When is it Appropriate to Forgive?

Forgiveness can present a real dilemma when dealing with a domestic violence abuser. Such violators might include:

  • "Cyclical" abusers who are stuck in a pattern of repetition
  • Those who lie to manipulate others
  • Those who want to take advantage of you and intend to violate your boundaries

These are people who may be likely to re-offend, or may not have your best interest in mind. How do we apply the forgiveness scriptures in these cases? When is it appropriate to forgive such people?

The first case in which the Bible says we are to forgive is when an offender expresses repentance and asks us for forgiveness:

"So watch yourselves. If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, 'I repent,' forgive him."   Luke 17:3-4 (NIV)

What is repentance? Turning to Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, we see the word "repent" means: "to turn from sin and dedicate oneself to the amendment of one's life." It is an attitude and intention of rejecting the sin. This doesn't strictly mean that the person stops committing the sin. So, our obligation to forgive does not depend on the offender doing anything other than coming to us and expressing sincere repentance.

The second situation in which God says we should forgive is when the offender doesn't repent. God also requires us to do the work of forgiveness within our hearts even if the transgressor does not repent or request it:

"And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins." (Mark 11:25-26, NIV)

"For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins." (Matt 6:14-15, NIV)

As we can see from Matthew 18:21, we may not be able to accomplish this inner forgiveness all at once. We may need to work at it repeatedly.

How do we know when we have really forgiven someone? Webster's Collegiate Dictionary defines "forgiveness" this way: "to cease to feel resentment against; to grant relief from payment." Some people have described forgiveness as

  • Inwardly letting go of the issue
  • Not desiring to punish or extract payment from the transgressor
  • Leaving God to deal with this person (and He assures us He will)

Are you having difficulty forgiving someone? Be reassured that Christ died to provide us with the Holy Spirit, which empowers us to be victorious. With God, nothing is impossible.


Discussion Questions:

  1. Are you having difficulty forgiving someone? Is there something you are still wanting from this person?
  2. Can you think of a time when you experienced forgiveness for something you said or did? How did you feel?

Copyright 2005   Judy Kennedy