They did something that hurt me. They took something from me that wasn’t theirs. They said something hurtful. They gossiped to others about me in ways that both damaged my reputation and our relationship. They lied to me and betrayed me.
I guarantee there is something on this list you can relate to. Something that happened to you. And if that’s true, you may have something to forgive.
Let’s assume for a moment that forgiveness is important. Jesus thought it was. He made this radical statement…
If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.
So, forgiveness is important. We should do it. That’s good to know, but I still have one question…how do I know if I’ve done it? Forgiveness is a great word, but what does it look like in real life? How do I do it? Is it just a decision I make? Should I feel something when I forgive someone? If I don’t feel better have I done it wrong?
In ancient Jewish thought sin was seen as a debt. Jesus saw it this way too. When you were hurt by someone, they incurred a debt. The Jewish law is full of rules on how a debt like that was supposed to be paid back, often with interest. When you were wronged, the scales tipped out of balance which required that debt to be made right.
When we understand the times we have been wronged as a debt that is now owed to us, it gives us an idea of what forgiveness should feel like. Jesus describes it this way…
Therefore, the Kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a king who decided to bring his accounts up to date with servants who had borrowed money from him. In the process, one of his debtors was brought in who owed him millions of dollars. He couldn’t pay, so his master ordered that he be sold—along with his wife, his children, and everything he owned—to pay the debt. But the man fell down before his master and begged him, “Please, be patient with me, and I will pay it all.” Then his master was filled with pity for him, and he released him and forgave his debt.
Imagine if your bank called you up and told you that your mortgage had been cancelled. The tens of thousands of dollars you owe have been forgiven and you owe nothing. Your debt has been completely cleared. How would that feel? That’s what being forgiven feels like.
Now imagine someone owed you tens of thousands of dollars, and you called them up and told them that debt was cancelled. That what they owed you has been forgiven and they owe nothing. How would that feel? That’s what forgiving others feels like.
If sin is a debt that is owed, forgiveness is releasing that debt completely. It is absolving someone of what they rightfully owe us. When we forgive we are saying, “You hurt me, and you owe me. But I release you from what you owe.” Forgiveness is the refusal to carry the debt of those who have hurt you. It is the act of seeing them as if they had never hurt you at all.
It may not always feel good to forgive a debt someone owes you. You may still feel real loss. What they did may still hurt, and may hurt for a long time. But walking in forgiveness like Jesus did means we don’t carry balances in our relationships with others.
Who do you feel owes you something? An explanation. An apology. A debt. Let it go. Settle in your heart that they owe you nothing. That’s what forgiveness feels like.