Understanding Biblical Forgiveness

It doesn’t take very long for a couple to figure out that marriage isn’t a continuously fun and easy ride, a big bundle of happy days tied up with a sparkly bow of hugs and kisses. It’s often the sandpaper of chafing personalities, unmet expectations, and hurt feelings that rub us the wrong way and leave us feeling rather raw.

Being able to forgive past offenses and let go of past hurts is an essential component for growing a strong marriage and maintaining an intimate relationship that lasts a lifetime.

On the other hand, unforgiveness blocks intimacy on an emotional and physical level. The Gottman Institute, a research-based relationship organization, noted, “The capacity to seek and grant forgiveness is one of the most significant factors contributing to marital satisfaction and a lifetime of love.”1 Without forgiveness, we will never be able to have a healthy thriving marriage. We can live in the same house, eat the same meals, take the same trips, and raise the same children, but without forgiveness we will live just short of true intimacy of the heart, never quite free to be soul naked and unashamed.

Forgiveness, when we look at it from the Greek perspective with the word aphiemi, means “to let go from one’s power, possession, to let go free, let escape.2

Biblical forgiveness means cutting someone loose.

This word picture is one in which the unforgiven is roped to the back of the unforgiving. When we refuse to forgive, we bind ourselves to what we hate. When we forgive, we cut the person loose from our backs and set ourselves free as well.

Forgiveness can also be seen in terms of canceling a debt. In the Old Testament, when someone paid a debt, a notice of the debt paid in full was nailed to the lender’s door. That is what Jesus did when He was nailed to the Cross — our debt was paid in full and nailed to Heaven’s door. When you forgive your husband, you cancel his debt, which he never could’ve paid back anyway. Forgiveness is no longer holding the offense against the offender.

I recently received an email from a woman who was still bitter over a statement her husband made to her cousin ten years ago. She and her husband were preparing to celebrate their fiftieth wedding anniversary, and she was dreading it because of his careless words a decade before. She wrote, “Please pray that God mends this title [sic] piece of my heart that has fallen to the ground.”

The word title was a typo — she meant to type little. To me, it was telling. Friend, we can allow our husbands’ little shortcomings to become the title of our story, or we can forgive and write a new storyline. Not only does forgiveness change the title of your story, it changes the ending as well. So, how exactly can we consciously pursue forgiveness?

The first step to forgiveness is prayer.

The Bible tells us to pray for our enemies (Matthew 5:44). I hope your husband is never your enemy, but there may be days you feel like he is. So let’s follow God’s instruction and start by praying for him. It may not turn your husband’s hardened heart to putty in your hands, but it will melt the hardness of resentment in your own. I’ve seen this happen time and time again in my own heart. It’s difficult to stay mad at someone when you’re praying for him.

How many times are we to forgive? Peter asked Jesus that same question.

‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.’ — Matthew 18:21-22

This doesn’t mean on the 491st offense we can choose not to forgive. Jesus was saying that there was no limit. But what about those big offenses? You know the ones I’m talking about. That is a good question. Pornography, alcoholism, drug abuse, and a host of other addictions must be addressed and dealt with for any marriage to survive and thrive. No one is doing their spouses any favors by allowing such destructive behavior to continue. To ignore such issues is enabling sin to continue and poisoning the marriage with the arsenic of apathy or fear.

God’s call for us to forgive does not mean that a woman should stay with a man who is abusive or sexually unfaithful. Separation is sometimes the best course of action. The wife needs to make sure that she is safe. A wife can separate from her husband, pray for her marriage, and continue to trust God to bring healing and restoration.

So, yes, there are bigger issues that we do need to address as they come up, sometimes seeking professional help, but this does not mean forgiveness is on hold.

There is a difference between forgiveness and trust.

This is where the idea of reconciliation gets a bit muddy.



Forgiveness and the Dance of Two Camps

Forgiveness can be immediate. Trust is rebuilt through right behavior over a period of time.

In his book The Purpose Driven Life, pastor Rick Warren said, “Forgiveness is letting go of the past. Trust has to do with future behavior. Forgiveness must be immediate, whether or not a person asks for it. Trust must be rebuilt over time. Trust requires a track record. If someone hurts you repeatedly, you are commanded by God to forgive them instantly, but you are not expected to trust them immediately, and you are not expected to continue allowing them to hurt you.”3

After a betrayal, trust can be built again over time. However, it cannot be built if the one betrayed continues to knock down the blocks of positive behavior with the bat of past offenses.

And what is the ultimate example of forgiveness? The way Jesus forgave you and me. Paul wrote,

Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. — Colossians 3:13

And how did He forgive us? Totally and completely as soon as we asked (1 John 1:9).

  1. Terry Gaspard, “How Forgiveness Can Transform Your Marriage,” The Gottman Institute, December 29, 2016,
  2. Spiros Zodhiates, ed., The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament (Chattanooga: AMG Publishers, 1992), 229.
  3. Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here For? (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002), 179–80.

Excerpted with permission from Lovestruck by Sharon Jaynes, copyright Sharon Jaynes.

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Your Turn

As Christians, we must forgive. We must. Even in the hardest of circumstances. That doesn’t mean that what was done to us wasn’t wrong, or is automatically repaired, or that trust doesn’t need to be rebuilt over time and with repentance. Come share your thoughts on forgiveness on our blog. We want to hear from you! ~ Devotionals Daily

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