When We Say, “I Forgive You”

“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

What do we mean we say, “I forgive you”? More importantly, do we mean what the Bible means?

When we really dig into Scripture’s teaching on forgiveness, we find that it stretches and challenges us, forcing us into the uncomfortable territory of being more like Jesus. Without further ado, taking our cues from God’s Word and God’s forgiveness, here’s what we should mean when we say “I forgive you”:

I will cover this sin with the grace of Christ every time I feel its injury and pain

Psalm 103:11-12 For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.

Luke 17:3-4 If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.

Luke 7:37-50 Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven- for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.

Hebrews 13:12 So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood.

I relinquish the pursuit of vengeance

Proverbs 24:29 Do not say, “I will do to him as he has done to me; I will pay the man back for what he has done.”

Romans 12:19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”

1 Peter 2:23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.

I accept the suffering caused by your sin

Matthew 5:39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.

Philippians 1:29 For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake…

Colossians 1:24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church…

2 Timothy 2:3 Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.

1 Peter 5:10 And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.

I commit to protecting your reputation

Proverbs 11:13 Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets, but he who is trustworthy in spirit keeps a thing covered.

Proverbs 22:1 A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold.

Ephesians 4:29 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.

I will pray and work for God’s best for you

Romans 12:17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.

Ephesians 4:32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

Colossians 3:12-14 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.

I am committed to reconciliation

Matthew 5:24 First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.

Romans 12:18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

1 Peter 3:8 Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.

(…when forgiving believers) I count you as righteous—justified and sanctified—in Christ

Acts 13:38-39 Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through [Jesus] forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses.


  1. Gene Olivetti July 21, 2016 at 7:27 am #

    Difficult but essential! (The “Princess Bride” reference did not go unnoticed)

  2. E. Burns August 13, 2016 at 3:13 pm #

    Great article! I say a hearty amen! As much as I affirm the thrust of the article, I think it lacked nuance and distinction. I agree we must understand what forgiveness means but we must also remember forgiveness and trust are not the same thing. 1. We can’t forgive at the level of Jesus. 2. I can’t help but read this article and think of the many Christians who have been deeply wounded, yet by grace have been given a true heart of forgiveness. These Christians have forgiven their enemies, but then many a fellow Christian around them proceeds to bind their conscience by utterly conflating forgiveness and trust.

    There are people and situations where a person gives true (with love,by faith and by grace) forgiveness yet for good & sound reason cannot yet trust (and may never this side of heaven) that person they have forgiven. Further more at times there may be lifelong brokenness of trust and estrangement of human relationship as a consequence of long habitual patterns of sin. If one has been a Christian long enough, one has witnessed this.

    Just one Example: A Christian woman is habitual beaten and sinned against by marital unfaithfulness. Divorce proceeds or begins to proceed. Husband later claims repentance, yet again. Well meaning brothers and sisters begin to declare to this wife that not only should she forgive, but yay she must again trust and unite in relationship.
    Yes the ideal is reconciliation/restoration. However, that wife is within Biblcal grounds to no longer be in relationship with her husband. Yes she has no justification to be bitter, hateful or unforgiving, but there is no Biblical requirement in every case like this to reunite with estranged husband. That husband if if in sincere repentance may in this life experience life long consequences for his long pattern of sin. Often in situations like this other Christians actual make the wife the bad guy and falsely attempt a binding of her conscience- “honor the Lord and your husband”…..etc. This fallen world is strewn with Wolves who use the Christian grace of forgiveness as a get out of jail free card to excuse their habitual patterns of untrustworthiness.

    Romans 12:18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
    We must not conflate forgiveness and trust.

  3. E. Burns August 13, 2016 at 4:43 pm #

    Meant….”even if the husband in this example has true and sincere repentance he may nonetheless experience life long consequences.””” 😉


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