02 How to Forgive

Why forgiving others is one of the best things you can do for yourself


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Forgiving others is good for your health

“Studies have found that the act of forgiveness can reap huge rewards for your health,
lowering the risk of heart attack;
improving cholesterol levels and sleep; and
reducing pain, blood pressure, and levels of anxiety, depression and stress.
And research points to an increase in the forgiveness-health connection as you age. …
People who hang on to grudges… are more likely to experience severe depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as other health conditions.”

Source: “Forgiveness: Your health depends on it,” Johns Hopkins Medicine & Psychiatrist Karen Swartz

Withholding forgiveness is like drinking poison to punish your enemy


Forgiving others releases you from their control
“Our unwillingness or inability to forgive binds us emotionally to our offenders.” (Smith, p. 103)

When you don’t forgive, you give the offender the power to control your happiness. Is that really the kind of power you want to give to someone who has hurt you?

It’s easy to believe that other people make us angry. But the reality is this: Nobody has the power to “make you” feel any emotion. As we will learn later, you feel what you believe.


Not forgiving creates a spiritually destructive well of bitterness
In response to the offenses against us—both real and imagined—we can create a well of bitterness inside. The result is terribly destructive; we intend to nourish, but we pollute instead. “See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” (Hebrews 12:15) This bitterness gets in the way of God.


Not forgiving robs us of inner wealth
Forgiveness empowers us to live and love from a position of abundance. Bitterness robs us of that abundance and forces us to ration out love to others from a position of scarcity.


God requires us to forgive
We have an obligation to forgive those who wrong us, an obligation that God takes very seriously. Here’s the reality: Heaven will be populated with people who have hurt us. Some of them have hurt us deeply. If we’re going to live with them for all eternity, we must forgive them. And, conversely, they must forgive us.

In Matthew 6 and Matthew 18, Jesus commands forgiveness and makes it a condition of being forgiven. (See scriptures below.) What does that mean? Dr. Ed Smith (p. 187+) says that the requirement to forgive others in order to be forgiven is a standard of the law that is impossible to keep—that’s why there’s grace. Other Christians I respect believe that forgiving everyone who has hurt you is a requirement for salvation.

I personally take an in-between view. In Titus 2:11-14 we learn that the grace that will take us to heaven teaches us to say no to ungodliness. Unforgiveness or bitterness is a form of ungodliness. So God’s grace teaches us to say no to unforgiveness. But, if it teaches us, that means there’s a learning curve. We don’t start out on the first day of Kindergarten in the same place we will be on the day of our college graduation. Learning takes place. So God works with us and teaches us to forgive.

Many people, especially those who have been horribly abused, simply won’t have enough time in this life to forgive every single offense that has taken place against them. The process of healing and transformation takes time. As long as we stay in step with God’s Spirit, I believe God’s mercy covers us. However, if we dig in our heels and refuse to forgive when God is teaching us to forgive, then I believe we place ourselves in a very dangerous position.

That’s my take. But it’s very important that you study the Bible and come to your own conclusion before God. You can find many (but not all) of the relevant scriptures below.


Unresolved anger gives the devil a foothold in our lives
“In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. (Ephesians 4:26-27 NIV) Our real enemies are NOT flesh and blood (Ephesians 6). Our spiritual enemy wants to use our anger to pollute and eventually destroy our lives.


Just because forgiving others helps you doesn’t make it wrong
Myth: Forgiving others to make yourself feel better is wrong
Reality: Forgiving someone who wrongs you for your own sake is not selfish.

Rather it is obedience. Some people reject biblical commands merely because they are therapeutic. Some make the mistake of thinking that God does not want us whole. But following God is always ultimately going to be the best thing for you. To not forgive is to harbor bitterness that will hurt many. This has nothing to do with justifying the actions of a perpetrator. On the contrary, when we truly forgive, we have the emotional strength to do what is appropriate in regards to the perpetrator.


Don’t get your worldview from an angry person

Before you swallow someone’s politics, theology, philosophy, science, economics or other perspectives, it pays to look at how well that person has resolved issues arising from their childhood.

Here’s why: It’s common knowledge that our view of God is shaped in childhood by the gods of early childhood, namely Mommy and Daddy. There’s just one problem with that: Our parents make mistakes. Even if they didn’t, we tend to misinterpret their actions and misunderstand their motives. On top of that, some people have genuinely horrible parents who did not even try to act in the best interests of their children.

As a result, all of us grow up with issues to overcome relating to our parents and to our childhood. That’s just the way life is in a fallen world. If we fail to overcome these issues, then, at a very primal level, our view of life and our view of God will be skewed.

The problem is this: We tend to build an intellectual superstructure on that primal foundation. This is why incredibly intelligent people put together very smart sounding perspectives on life that are just wrong.
Someone with unresolved anger, especially toward abusive or absent parents or other authority figures is going to see everything in their world through the lens of that anger. That anger will color how they see politics, economics, science, sex, marriage, philosophy and, most importantly, God.

Once upon a time, I thought that education, wisdom, knowledge, intelligence and maturity were rough equivalents. I no longer believe that. The Bible speaks of those who are “ever learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:7).

The Bible also says that anger gives the enemy a foothold (Ephesians 4:27), and that bitterness contaminates not only ourselves but others around us (Hebrews 12:15).

Maybe this is why Peter tells us to add to our faith first virtue (goodness) and then knowledge (2 Peter 1:5). Paul likewise says knowledge can make us proud, but love makes us strong. (1 Corinthians 8:1) And Solomon says, “Don’t make friends with an angry person, or you will learn his ways and fall into a trap.” (Proverbs 22:24-25)

Education, knowledge and intelligence are wonderful gifts. Built on the right foundation, they can bring much good into many lives. But don’t be seduced by them if they are in the hands of an angry person.

(Source: Spiritual Self Defense textbook)


  1. How is forgiving others good for your physical health?
  2. How does forgiving someone release us from that person’s control?
  3. How is forgiving others good for your spiritual health?
  4. What does Jesus mean when He says we must forgive in order to be forgiven?
  5. How does not forgiving give the devil a foothold?
  6. Why is it okay to forgive someone for the sake of your own health?
  7. Why is it unwise to get your worldview from an angry person?


NEXT: Why forgiving others does NOT open the door to abuse (Lesson #3)
Forgiving others does NOT turn you into a doormat. It does NOT invite or excuse abuse. Explore the important differences between forgiving and reconciliation.

Explore these related resources…

Spiritual Self Defense
My Spiritual Self Defense course will show you how to use the Christian faith to defend yourself from anxiety, anger, addiction, and all kinds of bullies.
I owe most of my understanding of forgiveness to the writings of Ed Smith. This is his latest book on the subject.
Understanding Your Christian Faith
New to Christianity? Rethinking your faith? Understanding Your Christian Faith will show you how to experience God in a deep and meaningful way.


Questions? Stay with us; your questions will probably be answered. If not, there’s a link to our Facebook group in the last four lessons.


Scriptures for further study

Forgiving others commanded or referenced
(From the Lord’s prayer) And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 14 For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. (Matthew 6:12, 14-15 NIV)


Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.[a] [a] Greek everyone who is indebted to us (Luke 11:4a NIV)


Jesus said, “Contain quarrels. If a Christian does something to harm you, go to him privately and resolve the problem. He may listen, apologize and make it right. If that happens, you have a friend. But if he won’t listen, take along one or two others because these witnesses can bring clarity to the situation. If he still refuses to listen, then bring it up to the church. If he won’t listen to the church, then he’s made himself like an outsider, and you’ll need to treat him as such.

“Understand the truth: Your connection with Me gives you incredible power. When your purposes are aligned with Mine, you can open and close doors in the unseen spiritual world just as you do in your every day life. When two or three of you pray, desiring My name to be advanced, I’m standing right beside you.”

Peter then asked, “Master, how many times should I forgive a brother who hurts me? Seven times?”

Jesus answered, “No, instead seventy times seven.

“It’s like this: A king wanted to settle debts with people who owed him money. One of his subjects owed him well over $400 million (375 tons of silver or even gold). He couldn’t pay; so the king proposed liquidating the man’s estate and then selling him, his wife and his children as slaves. The debtor fell to the ground pleading, ‘Give me time. Give me time. I’ll find a way to pay it all back.’ The king had compassion on this man and decided to cancel the debt. Then the man who had his debt canceled found someone who owed him money, about four months wages. He grabbed him by the throat and said, ‘Where’s my money?’ The man fell to the ground and begged him, ‘Give me time. Please give me time and I’ll pay it all.’ But he refused. Instead, he had him thrown into debtors’ prison to be kept until the debt was paid. When the other subjects witnessed this, they went and told the king everything. The king had the man summoned. He said, ‘You evil man! I canceled your debt when you pleaded with me. Why didn’t you have compassion on the man who owed you money?’ Then the king handed the man over to be tortured in prison until every bit of his debt was paid. This is how My Father in heaven will treat you if you don’t forgive your fellow Christian from your heart.” Matthew 18:15-35 DCR


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


Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. (Luke 6:37 NIV)


Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (Ephesians 4:32 NIV)


Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. 8 I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him. 9 Another reason I wrote you was to see if you would stand the test and be obedient in everything. 10 Anyone you forgive, I also forgive. And what I have forgiven—if there was anything to forgive—I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, 2 Corinthians 2:7-10 NIV (see 1 Corinthians 5:1-13 for context)


Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them. (Luke 17:4 NIV)


Love prospers when a fault is forgiven, but dwelling on it separates close friends. Proverbs 17:9 NLT


If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven. (John 20:23 NIV)


Jesus’ example
Jesus healed one of the men who arrests Him
And one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear. 51 But Jesus answered, “No more of this!” And he touched the man’s ear and healed him. (Luke 22:50-51 NIV) (See also Matthew 26:51-54, Mark 14:47, John 18:10-11)


Jesus forgave from the cross
Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”[a] And they divided up his clothes by casting lots. [a] Some early manuscripts do not have this sentence. (Luke 23:34 NIV)


Sure, you will get angry. Everybody does. But don’t let your anger turn into sin. Release it to God before the day ends. (Ephesians 4:26 DCR)


A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense. (Proverbs 19:11 NIV)


[Love] does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. (1 Corinthians 13:5 NIV)


My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. (James 1:19-20 NIV)


[Jesus said,] But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell.” (Matthew 5:22 NLT)


Sometimes God does NOT forgive
Sometimes prophets ask God NOT to forgive people. Examples: Isaiah 2:8-9, Jeremiah 18:23. And sometimes God chooses not to forgive. Examples: Hosea 1:6, Matthew 12:32


Yet God wants all to repent

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9 NIV)


And our enemy is not human
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6:12 NIV)


Blood atonement and forgiveness
This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. (Matthew 26:28 NIV)

In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. (Hebrews 9:22 NIV)