What does it mean when I say, “I forgive you”? It means through the blood of Jesus Christ I am actively wiping out the debt owed by those who have sinned against me.
“I forgive you” does not mean I am admitting the wrongs were not that bad. “I forgive you” does not mean I must pretend that the sins of others did not affect me. It does not mean that I will instantly forget the offense or stop feeling hurt when these three words leave my lips. “I forgive you” does not mean the relationship will now be instantly restored as though that sin never took place. It is not a relational blank check that I must offer to abusive people so they can continue to harm me or endlessly disrespect me as I pretend I’m okay.
Rather, “I forgive you” means I am acknowledging the hurt someone caused me but releasing them of my hate. I can’t forgive an offense I refuse to admit was truly an offense. So when I say, “I forgive you,” it means I am embracing the reality of their sinful actions but freeing them of my anger and desire for retribution.
Reconciliation is when a relationship is restored to what it was before the offense. Forgiveness is not reconciliation but rather the gateway into reconciliation. “I forgive you” does not mean the relationship will be instantly restored as though the sin never took place. It means, rather, that I have taken the first step towards the possibility of reconciliation if God heals me and the offender and allows us to safely come back into a restored relationship. This reconciliation may happen in an instant or it may never happen, but my forgiveness must always happen.
“I forgive you” does not mean I must treat you as though you could never hurt me the same way again. It does not mean I will not seek to guard my own heart. It does not mean I am a slave to someone else’s desire to treat me wrong with no boundaries ever being put in place. “I forgive you” does not mean I submit to the offender. Rather, it means I refuse to hate if someone has hated me. It means I refuse to malign someone who has maligned me. It means I refuse to return evil with evil. “I forgive you” means I refuse to drink poison hoping it hurts someone else.
“I forgive you” means I no longer desire you to be punished. But it doesn’t mean I’m not in support of you being disciplined. It means I’m against you suffering for your sins but for you being sanctified from your sin even if that process hurts. It means I don’t want you to pay for what you did, but I do want you to grow so you don’t do that again. “I forgive you” means I’m not going to hope you get punished for your past but I do hope you receive the corrective actions necessary so you can live a better future. It means I will not try to make you pay, but I will do whatever I can to help you progress. “I forgive you” means I am willing to do whatever is best for both of us in the present and future because I have released you from your wrongs in the past.
“I forgive you” means I’m basing my happiness not upon the actions of other people which are outside of my control. It means, rather, that I am basing all of my joy on the one thing no one can take away from me, which is my relationship with my heavenly Father. When I refuse to forgive I am refusing to control my own happiness. When I resist wiping the slate clean I am living a life of constant responding rather than leading. It means I am at the mercy of others and I am not in control of my own life. But when I choose to forgive the wrongs done to me I am choosing to take control of my own life by submitting to God and obeying him rather than submitting to sin and refusing to forgive.
“I forgive you” means I am turning from my former life of sin and resentment and maturing into my Father’s son who is free to love like him (Matthew 5:44-45). When I say no to forgiveness I am saying no to imitating my Dad. I am saying no to honoring him and no to living in the family of forgiveness that my Father is raising up. When I refuse to cleanse my heart of the hurts someone else did to me through applying the blood of Christ, I am refusing my Father’s precious gift to me and to all of humanity. But when I say yes to forgiveness, and yes to healing, and yes to letting go of what others owe me, I am moving forward and pressing deeper into my identity in Christ.
“I forgive you” means I am taking back my strength. When I am wronged by others it means my strength has been violated. Something is happening to me which I did not consent to nor did I allow. Sins against me are always done against my will. When I refuse to forgive I am embracing victimhood as my identity and remaining in weakness. Refusing to forgive is admitting someone else still has power over me. It is allowing others to keep what they took without my consent. Holding onto the feelings of being violated is letting go of my chance at taking back what I never wanted to be taken in the first place. Retaliation is one of the highest forms of weakness.
But when I forgive it means the offender does not have control over me. Forgiveness can never be forced. I alone must choose to forgive those who have sinned against me. The choice to forgive is the act of reasserting control of my own life. It is the act of taking back my ability to choose for myself. Being sinned against was not my choice. My boundary was violated. Forgiveness is my choice. It is the act of reasserting the boundaries in my life that no one can cross without my consent. Forgiveness is embracing my strength and telling the offender they cannot control me. Whether they want my forgiveness or not I will give it to them because it is my choice and not theirs. Forgiveness is taking back my strength to make my own choices rather than to be led around by my reactions to the choices of others. “I forgive you” is equivalent to saying, “Lord, I receive your healing and empowerment by your grace.”
I forgive you means I’m committed to this Christian way of living which is radically different than everything else. It means I am dedicated to doing what God has said in his word and not to following my own feelings. I forgive you means I know I can’t be free until I offer you freedom from the debt you owe me. “I forgive you” means I actually believe I am free because Jesus has set me free, and therefore I can refuse to live in the bondage of hatred.
“I forgive you” means I love God more than resentment and anger. It means I trust the sacrifice of Christ is greater than any sin against me. It means God has truly changed my heart by his grace because I could never do this without his Spirit in me, without being radically transformed by the gospel. “I forgive you” means I have received the forgiveness of God myself and have chosen to love and follow my Heavenly Father no matter what. Because he loves and forgives me, I can love and forgive others.