part of my testimony does not mean that I do not forgive this other person. It just is a good example of how God worked through a difficult situation in my life. Anyway, thank you for sharing this book with me. Ever since the situation in my life, I have tried to read almost anything on forgiving. Other good books are: “Forgive and Forget” by Lewis Smedes, also by Smedes, “The Art of Forgiving” Both of those really helped me out. Thanks again.



  2. Reformed Reader says:

    Thanks, Brian. I think what Sande was getting at was that you don’t bring up the incident again in a negative way to throw fuel on a fire or to use as leverage/blackmail.

    No doubt, in your example, if you re-word a few things and change names to “protect” the people/person, you can use the event/incident as an illustration or teaching point to show what forgiveness looks like. Anyway, thanks for that clarification.




  3. Kathy says:

    I think sometimes we don’t know…. what REAL forgiveness is. When you really do forgive someone (and only the Holy Spirit) can do this, the slate is wiped clean. Just the way that God forgives us and remembers no more what our sin was. Some forgiveness is better than no forgiveness, but real forgiveness is the most liberating thing you can imagine. You have a free heart, really and truly free. The giant boulder of pain is no longer between you and that other person. The love between you is clean and clear.


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