Must I forgive? Ephesians says yes

Must I Forgive THIS Sin?

The first step towards forgiving is committing to forgive, but to do that, I need to know: must I forgive this offense? Part 2 of “Forgive Intentional Sin—Don’t Just Manage Emotions.”

In my last post on What Forgiving Isn’t, I shared six substitutes that masquerade as forgiving, but which merely manage emotions for a time. Forgiving deliberate sins that cause significant hurt and loss can be difficult, but it’s possible with the Holy Spirit’s help.

My first real struggle with forgiving came in my twenties with the sudden revelation that my mother had known her hatred and mistreatment were wrong. For years I had prayed, “I forgive her because she doesn’t know better.” I thought I had forgiven her because this prayer immediately eased the anger and hurt. But the revelation that she knew better crashed into the fence of excuses I’d used to corral my emotions, and now anger, hurt, jealousy, and rage galloped over me like wild horses.

I tried telling God, “I forgive her,” but the tumultuous emotions wouldn’t go away. I wondered if it were possible to forgive and still be angry.

The first step towards forgiving when forgiving is hard is making a commitment to forgive. But before we can make such a commitment, we need to know if we need to forgive.

Must I Forgive If I’ve tried But I’m Still Angry?

I truly thought I’d forgiven. But had I? Was saying “I forgive” enough?

I looked at Scriptures about anger. Ephesians 4:31 said, “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.” Truth be told, I was filled with rage and anger, possibly even bitterness and malice. I tried to get rid of it by emotionally thrusting it away, but it wouldn’t go.

Must I forgive? Ephesians says yes

Ephesians 4:32

I read the next verse: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” It was easy to be compassionate when I thought she didn’t know better, but how was I to be compassionate towards someone who had intentionally wronged my siblings and me? Yet this verse juxtaposed compassion and forgiving with rage and anger. It didn’t look like I could claim I’d forgiven.

Besides, a few verses earlier said, “’In your anger do not sin’: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry” (v. 26). This anger had built up over years.

While it’s true that it takes time for emotions to calm after a loss, the level of anger made me sure I hadn’t yet forgiven from the heart.

A thought occurred to me and I asked God, Must I forgive? I looked at different situations.

Must I Forgive What the Bible Doesn’t Call Sin?

No, the presence of hurt or anger doesn’t necessarily mean someone has sinned against me. If something’s not sinful, I need to overlook it. For example, I might not like it that two of my girlfriends had lunch without me, but they didn’t sin.

We should also pray for the Holy Spirit to show us why we’re offended over something not wrong; it might be that what’s wrong is in us rather than the other person: impatience, pride, poor planning skills. For instance, if I’m bothered that a friend corrected me, I probably should confess pride and pray for the wisdom to take correction graciously: “Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you; reprove a wise man, and he will love you” (Proverbs 9:8).

Must I Forgive Unintentional Sin?

Jesus taught that unintentional sins are lesser sins than intentional sins: “And that servant who knew his master’s will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating. But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more” (Luke 12:47-48).

So unintentional sins—sins of ignorance and sins of weakness—are still sins, and yes, we must forgive them, not excuse or ignore them.

Must I Forgive Repeated Sin?

“But he’s done it over and over again! He says he’s sorry, but he’s not changing so how I can I believe him?” Many spouses bring this one up.

Mk11_25They’re in good company. After Jesus taught about restoring a believer who has sinned against you, Peter went to Jesus and asked how often he had to forgive: “Seven times?” Jesus answered, “Seventy-seven!” Then he told the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant. The bottom line is that if we’re grateful for the mercy God has shown us, then we must show mercy to others because the debt we owe God far exceeds the debt others owe us (Matthew 18:21–35).

Besides, how many of us haven’t repeated the same sins we’ve confessed many times before? If we want God’s mercy, others must have ours.

Must I Forgive Deliberate Sin?

Yes. Jesus never said to forgive only unintentional sins. He said, For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15).

Must I Forgive Unrepentant Sin?

My mother wasn’t repentant. In fact, she still threw verbal darts. Did I need to forgive her?

I searched my Bible for the answer. Although a couple passages talked about forgiving the repentant, others spoke about forgiving all sin: “But when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive your sins, too” (Mark 11:25). It seemed that even if we ended relationship with someone unrepentant, we must still forgive in some sense. I didn’t know in what sense yet.

But I did know I had to get rid of the bitterness and anger, and forgiving seemed the only way.

Out of sheer obedience, I prayed, “Father, I forgive her.” The anger remained, but I knew my willingness pleased God. I committed to finding a way to forgive, trusting that the God who made me willing to change would also make me able (Philippians 2:13).

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Forgive Intentional Sin—Don’t Just Manage Emotions | In this series: 
  1. What Forgiving Isn’t: 5 Stand-ins that Masquerade as Forgiving
  2. Must I Forgive THIS Sin?
  3. What Makes Confessing and Forgiving Inseparable
  4. Four Sins that Require Faith to Forgive
  5. The Ultimate Reason Behind Unforgiveness
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