What Jesus said about Forgiveness

A while back I was listening to a podcast of a discussion between a monk, an evangelist and a Rabbi. The topic was forgiveness. Over the course of the conversation one thing became clear. They got their idea of forgiveness from Jesus’ teaching in the sermon on the mount. This surprised me because I had thought just the opposite: that what Jesus said about forgiveness was so revolutionary that it would have been impossible for them to get it from Jewish teaching at the time. That’s why I started thinking more about this and ultimately decided to write this blog post.

Jesus said, “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:14-15). Many times, we have a hard time forgiving others because we either can’t fully let go of what has happened or feel like the person who has hurt us doesn’t deserve forgiveness. But as Christians, we are called to be forgiving and show God’s love to everyone around us. Studies show that holding on to anger is bad for our health and this same principle applies to unforgiveness. Here are three practical ways to help you forgive others.

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What Jesus said about Forgiveness

Jesus said that believers should forgive others because God has forgiven them.

The Bible says in Luke 6:37: “Forgive, and you will be forgiven.”

As Jesus taught his disciples to pray in Matthew 6:12, He said, “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” This is why it’s so important for Christians to learn how to forgive those who have hurt us.

We cannot expect God to forgive us when we do not forgive other people. If we hold grudges against others, it means that we haven’t really experienced God’s forgiveness in our lives (Matthew 18:23-35). We need to let go of bitterness and hostility toward others and instead seek reconciliation with them. We need to be merciful toward others as God is merciful toward us; only then can we learn what true forgiveness is all about (Luke 6:36).

Jesus said, “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:14-15)

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells his disciples that they should pray for the forgiveness of those who have wronged them. This is in line with Jesus’s teaching elsewhere in the New Testament that believers should love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them (Matthew 5:44). Since God forgives his people because he wants them to be reconciled to him and with each other, he calls his followers to forgive others by forgiving themselves first.

Jesus says in John 8:32 that “you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” So what does this mean? If someone has wronged me or someone else, then I need to let go of my anger toward them and focus on forgiving them instead. This takes some practice! But it’s a good idea to start from a place where we can see our own sinfulness before asking God for help in letting go of our anger toward someone we believe has wronged us or another person close to us.

Jesus said in John 8:3-11:

The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. 7When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

what is forgiveness

Forgiveness is the act of pardoning an offender. In the Bible, the Greek word translated “forgiveness” literally means “to let go,” as when a person does not demand payment for a debt. Jesus used this comparison when he taught his followers to pray: “Forgive us our sins, for we ourselves also forgive everyone who is in debt to us.” (Luke 11:4) Likewise, in his parable of the unmerciful slave, Jesus equated forgiveness with canceling a debt.​—Matthew 18:23-​35.

We forgive others when we let go of resentment and give up any claim to be compensated for the hurt or loss we have suffered. The Bible teaches that unselfish love is the basis for true forgiveness, since love “does not keep account of the injury.”​—1 Corinthians 13:​4, 5.

What forgiveness does not mean
Condoning the offense. The Bible actually condemns those who claim that bad actions are harmless or acceptable.​—Isaiah 5:​20.

Pretending that the offense never happened. God forgave King David of serious sins, but he did not shield David from the consequences of his actions. God even had David’s sins recorded so that they are remembered today.​—2 Samuel 12:​9-​13.

Allowing others to take advantage of you. Suppose, for example, that you loan money to someone, but he wastes it and then cannot repay you as he had promised. He is very sorry and apologizes to you. You could choose to forgive him by not harboring resentment, not rehashing the matter with him continually, and perhaps even canceling the debt altogether. However, you might also choose not to loan him any more money.​—Psalm 37:21; Proverbs 14:15; 22:3; Galatians 6:7.

Pardoning with no valid basis. God does not forgive people who are guilty of willful, malicious sin and who refuse to acknowledge their mistakes, change their ways, and apologize to those whom they have hurt. (Proverbs 28:13; Acts 26:20; Hebrews 10:26) Such unrepentant ones become God’s enemies, and he does not require us to forgive those whom he has not forgiven.​—Psalm 139:21, 22.

What if you are the victim of cruel mistreatment by someone who refuses to apologize or even admit to what he has done? The Bible advises: “Let go of anger and abandon rage.” (Psalm 37:8) While not excusing the error, you can refuse to be consumed with anger. Trust that God will bring the person to account. (Hebrews 10:30, 31) You can also take comfort in knowing that God will bring a time when we will no longer feel the deep pain or hurt that may burden us now.​—Isaiah 65:17; Revelation 21:4.

“Forgiving” every perceived slight. Sometimes, rather than pardoning a so-called offender, we may need to admit that we had no valid cause for being offended in the first place. The Bible says: “Do not be quick to take offense, for the taking of offense is the mark of a fool.”​—Ecclesiastes 7:9, footnote.

How to forgive someone
Remember what forgiveness involves. You are not condoning the wrong or acting as if it never happened​—you are simply letting it go.

Recognize the benefits of forgiving. Letting go of anger and resentment can help you to keep calm, improve your health, and increase your happiness. (Proverbs 14:30; Matthew 5:9) Even more important, forgiving others is a key to receiving God’s forgiveness for your own sins.​—Matthew 6:​14, 15.

Be empathetic. All of us are imperfect. (James 3:2) Just as we appreciate being forgiven, we should likewise forgive the mistakes of others.​—Matthew 7:​12.

Be reasonable. When we have a minor cause for complaint, we can apply the Bible’s counsel: “Continue putting up with one another.”​—Colossians 3:​13.

Act quickly. Work to forgive as soon as you can rather than letting your anger fester.​—Ephesians 4:​26, 27.

examples of forgiveness in the bible

Part of the requirements for living the Christian life is walking in love. And you cannot successfully walk in love without walking in forgiveness.

There are many great acts of forgiveness in the Bible we can learn from.

In this post, we will examine three of the greatest acts of forgiveness ever recorded in the Scriptures:

  • That of Joseph
  • Of Stephen
  • And of course, Jesus

Let me talk about each of them a little more:

  1. Joseph forgave his treacherous brothers
    Joseph was a beloved son of his father, Jacob. He usually wore the multi-coloured robe his father gave to him.

Joseph later had a dream from Heaven that pointed to the events of the future. But his brothers seriously hated him for it. And out of sheer jealousy they disrobed him in the wilderness, threw him into a deep pit to die a gradual death.

On a second thought, they changed their plans, retrieved Joseph from the pit and sold him off to slavery. One thing led to another, Joseph found himself as a slave in Portiphar’s house in Egypt.

Subsequently, Joseph served a term in prison over a spurious allegation of sexual assault on his master’s wife. But after interpreting a couple of dreams while in the prison, Joseph was recommended to interpret a disturbing dream of Pharaoh’s.

And by divine arrangement, Joseph became the second in command in Pharaoh’s Kingdom.

Years passed. Severe famine ravaged the rest of the world, except Egypt.

Egypt did not experience food shortages at that time because through divine wisdom and counsel of Joseph, an unprecedented stock of food supply was kept in Egypt.

Back home in the land of Canaan, food scarcity had reached an unbearable proportion. This drew Joseph’s wicked brothers to Egypt in search of their necessary food.

Consequently, they found themselves at the mercy of their long ‘forgotten’ brother who had now become a mighty man in the land of Pharaoh and was in charge of the nation’s food supply. This was Joseph’s ample opportunity to take his own pound of flesh.

As the indisputable prime minister of Egypt, he was in a veritable position to take out a revenge on his brothers and severely punish them for their treacherous behaviours in the past. But not a great man like Joseph; He wouldn’t repay his brothers in their own evil coin. Rather he forgave his brothers and showed them much mercy.

Not only that, he rationalised his multiple travails, which was set off by his brothers’ betrayal, as part of God’s grand design to protect their family’s future interest.

4Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! 5And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. 6For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years, there will be no plowing and reaping. 7But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. Genesis 45:4-7

Joseph forgave his treacherous brothers. So can you!

  1. Jesus forgave those that crucified Him
    Jesus walked the streets of Jerusalem and the neighbouring towns doing nothing but good. He healed the lame, the blind, the deaf and dumb, and other people with diverse kinds of sickness.

Jesus fed people in their thousands. He taught them divine wisdom like no other teacher or prophet before Him. He even raised some people from the dead.

Despite His widely circulated good deeds, the authorities of the day conspired against Him. They found Him guilty of trumped up criminal charges and had Him mercilessly nailed to the Cross to die alongside two condemned armed robbers.

Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Luke 23:24

You would think that Jesus, with all the heavenly power at His disposal, would severely ‘deal’ with these people who unjustly crucified Him. Instead, He extended uncommon forgiveness to them by pleading with the Father not to hold these peoples’ sin against them.


  1. Stephen forgave those that murdered him in cold blood
    Stephen was an unknown disciple of Jesus Christ: He went in and out with the apostles and other disciples unheralded until the need to appoint deacons arose in the early church.

By general consensus, Stephen was deemed a man full of good reports, wisdom and the Holy Ghost. Therefore, he was privileged to be selected alongside six other deacons to serve in the food distribution ministry of the early believers.

But beyond serving on tables, God’s hand became mighty upon Stephen to the extent that through him a great revival broke out in Jerusalem.

“And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and miracles among the people.” As a result, many people turned to God through his ministry and there was much joy in the city.

His increasing followership and the resultant citywide testimonies on the mighty acts he accomplished, revealed a man who was operating by nothing other than the authority of Heaven. But while Stephen was riding on this beautiful tide of evangelistic miracles, signs and wonders he performed in the land, the religious authorities of the day became offended by him.

In the end, they had Stephen arrested, taken to the outskirts of the city and brutally stoned to death. But before he yielded the ghost, He lifted his hands and prayed for the forgiveness for his traducers and killers.

Stephen showed such a great disciple he was by following the example of his Master Jesus in forgiveness.

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