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9 Things Forgiveness Is Not

The below is excerpted from "Taking Out the Trash," chapter 5 of Real Marriage and the sermon topic this week.

1. Forgiveness is not denying, approving, or diminishing sin that is committed against us.

We cannot say we are fine, that it was no big deal, or that, since it was in the past, we’ve just moved on. We must be honest about the reality of the sin if we want the forgiveness to be equally earnest. In forgiving, we are, in fact, saying they are wrong, we do not approve of their sin, and that it really is a big deal and not a trivial matter to us.

2. Forgiveness is not naïveté.

Naïve people are prone to live as if the world were not filled with depraved sinners capable of evil, and they often become naïve by not really looking at the sinfulness of sin, including their own. Such people are not forgiving sin as much as they are ignoring it.

3. Forgiveness is not enabling sin.

To forgive people is not to remain stuck in their cycle of sin, thus being complicit and enabling their continued transgression.

4. Forgiveness is not waiting for someone to acknowledge sin, apologize, and repent.

The sad truth is that some people will never fully repent, and others never at all. Others we will never see again, or they will die before we hear an apology. We forgive because it is what God requires and what we need, not because our offenders have apologized.

5. Forgiveness is not forgetting about sin committed against us.

It is actually impossible to completely forget such things. This is why when God says, “Their sin I will remember no more,” it does not mean that he has no memory, but rather that he continually chooses not to bring it up or keep it in the forefront of his thinking. Indeed, because God is all-knowing, it is, in fact, impossible for him to actually forget something.

6. Forgiveness is not dying emotionally and no longer feeling the pain of the transgression.

Rather, forgiveness allows us to feel the appropriate depth of grievous pain but choose by grace not to be continually paralyzed or defined by it.

7. Forgiveness is not a one-time event.

Those who have been sinned against commonly have seasons when they feel afresh the pain of past hurts and have to forgive their transgressors yet again.

8. Forgiveness is not reconciliation.

It takes one sinner to repent, and one victim to forgive, but it takes both to reconcile. Therefore, unless there is both repentance by the sinner and forgiveness by the victim, reconciliation cannot occur, which means the relationship remains continually broken until reconciliation does occur. Forgiveness is the beginning of potential reconciliation but is not in and of itself reconciliation. Forgiveness takes a moment. The trust that reconciliation requires is gained slowly and lost quickly.

9. Forgiveness is not neglecting justice.

In fact, if a crime has been committed, we can simultaneously forgive someone and call the police to arrest him or her. God will deal with every sin of every human being justly. For those who repent of sin and come to faith in Jesus Christ, justice came at the cross of Jesus, when our Savior suffered and died in our place for our sins. For those who do not repent of sin and come to faith in Jesus Christ, their justice will come in the punishment that is assigned to them in the conscious eternal torments of hell. By not seeking vengeance, we are not neglecting justice, but rather trusting God for perfect justice and getting ourselves out of the middle between the sinner and God. Romans 12:19 instructs precisely this: “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.’”

We know that we are not bitter when we actually want those who have sinned against us to be maturing Christians and, in addition to praying for them, we forgive them in hopes of showing them the gospel of grace.


For more, check out the sermon "The Lord's Prayer," part 47 of the two-year-long sermon series on the Gospel of Luke.

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